Armenia’s Diaspora Minister, Hranush Hakopyan thinks the migration problem is temporary.
YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—A group of Armenian scholars has addressed an open letter to the country’s political leadership urging immediate action on emigration that they claim is “turning into a national catastrophe.”
Deputy director of the Yerevan-based Institute of Literature Vardan Devrikian, one of those supporting the claim, sees a snowballing panicky mood among people, which he describes as even more alarming than the scale of emigration itself.
“We are all in a panicky mood. Everyone is thinking of ways to leave. Working-class Armenians are thinking of going to Russia, whereas the white-collar segment of the population is contemplating emigration to Europe or the United States. This will, indeed, devastate our country,” Devrikian claimed at a press conference on Monday.
According to the scholar, the president should personally attend to this matter and in response to the open letter should appeal to the people, emphasizing that “we see the future of our people in our country.”
Meanwhile, ethnographer Harutiun Marutian believes that appeals alone will not reverse the trend.
“It would be very nice if the president said that, but it needs to be followed up with certain steps,” said Marutian, without elaborating.
Armenian Writers Union Chairman Levon Ananian, leading ethnographer Hranush Kharatian, head of the Association “For Sustainable Human Development” NGO Karine Danielian and others in their public remarks last week also voiced their concerns about emigration looming large in the country.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Hranush Hakobian, the minister for the Diaspora, acknowledged that for the first time in at least the past three years Armenia has been losing some of its population because of emigration.
The official attributed it mainly to the heavy social and economic conditions that some Armenians face in their home country. Still, she expressed the opinion that most Armenians leaving the country, especially those going to Russia, were temporary migrant workers who planned to return home in the future.
“They leave Armenia not forever; they seek jobs to maintain their families that stay here,” said Hakobian.
At the same time, Hakobian suggested that critics of the Armenian government, especially those living abroad, should take practical steps to assist in solving social and economic problems in Armenia, such as through investing and creating jobs.
“It is simply necessary to work to reduce emigration,” stressed Hakobian. “Our objective is to boost immigration, and today we also see tendencies of people coming to Armenia for permanent residence.”
The first wave of emigration hit Armenia after the country became independent in the early 1990s and was experiencing a severe energy crisis amid a continuing war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Some 800,000 of Armenia’s estimated 3.8-million-strong population are believed to have abandoned the country then. Although at a slower pace, but emigration continued also through the years of economic recovery when Armenia enjoyed a double-digit GDP growth for most of the 2000s.
Recent official figures reported in Armenia indicate that about 78,000 people have emigrated from Armenia in the past three years, but the opposition and some media have speculated that the number of people who have abandoned the country for good in the indicated period may be reaching several hundred thousand.
Addressing the issue in May, head of the State Migration Service Gagik Yeganian said Armenia experienced no increase in the negative balance of migration in recent years.
Armenia is due to have a census of the population later this year. The previous census taken in 2001 estimated the South Caucasus state’s permanent population at around 3.2 million.