BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
‘Tis the season for good tidings for the new year.
As has been customary, the leadership of Armenia, including President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, congratulated the people of Armenia on the new year holiday and both pledged a more prosperous country in the coming year. The catch, if you will, is that both are relying on the citizens of Armenia to band together to ensure the promised prosperity.
On Friday, December 29, the demographer Ruben Yeganyan shared a different, a bleaker, outlook for Armenia in the coming year when he provided an analysis of his research that indicated that in 2017 some 40,000 Armenians had left the country for better opportunities elsewhere. This figure is a 2.5 percent increase from 2016, when 37,500 people left Armenia, according to statistics, for a grand total of 77,500 in two years.
“According to our research data, in the past three to four years, more than 35 percent of households [in Armenia] participated in migration processes,” explained Yeganyan. “In the past three to four years, 12 percent of the [country’s] population participated in migration processes.”
He also predicted that the birth rate in Armenia would drop in 2018 due to the low number of people born in the 1990’s in Armenia.
Yeganyan said that external factors, such as Armenia’s further integrations in the Eurasian Economic Union have provided more attractive employment opportunities outside of Armenia.
Only two days after these stark revelations, President Sarkisian issued his annual New Year message, in which he asserted a rosier outlook based on the successful achievements of 2017.
“We are going to get our fellow countrymen back to Armenia. They will be back seeing that a great deal of work has to be done in Homeland. The chief objective of our work is to open up new horizons and opportunities, provide a wider field of activity for each Armenian citizen,” said Sarkisian.
Similarly, Prime Minister Karapetyan, in his New Year address, challenged all citizens to come together for a better—more prosperous—future for Armenia.
“Armenia is to be a reasonable and prosperous country, optimistic and confident about the future… Every one of us can take a share in that nationwide drive for strengthening [of Armenia]… We can develop our country together and, as a result, have a powerful, equitable, well-developed and prosperous Armenia strong with ever-growing and happy population,” pledged Karapetyan.
These pledges and optimistic promises of people holding hands for a more prosperous Armenia come on the heels of a new budget approved last month that envisions no wage increases but guarantees higher inflation—price hikes—which was infamously characterized by a ruling Republican Party of Armenia lawmaker as having not impact on the poor, because “the poor don’t have money.”
What Sarkisian and Karapetyan did not pledge in their New Year addresses was a personal commitment to clean house, also known as telling their colleagues in the Republican Party of Armenia to treat the population with more respect and to stop looting the country’s wealth and lining their pockets.
In an ideal world, a president facing such daunting demographic and socio-economic challenges would challenge his uber-wealthy colleagues and fellow party members to perhaps return what they have stolen from the national coffers and create a more equitable playing field for the entire population of the country.
Or else, how will Sarkisian achieve his desired Kumbaya moment, where everyone returns to Armenia without guarantees of security and social justice? Moreover, how will his goal of increasing Armenia’s population to 4 million by 2020 be realized?
The obligatory optimistic New Year greetings must contain at least a hint of an honest assessment of challenges facing the county so that people can heed those calls for collective participation in the betterment of the system. Without it, it’s just another signal for people to pack up and leave.