Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

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

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 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 International 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 homeland.”

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.

“Vahakni is in itself a lifestyle, which makes it different from others" said Karekin Odabashian, managing director of the project. "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 life.”

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 prices.

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 -- although the majority of residents are actually local Armenians.

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. All entrances to Vahakni are guarded 24 hours a day.

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

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 picture.”

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

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