By Anna Saghabalian
A persisting lack of jobs and other economic opportunities threatens to roll back recent years’ modest repatriation of some of those Armenians who left their country following the Soviet collapse, migration experts warned on Tuesday.
Armenian migration specialists and representatives of international organizations said many of the returnees are now struggling to earn a decent living in Armenia and will consider emigrating again if their situation does not improve soon. They also said the government’s failure to help them get on their feet will discourage the repatriation of other, far more numerous Armenian citizens living abroad.
Hundreds of thousands of them out-migrated during the economic slump of the 1990s in search of employment abroad. Most ended up in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. The number of Armenians living in the United States and Europe, both legally and illegally, is also significant. A small percentage of them began returning to their homeland several years ago, buoyed by its slow economic recovery.
“We are not talking about tens of thousands of people,” said Ovsanna Babayan, a migration expert. “I think we can only talk about several hundred or perhaps several thousand people.”
Hovannes Bejanian and his family, who lived in Germany for five years, are among those people. They returned to their village with a sizable, by local standards, amount of cash which they hoped to invest in a farm. The project did not get off the ground and, with most of the money already spent, they find it increasingly hard to get by.
Is the family considering hitting the road again? “We have had no such discussions yet,” said Bejanian. “But if things remain like this we will start thinking about it. Life is still very tough in the Armenian village.”
Life is difficult in just about every part of Armenia, including Yerevan. Economists agree that the decade-long economic growth has not generated enough jobs to significantly reduce the country’s huge unemployment.
Hasmik Kirakosian, a young sociologist, has been unable to find a job ever since graduating from France’s prestigious Sorbonne University and returning to Armenia last summer. “I can’t expect to find a job in an Armenian government agency,” she complained. “They constantly tell me to take part in job competitions, but nobody knows when and where they are held.”
Kirakosian, who incidentally majored in migration issues, said other potential employers told her that she is too qualified and expensive for them. “If I remain jobless, I will return to Paris and apply to the organization where I interned,” she said.
According to Aurélie Perrin of the Swiss non-governmental organization CIMERA, the plight of many other Armenian returnees is not much different. She said CIMERA researchers interviewed 17 such families across the country and found most of them “disappointed.”
“Some say that they won’t emigrate again because they don’t want to feel like second-class citizens,” Perrin told a roundtable discussion on the problem in Yerevan. “But others say if the situation doesn’t improve they will again go abroad.”
Perrin added that the government should facilitate the returnees’ reintegration into Armenian society by finding a way to use of their new skills acquired abroad and providing them with small loans or other assistance. Babayan agreed that failure to somehow help them could put an end to the repatriation process and even provoke an opposite trend.
“They are aware of our plight here,” Bejanian said of his Armenian acquaintances still living in Germany. “Until they see that we are better off, they won’t even think about returning.”