Aghasi Tadevosyan, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Armenian National Academy of Sciences in Yerevan, told Chai Khana that such stories were not uncommon, and that they reflected the sweeping changes in economic fortune and gender equality over the course of the last century.
“Due to men’s physical strength, they always did hard labor while their wives took care of the children. During industrialization in the 1930s and 1950s this difference became even starker; there was a greater demand for male labor in the factories,” explains Tadevosyan.
According to the ethnographer, at the very start of the Soviet period, women began to engage in a wider range of activities in the workplace and became more educated. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 their lot changed yet again.
“In the post-Soviet period, women returned to the kitchen and home to take care of children as men went out to work. However, in recent years the situation in Armenia has changed as women have become more self-confident, so can earn more money to support their families,” the ethnographer explains.
“There are a lot of girls working in the field of information technology, particularly in the 17-20 years age group. They are already leaders, highly educated, and can feed their own families,” adds Tadevosyan, though stresses that although Armenian women are becoming more independent by the day, Armenian men are still unwilling to accept the idea that a woman can also be a breadwinner for her family.
Gevorg appears to be one of them.
“He has never allowed me to work,” says his wife, 58-year-old Gohar Gevorgyan. “He used to say that a man was born to earning money and provide for the family, while the woman’s duties are in the home. Gevorg never left us hungry, but we always missed him.”
The Gevorgyans have three children: two daughters, who both got married and moved to Russia several years ago, and one son. When 28-year-old Torgom grew up, he joined his father and headed abroad to find work. The father and son have worked together for two years to provide for their family. Gevorgyan used to leave Armenia every spring and return in autumn, which he says is the norm for seasonal labor migrants.
Last year, Gevorg had to remain in Armenia for health reasons; he had a stroke from which he has only recently started to recover. These days he can only walk with assistance from others.
“I couldn’t go myself so I didn’t let my son go alone. He has already found a job here and works as a driver. It’s true that he doesn’t earn enough money, but he wants to stay near me. But even if he decides to go to Russia he will not be alone. From Armenia we usually leave to Russia by groups. Before going we get an order for constructing a house or another building, then we create a group of competent professionals and leave together. Many of us stay together in one house there. We all have the same goal: to earn money and to keep our families provided for,” explains Gevorgyan.
According to the Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia, from January to December 2018, 3,741,855 people exited the country (a number which also includes foreign citizens and multiple departures from Armenia.) While it is hard to generalize about these figures, the timing of many of these departures strongly suggest that many of these journeys are made by seasonal labor migrants. The Statistical Committee’s spokesperson Nelli Davtyan told Chai Khana that the numbers of people leaving the country each spring is increasing and in the autumn the number of arrivals goes up. However, there are no exact statistics about these migrants’ age and sex.