Yerevan: An Alpine Utopia?

The Ecotopia 2121 project looks at the urban futures of 100 cities around the world. This month we forecast the future of Yerevan, Armenia.

Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is a landlocked city in the Ararat plain between Mount Aragats and the Gegham mountain range. Though located in a broad valley, Yerevan is one of Eurasia’s highest-altitude capitals.

Yerevan nowadays

The air is not alpine fresh, though. The smoke from Yerevan’s belching chimneys, rusty exhaust pipes, and numerous dump fires mixes with heavy, wet fog to choke the city with a smog so thick and rancid it can be tasted on the tongue and felt in the eyes.

Many residents like to head to the mountains when they have a chance, to get away from the noxious fumes and into the fresh air. If they climb Mount Aragats, they might even get lucky and see Yerevan stretched out across the valley, but usually the smog hovering over the city is so thick that all you can see is a dirty yellow-brown mist and maybe a church steeple or two poking up above it.

The mountains surrounding Yerevan have become such an idyllic escape from the smoggy air that wealthy Yerevan is build their homes on their lower slopes, bribing local officials to encroach a little more year by year upon the forests of Mount Aragats. Apart from wealthy families and corrupt politicians, there are two other sections of Armenian society that inhabit the forests of the mountain: orthodox monks and the Armenian army. The monks have been here for a thousand years or more, and the army since the mid-twentieth century, when Mount Aragats became a training ground.

In the far future, as shown below, the numbers of both soldiers and orthodox monks have dwindled drastically as the fortunes of the church and the army have waned. In their stead, a wave of squatting hippies, New Age spiritualists, and university students -- all come and occupy the abandoned monasteries and soldiers’ barracks, their small communes growing like mushrooms to propagate above the Yerevan smog.

Yerevan 2121 by A. Marshall and N. Kaenkaew

Nobody knows whether the occupation is criminal or not, because these squatters are on land whose ownership is contested between the church and state, and no one has yet worked out who properly should be lodging a complaint with the police.

Once in a while, an Armenian police cadet gets told to march up the mountain to investigate, but,of course, both the monastery and the army campwere built here precisely because the locale afforded them inaccessibility. So, after three hours of walking,the cadets usually give up, collect some delicious autumn mushrooms, then turn around and

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