How an unlikely Instagram hero has City Hall between a rock and a hard place

Photo: Courtesy of Vardan Manasyan

Armenia, the land of Instagram celebrities Kim Kardashian and Dan Bilzerian, has embraced its latest social media sensation: the Rock (no, not Dwayne Johnson), but an actual piece of broken cobblestone. This chunk of rubble, affectionately dubbed “Aram Rock” by fans, was first discovered on August 2 near Republic Square, huddled in the shadow of Aram Manukian’s imposing statue.

While the sidewalks of Yerevan are almost constantly littered with rubble from the decades-long construction boom, Aram Rock is no ordinary piece of gravel. Upon closer inspection, more perceptive observers might spot a long electrical wire tied around its circumference, latching the geological fragment to the power cables above the sidewalk. 

Photo: Courtesy of Vardan Manasyan

Who placed it there? How did it get tangled in the wire? There are no concrete answers, only speculation. Vardan Manasyan, who posted Aram Rock’s first Facebook photo, offers a working theory. He surmises that the rock was likely used to tie down the renegade electrical wire after it came loose from its transmission pole. The man responsible? Probably a quick-thinking taxidji from the nearby taxi stand applying a DIY fix until city maintenance crews remove the looming safety hazard. 

Manasyan would come across the same rock again, this time on a friend’s Facebook post. “Twenty-first century Yerevan, global high tech hub: implementing the same solutions as our grandparents,” the accompanying caption read. Aram Rock has now gone viral. Cross-referencing this post with his own photo, he concluded that the rock had not moved for at least 10 days. Seeing as he lives nearby, Manasyan resolved to visit the rock every day during his regular walks, each time, posting a photo for Instagram. 

Initially bemused by this Kafkaesque display of urban management, he decided to conduct an informal experiment to see how long the municipality would take to settle the issue. With each new post, Aram Rock’s career as an Armenian social media influencer has continued to flourish. Many social media users find these regular rock update photos funny at first. One person even enlisted the rock as a muse upon which to polish his selfie-snapping craft. Some have devoted many hours to heated discussions about the danger posed by the wire. Others still moralize that, out of all of Yerevan’s ‘homeless’ rocks, this one, at least, has found a job.

Aram Rock has become a familiar staple on Facebook and Instagram feeds across Yerevan. Dozens of users have shared the eponymous stone, tagging the official pages of the Yerevan Municipality, the Kentron Administrative district and the mayor himself. Despite the ruckus, these requests for action have gone unanswered.

 

Last fall, a freshly-elected Mayor Hayk Marutyan promised a new era of effective, sustainable and rational city management. Nine months later, his administration’s somewhat patchy track record has led some to question the wisdom of placing an inexperienced comedian at the helm of the country’s largest city. To its credit, the new administration has made some commendable improvements in a short time, given the legacy it had been handed. Over the summer, Yerevan unveiled its first bike path and several new parks, while other administrative, logistical cosmetic adjustments have made a modest impact on urban life. However, the mayor’s apparent preoccupation with trivial minutiae, such as slightly tweaking street names, has tested patience. Critics point to the yet-unsolved waste-management crisis, delays in implementing modern mass transit infrastructure and other pending issues as evidence that the mayor needs to do more.

The stubborn rock’s enduring presence on that curb, literally a stone’s throw away from the halls of power, in brash defiance of municipal authorities serves as a defiant indictment of the mayor’s sluggish track record. Aram Rock epitomizes the indecisiveness which many residents have come to expect from City Hall. 

Conversely, the public discussion generated by a concrete-chunk-turned-social-media-influencer oozes of the sort of poignant satire and initiative-taking which has come to define the generation that spearheaded last year’s Velvet Revolution. Residents of Yerevan, no longer content with relying on the municipality to act, have resolved to take on agency in their city’s decision-making: direct-democracy Armenian style.

Manasyan doesn’t see himself as an activist though. Frustrated by unsuccessful attempts to bring the authorities’ attention to urban problems through other platforms, he found a direct line to City Hall through social media. Until things change, he says, “I’d be happy to help the city help me live in a better city.” In the meantime, Aram Rock is still there, on that curb, (though for the first time in this 19-day saga, the wire has been tethered to a nearby traffic sign) in the hope of landing a sweet deal with YouTube Red…probably. 

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

2 Comments

  1. Raffi” Kim Kardashian and Dan Bilzerian? Really? If that is what Armenians are now identified by, to quote a TV sitcom title: “Just Shoot Me.” :)~

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