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Exodus Realities: Russian Ambassador Asks “Why are people leaving Armenia?”

Exodus Realities: Russian Ambassador Asks “Why are people leaving Armenia?”
Vaycheslav Kovalenko, Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia
Vaycheslav Kovalenko, Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia

In June of last year, Armenian President Sargsyan instructed his government agencies dealing with migration issues to manufacture data that would show that more people were entering the country than leaving.

This manipulation of the numbers was doomed from the start. Average citizens of Armenia daily see long lines of people waiting outside foreign embassies in Yerevan to file their papers to leave.

President Sargsyan wanted to create the impression that the “rumours” of thousands leaving Armenia were just a figment of popular myth and a collective nightmarish dream.

At a press conference yesterday in Yerevan, Vaycheslav Kovalenko, Russia’s Ambassador to Armenia, presented irrefutable evidence that the migration issue in Armenia is indeed a real nightmare.

Kovalenko stated that from 2007 till the present, 5,000 Armenian citizens and their families have relocated to Russia via the “Compatriots” program launched by Russia’s Federal Migration Service.

Ambassador Kovalenko added that almost a similar number had left Armenia during the same period under the U.S. Green Card lottery system. He wanted to show that the Russian program was not worse than what the Americans were doing.

Now let’s extrapolate the numbers. If we accept that an average Armenian family consists of three people, it then turns out that in the past five years 10,000 families have left Armenia under the auspices of these two programs alone – some 30,000 individuals in total.

Programs designed to maintain the demographic balance of those countries aren’t only conducted in Armenia. But their consequences for Armenia specifically are tragic and painful. The problem isn’t merely the 10,000 families that have left, but those 20,000 citizens who wrote petitions to avail themselves of that Russian program. That is to say, the thousands of individuals who want to take their families and leave Armenia for good and the countless numbers who annually apply to the Green Card lottery in the hope of moving to America.

Last week RA Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan declared in parliament that the government was concerned with the actions of the Compatriots program and that consultations had taken place with various Russian officials.

“Our position is clear to the Russian government. The “Compatriots” program will cease to operate in Armenia. The operation of such programs in Armenia is impermissible. Our Russian partners accept our arguments. We will reach a general conclusion regarding the operation of regular migration activities, but we regard the organizing emigration from Armenia as unacceptable,” PM Sargsyan stated.

This signifies that the Armenian government regards the best, or at least one way, to resolve the emigration problem as the application of administrative levers, which in our case is nothing more waging a ferocious war against windmills.

First, if the best way to halt the contagion of whole families leaving the country, for example, is to force Russia to close the “Compatriots” program in Armenia, then why did the Prime Minister only target that program?

Following the same logic, he should have gone after the Green Card lottery and demanded that the U.S. halt it as well. In general, Armenia should be targeting the all the foreign embassies and consulates in the country and demanding that they no longer issues visas to those who apply.

The Armenian government would also have to be close all its borders since people wishing to leave employing every legal and illegal means to do so.

But just like the Prime Minister once jokingly confessed, the government can’t afford to do so because what it fears even more is growing numbers of discontented and alienated people remaining in the country.

It would be like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Thus, the Armenian authorities regard emigration as a convenient release valve. The government prefers to resolve the socio-economic mess it has created by sending people abroad for seasonal work and to keep the country afloat by the money remittances these people send back.

Second, it’s not clear how the government would be able to ban such programs in Armenia. The Russian ambassador in his last interview, for example, where he touched on the “Compatriots” program, gave no hint that an agreement had been reached on closing it or that Russia was even aware of Armenian concerns.

This appears quite typical. If the Armenian government found it necessary to raise the issue in all sessions of an intergovernmental committee and if the program’s office at the Russian Embassy hadn’t closed, it would mean that either PM Sargsyan wanted to confuse us all or that the Russians don’t give a damn about Armenia’s concerns and arguments.

It means that Armenia is still regarded by nations like Russia and the U.S, as in the past, as a cheap supplier of bodies to resolve their own demographic problems. This is all the more the case since the authorities of Armenia themselves have turned the nation into an object, a commodity.

Thus, it is not at all surprising that the Russian ambassador could not only skirt the concerns voiced by PM Sargsyan, but that he could clearly show, in an indirect manner, that Sargsyan doesn’t speak the truth and make it understood that the program will not be shut.

Essentially, PM Sargsyan wants to transfer the burden of responsibility for the existing deplorable migration situation off the shoulders of his government to that of a foreign country. This is quite understandable. It’s much easier to argue that you can’t resolve the problem due to conspiracies being directed against you rather than confessing your own shortcomings. In this case, the government is following the easier way out of assuming its share of responsibility.

But it seems that the Armenian government has forgotten the flowing words uttered by the president himself back in 2011.

“The only factor that can utterly rule out the negative balance between those entering and leaving Armenia would be to create such conditions in the country to compensate for those conditions that make them leave.”

So far during his tenure, President Sargsyan has only convened one advisory council or debate on migration and emigration issues. And even that was to essentially promote a juggling of the figures to soften the psychological impact of the exodus.

And what has been done in the past year? No one really knows. The authorities have been engaged in the more serious issue of ensuring their “re-election”. And this, as we all know, means it is vital to have as large a list of citizens living outside the country as possible.

“Is anyone forcing Armenians to move to Russia? Do you really believe that if we close our agency people will stop going? Is the agency the real problem?” Russian Ambassador Kovalenko asked the other day. “Why are people leaving Armenia? They leave because they have objective reasons that have nothing to do with the Russian Migration Service. If we close the mission the emigration will not stop.”

Despite the level of cynicism in Ambassador Kovalenko’s statement, it contains the simple truth.

The real question is whether the Armenian government is at all interested in hearing it.

Photo: strategiirazvitiya.com

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