By Peter Balakian
Each time I’ve come to Yerevan in the past decade the city has surprised me with its evolving elegance and cultural richness. The downtown has an energy that is a long way from the sleepy Soviet city I first visited in the 1980s. Walking the shady avenues off Republic Square on a recent visit, I found the city has become a hip place, with wine bars, microbreweries, cafes, art galleries, boutiques selling crafts and carpets, an ever-new array of restaurants, as well as upscale hotels and clothing stores. The new mood is defined by the millennial generation’s role in the velvet revolution of this past spring. After weeks of peaceful protests, the civil society has pushed from power an old regime that much of the nation viewed as dysfunctional and corrupt, representing a continuation of old Soviet mentalities. When Nikol Pashinyan, a prominent journalist, activist and former parliamentarian became prime minister on May 8, a sense of a new era enveloped the country.
In June I sat in a vine-trellised courtyard restaurant and art gallery on Abovian Street with Armen Ohanyan, a young fiction writer, and Arevik Ashakharoyan, a literary agent. I was hearing Armenia’s new voices of optimism. “Soviet minds are a thing of the past,” Mr. Ohanyan said. “The new generation, born after the fall of the Soviet Union, is playing a big role in the new democracy,” Ms. Ashakharoyan said. “We are tech-savvy and have no ties to the corrupt Soviet past.” “We feel a new future,” Mr. Ohanyan added. “The reign of oligarchs is over.”
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