Armenia: the Rich Man’s View

Institute of War and Peace Reporting
June 23 2004

Armenia: the Rich Man’s View

Business venture luring diaspora Armenians to live the good life and
play golf against the backdrop of Mount Ararat.

By Alan Tskhurbayev and Sergiu Perju in Yerevan (CRS No. 239,

On the edge of Yerevan with a spectacular view of Mount Ararat, a new
community is being built as a new paradise for the rich and powerful.

Slated to become the first `gated community’ in the south Caucasus,
Vahakni is being designed to combine an Armenian location with all
the comforts available in the West. It will offer high-quality
western-style housing and conveniences to its residents, around three
kilometres from the Armenian capital.

Located in the Ararat valley with the legendary peak in full view,
the 160-hectare housing development is the brainchild of Vahak S.
Hovnanian, a United States millionaire of Armenian extraction, who
owns the construction company Hovnanian Ltd.

`When Armenia gained independence, my first instinct was to build a
city here for Americans from the diaspora to return to,’ explained
Hovnanian. `The idea was to lure people back to their historical

Asked whether for him Vahakni meant business, money, or a personal
dream come true, Hovnanian said it was `a bit of each’.

`First of all, it’s business, but to me, this is a prime opportunity
to create more jobs for Armenia. I have always wanted to help my
people,’ he told IWPR. `If successful international entrepreneurs
move here from abroad, that means millions in direct investment.’

The development, under construction since last year, will consist of
upwards of 500 homes. Of an estimated 25 US million dollars earmarked
for the project, five million has already been invested in
infrastructure. So far only 20 homes have been sold and there is no
final construction date for the community.

`Of course there will be a certain isolation from the rest of
society, a big difference in living standards inside and outside the
community,’ conceded Karekin Odabashian, managing director of the

`But Vahakni is in itself a lifestyle, which makes it different from
others. It is not true that housing here will only be available to
the privileged classes. Everyone is welcome – our prices are quite
normal for Armenia, on a par with apartment prices in prestigious
downtown neighbourhoods of Yerevan. But I always say that Hovnanian
Ltd is building more than just housing, we are building a way of

In fact, the `Hovnanian lifestyle’ is well out of reach of most
people in Armenia, where it would take someone earning an average
salary many lifetimes to be able to afford Vahakni’s real-estate

Those who have heard of Vahakni shrug it off as a place for the
fabulously rich. Suren Mikoyan, a taxi driver, said, `Every time I
drive by Vahakni, I look at these huge houses and feel depressed. It
seems to me that a whole different breed of people live there.’

Many of those `different’ people are expatriate Armenians. So far, 20
homes at Vahakni have been reserved for Armenians from France,
Canada, Russia, Switzerland and the UK.

Prospective buyers are free to choose from a great variety of layout
options, or even design their future home themselves with the
assistance of an architect. All homes will be fitted with security
systems, central heating, and fire alarm systems, as well as garages
and basements.

The majority of prospective residents are business people, something
which places high security requirements on the community. The only
vehicle entrance to Vahakni is guarded 24 hours a day.

`Security is one of the main reasons why I decided to move here,’ a
Canadian citizen who lives at Vahakni told IWPR, requesting
anonymity. `Back in Canada, the streets are not safe for my small
children. In that sense, Vahakni is ideal, and Armenia, I think, is a
great place to raise your children. There are security systems here,
but you can’t see them.’

Some residents are taking extra security precautions of their own.
Some have requested no photographing or videotaping around their

Other facilities intended for Vahakni include an international
school, a day clinic, a fitness centre – and Armenia’s first ever
golf club.

Vahak Hovnanian has high hopes for golf in the Caucasus, which he
says is both an art and a good way of doing business. `Golf is a
disease, and an infectious one, too. It’s a solitary sport: there’s
only you, your ball and your club. Playing golf is like painting a

Perhaps not as perfect a picture as the view of Mount Ararat from the
golf course.

Alan Tskhurbayev and Sergiu Perju, from Moldova and North Ossetia
respectively, are graduating journalism students from the Caucasus
Media Institute in Yerevan.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress