Ten years ago when I lived in Yerevan I was completely in love with the city. Armenia felt like home in its post-war sincerity and patriotism, as well as in the complete hospitality of its people. Everything seemed possible, the overall mood was bright, and everyone looked to the future with hopeful expectations.
I guess this was the reason I was so taken aback while visiting this time.
The triumph of ghost houses
The first thing that perplexed me was the view of the city. I noticed with surprise that Yerevan is in worse ruins than it was back then, the city centre now filled with empty houses and building carcasses. It took me a while to realize that these are completely new constructions, the city is covered with "modern ruins". Instead of valuing its history and architecture, and renovating its buildings, Yerevan´s official policy seems to favor sheer destruction, demolition and later construction of bad quality ghost houses.
Yet, there are amazing places in Yerevan, for example the outdoor cinema next to the main square which is soon set to be demolished. Places like this can make every tourist envious.
Despite prevalent nationalistic sentiments, it becomes clear that Yerevan values its own identity little and looks longingly towards Europe. This can be seen while strolling down a sidewalk in the center of the city, lined with cafes named: London, Paris, Rio and so forth. But it seems that Armenians are trying to copy Europe from what they've seen in music videos, or as told by a distant relative who knows someone who went there a long time ago. The outcome is a cheap and absurd imitation which has nothing to do with those cities. Furthermore, as much as Yerevan tries, it will never become Paris or London (and why should it?).
A great example of ghost houses can be found on the main street in the city centre. If one walks on Abovyan during the day, things seem quite glamorous, as every building carries a big logo like Hugo Boss or Versace. But during the night, it becomes clear that something doesn't add up, on the whole street only few windows are lit up. The rest of the apartments sit empty since they were built, more than two years ago. Certainly one explanation is the poor construction quality, as well as the high prices which exceed some cities in the heart of Europe, for example Berlin (keeping in mind that Armenian medium wage is 200-300 dollars per month). The city is full of empty apartments while the actual need for new ones is very small. Foreign Armenians with their desire for summer apartments in Yerevan have created a real-estate bubble with no connection to reality which will burst soon.
Public space and trade
There is a noticeable absence of public space. People seem to exist for the city, not the other way around. And so it happens that when in a park with a little child who walks on the grass, suddenly a security guard appears and announces it is strictly forbidden. This gives one an impression that the park is not there for spending a good time but for admiring it from afar. How to explain this concept to a 1,5 year old is altogether another subject.
Caucasian trading mentality mixed with raging capitalism is far from charming. One starts to tire when it turns out that from ten identical tables you happen to be sitting at the one unmarked "VIP" table with a large extra fee. Or when a taxi driver tries to convince you that the rate has doubled as you place a small bag into the trunk (per the driver's request). And so now the pack is somehow considered as some kind of separate traveller in the trunk.
One could think that Armenians are just not very blessed with any kind of mathematical talent. Somehow though not one of those miscalculations happen to be in favor of the client. It seems that the locals have learned only one side of the business making, that is the part where you ask for the money without understanding that there is at least some degree of well-being you have to provide in return. If for no other reason, at least because you might need the client at some later point. As we know, good business is done with a stable client base.
Cutting the branch you sit on
And the sad paradox? The only ones suffering from all this are the locals themselves who are consistently cutting the branch they sit on. Statistics shows that a big part of Armenian economy is supported by foreign Armenians. And most of the tourists are foreign Armenians. Why bite the hand that feeds you? And when my friends ask me how Yerevan is and whether they should travel there I don´t know how to answer. Because I am not sure anymore what Yerevan has to offer. The architecture of the city has been ruined, life is more expensive than in Europe and the story of Armenian hospitality has turned into an old myth from a distant time. And so I tell them: better go to Tbilisi. Georgians at least value their city and in big part have been able to get rid of the sickness common to the Caucasus region: corruption. Or then go to Istanbul, which is truly vibrant, a good mixture of East and West and where a tourist doesn´t feel taken for a fool at every step.
I understand that I´m being unfair to many amazing Armenians, to some that I met during my stay. But then again, it isn´t about the common person. It´s about a society with an extreme level of corruption, a society where the only value is money, a society which doesn´t cherish its own people. It is ugly and very far from anything sustainable. And it produces a large number of small criminals who are sadly louder than nice people.
And because of everything mentioned above, I am not surprised to hear that Armenia is loosing a large part of it's youth to emigration. As in Estonia, no official media campaign can bring back young people, only the real knowledge that there is a possibility of building something in your homeland can stop this emigration.
I deeply hope that when I travel to Armenia again in a couple of years I will be positively surprised. I hope that things will have changed for the better.
Viewed 2224 times Baffling Wealth: How Did Marzpet Khachatryan Boost Revenues from 3 Million to 7 Billion?
Viewed 2086 times MP Bagratyan to Government: "Go to Google Map and see how much land is devoted to grape growing"
Viewed 1759 times ARF MP to Ministers: "The people would beat you up in the streets"
Viewed 1709 times Four Years and Four Deaths Later: Why the Cover-Up Regarding the Nairit Plant Explosion?
Viewed 1006 times Mystery Dig: Who's Removing the Pipes in Lori?
Viewed 949 times Agricultural Expert: Armenia's Hail Cannons Ineffective and Outdated