Yesterday in Yerevan: Weird Corners of the City

Having lived here in Yerevan for about two months now, I’ve done a good bit of exploring. Like any city, it has its quirky and unique places and sights, although I do reckon its post-Soviet quality increases the number of random relics dotted around the place. You know, your usual derelict concrete structures and peculiar goings-on. The good stuff.

One such relic that I happen to spend a lot of time in is my university here, the mighty Russian-Armenian. It’s a good place, friendly atmosphere and amazing views, although its stance is so pro-Russia that C*mbridge won’t even let their students go there. Indeed, it was quite a shock when they played the Russian national anthem at the Day of Knowledge, kind of a yearly opening ceremony for schools and unis. The building itself is of note, apparently a former psychiatric hospital (disputed by a taxi driver named Ararat in Dilijan), it is essentially a very long, enchanting corridor with a deserted gelato stand at one end, into which you can sort of imagine transposing scenes from One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest. As you stroll down the interminable corridor, continually forgetting where the entrance to the library or the nearest toilet is, the liminality of the space is palpable, hostile doors and chainsmoking professors on either side keeping your path true, unwavering. It’s a lot more fun than Welly Square, although that’s also a fucking maze.

Aside from the university and my house, my primary haunt is a semi-secret dive bar tucked away in the basement of an old khrushchevka. It’s a fun place, locals only type vibes, walls bestrewn with graffiti, a constant stream of music videos on the TV, reminiscent of a 2010s hairdresser. The crowd is for the most part friendly, after a couple of trips you get to know the familiar faces and are set for some weird nights.
For instance, I was there yesterday doing the usual – drinking beer and trying to chat shit in Russian – when a colossal ruckus arose surrounding a quote from the movie Blef. An impassioned elderly gentlemen vehemently insisted that the phrase “schet naschet scheta” was absent from the Soviet flick, while a younger guy calmly pulled up the evidence, upon which the other man stormed out. He was soon to return however, and within five minutes had embroiled himself in another spat about an Armenian singer-songwriter with a man wearing a cravat, who, apparently erroneously and unforgivably, referred to the bard as “Jazzman”. The tiff made it onto the streets outside after the repeated exclamation of what I can only define as the Russian equivalent of “cash me outside, how bout dat”, but was quickly broken up by some upstanding young Muscovites. Fun times, and great for the language skills. If you head to the north of the centre, up the big staircase known as Cascade, which is in itself an architectural delight, and past a big column commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, you reach the fabled patch of green named Victory Park. It houses the Mother of Armenia, a big statue celebrating all things patriotic that looks over Yerevan with austere majesty. In front of it there’s the obligatory Eternal Flame and within the pedestal the military museum. On its own, it’s a classic piece of post-Soviet realia (similar statues are found in Tbilisi, Volgograd# and Kyiv), but its surroundings really take it to the next level of odd. You see, Victory Park also plays host to a funfair that can’t have changed since 1985, thus foregrounding the great symbol of Armenia with a rusty ferris wheel, an algae-covered zorb pond and a decrepit hall of mirrors. The farcical juxtaposition of it all induces manic confusion as you get jump-scared by a wandering kvass cart or the rippling of a Minions bouncy castle. Highly recommend.

Snaking around the west side of the centre is the Hrazdan Gorge, which is best reached through a long, crumbling tunnel that starts at the end of the upscale hustle and bustle of a nice park and ends in the verdant peace of the deep valley. There are actually two parallel tunnels tracing this path, although one appears to have collapsed, thus not filling you with confidence as you traverse the other. The graffiti-ed walls and oppressively jagged lighting fixtures guide you to the other end, which always appears to be an eternity away until those final moments in which you are reunited with the world. Continue down an old staircase to the bottom of the gorge and you come across the Children’s Railway, a collection of discarded Soviet locomotives now overrun by nature. There’s also the old station building, which is of course falling apart, but thankfully its lovely stained glass remains intact. Nearby you actually reach the Hrazdan river, which is inexplicably tiny with respect to the massive chasm it inhabits. Maybe it’s been dammed, idk. It’s very romantic, a calm oasis in the middle of the crazy city, although I went with my housemate and so didn’t quite get with the lovers’ vibe.

If you press on south through the gorge, you’ll end up on a very big bridge, at either pole of which the cognac derby faces off. The grandiose factories of Noy and Ararat sternly stare down one another, and you feel the sudden urge to have a tipple. In view too is the Hrazdan Stadium, where Snoop Dogg was to perform a concert so hotly anticipated that government-bought billboards for it managed to interpose themselves amidst the constant stream of beer and vodka ads that somewhat questionably line the motorway to Sevan. Every weekend a flea market pops up in the shade of the stadium’s concrete hull, where you can buy literally anything: furniture, clothes, a box of wrenches, random circuit boards with blown capacitors, very ornate plates, the odd book or trinket, and a tattered portrait of Nikolai Gogol. The latter I very nearly purchased, only dissuaded by the impossibility of bringing it home in one piece. The owner of the portrait, Aram, kindly offered to keep it safe for me ‘forever’ in exchange for a small fee. Sadly, but sensibly, I declined.

That’s just a taste of the weird and wonderful world of Yerevan, to experience it fully you must come yourself. And please do, I’m cripplingly lonely. Jk, bye.