Following the path of Mkhitaryan – Yerevan

The break up of the Soviet Union seems a lifetime ago now.  We sat and watched back in 1989 when the face of Gorbachev was an almost daily presence on our screens – the man who changed the world and so in put to bed the iron curtain.

The benefits and drawbacks of the break up can be discussed forever but there can be no doubt the freedoms that ensued gave the world an impressive array of new capitals cities that had previously been long undiscovered.   

In footballing terms cities like Tbilisi and Yerevan were for so long a complete mystery.

Today’s Armenia is a land that continues to be known for an increased movement towards diplomatic reform.

There are few grey skies, drab buildings and downtrodden architectural wastelands in Yerevan, at least, not in the center of what is a cosmopolitan capital city.  Sleek pedestrianized through-fares are lined by large colorful stone buildings.  Cafe culture is everywhere especially on a summer’s evening when it can seem that the whole city is out relaxing around beautiful fountains.

The center of Yerevan is highly stylish and so are the people.  It can seem as if the pavements are a stage for a fashion shoot as people stroll around in fashionable designer gear and expensive cars.

Yet this is a place still said to be rife with corruption even if the mass protests are no longer visible.  

In 1999 the Prime Minister was shot dead inside Parliament in a bloody episode.   Even worse, on March 1st 2008 some protesters were killed in the center of Yerevan due to protests over the nature of the Armenian Presidential elections.

On the football field things are improving both internationally and domestically although progress has been slow.

Many clubs continue to be run by businessmen who reside in Ukraine and Russian.  The nation’s best footballer – Henrik Mkhitaryan – is outside of his homeland and continues to play regularly for Inter drawing plaudits in both the Bundesliga, Serie A and worldwide.

Yerevan is lofty and landlocked. It is one of the sunniest of the ex-Soviet capitals.

For most of the year the skies are clear and the distance is punctuated by the awe-inspiring shape of the huge Mount Ararat.

This fabled 5,137m high peak plays a key role in the history of the Armenian people and the history of Armenia.  This is where Noah’s ark is said to have come to rest after the floods, and although it now lies just across the border in Turkish territory, the fact that it can be seen from so many parts of Yerevan makes it one of the main symbols of Armenia.

Despite being a land with a history full of tales of invasion by Mongols, Ottomans, Assyrians and Persians, the modern day streets of Yerevan exhibit all the signs of architectural modernity. Brand name stores at every turn, coffee shops everywhere yet one face is the most common – Mkhitaryan a man surely destined for a senior diplomatic role in the country once his football career comes to an end.

The city is well polished and elegant just like its greatest player.

You can see some images from our time in Yerevan by clicking here.