3366) Many Armenian Diasporas, Then and Now

by Martin W. Lewis on February 6, 2012

Wikipedia map of the recent Armenian Diaspora Armenians have long been scattered over many countries, whether as permanent migrants or temporary sojourners. Today, only about a third of their population lives in Armenia, with the rest spread over a wide area, as can be seen on the map posted here. This pattern largely reflects the movements caused by deadly mass expulsions of the early 20th century that most scholars call the Armenian Genocide. As a result, standard
. . .
reference sources on the "Armenian Diaspora" focus on the deadly Ottoman deportations into the Levant and the subsequent dispersion of survivors to the far reaches of the world. But earlier Armenian diasporas had completely different geographies that were of great historical significance. Today only vestiges of the earlier movements remain, yet at the same time new patterns are emerging as Armenians once again leave their homeland in large numbers. The Armenian diaspora, it would seem, is always in flux.

One change over the past few decades has been the reduction of the once sizable Armenia communities in the Middle East generated by the Ottoman expulsions. Lebanon is the key locale here, still hosting some 150,000 Armenians, or about four percent of the national population. Before the Lebanese Civil War of the late 1970s and `80s, the community was substantially larger. But despite its recent decline, the Beirut community remains culturally vibrant, publishing three Armenian-language daily newspapers. Each paper is linked to a different Armenian political party, typifying the fractious and sectarian nature of Lebanese politics.

Modified Wikipedia map of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, Circa 1200 CEHistorically speaking, the Armenians are no strangers to mass deportations and refugee crises. Robin Cohen traces the Armenian "victim diaspora" back to the actions of the East Roman Emperor Maurice, who resettled Armenians in Cyprus and Macedonia in 578 CE.* The Seljuk Turkish invasion of the Armenian homeland in the eleventh century resulted in a much larger refugee flow. Many settled in Cilicia in what is now south-central Turkey. There they built their own kingdom, which emerged as a fairly powerful state called Cilician Armenia (or Little Armenia) in the 1200s. After Cilician Armenia fell to the Mamluks of Egypt in late 1300s, the more prosperous members of the community fled to the cities and towns of Europe. Central and Eastern Europe were major destinations. Poland-Lithuania, desperate to populate its vast expanse, welcomed many. So did Hungary and the Romanian principalities. So many migrants settled in the Transylvanian city of Gherla that it became known as "Armenian-town" (Armenopolis, Armenierstadt or, in Armenian, Hayakaghak). As late as 1850, Gherla had an Armenian majority; subsequently, most of the community was assimilated into the Magyar (Hungarian) population.

Modified Wikipedia map of Armenians in Transylvania 1850But not all Armenian mass movements were "victim diaporas." When historians of the early modern period discuss the Armenian diaspora, they usually have in mind a dispersion rooted more in economic opportunity than political persecution. This Armenian "trade diaspora,

" based on long-distance exchange across nodes of ethnic kin, was vast, stretching the breadth of Eurasia. When European adventurers first reached such seemingly isolated states as Tibet and Ethiopia (Abyssinia) they found prosperous Armenian outposts. Such settlements were sometimes founded on trade in highly specific commodities. The Armenians of Tibet,

for example, dealt mainly in deer musk, a once precious substance used as a perfume fixative, incense ingredient, and medicine, and which was also thought to be an aphrodisiac.

This early modern Armenian mercantile diaspora was largely voluntary, but it did include some episodes of coercion. In 1606, Shah Abbas I of Safavid Persia forcibly deported** tens of thousands of Armenians from his empire's contested border zone with the Ottomans. The shah recognized the economic potential of the Armenians, and hoped to turn it to his own advantage. Resettled in New Julfa, a suburb of the Safavid capital of Isfahan, the Armenians were treated with toleration and encouraged to trade. Before long, the New Julfa merchants were carrying out most of Persia's vital silk trade, establishing outposts as far afield as Manila and southern China. The deep extent of the historical Armenian presence in Iran is evident in the large number of Persian loanwords in the Armenian language.

The Safavid Empire was not the only major Muslim polity to want an Armenian presence. India's Mughal emperor Akbar invited Armenian merchants to settle in Agra in the late 1500s, offering substantial inducements: "By an imperial decree, Armenian merchants were exempted from paying taxes on the merchandise imported and exported by them, and they were also allowed to move around in the areas of the Mughal empire where entry of foreigners was otherwise prohibited." Many came, and the South Asian Armenian community thrived though the 1800s.

In the twentieth century, most of the foreign outposts established by this early-modern Armenian system withered, undermined by modernizing trade and transportation practices and by the hardening of ethno-national lines. Most Asian-based Armenians again relocated, usually to the Western Hemisphere, Australia, or France. The Armenian community of India now numbers all of around 100, challenging the survival of such venerable cultural institutions as the Armenian College of Kolkata (Calcutta). A similar situation is found in Ethiopia, where the remaining Armenians struggle to support their school, church and social club. The Armenian population of Iran is more stable, numbering between 40,000 to a little more than 100,000. Still, an estimated 350,000 "Armenian Iranians" now live abroad. In the Armenian communities of Europe, partial assimilation has generated a more ambiguous situation. Poland, site of one of the oldest diasporic communities, found only 1,082 Armenian residents in its 2002 census; some Armenian sources, however, claim that the actual number is closer to 100,000.

While many foreign Armenian communities are disappearing, others are being replenished by emigration from Armenia itself. Since the late 1980s, an estimated one million Armenians have moved abroad, fleeing the poverty of their homeland. Most have relocated to Russia, long a focus of Armenian dispersal. As a result, the population of Armenia itself has dropped substantially in recent years. Demographers estimate that 25,000 to 30,000 people permanently leave the country each year. In 2010, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) officially advised the Armenian government to "improve the socioeconomic situation and strengthen the rule of law" in order to avoid further depopulation. Considering the fact that its total fertility rate is only about 1.5, Armenia's demographic future does seem grim.

The current Armenian exodus has a distinct gender imbalance, with men predominating. In some rural areas, women now form a clear majority. As one local informant recently told a reporter, "It's a total matriarchate. We even joke that our village's name should be changed from `Canyon of Roses' to `Canyon of Women.'"

Counterbalancing this trend has been a marked upturn since independence in the sex ratio at birth;

far more Armenian boys are being born than girls. This trend is found throughout the southern Caucasus: Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan now vie with northern India and eastern China for their natal sex imbalances. The exact reasons for this seldom-noted Caucasian phenomenon are not clear, although son-preference obviously plays a major role.

* Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction. 1997. University of Washington Press, page 44).

** Persian sources often claim that the Armenians came on their own, fleeing persecution by the Ottoman authorities, but most historians doubt such accounts.


Further References:
Armenian emigration creates `women-only` villages
From the Newspaper | 26th September, 2011

VARDADZOR (Armenia), Sept 25: There are no men to be seen in the rural lanes of Vardzador as mother-of-four Susanna Asatrian makes her way to the fields to thresh barley and wheat.

Her husband has left the country in search of work like so many other men in remote, impoverished Armenian settlements, leaving them almost entirely populated by women to symbolise the country`s depopulation problem.

“It`s a total matriarchate. We even joke that our village`s name should be changed from `Canyon of Roses` to `Canyon of Women`,” said the 36-year-old.

In the midst of the harvest season in Vardadzor, around 130 kilometres from the ex-Soviet state`s capital Yerevan, women do the hard agricultural labour, prepare for the long winter ahead and raise their children practically without male assistance.“The children miss their father, but what can we do?” asked Asatrian.

In villages like this, women traditionally marry young and their husbands often leave after their honeymoon to work as migrant labourers, only returning for a couple of months each year.

The men who remain are largely elderly.

More than a million people left Armenia in the years from 1988 to 2007, with around two-thirds of them relocating to Russia, like Asatrian`s husband, leaving the small Caucasus republic with a current population of 3.2 million.

Asatrian is one of the lucky ones, however; her husband comes home every New Year, rings her up frequently and sends hundreds of dollars to support the family every few months.

Others fear that their husbands will find new wives in Russia and abandon them completely, as in the case of one woman from Vardadzor whose emigrant partner broke off contact while she was expecting her second baby.

“There has been no news of him for the past 10 years, not a single phone call,” said the 29-year-old who gave her name as Tamara.

“People say that he lives in Omsk with an older Russian woman, brings up her child and does not want to think about us.”

Emigration has increased again in recent months, a trend which analysts link to the economic recovery after the global financial crisis.

The United Nations Population Fund and the state statistics agency estimate that some 25,000-30,000 people abandon Armenia permanently each year.

“Those who leave the country are mainly young men in the prime of their life,” said Garik Hayrapetian of the United Nations Population Fund.

“The situation negatively affects the population`s reproduction and gender balance and contributes to the ageing of society.”

Armenia`s opposition argues that migration threatens the country`s national security, and President Serzh Sarkisian has declared that the authorities must take action.“The number of people looking for overseas success is large, and of course we should be seriously concerned about this problem,” Sarkisian said earlier this year, suggesting that the only way to reverse the trend was to create better economic conditions.

Surveys have suggested that 70-75 per cent of emigrants leave because of the lack of job opportunities and low wages in a country that suffers from economic isolation because its borders with neighbours Turkey and Azerbaijan have long been closed due to political disputes.

But the head of the country`s migration agency Gagik Eganian accused the opposition of trying to score political points by describing the latest wave of emigration as catastrophic and suggesting that Armenia was becoming “deserted”.

“There is no data on what proportion of these people (this year`s emigrants) left the country forever,” he said.

Some analysts also argue that migration has economic benefits, with many families surviving on money sent home by relatives working abroad — $772 million in the first half of this year alone.

But in a more worrying statistic, the United Nations Population Fund says that 44 per cent of people responding to one of its surveys did not see a future for themselves and their children in Armenia.

Hayrapetian also raised concerns that not only the poor and jobless were now leaving.

“Migration has changed qualitatively. Well-off people with higher education and well-paid jobs are now emigrating,” he said.

The government is preparing what it calls a National Programme for Migration Reduction, which is due to be launched soon, while another scheme entitled `Come Home` aims to encourage people from the huge Armenian diaspora to resettle in their ethnic homeland.

Back in Vardadzor, Susanna Asatrian`s children keep in contact with their father via the internet, while others wait expectantly for their dads to return from Russia for Christmas — although some of them, it seems, are likely to be disappointed.—AFP


UN Report Warns Of 'New Wave' Of Emigration From Armenia

The report encourages "the adoption and restoration of democratic values in governance practice and the elimination of double standards."

May 11, 2010
YEREVAN -- Armenia is being warned that it faces "a new wave of emigration" unless the government does more to improve the socioeconomic situation and strengthen the rule of law, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The warning came in a report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) presented today.

The report -- drawn up by local migration experts -- called for wide-ranging government measures, including democratic reform, that would "considerably reduce the motivation of Armenia's population to leave the country."

At least 700,000 Armenians, or about one-quarter of the country's population, are believed to have emigrated to Russia and other countries since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the resulting turmoil in the region.

The outflow slowed significantly in the 1990s as the Armenian economy began recovering from its post-Soviet slump.

"However, despite the aforementioned process, the external migration situation in Armenia still remains alarming," the report says. "Moreover, there are certain factors that give reason to assume that a new, rather massive wave of emigration may emerge."

The report says tens of thousands of Armenian men working abroad might eventually reunite with their families and cause Armenia to "lose another 200,000-300,000 citizens."

It says another factor that could drive emigration is the ongoing concentration of agricultural land in the hands of wealthy individuals.

The report acknowledges an economic benefit of emigration in the form of cash remittances sent home by hundreds of thousands of Armenian migrant workers mainly based in Russia, Europe, and the United States.

According to the Armenian Central Bank, those transfers totaled $1.12 billion last year -- equivalent to nearly 13 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

But it also says emigration has had a number of detrimental effects, including decreased birth and marriage rates and a brain drain.

Accordingly, the report stresses the need for "active intervention" by the state aimed at "limiting the volume of permanent emigration."

It says that should be done through improving not only economic conditions but "governance practices" in the country. More specifically, that should mean "the adoption and restoration of democratic values in governance practice and the elimination of double standards," according to the report.

"Most state officials are inclined to blame [the emigration] on socioeconomic causes such as unemployment," says Vartan Gevorgian, a sociologist who led a team of Armenian experts working on the report.

"But at the end of the day, people become poor not just because of a loss of income but also because of being unable to defend their rights...because of weak property guarantees."

Speaking during a public presentation of the report, Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian said its findings and proposals would be "useful" for government officials dealing with migration.

Gevorgian also said that the Armenian government was committed to finding "effective and radical solutions" to the problem and was currently working on a strategy of "state regulation of migration."

He did not elaborate.




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