If Armenia ever decided to adapt "A West Side Story," it's conceivable that “I Like to Be in America” might well be changed into “I Like to Be in Russia" to describe the choices faced by thousands of Armenian migrants each year.
But those choices are slightly less tempting now. A controversial Russian state program that grants jobs and citizenship to foreign nationals from former Soviet republics has stopped accepting applications from Armenians, Armenian news sources report.
Grappling with the double whammy of a low birthrate and a population exodus, Yerevan repeatedly has urged Moscow to stop the program, called Compatriots, which Armenian officials say has become a floodgate for emigration.
“We have a serious demographic problem in Armenia… and the organized outflow of the population is a blow to our national interests,” Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said of the program last month.
According to official numbers, some 26,000 Armenians have applied for the program since its start in 2007; 2,500 have actually left for Russia.
Moscow reported recently that, all told, some 30,000 “compatriots” have moved to Russia since the program's launch in 2006. The numbers are way short of the annual 300,000 settlers that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected, but the fact that more than eight percent of the inflow came from Armenia was enough to unsettle Yerevan.
Before, Russian officials shrugged off Armenian concerns. “We are not dragging Armenians to Russia by force,”said Russian Ambassador to Armenia Vyacheslav Kovalenko. “The reasons for them leaving are elsewhere.”
As may well be the reasons for stopping the acceptance of Armenian applications for the program. No official reasons could be found in Russian-language sources.
Given Moscow's past indifference to Armenian officials' complaints, sourly noted the opposition-minded daily Haykakan Zhamanak, the suspension of the program in Armenia might well prove to be only "temporary."