The Russian ambassador to Armenia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, dismissed on Thursday a public outcry against a government program encouraging and helping Armenians to migrate to Russia.
“Who is forcing Armenians to leave this country against their will?” he said during a visit to Gyumri. “Why are they leaving their country? If they live well in their country, why would they go elsewhere?”
“People go [to Russian] at their own initiative,” Kovalenko told journalists.
The diplomat referred to the Russian government’s Compatriots program that offers employment, accommodation and financial benefits to married residents of former Soviet republics willing to settle in Russia. It is designed to address the country’s serious demographic problems.
Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) began operating the program in Armenia in 2009 and has reportedly attracted hundreds of Armenian families since then. The program has sparked an uproar from local opposition politicians, public figures and media worried about the continuing outflow of people from the country.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said in July that his government shares their concerns. He revealed that it has told Moscow to halt the scheme’s implementation in Armenia.
The opposition youth movement Hima (Now) dismissed these assurances, saying that the government should simply order the FMS to close its offices in Yerevan and several Armenian regions.
“There are people who want to accumulate political capital,” said Kovalenko. “They are wrong to do that. Everything will be fine.”
Kovalenko claimed that most of the Armenian migrants work in Russia to support their relatives in Armenia and will eventually return home.