- By Sigrid Lupieri
- Apr. 22 2012 18:51
Main industries: Carpets, chemicals, primary metals, machinery, plastics, alcoholic beverages, and processed food
Mayor: Taron Margaryan
Founded in 782 B.C.
Interesting fact No. 1: Armenia is considered the first nation to have adopted Christianity as a state religion in 301 A.D. According to biblical accounts, Armenians are the direct descendants of Hayk, the great-great-grandson of Noah, whose ark landed on Mount Ararat after the flood.
Interesting fact No. 2: Yerevan is famous for its brandy. The Yerevan Brandy Company, not far from Republic Square, was founded in 1887, and its cellars contain one particular barrel of brandy that will only be opened when the conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region comes to an end.
Sister cities: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Montreal, Canada; Marseille, France; Nice, France; Tbilisi, Georgia; Isfahan, Iran; Carrara, Italy; Venice, Italy; Beirut, Lebanon; Antananarivo, Madagascar; Chisinau, Moldova; Rostov-on-Don, Russia; Bratislava, Slovakia; Damascus, Syria; Odessa, Ukraine; Cambridge, U.S.; Los Angeles, U.S.
Helpful contacts: Eduard Nersisyan, director of Yerevan City Hall's development and investment programs department (1 Argishti Street; +3 7410-51-42-27;
YEREVAN, Armenia — A first glance of Yerevan from the imposing central train station may appear uninspiring Ч bleak empty buildings flank the large square in the gray light of dawn, merchants setting up their stalls stare warily at passersby, and the grandiose monument of a rider on a horse pays tribute to the country's Soviet past. But as the bustling city gradually awakens, it soon becomes clear that there is much more to Armenia's capital than meets the eye.
From the ghostly view of Mount Ararat's snowy peaks looming over the city to the vibrant colors and sounds of the Vernissage flea market, Yerevan possesses a subtle beauty. Yerevan's citizens have been particularly resilient despite the devastating effects of an earthquake in 1988, dire economic hardship and a war with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave from 1988-94. Over the past decade, a booming economy and flourishing business environment has given Armenia the well-deserved epithet of the Caucasian Tiger.
Yerevan has also proven its mettle. The capital, which contains over a third of the country's entire population, produces more than half of Armenia's gross domestic product. The city center, stretching beyond the vast expanse of the Republic Square, offers an abundance of restaurants and coffee bars and, especially during the long summer evenings, residents stroll in the streets or lounge in the outdoor cafes to meet with friends and family. The Opera House, with its renowned theater and symphony orchestra, and a plethora of local museums, create a lively cultural scene for aficionados of history and music.
Yerevan Brandy Company (2 Tsovakal Isakovi Avenue; +3 7410-51-01-00;
Nairit Plant (70 Bagratunyats Street; +3 7410-44-95-11;
Established in 1999, SPS Cigaronne (24 Hovhannisyan; +3 7410-66-14-32;
According to locals, the recent changes in Yerevan have been dramatic. "The '90s were dark years where people were sitting in candlelight in the evenings, all packed in one room for heat," said Ruzanna Tantushyan, a freelance writer and photographer who grew up in Yerevan. "But in the 2000s, living conditions improved. There is electricity and travel, and the city is a lot livelier."
Tantushyan, who currently lives in Chicago but returns regularly to Armenia, said the most visible changes have occurred in central Yerevan. When she left the city in 2005, buildings were gray and covered in dust. Today, recent business investments and construction work give the city a more cheerful appearance.
Despite the city's rapid transformation, Yerevan has not eluded the far-reaching grasp of history. On the contrary, modernity has crept around the stunning ancient churches, with their cool and somber interiors, the Armenian stone crosses Ч called khachkar Ч with engravings as delicate and intricate as embroidery, and sobering genocide memorials, a tribute to the country's past of bloodshed.
Q: Why should investors set up a business in Yerevan?
A: Yerevan offers a wide range of opportunities for investment projects and provides a fair and favorable investment area. Furthermore, we have a special development and investment programs department that is responsible for investments in the city and is ready to assist in all investment initiatives.
Q: What are you doing to attract investors?
A: The municipality of Yerevan is concentrating its efforts to create a modern infrastructure and is taking steps to improve the investment environment. For instance, we have recently published a brochure Ч "Where to invest in Yerevan?" Ч that focuses on large-scale investment projects in Yerevan and indicates the support offered by the city to those investing in Yerevan.
Q: What sectors are most promising for investors?
A: As the tourism infrastructure is developing, this is a particularly attractive sector for foreign investors in Yerevan. Several internationally known brands and private foreign investors have already invested in this area, which indicates the potential and attractiveness of the sector. However, there is a lack of middle-class hotels in Yerevan that provide services according to international standards with competitive prices. Furthermore, we can propose projects in connection with municipal services to companies with international experience and standards through what is called a public private partnership.
Ч Sigrid Lupieri
From the cuisine, a distinctive blend of Arabic, Russian, Greek and Persian influences, to its architecture, an eclectic mix of Soviet-style monuments and ancient traditional buildings, Yerevan's uniqueness lies not only in its position at the crossroads of the East and West, but in its ability to effortlessly merge the past with the present. As Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda wrote about his trip to the city in 1957, "I think Yerevan is one of the most beautiful cities I have seen; built of volcanic tuff, it has the harmony of a pink rose."
What to see if you have two hours
As heavy traffic creates Moscow-style congestion in many parts of the city, Yerevan's center is most accessible on foot. Starting from the circular, stately Republic Square, formerly known as Lenin Square, where imposing Soviet architecture meets elegant Armenian-style buildings, walk down Abovyan Street, the city's main thoroughfare. On Abovyan Street, you will pass cafes, souvenir shops, restaurants, cinemas and, finally, the miniature 13th-century Katoghike, a chapel so small its congregation has to stand in the yard.
In the northern part of the center, about two blocks west from the chapel on Abovyan Street, visit the grand Opera House, surrounded by a lush park. The cafes and restaurants near the park are a great place to stop for lunch or a snack. Toward the end of the walk, stop to admire the colossal Cascade, a flight of stone steps leading to the monument commemorating the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia. If you take the escalator to the top of the Cascade, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Yerevan.
During the weekends, the Vernissage flea market is well worth visiting. Only steps away from Republic Square, the market offers just about anything under the sun, from plumbing fixtures and remote controls to Soviet memorabilia, handwoven carpets and, according to vendors, antique religious icons. The Vernissage market, however, is more than a shopping experience. The vivid colors, the lively atmosphere as customers and vendors haggle and bargain for a deal, the intent chess-players whiling away the long hours of the afternoon, offer a glimpse into the culture and traditions of Armenia and its people.
What to do if you have two days
After visiting Yerevan's main attractions, there are a number of worthwhile day trips that provide a deeper understanding of Armenia's rich history and culture. Transportation via public bus or the ubiquitous minibuses known for their reckless drivers is very cheap and relatively easy. Tickets average 100 dram or 200 dram ($0.30 or $0.60). However, if comfort is a priority, taxis are also inexpensive and will deliver you safely to your destination. Most taxis do not have meters but charge about 100 dram ($0.30) per kilometer.
Q: Why do you think an investor should consider setting up a business in Yerevan?
A: Armenia has great metal resources for the mining industry and especially human resources. Armenia has a high percentage of people with a university degree or even a Ph.D.
Q: What negative aspects do investors have to contend with?
A: Armenia is a post-Soviet country emerging from the shadow of the Soviet Union. Sometimes the bureaucracy and tax policies can be problematic.
Q: Which sectors are the most promising for investors at the moment?
A: As a consulting company, we always advise our customers to invest in the outsourcing business. Though Armenia is surrounded by closed borders, we can provide many services through the Internet, in particular in the IT and programming sector. There is also great growth potential in the tourism industry.
Q: What has the government been doing to attract investors?
A: The government has been investing in the tourism industry in particular to create more attractive services Ч from better roads and hotels to better transportation.
Ч Sigrid Lupieri
About a half-hour minibus ride from Yerevan, Garni Temple lies at the end of a dusty, winding road, nestled among the rugged Caucasus Mountains. Though the Hellenistic Temple has been rebuilt, it is one of the few structures commemorating local pagan religions. With its gray, stone pillars, the temple brings to mind ancient Greek architecture. On clear, sunny days, the view of the surrounding craggy cliffs and valleys is stunning.
Though buses do not continue onward from Garni, a taxi Ч or, alternatively, a 10-kilometer walk Ч will take a visitor to Geghard Monastery, which is attributed to the fourth century. Most of the churches from the monastery have been carved into the mountains. Within the deep, cavernous rooms, the air is quiet and cool. Candlelight illuminates intricate engravings on the walls, while locals say a spring of water in one of the chapels can keep skin looking youthful.
Another half-hour minibus ride from Yerevan will take you to Etchmiadzin (+3 7410-51-71-10;
The majestic monastery of Khor Virap is situated about 35 kilometers from Yerevan. Built upon a hill and an important pilgrimage site, the monastery offers a breathtaking view of the biblical site of Mount Ararat. According to legend, St. Gregory was imprisoned in a deep well (khor virap means "deep well" in Armenian) by the pagan King Trdat III. Twelve years later, King Trdat freed St. Gregory, who had miraculously survived. The king then converted to Christianity, making Armenia the first Christian nation. Within St. Gregory's chapel, it is still possible to climb into the well and imagine the long years of St. Gregory's confinement.
What to do with the family
When temperatures begin to climb, Water World (40 Myasnikyan Ave.; +3 7410-64-97-30;
Q: Why did you decide to move to Yerevan?
A: It was a business decision. I wanted to gain international experience, and I am interested in emerging markets. In the United States, everything is the same, but in an emerging market you get a totally different clientele. In Yerevan, banks are lending more and the economic recovery is a lot better.
Q: Why should investors set up a business here?
A: If you find the right people to do business with, it's a great environment. You get a much higher return on your investments. And it's changing very quickly. Now everyone has an entrepreneurial spirit, and everybody is doing some kind of business on the side.
Q: What are the challenges of doing business in the city?
A: It's a small place, and it's limited. Many people still have a Soviet mentality. For example, for older people even credit cards are like a psychological trauma. And investments can be shaky because of difficult relations with other countries such as Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Q: What do you like best about Yerevan?
A: I compare Yerevan to New York. In the spring, summer and fall, restaurants and cafes are full until 2:30 in the morning Ч just like New York is called the city that never sleeps. The city is very much alive. Women, kids, grandfathers Ч everyone is in the streets. I love the food and the warmth of the people.
Ч Sigrid Lupieri
If your ideal night out involves listening to the dreamy notes of a symphony or watching acrobatic pirouettes, the imposing circular Opera House (54 Tumanyan Poghots; +3 7410-52-79-92) hosts the National Academic Opera and Ballet Theater. Billboards around the Opera House and on Abovyan Street advertise upcoming events.
Or you can descend into the bowels of the Opera House to dance to the beat of Russian pop or MTV at the club Opera (54 Tumanyan Poghots; +3 7410-54-12-22). The entrance fee is 3,000 dram ($8).
With first-rate DJs, a large bar and quality food, Relax (105 Teryan Street) is located in the Citadel Business Center and attracts the young and trendy. The club is also popular among expats and members of the Armenian diaspora. Admission averages 2,000 dram ($5).
Where to eat
The Color of Pomegranates (15 Tumanyan Poghots; +3 7410-58-52-04) is a small, charming restaurant decorated with artifacts from the Vernissage market. Its somewhat whimsical name is a tribute to the Armenian film director Sergei Parajanov, whose eponymous film "The Color of Pomegranates" appeared in 1968. The menu offers a mix of European, Georgian and Armenian cuisine for an average check of 3,500 dram ($9) without alcohol.
One of the classiest restaurants in Yerevan, The Club (40 Tumanyan Street; +3 7410-53-13-61;
Old Erivan (2 Tumanyan Poghots; +3 7410-58-88-55;
Where to stay
Built by the American entrepreneur James Tufenkian in 2001, Avan Villa Yerevan Hotel (13th Street; +3 7460-50-10-10;
If you're looking for greater luxury, Denmark's national women's football team gave the Golden Tulip Hotel (14 Abovyan Street; +3 7410-59-16-00;
The Marriott Armenia Hotel (1 Armiryan Street; +3 7410-59-90-00;
A joke in Armenia says that "if you want to know if you're a real Armenian, you have to talk about Armenian history, culture and identity three to five times a day." To win the hearts of Armenians, locals suggest that you begin by praising the country and its rich culture. If you also raise a glass of Yerevan's famous cognac, you have set the basis for a lifelong friendship.
How to get there
The easiest and fastest route to Yerevan is by plane. Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport (
To get to the city center, the fastest and most practical route is via taxi. Taxis provide 24-hour service and cost about 2,800 dram ($7) for a trip to the city.
International travel to Armenia by train is limited. While there are no direct routes from Azerbaijan or Russia, there is a good connection with Tbilisi, Georgia. You can buy tickets on the second floor of the Tbilisi train station where the staff speaks Georgian, Russian and limited English. Trains from Tbilisi only run every two days, departing in the afternoon and arriving in Yerevan early the next morning after a 15-hour trip. Costs depend on whether you prefer to ride first, second or third class and range from 12 lari ($7) for a bench seat to 45 lari ($27) for a first-class compartment. You can obtain a visa from the border patrol when you reach Armenia.