Where Have All the Armenians Gone?
Gone to the West, everyone with brains; gone to Russia, everyone with brawn, believes one prominent Armenian intellectual. (Apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary.)
But many others are not going anywhere at all, rejoined President Serzh Sargsyan at a July 20 cabinet meeting. While expressing concern about migration rates, Sargsyan also called for a cautious interpretation of the data. Predictions of a mass exodus only provide grit for the enemy’s (read, Azerbaijan's) mill, he said.
“[S]ome say 45,000 people have left Armenia [this year], but had someone taken the trouble to look at this rate on a monthly or quarterly basis, he would clearly see that in October-November period of this year… 40,000 of those who left will come back,” the president said.
Where international data is concerned, though, the numbers don't look pretty. The Central Intelligence Agency’s 2011 migration ranking puts Armenia in 186th place out of 202 countries with a net migration rate of - 3.76 per 1,000 people. That's far worse than Azerbaijan (-1.14), but a tad better than Georgia (-4.06).
The United Nations gives a similarly stark long-term view; an estimated 700,000 to 1.3 million people emigrated from Armenia between 1991 and 2009, it says.
For a country with a population of just 3.2 million, those numbers spell trouble. To keep the population in place, some critics advise that the government put reforms in place for a stronger rule of law and a healthier economy.
The president himself, though, advises keeping an eye on the effect such debates about migration will have on Azerbaijan. “[The Azerbaijani authorities] keep saying publicly that they will wait for Armenia’s depopulation and then they will solve their problems [dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh enclave] with us,” said Sargsyan. He called the notion "interesting" and "a little funny."
For her part, Diaspora Minister Granush Akopian offered this simple hope -- that one day, Armenia's migrants to Russia, the bulk of the outflow, "absolutely" will come home again.