The other day I bumped into Sahani Ravinder, otherwise known as “Mickey,” who is the owner of New Delhi, the Indian restaurant on Tumanyan Street near the intersection with Mashdots Street, which I have mentioned in a couple of posts on this blog. Effective June 30, New Delhi will be closed down forever.
He had taken leave of Armenia for several months due to visa problems imposed on him by the infamous Office of Visas and Registration (OVIR), which incidentally is one of the most corrupt government agencies in the republic, second probably to the customs department. The last time I went to New Delhi about two months ago, while he had been absent for several months then, the service was lousy and the food was no longer up to par (for one thing I found pistachio shells in the peanut masala), as the fabulous master chef who had been working there, Man Bahadur Sahani, also had to leave after having been obliged to pay $1500, as were three other employees. He was also incidentally robbed of about $800, threatened with being stabbed, which naturally left a bitter taste in his mouth. Restaurant manager Pankaj Joshi (a.k.a. Jacks), left in November of last year to attend his brother’s wedding in Delhi, but was not allowed to reenter Armenia due to similar visa-related problems, having been refused for not paying a $1500 fee. The cost for the visa is ordinarily only $300 for foreign nationals wishing to live and work in Armenia (less for Armenian diasporans who have not obtained Special Residency Status). He sends me SMS messages for time to time, and in each one his dream to return to Armenia is heart-felt.
Mickey arrived in Yerevan one month ago to sort out his visa problems with OVIR, having complained to the superior of Samvel Aghajanyan, the deputy head of the agency, which is incidentally run by the police. After catching wind of Mickey’s actions, Aghajanyan called him (they have grown to know each other quite well in the last couple of years as Mickey was the previous owner of Tandoori restaurant on Deryan Street) to inform that he was deported effectively immediately. In Armenia, when you receive such notices from OVIR, you are not obliged to leave immediately and no one comes around to make sure you have gone, but nevertheless you are considered an illegal alien. After he officially closes the restaurant and leaves shortly thereafter, he will never again return to Armenia as he has vowed to me. Instead he will focus his undertakings on Tbilisi, Georgia, where he has been granted a visa by President Mikheil Saakashvili last year to do business freely in the country. The way foreign businessmen are received in the two countries who share the same border bears a stark, remarkable contrast. Armenian authorities, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should be embarrassed to say the least, but even the Foreign Minister’s wife, who was a frequent customer of New Delhi, failed to intervene. The Prime Minister, to whom OVIR answers for some reason, also did not take action at the time.
There are two days left before the restaurant closes, which has recently been better managed since Mickey’s return. I recommend to anyone presently visiting Yerevan to check it out as it will be the last time to enjoy fine Indian cuisine probably for a long time to come in this country, quite simply because foreign small businessmen are clearly not welcome. It is a regrettable, grave reality.
Labels: Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings