Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus
Yerevan is Armenia’s capital city. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 21 August 2021

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus

Armenia: Hidden gem of the Caucasus
  • The ex-Soviet republic offers a dazzling mix of landscapes for the more-adventurous traveler

RIYADH: Armenia is a country most people are vaguely aware of but might have trouble placing on a map. Tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran, this ex-Soviet republic is off the usual tourist track, but still attractive to curious travelers.

Landing in the capital Yerevan on a balmy July night, I am struck by the absence of COVID-19 precautions: A tight crowd has gathered outside the little airport and there is much kissing and embracing, and not a mask in sight. 

I’m booked at a good hotel — actually The Good Hotel. Owner Anna and her colleagues Nara and Artur have a touching concern for all their guests. A lavish Armenian breakfast is served up every morning: fresh fruit, homemade jams, omelets, cheese, salads, cold cuts and crusty matnakash bread.




Sanahin Monastery is an Armenian monastery founded in the 10th century in the Lori Province of Armenia, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Shutterstock)

Yerevan is a juxtaposition of high-end luxury and harsh poverty. Strolling down the tree-lined boulevards, with their elegant pink-stone buildings and boutiques selling $4000 alligator-skin handbags, you are just a few steps away from scrappy neighborhoods where time has stood still for half a century. Russian-made Lada cars from the 1970s, belching diesel fumes, are interspersed with Bentleys and Maseratis — a typical post-Communist scenario of shady oligarchs lording over ordinary people getting by on $300 a month.

“We all have big families,” my barber tells me. “And we depend on each other. That’s the only way to survive in this country. The other option is just to leave — there are nine million Armenians around the world, and only three million in Armenia.”

The cost of a visit here is cheap. I spend no more than S50 a day, including accommodation. Five of the pink plastic tokens for a metro trip cost just a dollar.




Lake Sevan is a large, high-altitude lake in eastern Armenia. (Shutterstock)

I embark on a road trip to the north, near the Georgian frontier. The smooth highway at times becomes a rough dirt track, winding through grassy hillsides and valleys before ascending into wilder mountainous regions. I stop in Alaverdi, a small town on the banks of the Debed River, at the foot of a steep valley. 

Irina, landlady of the charming Iris B&B, serves a delicious supper of charcoal-grilled chicken and vegetables. “I trained in Moscow as a cellist and orchestra conductor”, she tells me. “I had a good career there, but one day I had enough and returned here. It’s a simple life, but I love it and I love to share it with visitors.”  

The Soviet Union may be gone, but Armenia remains deeply stamped by it. Most older Armenians speak Russian as a second language; only younger people tend to speak English.




Yerevan shopping street. (Shutterstock)

Fortified by another legendary Armenian breakfast, I head to the alpine village of Sanahin. It’s Sunday, and a group of schoolchildren are performing folk dances in the garden of the monastery — the music and dances almost identical to that of eastern Turkey. 

Nearby is a museum dedicated to the Mikoyan brothers — two heroes of the Soviet Union. Artyem Mikoyan was the chief designer of the MiG jet, while his brother Anastas managed food distribution for the whole of the USSR. Outside the museum is an actual MiG jet. How it was brought up the mountain, I do not know.

I drive south, through the Debed River Canyon — a deep chasm that continues for at least 50 kilometers. After a night on the shores of the high-altitude Lake Sevan, I return to Yerevan and discover surely the most pleasant spot in the city: The café in Lovers’ Park.




Wings of Tatev is a 5.7 km cableway between Halidzor and the Tatev monastery in Armenia. (Shutterstock)

I head off once again, this time south to the town of Goris, near the recent warzone of Nagorny-Karabakh. The area is safe now, but there are still signs of the conflict. 

In contrast to its decaying Soviet-era buildings, the area around Goris is beautiful. It sits on the banks of a little river, and on the adjacent hillside are pointed sandstone rock formations, similar to the ‘fairy chimneys’ of Cappadocia in central Turkey. It is a good base for further excursions; to the ‘Wings of Tatev’ — the world’s longest cable car (a breathtaking ride of 5.7 kilometers) — and Karahunj, the ‘Stonehenge of Armenia’ — a prehistoric circle of hewn rocks.

Driving back to Yerevan, I meander through lush vineyards, undulating grain fields and rugged mountain passes — all lingering images of a country unlike any other.


Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada
The singer wore a jumpsuit designed by Osman Yousefzada. Instagram
Updated 34 sec ago

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

Chloe Bailey shows off courtside style by Osman Yousefzada

DUBAI: US singer Chloe Bailey turned Atlanta’s State Farm Arena into her own personal runway this week as she was spotted sitting courtside with rapper Gunna at the Hawks vs. Mavericks basketball game. For the game, the 23-year-old brought her signature style to the arena.

Bailey has a penchant for curve-hugging designs and is often spotted wearing form-fitting dresses, two-pieces and bodysuits on stage, on the red carpet or simply out and about. The game was no different.

Chloe Bailey and Gunna at the Hawks vs. Mavericks basketball game in Atlanta. Getty Images

The hitmaker offered a stylish masterclass on courtside dressing wearing an abstract blue jumpsuit from British-Afghan-Pakistani designer Osman Yousefzada’s Osman Studios, styled by Nikki Cortez. The eye-catching bodysuit was a collaboration with print artist Alex Beattie.  

The British designer who was born to Pakistani and Afghani immigrants has had his tailored pieces worn by the likes of American singers Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift. In addition to his celebrity-loved eponymous label, that launched in 2008, Yousefzada is also known for his multi-disciplinary artwork.

He often combines his love of fashion and art in his garments by collaborating with various artists such as Asif Khan, Celia Hempton, Christodolous Panayiotou and more.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Chloe (@chloebailey)

Bailey accessorized the artsy look with a Gucci belt, black heels and hoop earrings. All together, the look was ready for a red carpet or fashion show appearance.

The “Have Mercy” singer was also seen in the outfit earlier in the day when she greeted fans outside an appearance at Spelman College.

“I was so happy to speak with you beautiful ladies,” she wrote on Twitter.

Bailey’s courtside appearance with Gunna had fans wondering whether a romance or a possible collaboration is in the works.

The duo, who were sitting side-by-side, were put up on the Jumbotron and eventually their rumored romance became a trending topic on social media.

Ahead of their courtside appearance together, the “Drip Too Hard” rapper previously took to his Instagram to gush over Bailey, reposting her performance of “Have Mercy” at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Neither Bailey or Gunna have commented on the rumors. 


Kingdom’s pavilion at Expo 2020 brings together industry experts for first Saudi Salon

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)
Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)
Updated 24 October 2021

Kingdom’s pavilion at Expo 2020 brings together industry experts for first Saudi Salon

Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai . (Farah Heiba/ Arab News)

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai brought together creative experts for the first session of the “Saudi Salon” late last week.

Organizers brought together a panel of experts on Thursday to discuss the role of creative industries in facilitating cultural transformation.

The discussion was held in the Palm Garden inside the Kingdom’s pavilion and moderated by Yasser Al-Saqqaf. Participants included Robert Frith from the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra), Francesca Hegyi from the Edinburgh International Festival, Sarah Al-Omran, deputy director of Art Jameel, Nora Al-Dabal from the Royal Commission for AlUla Governorate and Robert Bock, a representative of the MDLBEAST festival in the Kingdom.

At the beginning of the session, Frith discussed the role that creative industries play in changing societies. He said that Ithra has managed to have a positive impact on Saudi society since its inauguration in 2016 and has also succeeded in adapting to changes around it

For her part, Hegyi emphasized that culture and creativity are the mirror of society and therefore they play an important role in facilitating change in societies in general. She added: “I think this indicates the type of change that can be brought out within societies. For this change to happen, they need to ratify a set of special policies and laws that can speed up the process.”

As for Al-Dabal, she reviewed the experience of AlUla Governorate, saying: “We are all aware of the deep history that AlUla holds and the different civilizations and cultures it has witnessed throughout history. I believe that the qualitative leap that this historical site is currently witnessing shows the impact of the creative industries and their ability to change a society. She also noted the importance of partnerships in creative industries, saying: “Such partnerships are important, as they work to stimulate cooperation on one hand and on the other, contribute to deepening the effects that creative industries have on society”.

Bock, meanwhile, stressed “the power of creative industries and their ability to sharpen the human mind,” saying: “We cannot deny that the Kingdom has witnessed, in recent years, a qualitative leap in the cultural sector, which allowed the creative industries to develop faster and stronger. This created new platforms and partnerships allowing creative talents to reach out to the community and introduce themselves to it.”


‘Feathers’: Award-winning Egyptian film is dark and brilliant

The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)
The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)
Updated 24 October 2021

‘Feathers’: Award-winning Egyptian film is dark and brilliant

The film won the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the El Gouna Film Festival. (Supplied)

CHENNAI: Omar El-Zohairy’s debut Egyptian work, “Feathers,” was both lauded and lambasted. Despite its big win at Cannes Critics Week with a Grand Prize and the Best Arab Narrative Film trophy at the recent El Gouna Film Festival, it was viewed as offensive to the country by some. Some Egyptian directors and actors, including Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi, walked out of the screening last week, claiming it portrayed Egypt in a negative light.  

Be that as it may, “Feathers” is an absurdist drama that presents a disturbing cocktail of magic, mystery and madness, weaving its plot through acutely sparse frames. A story of a meek wife (Demyana Nassar) and a horridly domineering husband (Samy Bassiouny) with three very young children, she is portrayed as subdued and slavish.

Listless to the point of looking terribly unhappy, she faintly sparkles when he decides to organize a magic show to celebrate his son’s fourth birthday. It ends in a disaster when the magician turns the husband into a chicken, but fails to transform him back to his original self. The wife is left with a bird that she feeds and nurses. It is only after her back-breaking search to find the magician, all the while struggling to earn a pittance to buy food for her family, that the director lets us into a horrible truth and its repercussions. 

Similar to somber, straight-faced Finnish helmer Aki Kaurismaki’s work, “Feathers” is shot in greys and dull lighting. The tonal mix establishes the stark reality of a woman who eventually graduates from utter passivity to surprising dominance. The drab looking buildings, the exposed pipelines and the family’s bare and dingy home, filmed with incisive camerawork by Kamal Samy, add to the sheer helplessness of the wife. But the script is engrossing, with a narrative that is dark, hiding an unbelievable piece of information, which when it comes will throw you off guard. 

The movie works as a brutal look at patriarchy, though this is handled with admirable restraint in the screenplay, co-written by El-Zohairy and Ahmed Amer. With the woman’s attitude changing so subtly, the drama underplays the climax. It is not really about revenge but about discovering one’s self-respect.


Megan Fox can’t get enough of Lebanese label Andrea Wazen

Megan Fox can’t get enough of Lebanese label Andrea Wazen
Megan Fox rose to prominence for her role in ‘Transformers.’ Instagram
Updated 23 October 2021

Megan Fox can’t get enough of Lebanese label Andrea Wazen

Megan Fox can’t get enough of Lebanese label Andrea Wazen

DUBAI: It seems that Megan Fox cannot get enough of Lebanese footwear label Andrea Wazen. The 35-year-old actress is often photographed wearing the Beirut-based designer’s creations, including this week when she stepped out for an off-duty stroll in Los Angeles championing the brand’s Denver pumps in black.

The “Transformers” star elevated her mesh sandals with a faux leather cropped blazer and boyfriend jeans from her recently-launched collection with fast-fashion retailer Boohoo, paired with a bright blue JW Pei handbag.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Maeve Reilly (@stylememaeve)

Last month, the star wore Wazen’s heels to the REVOLVE Gallery Private Event in New York City.

Fox opted for a pair of clear pointed-toe heels with gold-strap detailing, called the Dassy Sunset PVC Pumps.

She matched her heels with a sporty pale yellow jacket and matching flared pants.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Megan Fox (@meganfox)

Also in recent weeks, Fox shared photos on Instagram wearing a pair of transparent shoes designed by Wazen that featured green criss-cross detailing.

Meanwhile in July, the star championed the designer’s lace-up Mandaloun heels in blue.

Fox isn’t the only celebrity fan of the Lebanese label, however.

In fact, Andrea Wazen is shaping up to be the next big footwear brand to watch.

Since launching in 2013, the label’s strappy sandals and stilettos have made their way onto the pedicured toes of A-listers and It-girls across the globe, including Beyonce, Hailey Bieber, Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Addison Rae, who have all championed Wazen’s creations.

The London-born designer, who is the younger sister of Lebanese fashion blogger Karen Wazen, launched her eponymous, celebrity-approved label in Beirut following stints with some of the most renowned footwear designers in the world, including Christian Louboutin and Rupert Sanderson.

After picking up leading shoe magazine Footwear News’s prestigious Emerging Talents Award and being named Accessories Designer of the Year by Fashion Trust Arabia last year, Wazen joins a lineup of inimitable Arab female footwear designers who have seen both critical and commercial success with their brands, including Jordanian-Romanian Amina Muaddi, Kuwaiti designer Najeeba Hayat of Liudmila and Lebanese-Australian Katrine Hanna.


El Gouna Film Festival ends with ‘Feathers’ nabbing top prize

El Gouna Film Festival ends with ‘Feathers’ nabbing top prize
‘Feathers’ also won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week. Supplied
Updated 23 October 2021

El Gouna Film Festival ends with ‘Feathers’ nabbing top prize

El Gouna Film Festival ends with ‘Feathers’ nabbing top prize

DUBAI: Egyptian director Omar El-Zohairy’s “Feathers” took home the Best Arab Narrative Film at the closing ceremony of El Gouna Film Festival on Friday.

“Feathers” tells the story of a mother who dedicates her life to her husband and children. When a magic trick goes wrong at her four-year-old son’s birthday party, an avalanche of coincidental absurdities befalls the family. The magician turns her husband, the authoritarian father, into a chicken. 

Despite its big win, the film — which won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics Week — sparked controversy at the event and on social media. 

Some Egyptian filmmakers and actors, including Sherif Mounir, Ahmed Rizk and Ashraf Abdel Baqi, left the screening of the film last week because they thought the movie was offensive to Egypt.

Meanwhile, the top prize in the three main categories of Feature Narrative, Documentary and Short Film went to Finnish director Teemu Nikki’s “The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic,” “Life of Ivanna” by Renato Borrayo Serrano, and “Katia” from Russian director Andrey Natotcinskiy.

Egyptian director Ali El Arabi’s “Captains of Za’atari” won Best Arab Documentary film, while director Mounia Akl’s “Costa Brava, Lebanon” won the inaugural El Gouna Green Star Award for raising awareness on environmental issues and the Fipresci award for Best Debut Film.