By Astghik Bedevian and Anna Saghabalian
Sochi may be known as Russia’s most popular seaside resort, but most of the mainly Armenian passengers of the fatal flight to the Black Sea city were hardly holidaymakers.
At least 80 of them were citizens of Armenia. Some were well-to-do individuals that used to hold senior government positions and planned to enjoy themselves at Sochi’s beaches and hotels. But the vast majority of others were apparently economic migrants that work in Russia on a seasonal or permanent.
Much of the large-scale labor migration from Armenia to Russia has a seasonal character and usually takes places in the spring.
Mesrop Piliposian, a 24-year-old resident of the southern town of Armavir, was due to make a journey familiar to tens of thousands of unemployed Armenians for the first time in his life. His elder brother already worked in southern Russia and promised to find him a job there.
His family hoped that he will get married soon. All it wants now is to find his body and bring it home. Piliposian’s brother and uncle, also in Sochi, began the grim task late Wednesday and have not been successful so far.
“Losing him is such a huge pain,” the young man’s sobbing aunt said as she stood outside his ramshackle Armavir house together with other relatives and friends.
Hamlet Abgarian, another Armavir resident, traveled to Russia for the same reason. “He hoped to earn some money and come back,” said Khoren, a friend of the 36-year-old father of two. “He had some friends there. They invited him.”
Abgarian boarded the Armavia plane bound for Sochi with his 21-year-old neighbor, Vram. The latter had just finished his military service and could not find a job in Armavir. “Vram had one goal: to earn some money and create his own family,” said one of his relatives. “It’s very hard to do that here.”
The tragic fate of these and other victims of the plane crash is unlikely to keep other people from various parts of Armenia from traveling to Russia for seasonal or permanent work. Dozens of such people, most of them residents of a village in northwestern Armenia, waited for a delayed Armavia flight to Moscow at Yerevan’s Zvartnots on Thursday. Many admitted fearing for their lives after Wednesday’s crash but said they have not other choice.
“We are leaving with fear in our hearts,” said one middle-aged man. “But we have to go.”
“Whether or not you are scared, you have to support your family,” argued one of his companions
Another group of men, from Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, were traveling to Moscow en route to the remote eastern Siberian region of Yakutia. “My mother, father and wife were begging me to stay at home,” said one of them. “But how can I support them live if I stay here?”
(GI-Photolur photo: Students of an Armenian school in Sochi casting 113 flowers into the Black Sea in memory of the dead.)