By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Artur Terian in Moscow
Senior members of Armenia’s parliament have expressed concern over plans by authorities in the Krasnodar Kray to expel tens of thousands of Armenians who they say illegally reside in the southern Russian region.
Parliamentary leaders of two staunchly pro-Russian groups, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Communist Party, want the National Assembly to send a fact-finding mission to Krasnodar to investigate allegations of widespread ethnic discrimination by the regional government.
Krasnodar’s Communist governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, has ordered a crackdown on Armenians, Meskhetian Turks and members of other ethnic groups that have immigrated into the area over the past decade. They are now said to make up about a fifth of the region’s population. Those of them who do not have an official “registration,” a Soviet-era version of local residency permits, will be subject to expulsion to other parts of Russia or their native countries.
The Itar-Tass news agency quoted the head of the local legislative assembly as saying that the controversial measure is “designed to strengthen state control over migration processes.”
The local authorities estimate that as many as 800,000 ethnic Armenians live in the Krasnodar and half of them do not have a registration. Many of them remain citizens of Armenia.
A senior member of Dashnaktsutyun, Armen Rustamian, said their status is regulated by a Russian-Armenian inter-governmental agreement and the local administration can not resort to their expulsion. Rustamian called for a special Armenian parliamentary delegation to be dispatched to the area for talks with Tkachev and other local leaders.
Gagik Tadevosian of the Communist Party backed the demand and urged Yerevan to raise the issue with the Russian government. But he cautioned that illegal immigration is a serious problem for Krasnodar and that its leadership should not be judged harshly.
It is not known where the issue was discussed by Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Robert Kocharian of Armenia during a phone conversation on Tuesday. Official’s in Kocharian’s administration declined to give details.
Tkachev’s administration has been repeatedly accused by liberal Russian groups and media of fanning xenophobic sentiment among local Russians and harassing dark-skinned ethnic minorities.
In Moscow, meanwhile, the leadership of Russia’s biggest organization of ethnic Armenians discussed the situation in Krasnodar on Tuesday. The Union of Armenians of Russia (UAR) also voiced concern at the planned expulsions but stopped short of condemning the local authorities. It decided instead to send a delegation to Krasnodar to discuss the problem with Tkachev.
The head of the Krasnodar branch of the union, Nairi Hovannisian, on Wednesday voiced his disappointment with the UAR’s reluctance to take a tough stance. “Even the rights of those Armenians who are Russian citizens are being violated in our region,” he told RFE/RL.