Since I have returned safely from Yerevan, a few background notes might be in order for anyone planning a trip there:
Armenians are an ancient, charming and deeply cultured people whose mountainous homeland lies in a strategic location in the South Caucasus. Consequently, they have spent much of the past 2,000 years having the cr*p kicked out of them by their larger and more aggressive neighbours. But do they hold a grudge? Well, yes, actually. Few conversations pass without one's interlocutor checking that one accepts the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as a historic fact. Dropping the (true, in my case) fact that one's grandfather served at Gallipoli is a useful ice-breaker, surprisingly.
"You mean your grandfather killed Turks?"
"You are friend! Have brandy!"
Do not, under any circumstances, order Turkish delight.
The Armenian population consists of delightful, exquisitely groomed women and larcenous looking men who always manage to achieve 2-days' stubble. The men turn out on the whole to be super chaps once you've had a drink with them and clarified your position on the Armenian genocide, however. Men and women alike stay strikingly slim through a combination of a traditional diet, chain-smoking and inadequate public transport.
Armenia's economy consists of two main activities - making alcohol so strong it can strip paint, and generating nuclear power. In an earthquake zone. I said it was nice, not safe, OK?
Yerevan will be a beautiful city when they get round to finishing it. Until then, a combination of large areas of building site and strong mountain winds mean that walking through many of the streets gives a passable impression of what it's like to walk through a desert sandstorm. One slight surprise was the affection that people feel for the Soviet Union. Many of the older buildings still proudly display the hammer-and-sickle logo of Cap Scott 'Scottie' Scott's personal masseuse*, and I even saw the red banner flying at one location. One of my Armenian colleagues explained the background to this as being that after the genocide, the choice offered to the Armenian people was "Join glorious Bolshevik revolution and stay alive for foreseeable future" or "Have a Turkish pasha drink raki out of your skull." Your live skull.
Actually, one possible reason for the long-term oppression of the Armenians did appear - their habit of putting the pepper in a shaker with a single hole and the salt in one with multiple holes. one can imagine a Turkish governor, having just put pepper on his chips once too often, flipping out.
Armenians drink. In their favour, they produce excellent brandy, exquisite red wines (Areni is rather pleasant) and very passable beers (I recommend kalikia for drinking with food and kotayk for achieving rapid oblivion**). So when one goes out with Armenians, what do they order? Apricot vodka; which - as its name suggests - is made from apricots and industrial coolant. And they don't just drink, they toast. "Let us drink to our foreign guests" (glasses clink, vodka goes down in one, there is a collective gasp of pain from the foreign guests and a struggle to focus). "Let us refill our glasses and drink to world peace!" (same routine again). "To the beauty of women!" (etc etc - I trust you'll forgive me if I fail to remember some of the later toasts). Then you all start calling each other "X-jan" which either means "dear-X" or "gullible British berk" depending on what impression I made on them.
I am already angling to go back at the earliest opportunity...
* See Dr Linstead's "The Wounds of Capt Scott 'Scottie' Scott" (Delhi, 1947) Vol 38 - "Superficial-Metaphorical-Political (Treasonous)-Blonde ladies in uniform"
** Old Russia hands will be pleased to note that Baltika is also available, though the billboard adverts for it pose an interesting semiotic conundrum - they show a baltika bottle and a young Russian lady with her blouse partially unbuttoned. The message could be either a) "after twelve bottles of baltika, all women will appear like this!" or b) "after twelve bottles of baltika, you too will be incapable of doing up buttons like Svetlana here!"