Each year, International Women’s Day arrives on March 8 in the Armenian village of Dzoragyugh amid a dark cloud of irony. Ninety-eight percent of the village’s male population --nearly half of its population of 5,000 people -- has migrated abroad in search of work. Those residents left behind jokingly call their village “a women’s club,” a place where women do everything – plough fields, raise children, officiate at funerals and somehow, through sheer grit, try to hold their fragmented families together.
Labor migration’s impact on Armenia’s economy has long been the subject of international studies, but its impact on the families left behind has largely escaped study. In Dzoragyugh, though, and other villages in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, that impact is difficult to ignore.
With an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 of the region’s residents migrating abroad each year to find work, Gegharkunik boasts Armenia’s highest rate of labor migration – up to 8 percent of its total population of 243,000, according to the National Statistical Service.
Most of these migrants, overwhelmingly men, return each autumn, but some simply vanish.
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Gayane Abrahamyan is a reporter for ArmeniaNow.com in Yerevan. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist based in Tbilisi.