Reasons behind emigration: why people leave
Growing emigration is becoming a threat for Armenia. If this trend continues this way, it may become a threat to Armenia’s national security. The issue of emigration is like an alien for the Armenian society – everybody knows about the growing trends, people feel the impact, but nobody knows real numbers. The only source of information on outflow of people from Armenia is statistics on departures and arrivals. There is outflow of people from Armenia to Russia by vehicles as well. Young people are leaving villages, which are the source of agricultural products and border security. Emigrants are mostly young and skilled people.
A new tendency is emigration with families as people are seeking opportunities for long-term residence in third countries. The myth that everything is easier in other countries is dominant in the Armenian society. This is not true as nothing is easy anywhere in the world, especially for newcomers from countries such as Armenia, where the cultural and education standards are different. Life is not easy for immigrants in other countries as even in the best countries of the world they meet a lot of challenges and have to start a new life and career from scratch. The real motives behind emigration is not attractive life in other countries but factors that make people give up on their achievements in the home country and seek greener shores. A recent trend in emigration from Armenia is ‘brain drain’ and outflow of skilled people that have achievements back home. Among such emigrants are accountants, doctors, businesspeople, professionals in finance and banking. Taxes paid by each of these professionals could keep several families in villages. What if the budget income suffers as a result of emigration by families of skilled workers? If this trend continues, tax collection policies will be stricter and there will be more pressure on small and medium businesses. This is already happening as one can see how many businesses are shutting down and office spaces are advertised for lease downtown Yerevan.
The real motive of emigration is not unemployment only, as it is being explained by many people. It is not one-day decision; it is a thought of many years that accumulates. The real reasons behind emigration are a mosaic of complex issues related to malfeasance, violations, pressure, social issues, and disappointment accumulated during many years. People have such feeling due to lack of jobs, social, legal and other issues. Poor governance, rule of law and other malfeasance have accumulated social energy in the society, and people want to speak out. This social energy needs to let the steam out. As the Armenian civic society is weak and separated, people cannot make their voices heard; there is nobody who would here that voice either. When people’s voice is not heard, they start looking for alternatives. The primary alternative they find is emigration with their families. This is what creates the ‘grim’ attitude in the society.
This environment is a complex of issues and problems. These problems are not new and the social energy has been accumulating since the times of the incident with Levon Gulyan, which was followed by incidents in Charentsavan, Ararat, and recently in Yerevan, resulting in the death of Vahe Avetyan. One feels such attitude when businesspeople share their negative experience, which kills the desire to create. This happens when a diaspora Armenian reads the interview of a businesswoman, who tells her story about moving to Armenia and being made to shut down her beloved café (“Le Café du Paris”) downtown Yerevan. Why don’t people ask why the disapora refrains from investing in Armenia and their participation is limited with benevolent projects only? Is it because of the geopolitical instability or frozen war? No, it is not. Israel has had more challenges since establishing its statehood, yet it has three times more population than Armenia even though its territory is smaller. The Jewish diaspora actively cooperates with the Israeli state and invests in its economy, business and infrastructure. What is the difference? What makes the climate attractive for investment is good governance, rule of law, efficient institutions and protection of property rights.
One may object saying that Israel has access to waters and other resources, Armenia is young democracy and in this short period would not be able to achieve good governance. There is another example, too. Botswana has made huge progress in 37 years, and now its GDP is at the same level with a number of Baltic countries. Botswana is a landlocked country. There were 12 kilometers of paved roads and 22 people with higher/college education in Botswana 37 years ago. There are other African countries with diamond mines and better geopolitical location, but they still cope with poverty (for example, Sierra Leone) and are challenged by repressive regimes. In consideration of Armenia’s inherited infrastructure and the diaspora’s potential, Armenia should have been more developed.
The examples above illustrate that the problem is internal. In the Armenian history we blame others for many failures, however, if a system/country is weak inside, there can always be found external powers to influence and extract. If emigration trend continues at current pace, and Armenia does not reverse the population tide, we will have to blame others when explaining our failures to future generations, while everything started to rot in our own society and we failed to stop it.
The government of Armenia, diaspora and international organizations are concerned about emigration and the demographic issue in Armenia.
The RA government issued a decision on September 4th, 2013, to establish an ad hoc to look into the issue of demography in Armenia (Decision 776-A). Time will show if this ad hoc is efficient: it mostly depends on its ability to be transparent and consider the opinions of larger groups of the society.
The United Nations Population Fund in Armenia is organizing a conference on the topic of “Demographic Challenges in RA” on October 8 in Yerevan. During this conference “The Kololian Foundation” (Toronto, Canada) is going to present a comprehensive report on emigration and demographic situation in Armenia. This report includes survey conducted by several research groups independently to reveal common trends behind emigration from Armenia. This is a good opportunity for the Armenian society, government and diaspora to launch active and positive discussion for the purpose of improving Armenia’s demographic situation. We will cover future developments concerning Armenia’s demographic situation in 168 Zham’s future publications.
By Kamo Mayilyan