At least 10,000 Iranians are expected to visit Armenia during the ongoing celebrations of Nowruz. Farsi speech can already be heard across downtown Yerevan, with groups of tourists strolling in the streets, taking pictures and visiting cafes and restaurants.
For the Iranian tourists, visiting Armenia is also a rare opportunity to see and hear exiled Iranian singers banned in the Islamic Republic
The influx of Iranian tourists creates a logistical headache for Armenian travel agencies grappling with a lack of accommodation and other underdeveloped tourism infrastructure. All Yerevan hotels have already booked practically in full for the next two weeks.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Arlen Davudian, the owner of the Tatev Tour agency estimated the number of Iranians that will visit Armenia during this year’s Nowruz holiday at 12,000. “People cite illogical numbers of Iranian tourists: 40,000, 100,000,” he said. “They are grossly exaggerated. Our city does not have the capacity to receive that many guests.”
The businessman said many more Iranians would travel to Armenia if it had more and cheaper hotels.
Even so, the influx of Iranians appears to have already given a massive boost to Armenia’s tourism industry.
“A total of $12 million in cash should come here from Iran in the next two weeks,” said Davudian. “Tourism could earn this country very serious revenues. There just has to be a state approach to this.”
A more tolerant Armenia?
Last year the presence of hundreds, if not thousands of Iranians in Yerevan didn’t seem to go down very well with many Armenians.
At least that’s the impression one could get from reading several hundred active Armenian blogs. In fact, there was quite a bit of fuss and a lot of stereotyping.
Counter to that, this year, I saw no complaints in online discussions about the visiting Iranians.
Is it because Armenians are becoming more tolerant, or because Iranians are less noisy? Frankly, I’m lost…
A bit of context…
In the September 2007 Caucasus Barometer, when asked if they would approve of doing business with Iranians, 60 percent of Armenians approved and 40 percent disapproved.
Friendship, however, had a similar divide as to the overall approval rating, with 45 percent of Armenians approving friendship and 55 percent disapproving of friendship.
Finally, when asked about approval of Armenians marrying Iranians, only 11 percent of respondents approved and 90 percent disapproved.