Azerbaijan, Baku, Nov. 22 / Trend E. Tariverdiyeva /
The Armenian leadership has no interest in stemming emigration, the U.S journal "The National Interest" said.
Many apartment blocks mainly in Gyumri are half-empty. Thousands of people have simply gone, Thomas de Waal, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in his article published in "The National Interest" .
"Even as the world marked the birth of its seven billionth person last month, a few countries are confronting the problem of insufficient population," he said. "But two countries are particularly hard-hit: Moldova and Armenia."
The last Soviet census put the population at 3.3 million, two-thirds urban and one-third rural, he said.
"Half of that rural population may now have emigrated in search of work, plus considerable numbers of urban dwellers too," he said.
The last official census was held in Armenia in 2001, he said.
"The last official census in 2001 put Armenia's population at just over three million," he said. "Most people believe it is a lot worse than that. The drop in numbers came despite the fact that as many as 400,000 people entered Armenia in 1989-1992. But it seems few of those people stayed. Around a million people may have left the country since the end of the Soviet period."
Armenia is a small, landlocked country, still suffering the economic impact of its unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan, he said. But the problem is compounded by the fact that twice as many Armenians live in the worldwide diaspora as inside, and they draw their relatives abroad.
"Now the issue is causing problems with Armenia's main ally, Russia. Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan publicly expressed worry over the Russian government's scheme, entitled Compatriots, to give thousands of Armenians the promise of citizenship and work if they move to depopulated parts of Siberia," he said. "In effect, one ally is resolving its demographic problems at the expense of another."
Opposition supporters I spoke to in Armenia argue that the government has no interest in stemming emigration. It acts as a pressure valve against the kind of disgruntled masses who can undermine governmental authority, they say, and allows authorities to produce inflated electoral rolls so they can falsify election outcomes more easily. Moreover, remittances help keep the country afloat, he added.
World Bank estimates from 2010 said that 9 percent of Armenia's GDP came from remittances.
"It is difficult to see the country developing while it is sapped by emigration," he said. "The rural economy is a subsistence one."