A Very Dangerous Situation for Armenia

Prof. Osheen Keshishian, The Armenian Observer, 16 March 2011

Armenia has many problems just like any other country in the world. There can’t be a nation without problems, however, the point is being able to correct them, improve them, change them.

Prof. Osheen Keshishian, The Armenian Observer, 16 March 2011

Armenia has many problems just like any other country in the world. There can’t be a nation without problems, however, the point is being able to correct them, improve them, change them.

Armenia’s major problem is emigration — people are leaving the country. Actually it is the most important issue facing Armenia.  More and more people are leaving Armenia emigrating to different countries— basically to Russia, 65% of those wishing to leave prefer Russia, then the Ukraine. The United States is a dream, and it is the third most wanted place to go, but it is not easy to immigrate to the United States.

Statistics vary, depending who is conducting it. Recently, Gallop conducted a thorough poll and found out that at least 40% of the citizens of Armenia are anxious to leave their homeland.

There is emigration from all countries. Even from the United States, but the number of people leaving the US compared to the number of births and immigration, is negligible. There are more than 7 million Americans living abroad and according to the latest reports, more than 3 million American citizens a year are moving out. Amazingly, the number is very interesting — most of them are between the ages of 25 to 35. But, the population of the US is over 300 million and the exodus is about 1%.

Armenia is a different story, and a very sad one. Myself and others had delivered several talks in Armenia some 15 years ago, later on 10 years ago, and almost any time the occasion presents itself. People did not want to hear it. Now, finally, Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan in a February 22 interview, declared his concern and worry about emigration. “We are very concerned over the figures we get from the Migration Service,” he said. “So we approved special programs to reduce migration and create favorable environment for our nationals that are willing to return, ” he asserted.

During the past eight years alone, between 1992 to July 2010, more than 1.1 million people emigrated from Armenia, according to the Migration service. The majority of Armenians emigrate to Russia and Ukraine, specially to Moscow, but also to Altay, Voronezh (where there are aircraft factories), Kaliningrad, Kaluga, and other regions. Russia offers palatable conditions, gives them homes, offers work, transportation expenses of their belongings and bonus money — a one time deal somewhere between $4000 to $5000 and specially gives them citizenship within a year. It is the Russian law to lure migrants, people unhappy in the Motherland. According to some figures, 70,000 people leave Armenia annually while other place the figure higher.

It is a very dangerous situation. a catastrophic future awaits Armenia if the trend spirals downward and a serious remedy is not found to stop or at least to slow down the exodus.

Emigration or exodus takes place when someone wants to change the country he/she is living in and wants to move to a better place, simply stating. Anthropologists and sociologists have studied emigration and immigration patterns over the years and have come up with certain theories, rules and understandings.

Someone leaves the country for the following reasons, broadly speaking: religious oppression; political oppression; social oppression; lack of justice and economic advancement. Naturally, lack of justice advances corruption, cronyism, and crime. There are sub-reasons also — changing the climate, marriage, joining relatives, etc. but basically the five above mentioned reasons are the primary ones. Many times, for instance, obstruction of justice leads to social and economic dire conditions forcing individuals to move out.

Although there are inputs in Armenia — like the establishment of the American University, AGBU sponsored programs, ARS directed activities to improve social conditions, IT inputs from Armenian firms, churches, organizations, and so on, – but because the laws are not enforced (despite European Union and Human Rights organizations insistence) the population is unhappy and is looking outwards. It is unfortunate for Armenia if this situation continues and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.

The exodus of scientists, educators, physicians, has taken a very serious turn. Even government statistics indicate that “twice as many men as women seek to leave Armenia, most of them being between the ages of 30 to 50. (It is government figures! And what is the government doing?)

I know people do not like to hear negative, bad or sad news about our Hayastan. But it is out there and everyone knows about it. Without misunderstanding, I have to ask — how many people know that more than 50 Armenian diplomatic corps members have not returned to the homeland and are living in a different and a more comfortable country and they say: People have one life to live, and we want to live in better conditions.

Every fifth Armenian lives in abject poverty — I am not saying it. It was mentioned in a letter addressed to the government written by an independent Parliamentarian Victor Dallakyan, who also stated that poverty has raised the rate of suicides and asked “what efforts is the government taking to reduce poverty and create jobs?” How can some people become millionaires in a decade and others go the opposite direction, and can’t even have decent nutrition or health service or education.

The government should really step up to the plate and get its act together with bold programs tailored to fit the needs of the ordinary people and improve their lives, providing medical assistance, education, nutrition, social life and all the amenities for a normal life.

The way to improve the situation is to eliminate as much as possible all the political oppression, establish freedom of speech, create democratic means, work towards social justice, eliminate corruption and so on. Everyone has the prescription, and this is nothing new.

Because, even if the government figures are deflated, when 75 to 80,000 people are emigrating Armenia, in a decade Armenia will lose a million people, since birth rates are down and death figures are up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Armenia.

  1. Almost everybody knows

    Almost everybody knows Prof. Keshishian’s observations as pointed out by him. The question is what are we doing individually and collectively, in  Diaspora and Armenia?
    People much too easily criticize the Soviet period carried away by the fashionable anti-communist agenda fomented by the west. They forget that it was only during those harsh years that nation building was taken seriously and Armenia was repopulated.
    That raises an important philosophical and practical question which depends on how to prioritize burning issues. Was repopulation a crucial matter vs. partial absence of individual liberties?

    Will Armenians accept the present police state if it radically and adequately addresses the issue of emigration?


  2. Totally Agree

    Dear Prof. Keshishian,

    I live in Armenia and I just applied for immigration to Canada. My husband and I are highly educated people, but we can’t live here any more…The situation is getting worse day by day…The government is just causing another genocide to us…I  pity that I’ll leave eventually, but I don’t see any other way of living here….

    No one can help here…only the government…but the sole thing that they care about is money money money…

    Sorry but this is a reality that I will leave soon…


    Anna K.

    P.S. Just for info, I used to live in USA for few years then my husband and I decided to go back to Armenia so that our kids  grow as real Armenians…but we see we can’t live here any more……..unfortunately.

    1. Immigration

      It is unfortunate that the able bodied and the educated, such as you both, leave Armenia. I can only accept the sad reality and not be judgmental. After all, even though I am born and raised in Diaspora, I chose to continue on living in Diaspora and not repatriate. Many of my elder relatives a generation ago chose to live in Soviet Armenia.
      I am also an immigrant. I am born and raised in Lebanon and immigrated to U.S. Much like most immigrants, I believe, I still am caught somewhere in between. I have been in U.S. for 3 decades now, but admit that part of my inner being is still in Lebanon.
      True that friends that I had who chose to continue on living in Lebanon did not amass the physical possessions I have and may not have the comforts that I take for granted here. However, they in turn formed families of their own, raised their children, maintain a social status and live their lives that is no less respectable and no less happier and sadder than mine, even though modest in physical possessions.
      I have come to conclude that immigration is a matter of choice that in the end transcends all other mitigating circumstances that drive a person to immigrate. I tend to think that should you have decided to stay in Armenia, you would, in the end, have also created a life of your own that probably would be no less fulfilling than the life that may await you in Canada. Admittedly your lives probably would have been more modest in Armenia than the life that awaits you in Canada.

      Pretty soon Canada will welcome you and you will live there looking forward for a new life as your children will lead you along the new path and you will follow them. Anything else that will continue to tie you both with your birthplace, Armenia, in the end will prove to be an illusion. 

      1. Immigration

        Hello Apel,

        Thank you for your comment.
        That was very sad to read, though everyone has a choice and I think we made ours.
        Just for info, I am not running from bad life as I was able to create a pretty good one here, but then I am working as a freelancer for US companies…Both my parents are professors and the only thing they can buy with their salaries is a good pair of shoes…
        The main point for leaving is total absence of any law here – people can do anything if they have connections and money…That's the saddest thing for me here…
        I'll tell you more – I think in Canada I'll have less opportunities than here – I am talking about finances, because my husband is a scientist, so can't say the average salaries are high…I just want to live in the country where at least I can have some rights…I know about problems over there as I lived there so it's not like I am not aware about where I am heading to …
        It's very sad, because I am very close to my roots and family and I don't want to leave them…On the other hand I want to have freedom in even visiting some countries – here they reject to issue traveling visas only because you are Armenian…
        Eventually, I have no idea where I'll end up…as can't say Canada was a dream for me to begin with…but at least getting a passport will give you some rights that you'll never have with Armenian…The other point is army – I have 2 boys and just knowing that they should serve in the Armenian army makes me sick – I went through all this with my brother and don't want to go there again…
        I love my country though; I am trying to dissociate it  from the government
        Just some thoughts……
  3. Ineptitude of traditional BBBs and Oligarchs in R

    The BBBs are the Diaspora´s Bishops, Benefactors and Bosses, according to writer Ara Baliozian. The oligarchs are in Armenia.

    Q. Who created the latter in Armenia or who was instrumental in their creation?
    A.  The new regime of ¨free market  economy¨ or even the "wild  free market."

    Q. Are the BBBs and the oligarchs associated entities?
    A.  In an abstract  way. The first ones (in the Diaspora) injected the free market economy into Armenia, under the guise of democracy, freedom, etc.

    Q. Is there a way out  of the quagmire created in RoA or is the situation hopeless?
    A. The only solution, albeit temporary, is for a few of the top military brass, with help of independent opposition leaders, meaning  not the LTP or others similar to it,  but like Rafi Hovhannissian, Baruyr Hairikian and a couple more take centre stage and press the present government to resign, oligarchs are forced to explain how they got rich so quickly, and to strip them of their assets.

    Q. Are  you suggesting a coup?
    A. Not really. I am advising for a quick transformation, with a temporary government and the introduction of democratic socialism, copying the Nordic  countries. Not like the social democrats of the traditional Armenian party or the like.

    Q. Do we enact strict  taxation and social security laws similar to the Scandinavian countries?
    A. Yes. Hopefully,  these laws would be permanent, no matter the ruling party or government.. I will elaborate on this (New Concept  of Electoral System & Governance) in a later post. We have to commence with real participation and representation, not only from political parties or by electoral campaigns dominated by money.

    If  you watch Armenian TV channels, it seems Armenia is a typically Westernized state. It seems everyday the president or the foreign minister visit some country or host numerous countries in Yerevan, along with small and large delegations. However, only a few of these visits are actually important; most are just to exchange visits and stay at  Yerevan´s plush hotels.

    Until  then, have patience and  wait. Armenia will not be emptied that easily. 

  4. I do approve and second what Nareg Nalbandian writes above

    It should be born in mind (referring to his post, antichronologically) that presently the Govt. in RA is acting pretty much as any other, busy dealing  with day to day issues, how  to make use of Loans from other govt.’s and or grants, where to invest  a bit to alleviate  tremendous difficulties the people are going through.

    It would hardly be capable  of a radical move towards elimination of the evils – read corruption, mishandling of funds etc., given the  present  mode of  RULE.

    As to comparing or questioning rather if the previous repopulation of RA by the then regime was more  important  than individuals with partial liberties, indeed former   was  and  still is  much more important. Repatriation  is important.

    His remarks as rgds Mr. Keshishian´s rather lengthy article, one should remember that  his  is the profession  of Journalism and – this according to my father, may he rest  in peace – newspapers  must be filled  in ….

    Fact  is I went through his newspaper on line, through link and I found  that he is also lightly touching upon issues  that this writer  has raised, such as having 5 permanent Delegates  in RA, from our 5  main diasporas, in a number  of multiple e-mails, as well as published  in Armenianweekly – Armenian version, and USArmenian life magazine, in a  different  mode, recently.


  5. Being Aware of Our Homeland

    Being aware of our homeland’s difficulties, I ask myself "what is my role in nation building?" Should Germans, Italians, the British… go and make a paradise in Armenia and invite us to live there?

    Many Armenians who emigrated from Armenia to Northern America demonstrate a huge absence of hayrenasirootyoon in their character. Perhaps it’s because they were considered Soviet citizens rather than Armenians in Soviet times.

    I want to share an incident which took place during a previous stay in Armenia. My taxi driver had the radio on. I asked him to change the station to one which broadcast in our language so we could understand–the station was in Russian. The driver responded that Russian is our own language, not a foreign one. 

    What I conclude from the above is that emigration from Armenia is not merely because of economics or because of lack of social justice but also because of lack of knowledge of our identity. The latter has to improve in our educational system and  in our mass media, specially TV.

    God Bless Our homeland.

    1.  Hello people

      Hello people, and Hello Albert

      I am from Yerevan.

      I want to update you related to the information of why people leave Armenia these days. Look, you say people here have lack of knowledge of identity, right? The thing is that now, at schools and at universities there is no lack of teaching children identity, patriotism… Besides educational institutions, we are taught identity and patriotism also by some TV channels, newspapers, etc etc etc. I am not saying that we are becoming nationalists…in no way…

      The problem personally for me is as follows…How are we taught about these things? From which angle? We learn about wars with our enemies, about loosing some of them and winning others, we learn about Genocide, we learn about Karabakh…but the problem is that we form our identity on issues like Genocide and Karabakh…we live with our past, not with our future…

      Yes, I know, unless we get all our conflicts solved, and borders open, maybe we won’t be able to be totally free and looking ahead for bright future…but this is only one side…the other side is …come on…we already for 20 and more years live like this…and as you see we advance…yes the closed borders are an obstacle…but then how come we have everything other nations also have in the material sphere?

      Simply we are afraid of many things…of breaking the chains…and saying enough is enough…because there can be pressure from outside…there can occur wars etc…but I think we can’t go on like this…with the current government…with the current laws….and all these things…which become basis of our identity make us sick and tired…see? And why I do want to leave Armenia at least for some time…I want to forget for some time all the problems that we have here in Armenia. Do you think it is easy to go to the villages and see that every second house is being sold? No…and people run…they run away from reality… some run for these matters…others run from these matters rather unconsciously…

      So…what we need is an alarm to wake us up…but honestly, I don’t know how this alarm can be materialized…

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