Russia’s Offer of Easy Citizenship Sparks Concerns

An Armenian church in Kislovodsk, Russia.


BY MARIANNA GRIGORYAN

YEREVAN (EurasiaNet.org)—Could a massive loss of population be the ultimate price cash-strapped Armenia pays for closer ties with Russia? That is the question troubling many Armenians after Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 21 signed a law granting Russian citizenship to residents of former Soviet and Russian Imperial territories who can demonstrate that they speak Russian fluently and habitually.

Successful applicants must surrender their existing citizenship, but that will do little to deter thousands of job-hungry Armenians, local experts fear.

“This is a long-wished-for law for Armenians, and I think many of them will apply for the program, giving up their Armenian citizenship,” commented ethnographer Hranush Kharatian, a reform activist who formerly ran the government’s Department of National Minorities and Religious Affairs.

With a current population of just over 3 million people, Armenia has lost many residents since the collapse of the Soviet Union to migration, most frequently to Russia. That trend shows no sign of stopping. Data from the Russian Migration Service states that in 2013 the number of Armenians who visited Russia increased by 20 percent to 670,000.

Temporary jobs in construction, trade or the service sector are the main draw. Armenia has an official unemployment rate of 16.2 percent, but unofficial estimates – particularly for those under 25 — soar far higher. With one-third of the population living in poverty, according to government data, Russia, the region’s largest labor market, holds a strong attraction.

This January alone, remittances from Russia accounted for 81 percent of the total $99.5 million Armenians received in financial transfers, according to the Central Bank of Armenia. In 2013, Russia accounted for roughly 86 percent of the more than $1.6 billion received via such transfers.

Preserving that cash flow is key for tens of thousands of Armenian families who live on the money sent by relatives (mostly male) working in Russia. A recent change to Russia’s migration regulations that restricted foreigners to 90-day stays out of any 180-day period caused widespread alarm.

Consequently, noted demographer Ruben Yeganian, many labor-migrants “will want to become Russian citizens to resolve their issues with being able to work” there.

Among them are the Balaians, a family of seven that lives in a one-room flat in Yerevan.
The 60-year-old father of the family, Gurgen Balaian, who has been working on Russian construction sites for 30 years, described himself as delighted by Russia’s new citizenship law since, lacking a Russian residence permit, he claims he has to bribe Russian police routinely to keep working in the country.

“Now, my whole family will receive Russian citizenship and we’ll start to live like human beings and will receive normal pensions,” he said. “Why would I stay here? If people didn’t find jobs in Russia, they would be simply starving.”

The Balaians are not alone in their view. “[T]he government has to think about this,” commented sociologist Aharon Adibekian, director of the Sociometer polling and market research center. “If the state does not offer decent conditions for living, if there are no jobs, then people will start leaving the country, and Russia, in this case, is the best option.”

Under the changes, Russian citizenship now can be acquired more promptly, too — in three months, compared with five years in the past. Language exams will be held monthly at Yerevan’s Russian-Armenian University. The examining office declined to tell EurasiaNet.org how many individuals had registered for this month’s test.

As yet, though, the Armenian government sees no cause for alarm. More than a year is required to assess the impact of any measure or event on migration flows, said Department of Migration and Refugees Director Gagik Eganian in reference to Russia’s citizenship law.

Newly elected Parliamentary Speaker Galust Sahakian, deputy chairperson of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, has said he sees nothing dangerous if some Armenians opt to give up their citizenship to become Russians.

“Those who are true Armenians will not renounce their citizenship,” Sahakian asserted in an interview with the Gyumri-based GALA TV.

Before Yerevan’s September 2012 decision to sign on with the Customs Union, Armenian officials had asked Moscow to scrap a program that offered citizenship in exchange for labor at designated sites. Similarly, exceptions were requested for the stricter migration rules introduced this year.

The relaxed citizenship requirements appear, in essence, to be the response. Seeing Armenians surrender their Armenian citizenship may not please the government, but, with Yerevan’s agreement on the Customs Union still a work in progress, they are not likely to raise objections publicly.

The Union itself includes the possibility of a common labor market for member-countries. This is a feature the Eurasian Development Bank, founded by Russia and Kazakhstan, terms “a key advantage” for Armenia, which, the bank estimates, could see yearly remittances increase by $40 million.

A treaty for Armenia’s accession to the Customs Union now is expected in June. As that date nears, political analyst Stepan Danielian believes that, like Russia, Armenia should act to protect its own interests. “We have to look for problems within the country and voice our disagreement with our own authorities,” said Danielian, director of Cooperation for Democracy, a non-governmental organization that receives funding from the Open Society Foundation-Armenia.

“Russia is trying to solve its demographic problems at the expense of other nations,” agreed sociologist Adibekian.

But, for now, the Armenian government appears to prefer to look the other way. Whether a person has Armenian or Russian citizenship, “[w]e are all citizens of Mother Earth,” reasoned Sahakian.

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35 Comments

  1. vartan said:

    ANYBOADY WHO RENOUNCES HIS OR HER CITIZENSHIP TO PUTINS RUSSIA ,IS NOT A REAL ARMENIAN. ALTHOUGH I AM NOT SUPRISED . THE LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING ” FAYM” AS OUR SOVIET EDUCATED ARMENIANS HAVE AND RECIEVED DURING THOSE 70 YEARS OF SLAVERY AND INDIGNATION IS LOOKING “NORMAL” TO ME IF ARMENIAN KHOPANCHIK IS READY TO GO TO antalia FOR SOME TURKISH LIRA. . THE SMELL OF RUBEL IS MORE PROVACATIVE. THIS IS REALY SAD . WHEN I AM LOOKING TO RECENT ARMENIAN GOVRENMENT CHAIR REALOCATIONS . AND LISTNING TO NEW SPEAKER OF PARLAMENT , AND NEW FACE OF THE PRIME MINISTER.I WONDER. AS A NATION DO WE DESERVE TO BE A INDEPENDENT NATION. IS THERE ANY BOADY WHO LOOKS AND SPEAKS LIKE A NORMAL PERSON LIVES IN ARMENIA.

    • Sarkis said:

      I THINK YOU ARE BEING TOO EMOTIONAL AND FAILING TO UNDERSTAND THAT THE POOR IN ARMENIA DESERVE A CHANCE TO WORK AND MAKE A LIVING FOR THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES, AND THAT THIS LAW HELPS THE ARMENIAN MIGRANT WORKERS WHO GO TO RUSSIA DO SO IN A CIVILIZED AND LEGAL MANNER WHICH WILL PROTECT THEIR RIGHTS AND PREVENT THEM FROM BEING UNFAIRLY EXPLOITED AS IMMIGRANT WORKERS TEND TO BE.

  2. bigmoustache said:

    ARF you will bear responsibility for not stopping these Republicans from destroying Armenia

    • Sokimag said:

      Yes! Something must be done. Armenia can’t continue in this path of self-destruction.

      • GeorgeMardig said:

        ARF nor Armenians can do anythinh to stop this, the West in only offering B Sht.

    • Hayorty said:

      Where is the respectablity of Christapor Mikaelian, Stepan Zorian and Simon Zavarian? How come the ARF is doing nothing about this, and why not? You supported Robert Kocharian, and during his time, a great many men went to Russia to find jobs to earn money to support their families, and later their families joined their men in Russia, which created more exodus from Armenia. Today no one does or says anything about the terrible state that our country is in. It’s extremely discouraging for every Armenian around the world.

  3. ara said:

    any Armenian doing that-has NOT Abandoned their cultural history or love of our people-they do it to survive and will always call home ARMENIA-no matter where we are-where we are born and when-QED

  4. Hratch said:

    This is what is called White Genocide “Jermak Chart”….thank you Russia, the Armenian people always think and talk highly of your civilization…..

    • Sarkis said:

      Actually White Genocide is the destruction of a nation by means other than physically harming or killing the people, such as the destruction of Armenian Churches, hhatchkars, cemeteries and monuments by Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. This, by contrast, is a process which protects the safety and rights of Armenians who migrate to Russia looking for better economic opportunities.

      Please don’t throw around the word “genocide” lightly, it only lessens the impact of the crime the Turks committed against Armenians in 1915.

  5. Hratch said:

    Slippery slope that will eventually absorb us into the Russian Federation as an Oblast.

  6. Hratch said:

    I guess this make the Turkish government plans to grant citizenship to the descendants of former Ottoman subjects fair game.

    • Sarkis said:

      The two are absolutely unrelated. Large numbers of Armenians willingly migrate to Russia for work, because they are familiar with Russia, the Russian language, and usually know a few people in Russia. Russia’s law helps protect the rights of these Armenians.By sharp contrast, the Turks are playing games trying to undermine Armenian charges against Turkey.

  7. Sarkis said:

    As an Armenian Nationalist, I put my country and my fellow Armenians well-being at the top of my priorities. As such, I am thankful that a rich country like Russia has made is so easy for the unemployed, poor laborers in Armenia to temporarily migrate to Russia and find honest, respectable work there. Citizenship in the country protects Armenians from the harsh realities that come from being an “undocumented worker”, and grants Armenians all of the rights, protections and privilages afforded to Russian citizens. Seriously, the life of a seasonal worker is hell. These Armenians have families to feed and support. And thanks to the over two decades of illegal blockading of Armenia by NATO, and the temporary separation of Armenia’s economy from former Soviet-era focus of economic activity in Russia have left Armenia’s economy to weak to provide employment to everyone. Stress-free migration for seasonal workers makes a huge difference in the lives of thousands of Armenian laborers, and serves as a vital lifeline for thousands of Armenian families. And thankfully Customs Union membership will greatly improve Armenia’s economy by reconnecting Armenia to the large Russian, Kazakh and Belarus markets where Armenian products sell well, are well-known and appreciated, and don’t face the type of competition and state protectionism that is found in the highly-overregulated EU. In fact, Armenia needs to seriously consider establishing a common border with Russia through Georgia or Azerbaijan in order to attain greater military security and economic opportunities.

    I’m sure the usual suspects will be here spewing forth their usual venom against Russia. I ask the readers to ignore their nonsense. Consider how, if the situation were reversed and Russia had enacted a policy restricting Armenians from migrating to Russia for work, then these very same voices would again spew toxic venom at Russia. This is because these Western-inspired cyber-warriors are not interested in strengthening Armenia politically, socially, spiritually, culturally, militarily, or economically. They merely act as the vanguard in the Western disinformation, doom-and-gloom, and black propaganda campaigns which have been waged against the Armenian nation since the fall of the USSR, in conjunction with the NATO blockade and the buildup of Azerbaijan as a petrostate with billions to spend on its war-mongering armed forces. I honestly cannot understand how these armchair generals, with barely any knowledge about Armenia and even less knowledge of geopolitics, history and economics can sit back in comfort in their homes in the USA and have the audacity to condemn programs these Russian aid programs which help Armenia avoid total collapse and suffocation caused by the NATO blockade. The pinnacle of hypocrisy is for people who have absolutely no intention of ever spending an extended period of time in Armenia to condemn the poorer segments of Armenian society who must travel to Russia and engage in manual labor to support their families back home in Armenia. Frankly it is the worst kind of class discrimination against Armenians mixed with senseless racism and Russophobia against a superpower which has done enumerable favors for our tiny republic, its citizenry, and even our compatriots in Kessab.

    God Bless the Russian-Armenian Alliance, and protect it from all enemies foreign and domestic!

    • Hratch said:

      Nice spin and sugar coating but total nonsense. Your consent hatred of anything non-Russian is the basis of your blind support. This move is not temporary as you put it and will result in the loss of Armenia’s independence and identity. We will soon be reduced to the status of the Chechens.

      Armenians are very fickle and easily assimilate into foreign cultures. They like to assume foreign names and customs because they feel that others are more superior or advanced. This mind set is as evident today as it was during the Soviet era. Many had changed their surnames by adding an “OV” at the end (Arsen Avakov, Garry Kasparov, Sergei Parajanov, etc) Of course Armenians living in the west were no better, their way of conforming was either to drop the “ian” or assume a complete new name. (Charles Aznavour, Sylvie Vartan, Mike Connors, etc). The only Armenians that insisted on keeping their identity were the ones living in Muslim countries and that was only because they considered the locals to be inferior.

      Just like any country, Russia is not interested in helping Armenia for Armenia’s sake, it is only acting in its own interest. This is as obvious attempt to subjugate the former peoples and territories. This all coincides with the recent crisis in the Ukraine and the past aggression in Georgia. All designed to regain hegemony in the region. A hegemony in favor of Russia.

      And because of our ineptness and shallow policies, we’re supporting them all the way to the bank. Instead of fixing our problems, we’re relying on someone else to help us. We’re always grateful for a hand out, whether from Russia, the EU or the US. There is no easy fix, we must sacrifice day and night in order to achieve something that is worth keeping. This world does not have room for leeches. They will make us pay through the nose. Either we stand up on our own two feet or just give up everything and chalk it up as evolution. There are no guarantees or assurances that every race must survive forever. Many races and cultures have disappeared over time, it is the mechanism of natural selection (survival of the fittest). Take Israel for instance, although they rely on the US for military, political and economical support, they would never let them take advantage of their weakness, they fight back if necessary. They are not afraid to bite the hand that feeds them. What do we do? we kiss the same hand that is out to destroy us.

      • GeorgeMardig said:

        100 years and still Armenians are straggling for the Recongnition of their Genocide. The West is only offering B Sht,

    • Armenov said:

      I agree that our strategic alliance must lie with Russia, because it is a geopolitical necessity. I do believe however that it is in Armenia’s interest to pursue a complementary policy in that we maintain good relations with the West, Russia, and Iran. We can’t afford to have bad relations with the West or Iran or Russia. While we should maintain our strategic military ties with Russia, I think it is very acceptable to hold warm political ties with EU/US, and economic ties with all three.

      When it comes to this citizenship issue, I don’t like the idea of thousands of Armenians renouncing their Armenian citizenship for Russian citizenship. I understand in the end of the day they just want it in order to be able to work more easily. But as the article said, “Those who are true Armenians will not renounce their citizenship.”

    • Armenian said:

      I hope you get to set foot on Armenian soil and see for the first time what your beloved Republican Party has created; immense social and political injustice, tensions with social minorities, a massive gap between rich and poor, a ridiculed image on the international stage, completely helpless and dependent.

      It’s so clear by the fact that you’re willing to put our young men’s lives on the line by starting new wars, potentially poisoning any non-Russian alliance Armenia has, just to crawl further up Russia’s ass, that you have neither been to Armenia nor have any intention of living there. If you did, you would never advocate such things. There’s nothing on the line for you, you know, since you’re not even Armenian and don’t have any personal connection to that country other than your self-proclaimed “nationalism”…

  8. Armenian said:

    How can Armenia protect its own interests when there are so many Armenians who think and act like they themselves were Russians? Instead of building our country and working to make it a better place, we’ve done our absolute best to make sure we become the tireless laborers of Russia; building its future on our own backs. Now that they have to renounce their citizenship, this will surely speed up Armenia’s demise like no other.

    On a separate note, I would like to congratulate all of the pseudo-patriots and self-proclaimed nationalists on their dream come true. I hope all of those who defend Russia as if it were their homeland now take the initiative in making it official and move to Russia with this new citizenship offer, and stay there for good.

    • Sarkis said:

      -“building its future on our own backs”

      There is a major difference between migrating to Russia to do manual labor, despite the fact that labor is honest and respectable, and it is far, far different than nation-building.

      -“they have to renounce their citizenship”

      There is absolutely no requirement anywhere that even a single Armenian has to “renounce” his citizenship. This is hard for people that were born and raised outside of a poor country like Armenia to understand, but migrant laborers often face tremendous difficulties when working in a country of which they are not citizens. Obtaining citizenship is a dream come true for most immigrant laborers, take a look at the Mexican and Central American laborers in the US and the trouble they go through for the privilege of citizenship, many join the US Army or try to have anchor babies or marry a US citizen for convenience.

      -“this will surely speed up Armenia’s demise”

      Wrong. The only noticeable effect will be that the Armenians who have traveled to Russia for seasonal work over the past 23+ years will now be afforded the protection and privileges that Russian law provides for Russian citizens.

      • Armenian said:

        – In Russia.

        It seems you’re more interested in making Russia a better place at the expense of Armenia and Armenians than you are making Armenia a viable destination for all Armenians around the world, regardless of additional factors.

  9. Armenian said:

    It’s quite amazing; even as Russia is virtually forcing people to shed their citizenship and absorbing ex-USSR peoples like no other, there will still be those star-eyed Armenians who so adore Russia that they will enthusiastically support the gradual eradication of Armenian citizenship, and eventually the country itself. Citizenship is only the beginning; pretty soon Russia will demand that Armenia cease to exist and join it with special “autonomy” in which Armenian nationalism will completely be outlawed. Then we’ll find ourselves on the same page as the Chechens, eternally engaged in a battle for our independence. The end seems like it’s very near.

    • Sarkis said:

      “even as Russia is virtually forcing people to shed their citizenship”

      Russia is in no way, shape or form “forcing” anyone to abandon their citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians travel to Russia every year, and every single Armenian does so voluntarily.

      -“gradual eradication of Armenian citizenship”

      Wrong. The worlds largest Armenian diaspora is in Russia. Most have been their since the USSR era. And they are the most nationalistic diaspora connected to the Armenian motherland on levels not seen anywhere else in the world. There has been and will not be any “eradication” of Armenian citizenship, there will only be an increase in the Disapora which has produced the greatest number of donors and by far the largest quantity of donations to Armenia Fund in recent years.

      “we’ll find ourselves on the same page as the Chechens”

      How dare you compare the noble Armenian nation to the terrorists of Chechnya that have engaged in bombings and suicide missions in Russia for the last few decades until President Putin won the Chechen war. Filth like Shamil Basayev and thousands of Chechen volunteers fought for the Azeris against the Armenians in the Artsakh war. Russia and Armenia stand united against Chechen, Azeri and Islamic terrorism.

      • Armenian said:

        No, it’s not as voluntary as you claim because the Armenian government should be responsible for making its citizens’ lives more bearable by creating a society in which all people, not just backwards mobsters, Kremlin worshippers and “xoroshis” can thrive.

        And stop acting dumber than you are, and twisting my words to match a very eloquent pro-Kremlin talking point that you had saved somewhere on your backlog. You know very well what I meant by comparing Armenia to Chechnya, and that is, that if people like you get their way, Armenia will become absorbed into Russia and will forever be fighting for independence from it because such an action represents the point of no return. We are on the fast track to complete and total self-destruction, and people like you, who want to sit and reap the benefits of having a foreigner take over every aspect of your land and existence, are largely responsible for that.

  10. Berge Jololian said:

    You would think the Armenian government would learn from this and offer citizenship to diaspora Armenians?

    Not only Russia, but even Turkey’s Davutoglu is considering such a move. But, Serjik and his thugs are hell bent empty the country rather than allow diaspora Armenians automatic citizenship.

    • Sokimag said:

      I agree with you. Corrupt Armenian government doesn’t really care about Armenia. If it would, it would do everything in it’s power to make Armenia a better place to live. The quality of life in Armenia must be improved.

      But, one thing I’m wondering what advantages does Armenia get if it offer citizenship to Diaspora Armenians? I would like to know what’s the real benefits of granting citizenship to Diasporan Armenians. That would cause Diasporan Armenian to go live in Armenia?

    • Armanen said:

      Have you thought about the national security implications of automatically giving citizenship to Diaspora Armenians?

      • Armenian said:

        Right, but making the Armenian diaspora even larger by telling Armenians to go to Russia to find work because “well, you’re not going to get it here” and thereby reducing Armenia’s population to virtually that of a city-state isn’t?

    • Vrej said:

      The Armenian government does offer dual citizenship to any Armenian who is a citizen of another country. The process is very easy and can be completed at any consulate, embassy, or in Armenia. It takes roughly 8 months once your paperwork is submitted.

    • Hayorty said:

      It looks to me that Serjik has been bought already by the big Bear.

  11. Sokimag said:

    Armenian government must improve quality of life in Armenia in order to keep Armenians in Armenia. By that I mean is battling the unemployment rate and poverty rate too. You do that by having a free market in Armenia, something Armenian government doesn’t want to do.

    • Armenian said:

      No, the solution is to send them to Russia. Why should Armenia improve the quality of life when we can go to a foreign land and serve our Russian overlord by beautifying their peripheries? Who cares if our homeland is slowly dying, Russia offers terrific pensions!

      God bless the Russo-Armenian “alliance”, and protect it from all logical people who have the ability to see into the long term, both in the diaspora and in Armenia!

    • Hayorty said:

      All the Armenian government wants to do is own the country with an iron fist. Anybody that is not bought by them, who cares about them. This mentality has been apparent in Serje’s gov’t.

  12. Ursus said:

    This move by our strategic allied and partner will be a boon to the many people in Armenia who unfortunately happen to be unemployed. These people will go and seek employment opportunities in Russia, without having to struggle with red tape formalities. Once employed in Russia they will not forget their families and the homeland. Their remittances home will help their families. This is the reality of the situation. By having a foreign passport or citizenship it does not mean renouncing your racial origins. A passport means nothing, a piece of paper, if it is not backed up by your racial origin. All Armenian diaspora have citizenship of the countries they live in. That does not make them less Armenian. As far as those lap top warriors securely ensconced in western cities stop denigrating Armenia and armenians with such stupid attitudes. Armenians do not leave the homeland because of a capricious whim or desire for adventure, they leave because of economic necessity. If the armies of lap top warriors are so concerned about Armenia’s demographics, stop clacking at your keyboards, pack your bags, leave your countries of adoption and immigrate to the homeland. As far as Armenian citizenship for diasporans is concerned, it is a facility which exists if diasporans want to reclaim their origins in a de jure fashion. All one has to do is approach the nearest consulate and submit your application, proving you are a genuine ethnic Armenian and not some chancery with a name ending in IAN and the process of reclaiming Armenian citizenship will follow its natural course and you will have your citizenship in the space of 6 months. Reading the commentaries of all those ” sages” lavishly offering counseling , from a long distance away, how Armenia should be run or governed, makes one burst his guts in uproarious laughter. These wise men should pack their bags and head for Armenia, use their talents and counseling in the motherland, and avoid otiose verbiage diarrhea of how bad or poor things are in the homeland. Your counseling is not needed , nor will it be heeded. I wonder how much by way of monetary contributions these critical wise men, russophobes par excellence, give to armenia on a regular basis ? What kind of effort do they expend in contributing to the citizens of the homeland ? And what is more how many of these charlatans have spent time in the homeland ? Keep on clacking on your keyboards and fueling your Russophobia, at least you give us all a good laugh.

    • Armenian said:

      You can’t build a strong and prosperous country on remittances.

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