Yesterday Hetq Online filed a report stating that four European tourists had been attacked and robbed during the last week. The victims included two people from the Czech Republic and two Dutch tourists. Luckily the assailants were found and many stolen items were recovered. Nevertheless, those foreigners are unlikely to visit here ever again, and their told stories will dissuade countless others to vacation in Armenia.
This is not the first time I have heard of foreigners being harassed and robbed. A couple of years ago the chef of the now-defunct “New Delhi” restaurant was hassled and then forced by his muggers to withdraw the equivalent of $3000 in dram from an ATM machine. As a result he was obliged to leave Armenia for his home in Nepal, nearly penniless. I think he earned enough to buy a plane ticket and pocket money, then left the country.
Even officials are getting into the harassing act. Back in March Abraham Manukyan, the Deputy Health Minister, was charged with creating a public disturbance, defined as “hooliganism,” in front of a restaurant in downtown Yerevan where he, his son and others who were all drunk bothered people walking by. Three people were even assaulted.
Tourism has been on a decline around the world and Armenia’s tourism business is no exception. Hotel prices in Yerevan are extraordinarily high compared with those in Georgia and Eastern European countries. Restaurants are becoming increasingly expensive it seems as well, with the number of posh, trendy dining establishments offering “VIP” seating sections on the rise. Affordable, modest places to eat are falling by the wayside. Excursion packages into Armenia’s regions seem to be fairly reasonably priced, but they can always be made more affordable in an effort to increase the number of tourists. On the contrary, prices are increasing. And now, on top of the ridiculously high costs, foreigners have to worry about being beaten up and robbed when they come here, if they every do.
Lately I have been wondering whether I would ever be mugged while walking around the city center in the evening. I usually stroll around as late as midnight or even later. The mafia life is not only beneath the surface of society at large, it has already slipped into the consciousness of the populace. There are at least four television programs (one of them on state-sponsored Public Television strangely enough) glamorizing criminal life. One of them, called “The Price of Life,” which is very popular, is rebroadcasted several times a day on Armenia TV. Teenagers are undoubtedly watching these programs and some, like the punks that mugged the Europeans last week, are aspiring to live that kind of life.
I think the days of being able to safely walk the streets at night in confidence may be coming to an end. But I hope I’m wrong.