Yerevan: An Alpine Utopia?
Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is a landlocked city in the Ararat plain of the Caucasus. Though located in a broad valley, Yerevan is one of Eurasia’s highest-altitude capitals -- and it has great views of various hills and mountains.
The air is not always alpine fresh, though. The smoke from Yerevan’s belching chimneys, rusty exhaust pipes, and numerous dump fires often mixes with heavy, wet fog to regularly 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 Aragats mountains when they have a chance, to get away from the noxious fumes and into the fresh air. If they climb the mountains, 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 nearby 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 foothills near the city.
Apart from wealthy families and corrupt politicians, there are two other sections of Armenian society that inhabit the forests of the mountains: 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 the Aragats mountains became a training ground.
In the far future, as shown below, the numbers of both soldiers and orthodox monks have dwindled drastically as the power and 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.
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.
Every now and then, an Armenian police cadet is told to march into the mountains to investigate, but of course both the monastery and the army camp were built here precisely because the location allowed them to be inaccessible. So after three hours of walking, the cadets usually give up, collect some delicious fall mushrooms, then turn around and head home.