More than 20,000 ethnic Armenians from Georgia have become citizens of Armenia in the last three years despite a Georgian legal ban on dual citizenship, immigration authorities in Yerevan said on Thursday.
Hovannes Kocharian, head of the police Department on Passports and Visas, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that nearly 6,500 of them received Armenian passports this year and some 13,600 others in 2011 and 2010.
Kocharian acknowledged that this could put them at odds with the authorities in Georgia where the constitution and laws do not allow dual citizenship. “Such individuals could have problems in Georgia,” he said. “They may well face a loss of Georgian citizenship.”
“We don’t refuse [dual citizenship] to anyone on the grounds that they are citizens of another state,” added the official.
Armenia introduced dual citizenship in 2006 in an effort to strengthen its links with several million ethnic Armenians scattered around the world. Tens of thousands of them have applied for Armenian citizenship since then. President Serzh Sarkisian urged more Diaspora Armenian to become citizens of his country in a speech in London last July.
There are an estimated 250,000 ethnic Armenians living in Georgia. They are mostly concentrated in the capital Tbilisi and the Javakheti region bordering Armenia and Turkey.
Javakheti Armenians apparently make up the bulk of citizenship applications lodged with Kocharian’s department. Many of them work in Russia on a permanent or seasonal basis, and having an Armenian passport greatly facilitates their migration. Unlike Georgians, Armenian nationals travelling to Russia do not need visas.
Opposition politicians in Yerevan claim that Armenia’s government also hands passports to Javakheti Armenians willing to vote for Sarkisian and his ruling Republican Party (HHK). One of them, Gurgen Yeghiazarian, said on Thursday that the number of such passport recipients has soared ahead of every major Armenian election held in recent years.
According to police data, the total number of eligible voters in Armenia has risen by over 15,000 since the May 2012 parliamentary elections. The authorities deny opposition allegations that they are inflating the electoral rolls to make vote rigging easier.
Kocharian said that new dual citizens from Georgia as well as Syria account for most of the 2012 voter increase. More than 4,000 Syrians of Armenian descent became Armenian citizens in the course of this year, he said.