People are so primed for bad news from Armenia that it is easy to overlook the good or to dismiss its significance. So here is a list of reasons to be cheerful.
Little more than a decade ago, it was possible
to walk the length of the main Marshal Baghramyan
or Prospect thoroughfares and go long periods
without being passed by a single car because of
the energy crisis. Now there are traffic jams
on both roads which still means you can go long
periods without being passed by a single car.
Back then, the height of aspirational motoring
was considered to be a Zhiguli styled by Italians,
although still built by Soviets. Now the talk
of the city is the Rolls Royce Phantom that one
of Armenia 's business oligarchs has just purchased
for a price that would resemble a telephone number
if it were a few digits shorter. BMWs are commonplace.
Walk into a store a decade ago and the thing most commonly on display was the shelving. Now new stores open at a breathtaking rate to offer a dizzying array of consumer goods and if there's any empty shelving it's a design statement.
They exist because many people have the money to buy. With Valentine's Day tomorrow, flower sellers are doing brisk business even though roses cost $4.50 a stem - I saw one customer pay $90 for a bouquet of 20 without even blinking.
A dozen years ago, people queued for bread and there were scuffles with police outside stores when the rations ran out. Now, if you have the money and the inclination, you can dine out at a different restaurant every night. Japanese, Thai, Mexican, Indian, you'll find it here and to a high standard.
Gather a group of middle-class Armenians around a dinner table here in Yerevan and, just like in London or New York , it is not long before the conversation turns to the soaring price of property. A house was advertised in a local newspaper here this week for $100,000 and it turns out that I am the only one who is startled.
It's a double-edged sword one man's equity gain is another man's housing problem but on paper at least most Armenians in the capital are wealthier than they were a year ago and far more than a decade ago.
Mobile phones? The complaints (often justified) are about the quality of the service, not that there isn't one. No one can remember Armenia BC (before cellphones). The Internet is a way of life here too, just like anywhere else, while the ease of email takes on special meaning in a country where your nearest and dearest can be scattered far and wide abroad.
None of this obscures the grim poverty that still
traps so many people in Armenia. The stark divide
between rich and poor is shocking to the Western
eye, but a far from unusual sight in rapidly developing
countries across large parts of the world. Corruption
is only part of the answer in an economy that,
overall, is still incapable of producing a level
of wealth that can prevent suffering.
Armenia, in sum, is evolving into a normal country
in its second decade of independence. It faces
the problems of material success too many cars,
not enough mobile phone capacity, the rising cost
of home ownership just as it does the challenges
of development inadequate healthcare, outdated
education systems, and widespread social hardship.
Caught in the whirlwind of war and economic collapse,
people in Armenia would have been thrilled to
settle for such a future a decade or so ago. If
they are unhappy today, it is because expectations
have risen along with the level of progress. Yet
another reason to be cheerful.