He casually mentioned the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, calling it a “tough situation;” and I told him about the Blue Mosque, the one and only mosque operating in Yerevan.
Extending beyond the burgeoning trend of vacationing in Armenia during Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, Aydin and his wife are among thousands of Iranian tourists who arrive in Armenia to spend their summer holidays in the country, where they can openly drink alcohol, eat pork and engage in other forms of debauchery banned by the Islamic Republic.
In the city center or around Lake Sevan, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world, families and singletons are soaking up the nightlife and flexing their freedom muscles on a cheap excursion to Armenia, which is no doubt adding fuel to the country's economy via tourism.
In the first four months of 2011, more than 31,000 Iranians visited Armenia, according to local media. The head of tourism at the Ministry of Economy recently revealed that a poll of 101 Iranian tourists showed that around $1,600 is spent by the average Iranian tourist during a 10-day holiday, according to News.am.
Whether Iranians are pumping life into the Armenian tourism market or not, their presence has given rise to ambivalent reactions from locals who cite their loud, obnoxious behavior and alleged penchant for sex tourism as reasons they're unhappy with the influx. The country's mono-ethnic makeup, with about 98% of the population ethnically Armenian, also adds to some unfamiliarity when dealing with diversity.