- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 31, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

The Department of Tourism should start now to prepare itself for a period of unprecedented bad publicity when tourist season begins in a few months in Armenia.

Beginning about mid-April, foreign visitors will be cut down in the streets like tin ducks in a shooting arcade.

I write today of the latest imported affliction to hamper life here, something that has proved a good idea in many civilized societies, but is as useful as a second navel in this one: The pedestrian crossing light.

To give you the background . . .

When billionaire Kirk Kirkorian (and by the way, what must it be like when your unofficial first name becomes "billionaire") gave $85 million to re-pave, re-sidewalk, re-curb Armenia, apparently part of the package included signal lights to tell us when to walk and when not.

If your first name is "billionaire", you can probably hire someone to cross streets for you, so it's not Mr. Kirkorian's fault that this minor flaw in an otherwise splendid redevelopment program is not only a waste of money but is in fact a safety hazard.

What in many major cities is a means of traffic control is, in Yerevan, an imposition to the inherent right to independence's evil twin, anarchy.

Similar to society's reaction to politicians here, everybody notices the crossing lights, but nobody pays attention to them. Pedestrians ignore. Motorists ignore.

Consequently, the streets are neither safer nor more dangerous than before. At least for the locals.

But: Turn a busload of foreigners loose here - those for whom "walk" or "don't walk" has some authority - and soon you're going to see plastic bags of vernisage goodies scattered in the streets next to writhing and confused tour members fumbling for the foreign office phone number of major insurance carriers and business cards of personal injury attorneys.

The thing I like most about the new lights is that they're sort of socially appropriate in their design. Taking the more international tact, there are no words, but little characters in the role of guides.

The "don't walk" character, appropriately red, has a Lenin-esque stern baldness, which may explain the rush to disobey his stoic order (which, here, is at most a suggestion).

The little green "walk" character, though, was clearly designed by someone who has tried to cross Yerevan streets. I am not making it up when I tell you that he is in a running pose. The only possible improvement would be if he were accompanied by a sign saying "good luck".

Absent the influence here as a means of traffic control, I'm thinking the cross lights should have some value, so I suggest they be implemented as part of the Presidential Elections.

I say we line the candidates up, perhaps at the front of the Opera house on an average business days in Yerevan, with instructions to cross all four corners of the square. Candidates can decide whether to follow the instructions of the crossing lights, or go according to instinct.

The one who survives should become President and would surely be the one who understands the Armenian mentality.


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  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Talk Time

In 19 days Armenia will elect a President. Until then voters will be talked to by candidates such as Stepan Demirchyan (top). And some, such as President Robert Kocharyan (bottom), will be talked back to.



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