WHY ARE ARMENIANS LEAVING ARMENIA?

Repopulation

In addition to resisting emigration and implementing a repatriation policy, Armenia should also try to populate its remote areas most affected by the poor economy and emigration. This section provides a case study of post-war repopulation in the Kashatagh and Shahumyan regions of the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (NKR). These regions are of strategic importance for both the Republic of Armenia (RA) and NKR, as they link the two republics. Based on an investigation of three municipal and over ten rural communities in the region, this chapter outlines lessons learned and gives recommendations for improving and expanding on the repopulation policy of NKR and RA.

The unprecedented growth of population in the Shahumyan and Kashatagh regions since the late 1990s is important both to NKR and to RA in light of their high emigration rate and the need to develop more efficient strategies for migration control. In order to counter the pessimistic analyses that dominate discourse on migration trends in Armenia, it is valuable to present case studies from these regions that present success stories.

The main questions answered are the following:

The answers to these questions can help us understand the following:

The research methodology used for this case study included both qualitative and quantitative analysis tools such as in-depth interviews with community members (mostly family heads/decision-makers); oral histories to identify main motivations behind migration; interviews with key informants who have played active roles in organizing the repopulation process; document analysis of statistical data and publications such as public speeches, news, academic and official documents; and expert interviews to cross-check the main research hypotheses and conclusions.

 

Motives for immigration plus active recruitment

Respondents were asked two main questions to find out why they changed their place of habitation and why they chose the target areas to move to. Most of the respondents mentioned two reasons motivating them to settle in those territories. Migrants coming with patriotic motives or with the conscious intention of repopulating the target areas were a small minority, while the majority of migrants came to these regions because of difficult social conditions and a lack of housing in Armenia.

A considerable portion of immigrants had received information about the target areas from family members and friends who had previously settled there. Until 2005, potential immigrants were recruited by the Yerevan-based Artsakh Commitee, which undertook consultation, orientation and the selection of specialists needed in the target areas. Since 2010, potential immigrants have been targeted by announcements on TV channels, with emphasis on privileges available and professions needed. Even though the outreach is expanded and includes social networks as well, person-to-person communication of information still remains the main vehicle for attracting potential immigrants.

 

Obstacles and challenges

The initial stages of repopulation in both regions were characterized by trial and error. Initially only the areas with ease of access for transportation of construction materials were chosen, and thus vast territories were not populated. Sometimes the repopulation process was carried out spontaneously and by people with no relevant experience. Decisions to repopulate an area were variously made spontaneously by migrants, by a benevolent organization, by the Kashatagh administration, or by a political party.

Lessons learned from the experience of international organizations in repopulating war-torn areas illustrate that immigrants’ degree of attachment to their new locations depends on factors such as the availability and sustainability of employment, income levels, housing availability, the nature of social relations and good governance. Respondents from the repopulated areas stressed all of these factors.

 

Key findings

Key findings and dilemmas arising from the investigation of the repopulation process in target areas are:

i) Need for a repopulation strategy

Both decision-makers (community leaders, volunteer activists etc.) and a large portion of immigrants noted that a number of mistakes were made during the initial stages of the repopulation process. A considerable portion of these mistakes were due to the absence of a repopulation strategy and a comprehensive action plan.

Numerous questions remain unanswered. For instance, what is the target population figure? What former settlements are to be repopulated and why? Which segments of the repopulated residents should receive support in case of limited resources? What self-sustainability projects should be implemented in each township? These questions are currently being addressed on the basis of practical experience acquired by individuals, who often act spontaneously according to the situation. The absence of a repopulation strategy has led to uneven population distribution and, in some cases, the selection of unsuitable settlement areas. To eliminate such risks in the future, there must be a clear strategy and action plan with settlement priorities and relevant coordination.

ii) The squirrel wheel

The situation in some target regions may be best described as a ‘squirrel wheel,’ which refers to a wheel idly spinning around a point. The absence of adequate living conditions in the village hinders the process of ensuring a stable population base and future growth. It would be economically more beneficial and efficient to ensure adequate living conditions before investing in bringing people, or, employ certain members of the potential immigrant families to construct homes and other infrastructure as a pre-cursor to bringing the families to the new villages. This would have the added benefit of employing the very people who will be resettled. Otherwise, there is a waste of resources and human effort, because inhabitants established in the settlements are not sufficiently motivated to invest in their community, as they have no incentive to stay.

iii) Criteria for measuring the achievement of repopulation goals

Interviewees said that any repopulation strategy should include clear criteria for measuring whether or not repopulation goals have been met. According to several experts and key informants, one criterion should be the self-sustainability of the regions being repopulated (i.e. living conditions that will enable the region to develop mostly by its own resources and potential). However, this criterion might be too ambitious, as almost no community or township in RA and NKR is self-sustaining.

iv) Promotion of natural growth versus immigration

A sound repopulation strategy must consider whether is it better to promote the natural growth of the local population or to attract new migrants. If the ultimate goal is the full utilization of the potential of the repopulated areas, does it make any difference whether this goal is reached by immigration or by the promotion of natural growth? While inviting new inhabitants is significant as a symbolic act, it could be that the promotion of natural growth is the best means for achieving the aim of repopulation. It should be noted that even the simple process of providing new immigrants with housing has attracted the displeasure of earlier immigrants who want to form their own families. Numerous interviewees expressed the view that instead of bringing in new inhabitants, it would be better to support the formation of new families and the expansion of families already settled in these regions through long-term loans and social projects.

v) Making repopulation attractive and recruiting specialists

Because an attractive lifestyle for potential migrants requires more than just economic and social benefits, a repopulation strategy should pay special attention to the ‘social packaging’ of repopulation opportunities. When repopulation is presented solely as a patriotic act, its attractiveness for those who are driven by economic and social benefit is diminished. Other factors such as the beautiful natural environment, mild climate, suitable conditions for cattle breeding or isolation from political turmoil should also be highlighted. Repatriation should also be presented as enticing for a range of social groups, based on an understanding of the needs of each group. For example, for young people, the possibility of a drastic lifestyle change and an independent lifestyle may be attractive. For established families, by contrast, it may be important to emphasize the promise of stability and economic security.

 

Making repopulation attractive

i) Organize familiarization tours to the repopulation zone

Research indicates that a considerable portion of those who have settled in these areas have visited for one reason or another before moving in. This has doubtless played a role in the decision to migrate. Both state and private resources should be used to organize familiarization tours, since bringing as many people as possible to these areas for various reasons will probably strengthen positive attitudes and facilitate the decision to immigrate.

ii) Stimulate business investments

The government, in cooperation with the Ministry of Diaspora of Armenia, international organizations and funds, should organize yearly joint events to make plans for attracting business investments. Investments in remote areas will keep the local population from leaving and will attract new residents.

iii) Produce social-cultural TV programs about the target areas

A TV program or series on these regions, broadcast by one of the popular TV channels, would raise public awareness.

iv) Publicize success stories

The success stories of families who have settled in these areas and made the most of difficult circumstances should be publicized through television and other media. The sharing of success stories would be a crucial tool for bringing in new families.

v) Develop tourism, particularly ecotourism

Ecotourism could easily be developed even if infrastructure is not in place. The hot springs in the Shahumyan region could be turned into affordable leisure sites for thousands of Armenians. The availability of organic food may be particularly attractive to foreign tourists.

vi) Provide financial support to immigrants prior to their arrival

A number of years ago, the delay in the provision of loans in Shahumyan region, particularly loans for cattle, led to widespread disappointment and may have deterred potential immigrants. The provision of loans upon (or even prior to) arrival might serve as stimulus.

vii) Create guidebooks for new arrivals

Guidebooks for immigrants should provide basic information about the communities being repopulated, their resources, potential for investment, available houses for reconstruction and reconstruction costs. Dissemination of this information would promote interest in these regions.

viii) Create leisure venues for the local population

The lack of public spaces inhibits the formation of local traditions, the development of social relations and ultimately strong attachment to these areas. In particular, Karvachar city needs leisure venues for people of different ages.

ix) Conduct ongoing sociological research

Since even the most organized statistical data is insufficient for identifying the sociological characteristics, perspectives and motivations of inhabitants, ongoing sociological research should be carried out among both immigrants and other citizens of NKR and RA to identify other potential immigrants. The results of this research would help to manage the repopulation process more efficiently and to implement more targeted projects.

x) Redirect emigration flows

Many of those who settle in the repopulation zone have changed their place of residence a few times during the years prior to their final settlement in these areas. It is possible that people who desire to leave for a foreign country from Armenia or NKR would be more easily attracted to these areas. If possible, such people should be redirected to live in the repopulation zones.

xi) Provide state incentives or guarantees for major investments made in the

       area     

Many potential investors are reluctant to invest in these areas, as they consider it risky. A targeted investment policy by the NKR government, and provision of investment guarantees, could attract more investments in the region.

 

Improving socio-economic conditions

i) Clarify expectations of repatriates

The distribution of privileges aimed at promoting repopulation can sometimes foster paternalistic relations between citizens and the state. In particular, this may be a problem among lower socio-economic groups who end up being dependent on state welfare and programs. Alongside undesirable social consequences, expectations of support from the government can greatly damage the process of repopulation. For example, some economically and socially capable families are hesitant to make investments (e.g. for renovating their houses) and instead expect to receive state support.

ii) Establish stores selling construction materials and other products

According to interviewees, there is a high demand for construction materials but few stores selling them. This requirement is so important to the reconstruction of houses that the establishment of such stores requires state intervention: perhaps building materials can be based in one regional depot with distribution and delivery capability. In some villages there are no grocery stores; provision of microfinance credit to families could help them open shops in such villages.

iii) Establish pharmacies

There is not a single pharmacy in the entire Karvachar region. Creating pharmacies should be considered a task of the state, or the state should incentivize private pharmacies to be established.

iv) Improve procedures for providing loans to buy cattle

The majority of interviewees believed that loans provided over the past few years for buying cattle have had a fairly positive impact. Because cattle breeding is considered one of the most feasible occupations in agriculture, many families want to breed cattle but cannot afford to buy the first one or two. Support for families to buy cattle would significantly help foster cattle breeding in the target areas. Microfinance provision projects could help, with the amount of the loan being increased so that households have a chance to acquire more cattle. The loan amount should enable inhabitants to acquire enough cattle to ensure intensive growth. Since the number of cattle does not have a major impact on the required workforce or on the time required for rearing them, larger loans would enable villagers to acquire 2-3 times more cattle using a slightly larger workforce. Loan amounts should be flexible in order to reflect the changing market price of cattle. People should be encouraged to pay off their loans on time (for example, by guaranteeing a new loan if the previous loan is paid off on time).

v) Improve conditions for providing agricultural loans

According to interviewees, the timeframe given for paying off agricultural loans does not correspond to the agricultural cycle. Loans are provided for one year, but villagers are usually unable to sell their harvest within a year. Revision of deadlines and conditions of agricultural loans could help families in village communities plan their agricultural cycle better and be able to pay off their loans.

vi) Customize agricultural loans to suit land and climate conditions

Repopulated lands should be used in the most productive way. For example, in the Kovsakan region, where growing wheat is not considered to be the best use of the land, gardening should be developed through the provision of corresponding loans.

vii) Promote long-term agricultural investments

Some branches of agriculture, such as the establishment of orchards, demand long-term investments. Aside from their economic benefits, these projects will create a much stronger attachment to the region than short-term projects; a family planting an orchard will be much more attached to the region than one that grows wheat.


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