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» » Armenia facing migration-borne pressure

Armenia facing migration-borne pressure

Since September 27, 2020, military clashes escalated in a long-running conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno Karabakh, an Armenian-controlled enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Such regional situation shifted global focus to these South Caucasus countries. 
Armenia has a population of around 3 million people and it has faced deep demographic problems since gaining independence. According to the UN International Migrant Stock 2019 data, its total population has decreased by 16% since 1990. This high negative tendency is mostly related to declining birth rate and high migration level, while the latter significantly overweighs. According to 2018 estimations, net migration rate was negative with 5.6 migrant per 1,000 people[1].  
Point is that the general socio-demographic picture in Armenia gives valid reasons to argue that consistent emigration can and is becoming a depleting factor for this nation. Demographers alarm that Armenia is getting aged and migration is among main causes for that. The problem deepens when we consider the age breakdown of the outflow. During the parliamentary debate of the 2019 state budget draft, MP Ruzanna Arakelyan said there is a great emigration in some villages of Armenia, there are almost no youth there ( “Migration outflows create strong deviation in age group composition”, says Anna Hovhannisyan, UNFPA project coordinator[2]. Considering the huge level of annual emigration over the last 30 years, this doesn’t seem surprising. 
Migration is not a new phenomenon in Armenia and its post-independence period has also been characterized with constant migrations. Emigration has been quite rough in the 1990s when more than 1.0 million people left the country. The severe economic crisis that the country faced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, coupled with the burden of war for taking control of Azerbaijan region of Nagorno Karabakh are among main factors that triggered large-scale emigration from the country. Very few would dispute that outflow of approximately 20% of population in the early years of independence has become a factor that further intensified socio-economic and political challenges in the country.
Thus, without any flourish of hyperbole it can be argued that Armenian migration and heterogeneous diaspora – a highly sensitive and debated issue – originates from and in turn deeply impacts economic life of Armenia. According to expert estimations, up to one-third of all Armenian households survive on financial remittances that migrants, especially seasonal labor migrants send home[3]. However positive it may seem in the short term for the balance of payments, in the long term such dependence on remittances makes the country highly vulnerable to the external economic shocks. 
Besides, expert interviews with families of short term migrants show that remittances [which sometimes turn out to be the only source to cover the costs of living][4] are mostly used for daily existential needs and “the only concern is to get food, to take care about their families…”. Broadly speaking, such tendencies have incrementally affected the formation of consumer-oriented nature of economy in Armenia. 
On the other hand, part of economic contribution of Armenian diaspora comes through investment and donations. The government also calls Armenian diaspora around the world to contribute to the economic development of the country, which in turn intrinsically contains their political participation as well. Effectiveness of such involvement for the prosperity of the country is not explicit, however what can be seen is that migration generally becomes a hot topic for political opposition to criticize the government and attempt to influence political scenery. 
To relieve such pressure, the government periodically comes up with policies to persuade the diaspora to resettle in the country. Today Armenian government claims to have eliminated several factors accelerating emigration, such as “various pressure mechanisms, illegal actions of the law enforcement officers, the restrictions on economic activity[5]” ( How real these claims are cannot be said for sure. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people leaving the country each year in search of better life suggests that still more improvements should happen to make Armenia “the best place to live”. 
[3] , page 46
[4] Ibid.

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