Diaspora fuels Armenian economy

What Armenia lacks in size and diplomatic muscle it makes up for in the strength of its four million Diaspora.

    Armenians have mixed feelings about role of Diaspora

    Coming from often prosperous communities in Europe, the US and the Middle East, the Armenian Diaspora have started to visit their homeland in increasing numbers since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.


    Many holiday in the country and explore their roots, but increasing numbers are buying property and investing in Armenian markets.


    Some Armenians have moved permanently to the country.


    This year the Armenian government says it will push through a constitutional amendment that will allow its citizens to hold dual citizenship, paving the way for the Diaspora to start applying for Armenian citizenship.


    Armenia is a landlocked country with scant natural resources and closed borders with two of its neighbours, Turkey and Azerbaijan.


    Armenia fought a bloody war with Azerbaijan between 1991 and 1994 over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which lies to the south east of the country and extends into Azerbaijan.


    Armenia’s biggest assets


    In light of the country's vulnerable position bordering several conflict areas, Armenians know that the Diaspora is one of the country's biggest assets.


    "I think the Diaspora has always played a big role in Armenia," said an American-Armenian who lives in Yerevan and works as an adviser to companies investing in the country.



    The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict:


    Armed clashes between Armenians and Azerbaijanis over the territory – home to Armenians, Azeris, Russians and minority Kurds - erupted in the late 1980s but did not escalate into full war until both nations became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991.


    The war resulted in tens of thousands of casualties and several hundred thousand refugees on both sides.


    A ceasefire was reached in 1994.


    The area is currently under Armenian military control.


    Talks to hammer out a peace deal including the withdrawal of troops and the use of international peace monitors are still ongoing.

    "A lot of people really do want to help build the country so they come here with a little more than the typical tourist. That's one of the leading edges of the economy," he said on condition of anonymity.


    But as the numbers of returning Armenians increase there are questions over how Armenia's political elite will react to the prospect of granting a well organised Diaspora voting rights in a country still recovering from Soviet one-party rule.


    "We have only 15 years of experience of this multi-party system and our parties are mainly based around single issues or single personalities," said Anush Begoyan, a researcher who works with local NGOs.


    "Well Dashnaktsutyun (the largest Diaspora political party) have big ideas and they have a certain political platform. They know how to influence people. So in terms of political capacity they are very strong," she added.


    Diaspora influence


    While Armenians lived under communism followed by a period of conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan, the Diaspora community prospered and organised itself abroad.


    For local Armenians, this raises concerns that the influence of the Diaspora on domestic politics could push the country to take militant stances it cannot sustain.


    Central to both diaspora and domestic politics are the events of 1915 in which more than a million Armenians were killed in modern-day Turkey in what Armenians and most historians describe as a genocide committed by Turkish forces.


    The Turkish government denies the genocide and describes the events of 1915 as a civil war between Turks and Armenians.


    "I think we should be careful about allowing the diasporas to have too much of a say in the running of the country when they will not really be affected by the policies they decide on," said Levon Zourabian, a political analyst.


    "Many of them come from Western Armenia which is now in Turkey and would like to see their historic motherland restored. However, if they impose their demands for redrawing the borders with Turkey as state policy, then I think this would be very dangerous for Armenia."


    Dual citizenship risks


    Others say the dual citizenship laws could allow other countries to manipulate Armenian politics.




    There are 2.5 million Armenians living in Russia and there are fears they would advance Moscow's agenda if they were allowed to vote in Armenia.


    Armenian economists are also wary of the influence the Diaspora will have on the local markets.


    Most of the investments coming from outside the country are injected into real estate markets, which could raise prices beyond the means of many locals.


    A visitor to the centre of the Armenian capital, Yerevan, is met by all the signs of a nascent economic boom. Cranes erect a brand new street of luxury apartments and offices, well-heeled youngsters shop for pricey brands and Range Rovers and the occasional Hummer cruise by.


    Armenia has had a multi-party
    system for the last 15 years

    However, this affluence does not extend further than the boundaries of the city centre.



    But despite the potential problems many Armenians see the return of the Diaspora as an exciting opportunity to piece together different elements of Armenian culture that have been fragmented over the years.


    "I think the Armenian nation is going through a period of healing," said the American-Armenian investment adviser living in Yerevan said.


    He believes such a period will take on a new pace once the international community recognises the 1915 genocide and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved.


    "I think there is going to be a new enthusiasm people are going to look for a new way of being able to define being Armenian," he said.


    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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