Saturday, November 08, 2003

The following story echoes my own finding from talking to people over the last few years., 7 November 2003

Exit Interviews: Publication reveals cause and effect of emigration

By Gayane Mkrtchyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

A book released earlier this year confirms that poverty and a pessimistic view of the future are the leading reasons why citizens leave Armenia.

"There is an opinion that emigration is a temporary economic solution as the employment market is not developed in Armenia," says Hranush Kharatyan, president of "Hazarashen", the Armenian Center for Ethnological Researches.

Supported by the Open Society Institute, researchers interviewed more than 100 residents and published 10 of their stories in "Emigration from Armenia".

Research was conducted in several regions, including Gegharkunik, a high-mountain province with a history of migrant employment, the Shirak and Lori "disaster zones", Siunik, one of the regions farthest from the capital, and in Yerevan.

And while widespread poverty forces many from their homeland, the research found that emigration is also rooted in general discontent.

"Many of those who leave the country are employed people, who have average living standards in Armenia and more or less normal perspectives for future," Kharatyan says. "Besides the lack of jobs, the reasons have deeper roots like lack of confidence, problems with getting used to new socioeconomic conditions, legal injustice, helplessness, hopelessness and feeling of being at a 'dead-lock'."

Typical of responses, one Yerevan intellectual told researchers he lived better in Soviet times and now plans to emigrate because he doesn't believe there is independence and democracy in Armenia.

A young businessman from the Ararat region, who sells cement, says if he considered emigrating, it would be because of unethical officials.

"Every 10 days representatives of the tax inspection visit me," he is quoted. "Every time I explain to them that I've already paid the tax and why must I give money again, what for? I have all necessary documents. As soon as they get hungry they visit me so that I take them somewhere and set a table for them but what for? They spend in two hours money that we spend during two months."

"Ordinary citizens, who have gotten on to their feet with great difficulties, always have to deal with tax laws, illegal relations, which make them emigrate from Armenia," Kharatyan says.

The center's research also shows education as a reason for emigration.

"Abroad, children attend schools and get good education. When they stay here they don't normally attend school and we haven't got enough money to cover school expenses," says a woman from Gegharkunik. "And when they finish the school where can they go to continue their study? From here you can't take care of children if they are in Yerevan. That's why those who earn money abroad, if they are a little settled there, come and take their families for ever."

A Kapan resident says many people emigrated from Siunik because of schools. "The majority of teachers prefer working the land and keeping hens over working in schools as salaries are low. Where can children continue their study after school, where can they live? There is only one Yerevan left and all of us can't find room in Yerevan".

Researches show that Armenia has experienced three major periods of emigration. The first wave, in 1992-1993, was mainly conditioned by hardship of transition, including the energy crisis. Most who left during that time were from Yerevan and they mainly left for Russia. A second surge of emigration took place in 1995-1996, just after the second presidential and parliamentary elections.

"It surprised us, but during researches we talked to people and realized that their expectations hadn't been met. Promises made during elections arouse hopes in the minds of people and in case those promises are not fulfilled people get very disappointed," says Kharatyan.

One of the workers of Shirak region's Head Office says emigration Occurred in Gyumri when promises that a sugar plant would start functioning again were not fulfilled.

"There were talks that a textile factory would start functioning soon but nothing changed," says one Gyumri resident. "They lied so much that people don't believe any more. People think that whoever comes to power nothing will change and there is no hope."

Kharatyan says that young people, who possess craft skills or are educated, and who might help strengthen Armenia, are among those who emigrate.

The research found that many believe emigration is advantageous for the standing government, as it decreases the number of active oppositionists. Further, when more people emigrate, there is less competition for jobs.

Kharatyan says that money sent from abroad has an impact on the internal economy. Many families solve their urgent problems either with the help of those who left the country for work or with the help of their emigrated relatives.

"However the negative influence of emigration on the economy of Armenia is noticeable. There are numerous people among emigrated with endurance and stamina. These people could have been successful businessmen in the country and could have weakened monopolization of the economy by being involved in the competitive field."

According to the president of the center, those, who have succeeded in business outside the country, are gradually breaking relations with Armenia and connecting their plans for the future with the country where they live.


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