Yerevan is nice. Thus Armenia’s capital city is dammed by faint praise. It’s difficult to find fault in the immaculately clean streets and plentiful parks and trees that any city need to smooth its harsh edges. Its stylish residents enjoying their espressos would not appear out of place in southern Europe. So whats the problem? A look at the night-time celebrations for the city’s 2795th birthday may give a clue.
Such a ripe old age for a city is indeed worthy of a good bash to celebrate and it was done in fine style with little obsession with the past you might expect for something so venerable: the main stage in Republic Square pulsed with huge HD video screens and laser projections, as a sound system thumped out hi-fi beats for the great and good of Armenian pop to sing along to. Almost the entire city centre had been blocked off for the whole day to allow for parades, rallies, entertainment and a good old knees up. But this was not London: no rivulets of beery urine traversing the pavements; no broken glass crunching underfoot and barely a scrap of litter; no soiled knickers draped in bushes; no inept singing from drenched buffoons dancing in the fountains; no hooded youths doing top deals on weed and ketamin from shadowy corners and no soundtrack of incoherent shouting. In fact the police force could have quite happily gone to bed early and left everyone to it.
To which older readers may say, “how nice”. But, it’s not rock’n’roll is it! It’s a city sized version of a cheese and wine gathering at auntie Flo’s, the high point of which is Uncle Reg playing his favourite Chris Rea record. Despite the presence of a stage with a DJ playing underground house tunes no eyes revealed a glazed euphoria or a wild stare, the most rebellious moment being a line of teenagers in a version of an impromptu traditional Armenian conga dance.
It would be churlish of me to criticize such decent behaviour but the world’s great cities have an edge to them, where the good, the bad and the ugly of a nation congregate to reveal the reality of life, including the bits that politicians and tourist offices would rather edit out. At least the mild-mannered drivers lack the insatiable urge to run you down, unlike in Tbilisi.
Even the city’s buildings proffer a uniform blandness, but one that is rarely hideously ugly it should be said. This, in a large part is down to that giant of 20th century town planning: Joseph Stalin. Such was his wisdom in these matters that he knew full well that future generations would not want to put up with any of those awful, medieval churches and mosques. Who in their right mind would want the inconvenience of a Persian fortress or ancient caravanserais giving testimony to centuries of trade along the Silk Road? As for old bath houses and bazaars, “pah”! Doubtless for decades to come citizens and tourists alike will be raising a glass of the renowned Armenian brandy to toast his foresight.
In his magnanimity he did decide to spare one portion of the old town named Kond. Naturally, because it housed true proletariats, the essence of communist values, they obviously would not want to have to put up with imperialist perversions such as a decent sewage system, running water and electricity. The residents duly celebrated their reprieve by investing their savings in truck loads of breeze blocks, asbestos sheeting and some corrugated iron to add subtle counterpoint to their medieval stonework. Hence the area remains to this day what can charitably be described as a total shit heap.
Without descending to the horror of Milton Keynes (A Google Images search will reveal the 1970’s majesty of this town to non UK readers) Yerevan has a modern, sometimes European feel, inevitably so having been deprived of its architectural history. Its recent constructions avoid the crass Disneyesque creations of Batumi (Georgia’s seaside resort) or the brash futurism of cash soaked Baku, so simply look………..whats the word? Nice, of course!