Walking the streets of this city at night, you see the queers, the foreigners, the misfits. If you never went out at night, you would think that Yerevan is “proper” Armenian girls, young boys laughing in groups, schoolchildren, and older women buying produce, while older men talk politics. During the day, you see the mountains in the distance, parents taking their children to ride 200-dram toys in the square, men in groups in dark-colored clothing talking politics in the park.
In the early evening, you see young pregnant couples strolling the streets, people — young and old — sitting at outdoor cafes (until it gets too cold and the cafes move indoors), young men with fast, flashy cars and gaggles of girls dressed up to go out for the evening.
But it is a night — even better, late at night —, when the “proper” Armenian girls have gone home (after all, they’re not allowed to stay out past midnight), when the young men with their flashy cars have possibly retired for the evening, and when families are fast asleep, that Yerevan wakes up and shows you the possibilities of what this city can be.
I hear more languages at night than I do during the day. I see people I didn’t know live here, doing things I didn’t know people in Yerevan do. I see all manners of people being accepted because the night is different: it allows for certain freedoms (most likely aided by certain amounts of alcohol) that would simply be frowned upon during the day.
Of course, it’s not all rose-coloured glasses: the stereotypes and the conservative opinions are still there, but I suppose they’re not felt as much, or perhaps they simply lose their potency at night.
And I guess I can understand why the foreigners and the diasporan Armenians here on volunteer stints go out at night, crawling the bars, drinking more than they did back home and becoming all manner of silly. It’s their small dose of freedom in a society they haven’t fit into yet (and perhaps never will in the short time they’re here) and it’s a bit of the familiar, surrounded by their diasporan and foreign friends, speaking English and making their foreign-ness known more loudly than they would allow themselves during the day.
And though this might read like I’m painting a negative picture of foreigners and diasporan Armenians in Yerevan (of which I am one), it’s not. I had missed being out in Yerevan at night because I had been too busy working, conforming, living my daytime life, and seeing friends in the early evening in intimate settings, before retiring to bed with my partner (who, by the way, works more than I do!).
This might sound odd, but Yerevan at night reminded me I’m queer. And that I love my queer brothers and sisters. In the past couple of nights, I met many more new misfits and came to the following revelation:
The ratio of queers to straights in Yerevan is probably higher than in Toronto, and maybe even London and New York.
You might find this hard to believe, but trust me: just come to Yerevan. And go out at night. Yerevan is a small city compared to many other capital cities around the world, but it has an infinite amount of possibilities.
For all the stresses of the day, the anger over the nationalism and xenophobia that exists when someone tries to organize an Azerbaijani film festival in Yerevan, the fact that in the Nagorno Karabakh “frozen conflict” there are still dead bodies and prisoners of war, that the price of natural gas to heat homes and food has gone up and now the price of local cheese, and the lack of any proper or legitimate government, it is the night that saved me.
Yerevan at night reminded me why I love this city and its people, and brought to mind this quote:
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”