By Astghik Bedevian
At least 900,000 people have left Armenia since the break-up of the Soviet Union and the resulting near collapse of the Armenian economy, a senior government official said on Monday.
“According to our estimates, the number of people that have out-migrated from the country since 1992 varies between 900,000 and one million,” Gagik Yeganian, head of the Armenian government’s Migration Agency, told RFE/RL.
The number of Armenians who have gone abroad, mainly to Russia, in search of employment has long been a matter of contention, with various government officials, independent experts and politicians suggesting different figures. Citing a census conducted five years ago, the government puts Armenia’s current population at, at just over 3 million, sharply down from the late Soviet level of 3.8 million.
The census also found that some 200,000 people reside and work on a “temporary” basis. Its results are challenged by opposition politicians who say that the out-migration occurred on an even larger scale.
Yeganian claimed that the exodus all but ground to a halt in 2001 and insisted that Armenia is not facing a demographic crisis at present, even if thousands of its citizens continue to seek asylum in the West and European Union countries in particular for economic reasons each year.
Experts agree that a small percentage of the Armenian migrants began returning to their homeland several years ago, buoyed by its slow economic recovery. But they also point to the difficult reintegration of the returnees into Armenian society resulting from a continuing lack of jobs.
Yeganian said the government has no specific plans to spur the modest repatriation and is using instead its scarce resources to improve the plight of people that have chosen to stay in Armenia. He also dismissed hopes for a sizable increase in the country’s as a result of a recent constitutional change that enables foreigners of Armenian descent to become citizens of Armenia. “To hope that the influx of permanent residents will increase after the introduction of dual citizenship would be wrong,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Gagik Yeganian.)