By Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian on Monday urged the worldwide Armenian Diaspora to help to bridge what he described as a “huge” development gap between Yerevan and the rest of Armenia.
Kocharian admitted the highly uneven geographical distribution of the benefits of the country’s double-digit economic growth as he opened a major conference that brought together more than a thousand representatives of Diaspora communities around the world. “That process contributes to the concentration of the population in Yerevan, depopulating the already weak rural regions,” he said in a keynote address to its participants.
Kocharian assured them that his government is doing its best to address the problem, singling the promised release of $235.6 million in additional U.S. assistance to Armenia, the bulk of which is meant to benefit economically depressed rural regions. “But it is clear that that is not enough,” he said, explaining the government’s decision to put the issue on top of the conference agenda.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian also made a case for Diaspora support for rural development, arguing that just over a third of Armenia’s population resides in villages and small towns. “Economic growth has mainly had a positive impact on the capital Yerevan, and the fact is that the poverty rate among rural residents is 41 percent,” he said in a speech.
“The government will create all necessary conditions to ensure that our [Diaspora] compatriots face no obstacles in the implementation of their investment projects and initiatives,” added Markarian.
Kocharian, Markarian and other government officials present at the conference did not specify the amount of month they expect from the Diaspora or how it would be used to alleviate rural poverty. The volume of aid Yerevan receives from affluent ethnic Armenians in the United States and Europe, mainly through the All-Armenian Fund Hayastan, pales in comparison with the extra U.S. aid to be provided under Washington’s Millennium Challenge Account program.
The first day of the conference, timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Armenia’s declaration of independence, saw no heated debates among the delegates. Some of them did not hide their skepticism, pointing to a lack of concrete results achieved by two such gatherings held in the past.
“There has been no movement forward,” complained Oshin Keshishian, editor of the U.S.-based “Armenian Observer” newspaper. “These are totally identical gatherings. The same issues, the same arrangements, the same speeches.”
“Of course, all of this is not 100 percent meaningless, but nobody thinks about practical results,” he said.