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Russian Envoy Defends Program For Armenian Immigration

Russia's Ambassador to Armenia Vyacheslav Kovalenko in Gyumri
GYUMRI, Armenia -- Russian Ambassador to Armenia Vyacheslav Kovalenko has dismissed the public outcry over a Russian government program to encourage and aid Armenians to emigrate to Russia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"Who is forcing Armenians to leave this country against their will?" Kovalenko asked during a visit to Gyumri on September 1. "Why are they leaving their country? If they live well in their own country, why would they go elsewhere? People go [to Russia] on their own initiative."

Kovalenko was referring to the Russian government's Compatriots program, which offers employment, accommodation, and financial benefits to married residents in former Soviet republics willing to resettle in Russia.

It is designed to address Russia's demographic problems.

Russia's Federal Migration Service (FMS) began the program in Armenia in 2009 and has reportedly attracted hundreds of families since then. The program has triggered an uproar among Armenian opposition politicians, public figures, and journalists worried about continuing emigration that has seen the country's population decrease in recent years.

Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian said in July that his government shares those concerns. He said Yerevan has asked Russia to end the program in Armenia.

The opposition youth movement Hima (Now) dismissed Sarkisian's assurances, saying the government should simply order the FMS to close its offices in Yerevan and several Armenian regions.

"There are people who want to score political points," said Kovalenko. "They are wrong to do that. Everything will be fine."

Kovalenko claimed that most Armenian migrants work in Russia to support their relatives in Armenia and will eventually return home.

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