2474) Expats Guide To Armenia

Facts And Artefacts About Armenia That Locals Use...
*To intrigue an internet pal for the first visit to Armenia
*To give some info to a newly assigned expat boss on a way from the airport to hotel:
*To impress a one-year visiting professor on a graduation party
*To tell what is usually not told to Armenia tourists and expats

To intrigue an internet pal for the first visit to Armenia
Ararat. Excellent views of the legendary Biblical mountain can be observed from almost all sides of Armenia. The capital, Yerevan is virtually built as an arena directed at this heartbreaking view.

Cultural mix. Due to its location, Armenia in different periods was influenced by very diverse cultures. Come to Armenia to enjoy the silence of the world's oldest Christian churches, experience truly Caucasian passion, pick some very Arabic sweets, try food that outside Armenia is incorrectly referred to as Turkish, see a lot of Soviet stuff like funny 06, 07, 08 Lada cars, multistore unidesign apartment buildings and Russian vodka

Artwork. Armenians are proud of it. One may fulfill his collection with fantastic medieval carpets, paintings, stone and wood carvings (ExpatInfoArmenia's favorite!), and many other hand-and-soul produce that is in a great and cheap supply here. An informed local may significantly lower costs and expand assortiment of the artwork.

To give some info to a newly assigned expat boss on a way from the airport to hotel:

Yes, it is common to arrive in (and departure from) Armenia in the late night since almost all international flights are scheduled for that time. Probably some cost savings on airlines' part.

Street traffic. Although the traffic is not that heavy, one should be very careful on the streets. Pedestrians cross the streets wherever they want, drivers do not usually make way to pedestrians. A boat size hole may be left opened in the middle of the street without any warning sign and lighting.

Language. Armenian letters do not resemble any letter in Latin alphabet so it is difficult for a foreigner to at least make sense of the writings. However most of the menus, billboards are accompained with English translations. Almost all of the people older the teen age can and will speak Russian (sometimes even if asked for help in English). The youth may have difficulties with Russian, instead most of them know at least some English words. Other languages are rare, yet it is always possible to find good transaltors. Due to large and diverse migration habits of Armenian nation, the language skills have always been in high respect here.

Etiquette. No need to learn anything new. Again, due to exposure to international community Armenians got tolerance to their customs. The local etiquette itself is not that unique and in most cases is similar to European-Christian norms. Some exceptions that come to the mind are:

Attitude to the nice gender is more conservative
Swearing (especially to mother) is considered a deeper insult than in the West
It is normal for men to kiss each other on greetings
Asking personal questions is ok (after some it may eventually turn out that someone's sister/brother is a right spouse candidate for you)

(the others will be discussed in the Expat Experience forum):
Visas/Registration. Although some bueracracy exists in the visa/registration, one may still easily enter Armenia by obtaining a 3-day visa at the entry point (usually airport). For prolongation you need to visit a place called OVIR (not a very pleasant experience) or just pay a fine at the departure in the airport. The fine is a multiple of the days that you remained in excess of your original visa period, but is still not very high and comparable with the amount of the visa if obtained from OVIR

Transportation. If you don't have a car, then the best transport mean in Armenia is taxi. On-call taxi services are preferred to private cabs since most of them have better cars, charge less and provide receipts. ExpatInfoArmenia's best recommendation here is Taxi [Insert Name] [Insert Phone] (For list of some other good ones and their comparative benefits see travel information page).

Yerevan has a Metro line, which is however extended only in small center. There is a good security in the stations and the trains are clean. For the Yerevan metro map please click here

Money and currency. Prepare to carry a greater wallet in Armenia. Despite recent development in this area, Armenia still mostly uses cash. Recent rules of Central Bank of Armenia tightened restrictions on free use of the foreign currency in the public places and imposed penalties on shop owners. You may change your currency to local Drams (symbol: AMD) in any bank or at the street exchange offices. The most popular ones are located near Republic Square on Tigran Mets avenue

To surpise an expat professor during a beer talk
Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion, traditionally dated to 301, which is 20 years earlier than adoption of Christianity by Rome.

Number of Armenians living outside Armenia (Armenian diaspora) is double the number of Armenians living in the country (about 6-7 and 3 million people respectively). The main reason for this is Genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Empire in 1915 which took lives of around 1.5 million Armenians and spreaded the rest all over the world. Most of the replaced did not return to the Soviet Armenia due to communist regime. The greatest communities are in France, US, Argentina and Lebanon. Another wave of Armenian immigrants was in early 90's due to economical crisis. Most of these people (around one million) settled in Russia.

Armenia is a homeland for Apricot. The latin (botanic) name of this fruit is read as "Prunus Armeniaca" which means an Armenian plum.

Armenia was the smallest republic of Soviet Union. Despite that Armenia greatly contributed to the victory over Nazi Germany in WWII by giving to the Red Army over 500,000 soldiers and officers (nearly 1/5-th of the republic's total population). From nearly 20 WWII Soviet marshals four were Armenians. In the post war time Soviet Armenia was one of the most industrialized republic of the USSR. Self determination efforts of Armenians in 1987-1991 deepened the crisis of Soviet system and together with other reasons eventually led to its collapse.

Armenian for centuries had been known for its rugs. The name "Carpet" has Armenian origin and is used in Armenia currently.

Armenia divides "Turkistan" (the Turkic people belt ranging from Medditeranian to Asia in two parts right from the middle: to the West is Turkey and to the East are Azerbaijan and Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan and Turkmenistan. (see image) In some places the width of this "wedge" is less than 40 km (20 miles). No other nation could preserve its identity and state after expansion of Turks to the East to this region.

To tell what is usually not told to Armenia tourists and expats

Country tours. Most of Armenia countryside roads go up and down through mountain ranges and deep caves. Elevation in some mountain passes reaches more than 2000m. Numerous road bends on such hills are very interesting and will offer exciting landscape panoramas to enjoy, yet may be difficult for people with blood presure problems.

Borders. Artsakh (Armenian name for Nagorno-Karabakh - a territory disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as buffer territory around it are currently held by Armenian forces. The conflict is frozen yet unresolved. Because of that Azerbaijan and Turkey borders are closed and traveling to these countries from Armenia is impossible. To go to Turkey or Azerbaijan, expats and tourist usually need to go through the neighbouring Georgia. Local Armenians may travel to Turkey via the same route, but entry to Azerbaijan is impossible for them for security reasons. The same is probably the case for Azerbaijanis wishing to enter Armenia. Regional conferences and meetings with participation of the residents of these two republics are usually held on the "neutral" territory - Georgia.

Food. While in Armenia you will accustom to the local food which is very tasty indeed, and healthy too. However most of expats and tourists experience stomach problems in the first 2-3 days of their residence in Armenia. Some explain that by "overloaded" receptions in the best traditions of Armenian hostpitality. It could be that Armenia food is different too. In any case smoother shift to local food is advised

Environment. Vehicles in Yerevan do not pass emmision control and since most of these vehicles are old European cars or rubbish Russian trucks, environmental situation in the Yerevan is at best satisfactory. The good thing is that Soviet giant factories that had extremely bad emmission habits are not operating now. Outside Yerevan the environmental situation is much better.

Locals still use tap water, yet since the water infrastructure has not been repaired for already a decade, it is recommended to use bottled water.

Prices. It is generally told that Armenia cost are low, yet recent appreciation of local currency made this statement invalid in many instances.

Slow and Calm. A lot of things in Armenia is taking longer to accomplish than in the West. There are several factors contributing to this ranging from the objective country specifics such as underdeveloped infrastructure to purely cultural such as Easter sluggishness. Sooner or later expats accustom to the delays in meetings and shifted deadlines. They either leave the country or become philosophers.

Education System Bribes

Higher education
Since during the Soviet times, the higher education institutions have been corrupt. A large chunk of the lecturers would accept 'gifts' in order to give a passing grade to students. That was after the student was accepted. Getting into a university or another higher education establishment required gifts as well.

A certain percentage of students would get in based on their academic achievements because otherwise the whole concept of the educational system would collapse. The rest were admitted based on the students' relatives' connections and/or gifts. This was more prevalent in institutions that were lower on the scale of social importance such as the the ones producing teachers (Mankavarjakan) or foreign language experts. And since the majority of the students were female, it was a good opportunity for the socially ambitious parents to make sure that their daughter had a diploma and grab a better son-in-law.

This continues to be true currently as well. It is more widespread and openly acknowledged by the government, and everybody knows about it thanks to the free press.

Other schools
The lower education system did not have bribes as such but gifts like flowers or chocolates were acceptable in exchange for a better grade. But at the time it is not only acceptable but it is required - the kids have to give gifts to their teachers and there are well known monetary amounts for each event. Of course, the parents do not like the state of the affairs but everybody continues to comply with the system. Unlike higher education, the secondary education involves all the layers of the society, and the more socially vulnerable families have to make sacrifices in order to afford the participation of their kids in such gift giving occasions.

The corruption does not end here. There is no concept of uniform dress code in the public school system (probably in protest to the Soviet system). This puts pressure for kids to keep up with their peers. In a lot of cases, the teachers, instead of curbing such competition, actually encourage it by paying more attention to the better dressed students.

It is unfortunate that these kind of teachers are allowed to teach the kids but they are the product of the system (see the mention of Mankavarjakan above).

by ArmeniaBribeTips

Customs Bribes
Quite a few Armenians make their living by importing goods from Turkey, the Arab countries or Georgia. Since these usually are small time traders, they are vulnerable to the customs officers. If they pay the necessary import duties, they will have little or no profit from their trade as they won't be able to compete with the big boys ( who already have economies of scale with bribery costs). So these small traders pay their share of bribes to the customs police.

Working within the law does not make sense unless everybody else does it. Operating within the law is discouraged by the government as witnessed by the recent prosecution of the coffee importing company management who refused to pay bribes.
by ArmeniaBribeTips

One may expect to pay about 15% of the imported car cost at Armenia customs - including official fees. It is claimed that the amount of customs clearing depends on the model and make year of the car or the original invoice percentage - whichever is lower. (Information can be obtained at the "Araratyan" customs beforehand). Yet, my experience 1 year ago was that authorities 1)completely disregarded the original invoice claiming that it was faked and 2) intentionally delayed the processing of documents to the last day of the customs clearing deadline, thus making me pay extra cash or face penalty for the delay.

P.S. The above did not include $20 tip at the border customs just to pass it

Tax police bribes
A large chunk of the Armenian economy exists beyond the boundaries of the law. It is primarily done to avoid the numerous regulations (and the paperwork which normally involve bribe payouts as well).

One of the major reasons for the so called 'underground economy' is to avoid paying the income taxes, and the employee social security taxes. The tax police let this happen because it is beneficial to them since they know who is who and does what and how much taxes are being evaded. They let everybody be happy for a 'fee'. Sometimes they crack down if there has been a publicized government effort to eradicate tax evasion. Needless to say, the big boys are never touched.

some official information about tax and general legislation can be found on Parliament.am web site. Some of the areas, ex. about administrative penalties, is difficult to navigate, because of large numbers of amendments and editions.

Today I was robbed by tax department... They put a penalty for not submitting report that was never required. The interesting thing is that these guys asked me to transfer money to a budget accounts. I would believe that everything is within law if they would give me the penalty act, but they refused. I wonder whether this is new generation of bribes - you transfer them directly to the budget using the banking system. Wow! that sounded professional :)

Judicial system bribes
To tell you the truth, I have not encountered problems involving the judicial system in Armenia. Based on the rumors, though, it has been one of the more corrupt government bodies since the Soviet times. These rumors were about the state prosecutors (the 'datakhaz') as well as the judges (the 'datavor').

Traffic stop bribes
The bribe for a traffic stop by a cop is a 1,000 dram bribe in Armenia. Always have a few 500 dram notes with you. Once stopped, put the 1000 drams in your driver's license, exit the car and approach the cop. Hand the license to the cop. He will open it, look at it and return it to you. In a David Blaine style, the 1,000 drams will no longer be in the license booklet.

This entry is meant to keep the public informed about the latest trends in Armenia. This will be useful for the visitors to know how much of a bribe the circumstances dictate to be paid to the traffic police also known as 'guyishnik'-s.

One have to remember! Armenian policemen are very touchy - don't try 500 bills first. Give 1000, don't argue, smile, joke from recent "Kargin haghordum". This program has many relevan jokes.

In case you have really broke the rule, and in the very center of part of the city, prepare 2000. In case you don't have bills smaller than 5000, you can go with that too, but expect change of no more than 2000.
I'm not sure for western. Usually they have little trouble with police, they just left them go, but I may be wrong.
Have a nice drive (anpordzanq!)

I'm curious: being a quarter-blood Armenian, I occasionally make trips to Armenia to enjoy the country I am beginning to love. Since my experience is so small, however, I have yet to understand why Americans are so rarely charged these bribes. My driver was pulled over, but when the cop saw all of the Americans inside, he either would wave us on or make some excuse to let us off if the driver wasn't immediately compliant. Why don't they charge foreigners? Wouldn't they want to get bribes from 'rich' westerners?

I guess they don't want to damage country image, or.. just Armenian hospitality:)

Female drivers enjoy similar privilages. It's the Armenian males who get screwed usually.

Well, in case of Americans probably there was a problem of communication. You don't expect them speak fluently English and hint about a bribe, do you?

But if you really want to "avoid" road bribes you better give a big one in the beginning and obtain "good license plates", which will allow you to drive the car 200km/h in front of those guys and they will not "notice" you.

Cops on the road like bribes all over the world, do not overestimate Armenian ones. strudel
(and talking of bribes, may I use your posts to make more brilliant my little webzine www.strudeltimes.it ? )

Updates on traffic stop bribes
Our brave policemen do not stop you just to say 1000-dram-hello anymore. Now they stop only those that break rules. And, they don't take 1000 dram bribes. With average penalty rate of 10,000 they will never let you go by paying 1000 or 2000. The new rate iiiissss f-i-v-e thoussands!

dear readers. Please don't offer 5000 bribes to the policemen because:
1. There are a lot of good changes in this system and by offering such a sweet price you kill all the good in these persons.
2. The difference between what you pay illegaly and the official tax is just another 5000. (again with average penalty of 10,000)
3.You are now allowed to pay the official penalty rigt on the street to the policeman. He will feel a penalt act and the receipt (make sure he does fill the latter and give you the copy, they don't want to do that sometimes). So the other pain of going to the GAI office in the middle of working day is gone.
4. There are rumors that the policemen are awarded some commissions from the total money that they collect officially. If that is say 30% like they say, then our policemen are not far from getting the money they wish when they take your 5000 bill. So make them get that money so that feel taste of the legal money.

Source: www.expatinfoarmenia.com

About www.expatinfoarmenia.com/about_us

We are locals and we...

enjoy looking at Ararat
drive without jumping in the street holes
make the best BBQ in the world
know history of our country
dream of earning expat salaries
use bread during the meal
drink water from the street bubbler
have more relatives in your country than you
know all famous persons in the world with our origin
have somewhat bigger noses
marry a person that want to have sex with

Editor's Note
Dear Turkish Expats,
Please let us know your experiences or email us your version of the ExpatGuide To Turkey


SFLTURKS said...

* Ways to Tell You're Turkish

* You treat any form of international sports event as a matter of life or death.
* You drink your tea from an hourglass-shaped glass. Without milk.
* You scorn Nescafe in favour of a tiny cup of coffee with huge granules at the bottom.
* And you flip the cup over on the saucer when you're done, let it cool down and read your fortune from the cup.
* You consider Eurovision as some form of patriotic excursion. And you're proud that you no longer end up with 'no point'.
* You end a boozy night out having a soup made of cow intestines.
* And no night out is a night out without booze. Preferably good ole raki.
* You find yourself debating the possibility of a massive earthquake which will supposedly hit Istanbul in the next thirty years.
* The news show on your TV features half an hour footage on carnage on motorways. Dead bodies covered with newspapers. Cue sad music in the background.
* Sunflower seeds are the snack of choice for a night in watching TV.
* You would get groped by some 'maganda' the moment you step out on the street in a skimpy outfit.
* You've been on the minibus - a form of public transport consisting of a psychotic driver whose got delusions of being on a Formula 1 track, his assistant that hangs out the side door, shouting out the destination ('Aksaray, Aksaray!) and a dozen passengers huddled together like sardines in a tin.
* You know at least one person who thinks yoghurt is the magical cure for every disease.
* And another person who thinks going around barefoot is the cause of all major ailments.
* You pull your earlobe, make a kissing sound with your lips and touch wood to ward off evil.
* Any ill that might come your way is a sign of the much-feared 'evil eye'.
* You've spent a good deal of your life taking off your shoes as you walk into a house and putting on a pair of slippers.
* And you've been to houses where they keep slippers of all shapes, sizes and colours for guests.
* You've been chased around the house, at least once, by your mom brandishing that fatal weapon: her slipper.
* You get charged four times more than Russian tourists to holiday in the same Turkish resort.
* You require a visa to travel to almost all the world's countries.
* You get offended by food labels in other countries labelling your own food 'Greek feta', 'Greek yoghurt' or 'Greek humus'.
* You dislike the Greeks because they are competition but you like them because they're 'our neighbour'.
* You live in a country where two guys going out for a meal is not considered 'gay'.
* And where people actually pay to go to clubs where the entertainer's biggest selling point is his sexual orientation or recent sex change.
* 'Spawn of donkey' or 'bear' are words that are considered to be pretty offensive insults in your native language.
* You wouldn't be able to talk if your hands were amputated.
* You greet friends with a kiss on each cheek and a hug. Even if you are both male, yes.
* You greet your elders by kissing their hand.
* You call people who are older than you 'aunt', 'uncle' or 'brother' even if you are not related by blood.
* You are not offended when the guy behind the market stall or the street vendor greets you as 'auntie'.
* You are not reaching out to call the police when you see a kid walking on the motorway selling handkerchiefs or bottled water or 'simit' or music tapes for your car.
* In fact you slow down, wind down, buy a 'simit' and a tape; nibble on your 'simit' in the heavy traffic whilst listening to your tape.
* Any slow song after a broken heart and one too many drinks has the power to push you to depression and suicidal thoughts.
* You spend half your lifetime complaining about your country and your people, and the other half proudly announcing to the world you are Turkish and you are proud of it.
* You read this list and go, 'Yeah, I do that!'

Meltemb/- thanks, Joshua

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