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Postcard from Armenia

by OLIVIA KATRANDJIAN in Yerevan

16 May 2010 18:5111 Comments
armeniapool.jpg

Photo by Khashayar Zand

Armenia: The New Iranian Tourist Destination

Armenia is not your typical tourist destination. But in 2009, 44,297 Iranian tourists visited Armenia, according to the National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia. That number has increased from 23,892 in 2005 and 29,597 in 2008 -- a tremendous surge.

"Armenia is a new discovery for Iranians," said a representative of the Armenian community in Tehran, who chose not to be named. While Dubai has become more expensive, Yerevan has developed adequate and affordable accommodations. "We have more rooms for people to stay in, more restaurants for people to eat in," said Edna Baghoumian, a Persian Armenian living in Yerevan. "Tour companies have developed packages that are really affordable."

For Iranians, Armenia is cheaper than other regional destinations and much more accessible. In a world where Iranians feel unwelcome in most countries, they can enter Armenia without applying for a visa in advance by hopping on a bus to cross a shared border. In what is one of the region's few Christian nations, Iranians can drink alcohol and dress and dance freely. Iranian women can throw off their headscarves while men enjoy the view of Armenian ladies in high heels and tight skirts.

While May to October is Armenia's best tourist season, March is the month that sees the largest influx of Iranians. This year, 27,600 Iranians spent Nowruz, the Persian New Year, in Armenia's capital of Yerevan. But Nowruz is not the only time Iranians vacation in Yerevan. "Iranians are looking for reasons to leave their country so they can experience some freedoms," said Vanoohi Gogosian, a Iranian-Armenian tour guide living in Yerevan. "The anniversary of Khomeni's death is coming up, so for three or four days it's going to be like Nowruz here. It's not about the specific holiday, it's about Iranians finding an excuse to leave their country and party." But partying isn't the sole motivating factor -- many Iranian families come to visit their children, who are enrolled in Yerevan's many universities.

Out of Armenia's four bordering neighbors, Iran is arguably its most reliable. Iran supplies Armenia with energy and electricity, and the two countries are working together on other projects that will further Armenia's economic development. Despite this friendly relationship and the fact that Iranians inject much needed cash into Armenia's economy, the Iranian presence is not wholly welcomed in Yerevan. Because of the small size of Armenia's capital and its essentially mono-ethnic community, the Iranian presence is unavoidable. During Nowruz, it was easy to spot the drunk Iranians on the streets, some of whom became a public nuisance. But if they were drunk, it was because they were buying Armenian cognac and drinking at Armenian bars, which is good for the Armenian economy.

"The expenses of each person per week during their stay in Armenia is at least 1,500 US dollars," said an Iranian Embassy representative. For the Armenian economy, that is no small sum -- in 2007, the average Armenian spent 12 US dollars a week, according to the Armenian Ministry of Finances.

Given this trend from Armenia's Muslim neighbor, if the Turkish-Armenian border is opened, what is to stop Turks and Kurds who can afford it from coming into Yerevan on the weekends?

"Already we have some Turks and Kurds coming here, but not in a critical mass so they're not as visible," said Vanoohi Googasian. "The Persians come here because of the freedoms and the women, but Turkey doesn't inflict such strict regulations upon its citizens. So if the Turks came, it would have a completely different meaning. But let me tell you, it would serve to assimilate the two peoples."

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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11 Comments

The information give in the article is not very accurate. Although Turkey doesn't have any restriction regarding dress or alcohol-consumption, the truth is that Eastern Turkey tends to be conservative and in some towns is nearly impossible to find alcohol available. I don't think Armenia ever becomes a tourist destination for Turks/Kurds, because there is nothing there different from Eastern Turkey, plus, it is the most depaupered region of Turkey.

alem / May 16, 2010 8:48 PM

What a great article! I was in Yerevan during Norooz and it was exactly how the author described. I hope this encourages greater economic ties between the two old neighbors.

Gregory / May 16, 2010 9:20 PM

Olivia,

If I had the opportunity I would not hesitate to visit Armenia. I believe the presence of Armenian Iranians in our country has enriched us. I must admit a few points in this article do indeed disturb me. " …while men enjoy the view of Armenian ladies in high heels and tight skirts.", "The Persians come here because of the freedoms and the women..." Don't you think you put Armenian ladies down? How could Iranian men go along with your recommendations and yet protest selling of Iranian women in Arab countries? I believe we should hold ourselves to much higher standards.

Finally, I do not believe we should display a mosque in reference to a Christian country. I would not go to Armenia to visit a mosque, but to visit Armenia and experience the Armenian culture. Iranians who drink a lot and “some of whom became a public nuisance.” do not visit mosques. My best wishes for Armenia.

Niloofar / May 16, 2010 11:00 PM

Now that is a great picture. Once again, our best wishes for Armenia. I hope to see a free Iran alongside Armenia soon with open borders between all three countries of Iran, Armenia and Turkey. Free people, free tourism and free trade. That is the triangle of success.

Niloofar / May 17, 2010 2:15 AM

Are you out of your mind? An open border with Turkey?
1) Turkish people will move in and overtake the small Armenian population.
2) Our ads, language and food will be Turkified, like in the days of the Ottoman Empire.
3) The schools, will have to accomodate their children, Turkish people will not respect our holidays, special religious days 4/24/10.
4) Crime will increase, Turkish people are the biggest smugglers of Turkish hashish and human trafficking. Today it is a bad enough poor Armenian women have to travel to Turkey to seek employment as prostitutes.
5) Turkey wants to make Armenia part of Azerbaijan. they have made it very clear they beleive Armenia belongs to them and that N-K belongs to Azerbaijan their retarded little brother.
6) Armenian women will start marrying Turkish men as in the case of the Republic of Georgia.
7) Turkey will take over Armenia without dropping 1 bomb or killing one person. They will do it with Creeping Jihad or Cultural Jihad. with a population of 3 million Armenia would never survived with 80 million Turks swarming around their country with Jihad on their minds.

HYELife / May 17, 2010 8:55 AM

Thank you for your comments. Niloofar, I do not mean to put Armenian ladies down at all - quite the contrary. Armenian women, like Persian women, are beautiful, but not covered and do often wear high heels and tight skirts. My article is not based on mere observations but interviews with many Iranians, Armenians and Iranian Armenians. I'm glad you like the picture, and thank you for reading!

Olivia Katrandjian / May 17, 2010 9:15 AM

one of the main reason that Iranians take a refuge to Armenia is because they go there to bread a bit essiar away from Islamic laws. it is close to border and most are able to afford it.

due to this Islamic laws most Iranians feel free over there cause they do not have to wear those chadors or rossaries and those stupid uniforms.

and as far as looking well the male population of Iran are hungry to begin with so to them it does not matter females who ware high hills or tight skirt are Armenians or not.

Iranian females also feel free when they go to Armenia those who are not fanatic Islamist.

so either way both the visitors enjoy their freedom and Armenia benefits the economics

not fair / May 17, 2010 10:37 PM

this place have clear and tempting water.

kiavash / May 18, 2010 2:50 AM

As long as the Armenian girls do NOT marry muslims, their visit can be tolerated due to economy. Muslims are trying to turn the world into muslims. BEWARE!!

Arm / May 18, 2010 11:54 PM

Nice comments but yes i do agree with armenians here about iranians, armenians must be cautious at all times, and do not lose your faith and culture to them especially since we are 3 million only and already are a very tiny pure race of people. I was in armenia and i saw iranian guys trying to pick up armenian girls. it annoyed me but what can i do, i dont live there. Keep the peace and keep the distance to improve armenias economy i say.
thankyou

Salvation Never Quits / May 20, 2010 2:06 PM

Dear Salvation,

well all of us must face the realities, most Iranian business man do have families in Iran, and sadly they go ahead and make another batch of family in Armenia which Armenians are well aware of the situation as that they are not the only family.

the reality is the economy and people will do anything in order to survive.

now we like it or not that is the reality

not fair / May 28, 2010 1:59 AM