Armenia’s government will encourage ethnic Armenians living abroad to relocate to their historical homeland in an effort to address its demographic problems, President Serzh Sarkisian said on Monday.
Sarkisian urged Armenian Diaspora organizations to assist in that endeavor as he addressed hundreds of their representatives attending a government-organized conference in Yerevan. He also renewed his calls for greater Diaspora investments in the struggling Armenian economy.
“We note that demographic trends in our country are extremely concerning and result from many objective and subjective factors of the last 25 years,” he said in a long speech delivered at the Sixth Armenia-Diaspora Conference. “In the coming years, our efforts will be aimed at speeding up the natural growth of Armenia’s population and substantially changing the emigration-to-immigration ratio.
“We have declared that our goal is to ensure that Armenia has at least 4 million residents by 2040. Obviously we would have trouble attaining that goal only by increasing the birth rate, prolonging life expectancy and taking other steps to improve the demographic picture.”
The ambitious goal, he went on, also requires “achieving serious indicators of immigration into Armenia” in the next 25 years. “In my view, the realization of this objective will be the main subject of the next Armenia-Diaspora conferences,” he said.
“I believe that we are ripe for seriously discussing the issue of organizing repatriation,” declared Sarkisian.
There are an estimated 8 million to 9 million ethnic Armenians around the world. Only up to 3 million of them live in Armenia. Most of the others reside in Russia, the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
Throughout Sarkisian’s nearly decade-long rule, scores of Armenia’s citizens have continued to leave their country for primarily economic reasons. Opposition politicians and other critics of the Armenian government blame the emigration on what they see as the Sarkisian administration’s failed economic policies and unwillingness to enforce the rule of law in the country.
Some participants of the forum were skeptical about Sarkisian’s statement, saying that the authorities in Yerevan should ease socioeconomic hardship in Armenia and stop people leaving the country before setting such demographic targets.
“I don’t believe in utopias,” said Stepan Hovakimian, a representative of the Armenian labor unions in Los Angeles. “I only believe in real work.”
“Thirty thousand Syrian Armenians came to Armenia. How many of them stayed here?” said Vasken Kasemjian, head of the Social Democrat Hnchakian Party in Britain. “There are still problems in Gyumri. More than 25 years have passed since the  earthquake but there are still homeless people there.”
“Let them solve those problems before speaking of grandiose programs,” he added.
In his speech, Sarkisian again called on wealthy entrepreneurs from the Diaspora to invest in Armenia. “All necessary conditions for doing that and the right business environment have been created in Armenia,” he claimed.
Greater Diaspora investments in the Armenian economy have been hampered by the country’s flawed business environment. While some wealthy ethnic Armenian entrepreneurs from Russia, the United States and other parts of the world have set up shop in the country, many others have been scared away by government corruption and a lack of judicial independence.
Those problems are apparently not on the agenda of the Diaspora-Armenia conference that got underway on Monday.Representatives of Armenia’s main opposition groups were not invited to participate in the forum.
Nikol Pashinian, a leader of the opposition Yelk bloc, condemned the snub. “This and several other facts prove that the event is meant to be a PR stunt by Serzh Sarkisian,” he claimed.