Monday, June 25, 2007

Ukraine vs. Armenia

When I had a week off from work I decided to go to Armenia, the capital of which is Yerevan. I originally intended to go to Russia but I was turned off by the uncertainty of some strange and time consuming visa procedures, for example there is a rule about getting a special 'voucher' which proves nothing as it can be bought at a tourist agency by anyone with 70 dollars. Then I thought Armenia might be more interesting anyway because I knew absolutely nothing about the country.

Kharkov and Yerevan both being similar sized cities - 1.2/1.5 million people - in former Soviet republics there are a lot of similarities. There is the metro for which I think all Soviet cities with more than 1 million people were entitled. There are the market buildings, stadiums and amusement parks, and there are some impressive university buildings and some not-so-impressive suburban residential buildings. I think they also have a bit of the same anti social behaviour as seen when people should be making way for each other or holding a queue instead of just forcing ahead, or when they should be taking care of common facilities or the elderly people who are now begging everywhere in the streets.

What is different between the cities, I think, is the more 'southern' feel of Yerevan. The people of Yerevan are more dark-colored and pretty and they smile a lot more. They walk very slowly in the streets or they sit in one of the city's thousand park cafes, and some of the old people are playing board games together. I think they may also be a bit more positive and proud about their own country. I met a Canadian girl who lived four years in Armenia as a child and who was visiting Yerevan for the fourth time. When she was showing me around she repeatedly used the word 'we' when she was talking about Armenians. Then I met an American girl who was born and lived for 10 years in Odessa (Ukraine), but when someone asked she was very quick to tell that she had 'lived all here life' in US.

If the Armenians to me seem more aware of their culture and history than Ukrainians it may be because Kharkov is in the Russian speaking part of Ukraine. Anyway it was also striking to me how aware Armenians are about their genocide compared to how many times I have heard about the Ukrainian genocide from Ukrainians - zero times exactly. But I would hear about the Armenian genocide many times when I went on a guided tour, when reading a magazine or listening to the lyrics of music, or when just talking to someone the subject would come up.

This is the airport in Kharkov. When I was waiting for my flight I met a very kind policeman who showed me his little office. He told me about a Ukrainian tradition where you give policemen gifts in the form of money. I told him that in Denmark we don't use that tradition.

The airport in Yerevan is more fancy (or at least more modern) than the ones in both Kharkov and Kiev. Getting a visa to Armenia was also a very modern procedure, I filled in an online form and the next day I received my 'electronic visa' by email. In that airport they also have a more efficient way of extorting people. When I was leaving they told me that I had to pay some extra special 'exit tax', or they could not check me in. The woman was not asking nicely like the police man in Kharkov she just said 'sorry, there is nothing I can do'.

The airport of Yerevan is just a facade, true Soviet style. The suburbs of Yerevan looked as poor - or maybe even poorer - than some places in Ukraine.

The buses of Armenia are just as uncomfortable as in Ukraine. One difference though is that in Yerevan you pay the driver after leaving the bus and not while he is driving the bus with his other hand/eye. A bit more clever I think.

The drivers in Yerevan are maybe even more crazy than in Kharkov, as a pedestrian you are completely outlawed. It makes no difference if you are crossing a red or a green light, except when it is red the driver might not honk the horn to let you know when to jump for your life. The car smoke in Yerevan is also really bad. I thought I had gotten used to smelly old cars in Kharkov but after two days in Yerevan my throat felt like sand paper.

In the Armenian cuisine they have a repertoire of herbs which is quite larger than the Kharkovian 'parsley and dill'. I was wondering if anise was the popular spice that they often use but when I had this soda I realized what it was, this tarragon soda was actually very good. What was not so good is the drink they call 'Tan', it is sort of like a Camembert flavoured soda. About the Armenian food itself I was quite impressed, in several restaurants I had food which was both perfectly prepared and perfectly served. As I have told, good service in Kharkov is quite rare and even though they have some good food, the more sophisticated stuff I had in Yerevan simply does not exist in Kharkov.

Armenian sofas are less colorful than in Kharkov.

Some Armenians definitely have an aesthetic sense.

In Yerevan I don't think I saw any Lenin or Stalin statues at all. I only saw statues like this, all of them some kinds of caricatures. I don't know if they have removed Soviet statues but I know that they renamed their 'Lenina Avenue' after the guy who invented the Armenian alphabet. In Kharkov 'Lenina Avenue' is still called that, and they still have some old Lenin statues.

Trashed old Ferris wheel. I saw several wheels in this same design, in Kharkov also, I guess they all came from some big Soviet factory producing happy fun for the people. The wheels must be hard to disassemble because they always just put them out in the country side like this.

Abandoned Soviet swimming pool. I guess this is true modernism, they thought one model would fit all environments. As for much of the suburban residential constructions I know it did not match the Armenian earthquake of 1988. As for this swimming pool it must have been a problem with Armenia's shortage of water.

This kind of nature I never saw in Ukraine, but of course I also have not been to the mountainous western part of Ukraine yet.

The Armenian dachas look different than in Ukraine. This is a dacha area near lake Sevan.

Jeppe told me that in Ukraine they will not say 'good bye' when someone goes away from the country, they will say 'congratulations'. In Yerevan they have a project where they are building big houses for Armenians who are returning home. I also saw a T-shirt which I guess also was made for foreign Armenians (or some crazy non-Armenians), it said '100% ARMENIAN'.

Maybe Armenia is a bit more 'outward minded' than Ukraine. I saw similar European certificates other places also, and I read that one of the squares in Yerevan had recently been renamed as 'France Square'. I think USA are also quite involved in developing the country, I know they have some long running program for developing the Armenian tourism industry. I read that Armenia is actually the most 'economically free' CIS country meaning that they have rules for business and investment which are open and clear enough to make it easy for foreign ventures to operate in the country. I guess this is one more example that Armenians have a better concept of service. You may wonder which of the countries to bet on - Ukraine vs. Armenia - when considering which will develop faster, they do seem to have some different odds.

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