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Armenian Official 'Concerned' By Dwindling Population

Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian
Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian
YEREVAN -- An Armenian government official in charge of links with the Armenian diaspora says she is concerned by outmigration trends in the country but downplayed talk of a "national disaster," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

A group of Armenian scholars recently addressed an open letter to the country's political leaders urging immediate action on the outmigration -- something they view as a dangerous development negatively affecting the economy and putting the nation at risk.

At a press conference on July 6, Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian acknowledged that for the first time in at least three years Armenia has lost some of its population because of emigration.

She attributed it mainly to the difficult social and economic conditions that some Armenians face in their home country.

But Hakobian said most Armenians leaving the country -- especially those going to Russia -- are temporary migrant workers who plan to return home in the future.

"They leave Armenia not forever; they seek jobs to maintain their families who stay here," she said.

Hakobian, who has run the ministry since it was set up in 2008, suggested that critics of the government, especially those living abroad, should take practical steps to assist in solving social and economic problems in Armenia by investing and creating jobs.

"It is simply necessary to work to reduce emigration," she said. "Our objective is to boost immigration, and today we also see tendencies of people coming to Armenia for permanent residence."

The first wave of emigration hit Armenia soon after the country became independent in 1991. It continued throughout the early post-Soviet years amid a severe energy crisis and deadly hostilities in the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Some 800,000 of Armenia's estimated 3.8 million population are believed to have abandoned the country during that period.

Emigration also continued -- though at a slower pace -- through the years of economic recovery when Armenia enjoyed double-digit GDP growth for most of the 2000s.

Recent official figures indicate that nearly 80,000 people have left the country, apparently for good, in the past three years. The opposition and some media critical of the government have speculated that the number of emigrants during that period may have reached several hundred thousand.

Addressing the issue in May, State Migration Service head Gagik Yeganian denied that Armenia experienced any significant increase in the negative balance of migration in recent years.

Armenia is due to hold a census later this year. The previous census, taken in 2001, estimated the South Caucasus country's permanent population at around 3.2 million.