Nowruz Nuisance?: Instances of unfriendly attitude towards Iranian tourists deplored in Armenia

The Iranian New Year, Nowruz, has brought a great number of Iranian tourists to Armenia. These days Iranians can be seen almost everywhere: in the streets, shops, restaurants and cafes of capital Yerevan.

But while promoting tourism in Armenia, the flow of visitors from Armenia’s southern neighboring country also causes some situations that become a matter of speculation in social media.

Yasha Solomonyan, a Facebook user, said that he personally witnessed an incident at a toy store near the Cascade complex in Yerevan where a group of Iranian tourists were pushed out of the store after being accused of shoplifting.

“Their bags were checked, and even after no stolen item was found, no one apologized to the Iranians,” said Solomonyan.

Another social network user Marine Kocharyan wrote that “we have reached this dangerous extremism, because we have not come out of our country very often, have become a sort of isolated from the outside world, and now it is pretty strange to us that, in our city, there are also people of other nationalities, who are somehow different from us.”

“It’s not surprising that people with racist calls, such as ‘they do not behave properly’, are just those who behave badly in public, those who often, with their ‘good behavior’, make themselves known in Kobuleti and Batumi (Georgian resort towns widely popular among Armenian holidaymakers)”.

Addressing the recent events, Gohar Iskandaryan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences, said that it is not appropriate for a country with a reputation of hospitality to show disrespect towards tourists.

“They are labeled as thieves. How is it possible to describe 80 million people with a single word? If someone has shoplifted something, they can just catch the criminal due to cameras that exist in almost all our stores and call the police. There is no need to tug and push people: this is not appropriate behavior of a civilized man,” the expert in Iranian studies told ArmeniaNow.

Iskandaryan says that the majority of Iranians prefer to celebrate Nowruz by spending holidays abroad, so not everyone chooses Armenia as a country to visit on the occasion. Some prefer Turkey, or Saudi Arabia, and the rich class goes to Europe.

“The Iranian government made a clear message that it was not safe to go to Turkey urging its residents not to go there. This is why the flow of tourist from Iran to Armenia has increased this year. Instead of taking advantage of this fact, we do the opposite, which prevents them from coming to Armenia again. The hotel services are also quite expensive. Therefore they prefer to stay in private homes, where there is also a problem of sharp price rise in these days, let alone taxi drivers, who may charge an Armenian 1,000 AMD (about $2), whereas for the same service they may charge an Iranian 5,000 AMD (about $10),” said Iskandaryan.

Political analyst Hakob Badalyan criticized “bombastic” behavior in some segments of the Armenian society towards Iranian tourists to Armenia. He particularly said that some should have had the inferiority complex towards these guests because the former are unaware of the latter’s national and cultural present state, and rich historical and cultural heritage.

“They simple need to become conscious of the open world, culture, civilization, and communication. They should open the eyes of their mind to explore the world and its diversity. In this case, Armenia will become a pleasant tourist destination for Iranians, Russians, Europeans, Asians, Africans, and Americans, thanks to which Armenia may record a substantial growth in one of its economically and strategically important sectors – tourism. And in this matter Iran is the most important partner for Armenia,” Badalyan wrote in lragir.am.

Iskandaryan says we are a mono-ethnic nation, and are not used to the fact that people of other nationalities may live next to us in our country.

“Tourists in Armenia are basically from our Diaspora, and they are always very warmly received [in their country of origin]. There is also a problem of identification: when we see that they speak a foreign language, have a little dark skin, we think that they are Muslims and identify them with Turks by saying: ‘the Turks have come and again flooded [our country].” And the emotions that we have towards Turks are directed to them. Therefore, Iranians are in principle not to blame for the fact that we don’t know them well: this is our problem to raise our level of awareness,” he says.

According to the Tatev tour company director Arlen Davudyan, 3 or 4 daily flights are carried out from Iran to Armenia these days instead of previous one. About 60 flights are planned to be carried out during holidays. About 5,000 tourists are to visit Armenia by land, and about 5,000 by air.

Mekhak Apresyan, ‎the head of the Department of Tourism Development Policy at the Ministry of Economy of Armenia, estimates that one Iranian tourist spends an average of almost $1,000 dollars in Armenia.