Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Emigration Empties Armenian Towns
In the Armenian town of Yeghegnadzor, you can tell whether householders have a relative working in Russia just by stepping inside their homes.
Ruzanna Manaseryan, for example, has a brand-new flat-screen television and the windows have been replaced recently – give-away signs that family members are bringing home the kind of money they could never earn in Armenia.
Manaseryan’s husband is a builder in the Russia city of Samara on the river Volga, and her son does the same thing in Adler, a Black Sea town near Sochi.
Yeghegnadzor, 120 kilometres south of the capital Yerevan, is by no means exceptional. Much of Armenia’s male population is away working in other countries The government’s migration agency says that between 80,000 and 120,000 people travel to Russia every year to do seasonal work, returning home for the winter. Some stay longer – the agency says between 900,000 and one million are there for a period of two or three years. Those are massive numbers for a country with a population of three million.
On Yeghegnadzor’s Tamantsiner Street, the fathers of all but one family are away in Russia.
“Around 70 people have left our block recently. Either they leave their homes and the whole family goes, or else the men go to Russia looking for work,” said Vardanush Sahakyan, the only woman on the street whose husband is at home.
Sahakyan says her family, unlike others, has a stable income, with one son in the army, the other working at a furniture factory, and her daughter-in-law employed at a local hospital.
A new Russian law that came into force in April offers a fast-track route to citizenship to anyone born in the former Soviet Union who speaks Russian. The application process takes three months, and requires the applicant to surrender their original citizenship. (See Armenians Enticed by Russian Passport Offer.)
The law worries many analysts in Armenia, since the population is falling steadily as people seek a better life abroad. (See Armenia's Shrinking Workforce from last year.)
Edgar Ghazaryan, governor of the Vayots Dzor region of which Yeghegnadzor is the administrative centre describes emigration as a “disease” eating away at Armenia.
“In our region, it’s mainly people from the towns who leave since unemployment is particularly serious there,” he said. “There used to be a lot of factories, but now there’s only one, which makes electronic components for cars. There used to be a food processing factory, but that’s gone too.”
Ghazaryan said villagers tended to be better off than townsfolk because they were sustained by farming, but he claimed that urban workers were often reluctant to take local jobs, pointing to the difficulty of finding builders for a new hotel in the town of Vayk.
Manaseryan said that was plain wrong.
“Before my husband and son moved to Russia, they worked on building sites here,” she said. “They didn’t get paid for months on end, and the money they did get was only just enough to cover our weekly expenses.”
IWPR visited the village of Azatek, where local people did not seem to be as well off as their governor believed. Most of the 600 people listed as resident there are currently away in Russia.
Azatek resident Marine Movsisyan’s husband has been in Moscow for the last ten. He sends most of his 1,000 US dollar monthly wage home to his family, but he only gets to see them two months of the year.
“Last time he was here, he repaired the house, bought a few things and left again,” Movsisyan said. “He calls us every day, but you can’t bring up two sons on phone calls alone. It’s very hard. I curse Russia for ruining our family.”
One of the minority who have chosen to return is Varuzh Harutyunyan, who studied history at university in Yerevan and then spent a year working as a builder in Russia. He returned to Armenia in December and now wants to open a fish farm.
In Harutyunyan’s view, “If they helped us, lightened the tax burden and created good conditions for employment, no men would leave their families and go to Russia.”
In Yeghegnadzor, Ruzanna Manaseryan plans to join her husband in Samara, and says she would give up her Armenian passport if it meant getting a Russian one.
“My husband sends money every month, but how long can I live on my own? I want to live with my family,” she said. “It’s sad when people leave, of course, but as the saying goes, where there’s bread, there’s home.”
Arpi Harutyunyan is a reporter for Armnews television in Armenia.
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