By Anush Dashtents
The latest government data show a substantial drop in the economically driven out-migration which has caused Armenia’s population to shrunk by more than a quarter since independence.
According to the government’s Department on Migration and Refugees, as many as 595,000 people arrived in Armenia in the course of last year, which is slightly more than the number of those who left in during the same period. The figure is based on reports from the country’s border checkpoints as well as information provided by transport agencies.
A senior department official, Vahan Bakhshetsian, told RFE/RL on Saturday that the country registered a positive migration balance for the first time since its independence. He said it was particularly high in December when arrivals exceeded departures by more than 22,000.
The influx reflects the seasonal nature of the migration, with many Armenian men working abroad to support their families spending winter months at home before again leaving for in Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics.
Bakhshetsian said the overall migratory trend is positive, arguing that the population dynamics in 2001 when departures, according to his agency’s figures, exceeded arrivals by about 60,000.
Hundreds of thousands of people emigrated from Armenia following the 1991 Soviet collapse and the ensued economic collapse. Preliminary results of a government census conducted in October 2001 put the number of people currently living in Armenia at just over 3 million. Census officials say at least 200,000 Armenians are “temporarily absent” from the country.
The census results are challenged by opposition politicians who say that the out-migration occurred on an even larger scale.
Still, some sociologists share the government’s upbeat claims. One of them, Aharon Adibekian, said a recent opinion poll conducted by his Sociometer polling organization found that only 11 percent of Armenians would now like to leave their homeland. He said that is sharply down from the roughly 80 percent rate reported in the early 1990s.
In the words of Lyudmila Harutiunian, head of the sociology chair at Yerevan State University (YSE), economic growth and slowly improving living conditions are putting brakes on the emigration. Harutiunian said some of the migrants are already beginning to return. She said 400 of them were recently surveyed by YSE researchers.