is never too early for meat, in the land of
It has been said of many places, most famously
New York City: "This is the city that never
Such a reputation usually comes because of a
nightlife in which streets stay alive after dark,
where clubs are open till dawn and tired shopkeepers
stare from behind counters around the clock.
It could be argued that Yerevan is the city slow
to wake up.
It is not the fervent powerful young professionals
that get up earliest; they certainly don't show
up before 9, and besides - you will hardly see
them walking to work. Even the policemen don't
show up before 7.30 - of course as long as there
aren't any cars on the streets, there is no money
to earn. About two or three in the morning is
the latest you can see them gracefully waving
their sticks, grabbing all the drunk drivers and
depriving them of the last drams they didn't spend
on alcohol or girls.
While the city hardly stirs before mid-morning,
light sleepers can witness the first signs of
Yerevan coming to life. It is heard in the voices
rising from the streets and sidewalks, talking
about the latest increases in the price of bread
or the merciless policy of the Italian-owned water
company. And the conversation rides upward from
a constant "Shhh, shhh, shhh
It is almost 5 o'clock, and the cleaning squads
of Yerevan with their old-fashioned brooms made
of a big stick and a bundle of twigs at the end
get ready to tidy the city for a brand new day.
"There is nothing you don't find," says
Nazik. "All kinds of plastic, limbs of children's
dolls, ID-cards, indecent things made of rubber.
However, money you can find rather rarely."
The 64-old woman with the bandanna starts to
laugh in a lively manner. Nazik has swept a lot
of asphalt in the last 30 years, getting up every
morning at 4, waiting for the special bus that
collects the street sweepers and working for two
or three hours while others sleep. Proverbs like
"The early bird catches the worm" don't
bring more than a tired smile on her face anymore.
"People who say that certainly don't get
up every morning at 4." And then Nazik becomes
a shadow, leading her regular "Shhh, shhhh"
in the direction of the opera.
The hunt for morning life in Yerevan is fruitful,
if the hunter knows where to look . . .
On our way to the market the dawn breaks and
the birds start to sing with full power. Mount
Ararat is greeting from not very far away - today
with a somewhat light pink touch on its snow-covered
front slopes. A lonely street sweeper is dragging
a bathtub on wheels along Tigran Mets Avenue.
6.45. We have lost the early birds hurrying to
the market, but we find ourselves on the butcher's
market near Cinema Rossiya, where packs of dogs
roaming around show that something is going on.
Whole skinned cows are lying on the ground, a
sweet smell of fresh meat is coming through the
air. Next lie the cows' heads, whose eyes seem
to be a little astonished looking at the rest
of their body lying about separated from them.
The busy helpers of the butchers carry the big
chunks into the shop. Butcher Artur, a big baldheaded
guy with strong forearms who certainly fits the
stereotype of a butcher, drinks his first coffee
while having a tight look at the meat he got from
"I order about 200 or 250 kilos a day,
which is a joke compared to the Soviet times.
Back then, each day I would sell about 2½
tons." Now, of course, there's more competition:
you can see about 20 little butcheries in a row.
"Back then, there was a lot more to do, so
the people would get up earlier." However,
the butchers still belong to the species of the
early birds, receiving the peasants from the villages
around Yerevan as early as 2 o'clock.
7 o'clock. We arrive at the monument of David
of Sasoun, who majestically leads the way into
the future with his sword. Behind his back, the
place nearby the train station has already turned
into an anthill. Cars and buses are arriving and
leaving, porters are carrying away baskets filled
with fruits and vegetables.
The train station is the reloading point for tomatoes,
cucumbers, potatoes, apples, cherries - practically
everything farmers around Yerevan produce. And
it's cheap. That's why all the little businessmen
selling vegetables and fruits all over Yerevan
try to be here as early as possible.
Sarkis, a tired-looking guy in his 30s is walking
around the market like a king watching his subjects.
He's just the nephew of the market's owner, but
he has the duty to rent the precious square meters
of the market.
the hearty get out early in Yerevan.
"A check (which gives the right to sell)
costs 300 to 500 drams a day", says Sarkis,
sitting on a sofa in the little shack from where
he can overlook the goings on. Sarkis takes a
sip from his coffee cup, then notices something
and roars instructions to his helper, hinting
with his arm to someone who apparently hasn't
bought a check yet. His uncle certainly did a
clever job buying the market in the beginning
of the 90's. But although now there seems to be
big hustle and bustle, Sarkis is not satisfied.
"There are fewer and fewer people every
year. And even worse, the stupid government has
introduced a tax for importers from Georgia."
The Georgians bringing all kinds of food goods
on the Tbilisi-Yerevan train, since two months
ago have to pay a high tax, which has made the
route unprofitable for commerce.
And while in downtown Yerevan people are trying
to grab the cheapest tomatoes, high up over the
city in the "Victory Park" people who
don't have to worry that much about their living
anymore are trying to get rid of their unnecessary
kilos. Guys from the civil service or the police,
or maybe even businessmen exposing their remarkably
hairy chests and bellies are panting around the
little lake, then via "Alley of Marshall
Baghramyan" to the "Alley of the Russian
border guards" and back. While the old Soviet
tanks peacefully stand on their places, Mother
Armenia watches the teenagers at her feet who
are trying to impress their friends with their
swirling nunchakus. More peaceful is the worker
of the gas station on Azatutian Avenue, sitting
next to a petrol pump in his blue overall and
taking a peaceful nap.
life stirs early, in hopes of making a clean
sweep of business.
Returning from paradise at 8:30, there is something
like movement in Yerevan. A tired cashier at a
money exchange bureau replaces the last numbers
of the Euro exchange rate: still rising. The shop
owners on Abovyan Street are opening their jalousies.
The construction workers are cranking up their
old machines, and for the ones paving the sidewalks
of the center, another day of crawling from square
meter to square meter begins.
Near Republican Square a seductive smell demands
attention leading passersby by their noses to
a small bakery, not bigger than 40 square meters.
But the hot and sticky air inside is far from
seductive. People working here are doing extremely
"In summer it's really horribly hot, while
in wintertime it's sort of cosy," says Arev.
She is the mother of most of the family working
here: they come to the bakery at midnight and
sleep there, because in the morning there are
Arev's 25 year old son Sergey gets up at 2 and
starts preparing the dough, pouring salt, yeast,
water and flour from a huge sack into the big
old Soviet machine that stirs the dough with slow,
"Of course I fall asleep sometimes,"
says Sergey. But at 5 he has to wake up the others:
his mother, the second baker Narine, and Mher,
who does the hardest work: putting the loaves
into the oven and pulling them out again. He looks
very tired. "We work from 5 in the morning
until 6 in the evening, 3 days in a row and then
one day of rest. But he works all around the clock."
The women laugh. Generally, there's a lot of joking
and laughing going on. Maybe it's their way to
stay awake - the stereo alone wouldn't do it.
In the bureau where the Yerevan bakers meet for
their little breaks to smoke a cigarette or have
some revitalizing coffee, there's a dirty mirror
on the wall. Long ago, someone has put a sticker
from a German radio station on it saying "Guten
Morgen Berlin." Greetings to the early birds
of Berlin, who certainly don't sleep much longer
than their Armenian fellow sufferers. Bakers get
up first. No matter if the city around them is
sleeping or not.
Editor's note: Moritz Gathmann, from Berlin Germany,
is participating in a journalism training program
at Caucasus Media Institute in Yerevan.