Yerevan that nobody likes
I happened to be in Yerevan by chance. I was walking on Saturday evening in Rubinstein, among noisy companies, went to a bar which had already closed, the clock was well past midnight. And then I clearly realized that it was time to go! St. Petersburg is good in moderation, but if you stay here for a day, you can fall into a depression.
I quickly visit Pulkovo’s website. The waiter brings me the menu, I order wine. I look at the departure board for the morning. The waiter hurries me up, as the bar is closing. Salzburg, Nalchik, Cherepovets, Vienna, Tel Aviv, Ukhta, Berlin, Yerevan! Check, please. Yes, the choice is obvious: of course Yerevan at 9:40 am by Ural Airlines.
I was in Yerevan long ago and the only thing I remember well about that trip is how I accidentally drove high up in the mountains, found a little restaurant and ordered khash! It was so delicious that since then I have never eaten khash again, lest I be disappointed in it. I also remember the wild samostroika and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice at every turn.
While I was gone, they built a new airport in Yerevan. There is a long line at the passport control, but it moves very quickly: there are many border guard booths, and they all work quickly. What is nice is that there is one big queue, not like in Russia – separate to each booth. One queue is always better, otherwise people start queuing at several booths at once, getting nervous, choosing where it’s fastest. Why create a fuss over nothing?
In Yerevan, the cab apps we are accustomed to are working, and the trip to the city costs a penny. In general, everything in Armenia is so cheap that, at first, it is kind of embarrassing. I have withdrawn $100 from an ATM and have not been able to spend it. The prices in good restaurants are the same as in Moscow canteens, cabs and public transportation are almost free.
Yerevan is unkempt and nervous. The driver always makes strange maneuvers for some reason and yells at the other drivers. Driving here in general is very dangerous. In two days I didn’t see a single driver who was wearing a seat belt. Many cars here are equipped with stoppers for seat belts, so it seems that an Armenian driver would rather get hurt in an accident than wear a seat belt. By the way, I recommend to those who like to put stoppers to see what happens to the driver’s face even after a minor accident, when airbags are triggered. Spoiler: you will have to change your passport, as you will no longer have your old face.
01. The main treasure of Armenia is tuff! The stone with which almost all the buildings here are decorated. It is of different colors. But the most beautiful is the Yerevan tuff! It is of dark chocolate color. There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the buildings finished with Yerevan tuf. They become dark and noble in color, and the street is transformed at once! These buildings are like the soldiers of the guard of honor on full parade.
02. All this combined with exquisite carvings!
03. Unfortunately, the Armenians didn’t appreciate the beauty of old Yerevan and decided to tear it all down! Yes, it looks like a joke, but there are almost no old buildings left. At best, the facades are preserved. That is, the building is demolished, and its scalp is hung on an already new house. Armenians don’t see anything wrong with that – what’s wrong with that? But the difference is approximately like between a beautiful and strong animal and its head, which the hunter hangs on his wall as a trophy.
04. These are the kinds of architectural trophies now hanging all over the city. Here and there you can find old facades.
05. In the pursuit of square meters, it’s not about beauty and history.
And we are lucky that Armenia is not the richest country. There was not enough money to demolish and rebuild everything.
Now the so-called “Old Yerevan” is being built in the city. It’s such a huge complex of new buildings for $150 million. Obviously, it has nothing to do with the real old Yerevan. The nice thing is that it’s being built on the site of a historic neighborhood that was completely destroyed by 2005.
“Originally, back in 2014, Armenia’s Consul General in France Vardan Sirmakes decided to finance the project. The government made a decision, according to which the land on Abovyan, Byuzand, Kokhbatsi and Aram streets, which belonged to the previous developers – Glendale Hills and EMC – was recognized as a historical heritage site and transferred to the company “Old City”.
According to the original plan, “Old Yerevan” was supposed to be represented by low-rise buildings with two underground floors and two upper floors with mansards. But the investor of the project, Vardan Sirmakes, demanded to have four stories instead of two stories on the upper floors. During the discussion of the project by Yerevan City Council, the majority voted for it, including the chairman of the council Mkrtich Minasyan.
The construction works in the center of Yerevan are carried out so carefully and thoroughly that some of the historical buildings have only facades left and others have crumbling walls.
07. High-rise buildings have grown very quickly in the city center. Yerevan has never been a multi-storey city, but in the noughties there was a real estate boom and wealthy Armenians from abroad started buying apartments in their native city. The houses are half-empty because the apartments are mostly for investments. This usually happens when the real estate tax is very low. For example, in New York, it is impossible to imagine a person buying an apartment as an investment and not living in it or renting it out. Huge taxes keep the market from overheating.
08. The main pedestrian street looks like this:
09. It should be noted here that Yerevan’s new architecture is generally not bad. Everything is very quiet and because the buildings are lined with tufa, they don’t look as cheap as their Russian counterparts with ventilated facades. But all the same, this street doesn’t feel comfortable, because the new buildings are too atypical.
10. It lacks a lot of tall trees, which would hide the multi-storey boxes with their dense crowns and give pedestrians some shade. Trees could have been planted here, but greed won out: a shopping mall was built underground. A streetcar would have looked great on this street, too.
12. Yerevan has gone through several stages of destruction, and the first was during the Soviet era. The Soviet authorities actively demolished the old quarters of the city, but in exchange the city received good examples of new architecture. Such as, for example, the House of the Government of Armenia, a Stalinist building with national architectural features (1953) on Republic Square. It was built by the design of the most famous Armenian architect Alexander Tamanyan, author of the general plan of Yerevan, and his son Gevorg Tamanyan.
13. The early Soviet buildings still have their original doors and windows. Look how much attention to detail there used to be! The entrance was designed by an architect according to an individual project. Can you imagine a building today that has a unique entrance group? That instead of a standard-sized plastic door there would be such a beauty?
14. Here the building is clad in pink tuff. Due to the fact that the stone is different shades, it looks just chic. It’s a pity that they put air conditioning units on the facade. Couldn’t they hide them on the roof or close with decorative boxes?
15. Who wants flowers?
16. From the Soviet period, many monuments of Soviet modernism remained in Yerevan, and in Armenia in general. This is the cinema “Russia”, one of the architectural symbols of Yerevan during the Soviet era. It used to be the biggest cinema in Armenia, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union it was turned first into a market and then into a shopping center. One of its founders, Artur Tarkhanyan, wanted very much to build a temple and said that he succeeded, referring to the cinema.
17. And then there is the subway in Yerevan! In a city like this, of course, the subway is completely inefficient. It is expensive to operate and has a small passenger flow. It would be better to develop the streetcar instead of the subway, which used to be in Yerevan, but they cut it out in 2004. The Yerevan subway doesn’t even have enough money to wash the stations, but there are vodka ads everywhere.
However, lately the number of passengers on the subway has been growing. Do you know why? Because of the incredible traffic jams in Yerevan! People are gradually leaving their cars for public transportation, particularly the subway. That is, the transportation system has begun to regulate itself. But of course this is not enough.
18. And then there’s paid parking in Yerevan. More precisely, some misunderstanding, which is called here paid parking. For example, 1 hour costs 13 rubles, a month – 270, and a year – 1600 rubles! That is, if you pay for a year, a month of parking will cost you $2. It’s probably the lowest price in the world for parking. I think the administration of this whole system costs more than it brings in.
19. In general, you could consider parking in Yerevan to be free. And that’s a big problem. Cars are everywhere here. All the sidewalks and curbs are jammed with cars. People come to the center and leave their wagons for the whole day. Expensive land being given away for parking! It’s insane. At the same time, it’s completely impossible to walk around the city. Maybe the Armenians think that tourists come to their capital to look at their cars. But I don’t need to go to Yerevan to walk around the parking lot: I can come to some mall on the outskirts of Moscow.
20. The special fuck-up is that many of the cars here are for sale. That is, people just drive their clunker into the city center, put it in a passable place, put up an ad with their phone number, and that’s it. The car can stay like that for months.
21. In fact, free land in the center is beginning to be quickly seized. For example, along the streets you can often come across these sightseeing vans. Why? You pay 270 rubles per month – and stay as long as you want!
The traffic police believe that the parking chaos is due to the large number of cars and the lack of parking lots. I would specify that it’s not enough paid parking, because free parking is on every corner here.
Technically, paid parking in Yerevan has been in place since 2012. The cost per hour is 100 drams (13,5 rub.). You can park for free for 15 minutes, if you want to stay longer, you will need to send an SMS with payment during this time. If a driver didn’t make it in time or didn’t pay at all, he had to pay a fine of 5,000 drams (676 rubles). To reduce the number of cars in the center, the Yerevan Municipality could have expanded the paid parking zone and raised the cost of parking and the amount of fines. Instead, the city reduced the fine for non-payment to 3,000 drams (405 rubles).
But some adequate measures are still taken in Yerevan. For example, Republic Square is now a giant parking lot.
But in January it’s forbidden to park in front of the National Gallery and in front of the 1750th Anniversary of Yerevan Park. That’s right: the center of the city is not a giant shopping mall on the outskirts.
Welcome to Yerevan, or life in Armenia. The Real Story of Moving a Family from Russia
Despite a lower standard of living compared to other CIS countries, Armenia is fascinating and attracts Russians with its beauty, climate and friendliness. The close ties between Russia and Armenia have survived since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the ease of doing business, equal rights for citizens and foreigners, low real estate prices, and lack of language barriers make this country an ideal place to immigrate. Our guest of today’s Reconomica magazine moved with her family to Yerevan, and she hasn’t regretted it one bit. Let’s give her the floor.
How we moved to Yerevan
My name is Helen Hakobyan and I am 30 years old. I was born and grew up in Tula, but now I live and work in Yerevan.
My journey to move begins in 2013, when I married an Armenian man. Initially we were planning to live in Russia, and in Yerevan we visited occasionally. We tried our hand at different spheres, managed to live in China and work as teachers there. It was from a small town in the suburbs of Guangzhou that we finally moved to Armenia.
At that time it was a necessary decision as my husband’s parents needed financial support. It was easier to do it living in Yerevan.
That is how our family found itself in Armenia.
Visas and other documents
Armenia is one of the few countries where Russian citizens do not have to worry about length of stay, registration and other bureaucratic issues.
This is true not only for those who have relatives here, but for tourists in general:
- Entry into the country is allowed on a general passport, ie those who do not have a foreign passport, you can not bother to make it.
- You can officially live here for six months without a permit. If you can’t or don’t want to leave Armenia after six months, you have an option of getting a registration at the place of residence.
Mount Ararat is the symbol of Armenia.
Registration is not a problem
I will say separately about registration, because many Russian people are frightened of this word, remembering how difficult everything is done in Russia. In Armenia, for obvious reasons, there are far fewer migrants, which is why the registration procedure is much easier. You go to the passport office, write an application, pay a fee of 2,000 drams (about 170 rubles in 2018) and leave your passport. In a week you can pick up the document with the registration stamp.
The maximum that will happen is that a district officer will come to the address to check whether you really live there.
They say that, according to the new law, the presence of the owner of the dwelling is not obligatory, i.e. it’s the foreigner who informs about his long-term stay in Armenia at a certain address. But even if you are simply renting accommodation from strangers, it is not difficult to obtain their support – people here are sympathetic, in a pinch a small monetary compensation will help.
Registration is done only once. In theory, moving from one apartment to another, you should conscientiously report that you are leaving the address. On the basis of the registration you can get a social card, and with this you can visit hospitals, arrange children in kindergartens or schools, etc.
Peculiarities of national employment
Any Russian will tell you that there is no work in Armenia, so all the residents of this country are happy to work on the construction sites and kebab houses in the Russian Federation.
In the dashing 90s, many Armenians, indeed, went to Russia, Europe or the U.S. for happiness. Since then, there has been a stereotype in the minds of the population that a prosperous life can only be built in emigration.
The current new government is trying to fight this stereotype. Today foreigners are actively attracted to Armenia, ready to invest something in local business. This is a very good time for those who want to try their hand in the foreign market. The banking and tax systems are simple here and there are no language barriers. The only thing you have to get used to is the peculiarities of the national business.
What to occupy yourself with
At the moment, both my husband and I are working. I do it at home, since we have two children under the age of 3.
Below are a few options on what a young mother in Armenia can do:
- Freelancing – any kind of work through the Internet.
- Beauty services: manicures, haircuts, waxing, etc.
- Online stores.
- Tutoring (primarily languages).
I have chosen the first option, I used to do seo-promotion before maternity. In Yerevan, by the way, this niche is almost free and very few people do competent promotion here, and if they do it, they do it for a lot of money. That is why the proposal for a modest fee to write someone good texts, slightly correct the site, to plan a phased advertising campaign, etc., causes a storm of emotions. And then it’s off the beaten track: customers themselves will tell others about you, there will be new customers, etc. That same word-of-mouth is the best kind of information dissemination in Armenia, because everyone knows each other here.
As for the other jobs listed above, they are also quite in demand. Yerevan girls will never get bored with makeup and dressing up; some are actually ready to spend several hours a day on this.
So, cosmetics, clothes, etc. become a hot commodity, especially if this is something cute and suitable for selfies. A perfect example is the triumph of Miniso brand, which opened as many as 4 stores in Armenia in 6 months, and there is a full house in each store.
Salaries and Cost of Living
This is probably the most controversial part of my story. On the one hand, life in Armenia is very cheap. There are now 7.15 local drams in 1 ruble.
Today foreigners are actively attracted to Armenia, ready to invest something in local business.
Our family of four can eat for 2,000 drams (i.e. 280 rubles) a day, taking into account that we eat fresh fruits and vegetables all year round.
All the household goods brought in from Turkey and Iran are also inexpensive. The transportation in Yerevan only costs 100 Armenian Drams (12 Roubles), which includes buses, marshrutkas and subway. A trip on a trolleybus will cost 50 drams, or 6 rubles.
Housing Rental and Low Wages
The situation with rent is strange. The prices of renting a studio apartment in Yerevan start from AMD 50,000-60,000 (6,990-8,400 rubles). It is possible to rent a two-bedroom apartment for 30,000 drams (4,190 rubles) in the neighboring towns, where it takes 15 minutes by bus to get to the capital. So it is much easier to rent a house in the suburbs, where one can also enjoy the mountain views.
Alas, the cheap life is more than offset by the very low salaries. Salespeople in Yerevan earn 80,000-90,000 drams (11,000-12,500 rubles); construction workers can earn 160,000-180,000 drams (22,100-25,500 rubles) in the season. Our friend, an employee of the Foreign Ministry, has a salary of 120,000 drams (16,800 rubles).
It is these low wages that make freelancing or owning your own business ideal options for living in Armenia.
My husband currently works as a manager in a large retail chain and earns 130,000-150,000 drams, depending on the level of sales. Freelancing brings in about 90,000-100,000 AMD, that’s assuming that I have two little kids hanging on me all day long.
Recently we registered an IE and opened an online store for joint purchases of goods from Europe. So far the business is only developing, and the income from it is not large – 40,000-50,000 drams a month.
It is much easier to rent a house in the suburbs, where at the same time you can enjoy the mountain views.
Total: at most we earn 300,000 drams (42,000 rubles).
This is quite enough money to eat, rent a house, dress and clothe our children, go out to have fun and give something to my husband’s parents. Something even remains for the future, in the foundation of the house, which we are going to build in a year (not without the loan, of course).
Tips for those who want to move to Armenia
I can name many reasons to live in Armenia for several years, such as good climate, delicious cheap food, local friendliness and simply beautiful mountain scenery. On the other hand, if you have nothing in common with this country (no relatives, work contract, etc.) consider a few things:
- Choose Yerevan and its suburbs. There are other major cities in Armenia, such as Gyumri or Vanadzor. They are nice and colorful but very specific. They are nice to spend a couple of days there, but not everyone can get used to them. Freelancers will like Dilijan and Ijevan, as the nature there is incredible! But there’s practically no infrastructure, so it won’t suit families like us.
- Initially, look for friends. Everyone knows each other in Armenia. Any random passerby in Yerevan will eventually find common acquaintances with you. If by the time you arrive, you’ll already have some contacts, it will greatly simplify life, at least because for their own people here everything is cheaper, including rent.
- Close your eyes to excessive emotionality. It’s very nice to talk about hot mountain blood, but the increased impulsiveness in many Armenians kills logic altogether. Keep this in mind, for example, when hiring here. Today your boss may share his innermost feelings with you, but tomorrow he’ll yell at you for saying hello the wrong way.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. Post on Facebook that you’re looking for a place to live or a job. Post photos of handmade items or flowers you grow. The Armenian market is growing rapidly, there is demand for almost everything. Of course, such sales won’t bring millions, but they will contribute to the general piggy bank.
- Do not get too excited about tourism. A lot of foreigners come to Armenia, so many compatriots have a logical solution: to become a Russian speaking guide. Alas, this niche is so crowded that it’s almost impossible to squeeze in. Most people in Yerevan know 2 or 3 languages other than Armenian and successfully use them in their work. The chance to succeed in tourism is only for those who do something exceptional, and even that is not a fact.
- Attract passive income. For example, in the early days, renting out accommodation in Russia can bring you excellent money by local standards. I personally know several Muscovites who simply rent an apartment and dacha in the capital and live wonderfully in Yerevan without working.
In general, Armenia today is not a bad option for emigration. Business is actively developing here and new ideas are welcomed with interest.
If you are not afraid of the difference in mentalities and are willing to try your hand in a safe country with an oriental flavor, you are welcome!