Dreams that lead far from home
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Yerevan

The capital of Armenia

An ancient city that traces its roots back 2800 years

But Yerevan is more than just facts; it is defined by the humans who live there. While some are born in the city, other choose their destiny by moving to the capital from cities and villages far away. Migration to big cities is a global phenomena. But the trend is felt more strongly in Armenia, where the difference between life in regions and the capital is especially stark.

From 2014 to 2017, 22.2 percent of households reported a family member either moving internally or leaving the country, according to the Armenian national statistical committee. The majority — 13.9 percent — are people aged 15 and older migrating between Yerevan and other regions of Armenia.

Every internal migrant has a different story, but they are all in search of the same promising future. These people are our neighbours, colleagues and … me.

Lena Badalyan, 28

Hometown: the city of Armavir, Armavir region

I graduated from the Faculty of Intercultural Communication at Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences and earned my MA in Journalism and Media Management at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs.

I never miss the chance to remind people that I’m from Armavir. I was 15 when I started studying at a university in Yerevan. As Armavir is relatively close (48 km) to the capital, my family didn’t consider finding accommodation in Yerevan so I could move there. For fours years I spent nearly three hours a day traveling on public transportation from Armavir to Yerevan and back. If you add that stress to the new surroundings I found myself in — the people, culture and challenges I faced adapting to the new mentality  — you can imagine how I depressed I was. But after several years, everything changed. After I earned my MA in Tbilisi, the capital of neighboring Georgia, I came back to Armavir, grabbed my suitcase and moved to Yerevan. I didn’t even try to find a job in my hometown as I knew the type of job I wanted did not exist there.

While I have never had any problem finding jobs in Yerevan, working hard does not translate into high wages in Armenia. But even financial problems were not enough to force me to change my mind. I was sure I would never go back. Yerevan gave me freedom, a life free from household responsibilities, and it gave me wings that I didn’t want to clip.

I work as a copywriter at Publicis Armenia advertising agency.
I didn’t even try to find a job in my hometown as there are no opportunities there to pursue my professional goals.
Living alone is the best way to overcome all kinds of challenges, including developing as an individual and learning about one’s self.

I am also aware that one of the main reasons I do not return to my hometown is that I do not want to return to the “swamp”. For me, Armavir is a dead end, where everything is defined by stereotypes and there are no opportunities for growth, either professionally or as an individual.  

But to be fair I should confess that, as a journalist, I have seen worse conditions and more serious reasons to escape from the reality of rural life.

External and internal migration is the result of a myriad of complex issues. The “guilt” is shared by all sides, starting from average citizens and extending all the way to state employees. One side is “guilty” because it does not take the initiative to improve the situation, the other is at fault because its policies stop short of solving the problem.

Sargis Khandanyan, 28

Hometown: Gavar, Gegharkunik region

Sargis Khandanyan graduated from the Department of International Relations at Yerevan State University and the Department of Anthropology at University College London.

Sargis and his family moved to Yerevan when he was 16 so he could receive a good education and have access to better opportunities. Sargis said the small size and the lack of opportunities in Gavar, a city 95 km from Yerevan, made it clear he could not stay there. “I knew I would leave some day,” he said.

It is not just an issue of slowed or limited development; there is simply no development in Gavar. The reason is clear: following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the “heart” of this industrial city stopped. Almost all the factories closed down, forcing thousands of people to move. But even as the Armenian economy developed, the situation in Gavar has not improved, Sargis said.

“Many of my relatives have migrated with their families,” he said, listing the relations who have already left. He argued that the government tends to focus on Yerevan, ignoring the natural resources Gavar could offer for growth and investment.  “Gavar could have had — and even now could have — economic potential as it is located next to one of the most famous tourist destinations in Armenia, Lake Sevan,” Sargis noted.

Initially he struggled to adapt to city life. “I came from a very closed and traditional community ... Later, of course, I got used to the new environment,” he said.

Sargis has worked as a journalist, a TV anchor, a communication manager and an editor. Now he is working in the government and recently he has been elected as a member of Armenian National Assembly. He notes that he has never had a problem finding a job in Yerevan, and it pains him that he cannot create a similar life in his hometown.

Sargis worked as the deputy chief of staff at the Prime Minister’s Office, before he was elected as Parliament Member in December of 2018.
“Our small city and the lack of opportunities to meet many people there resulted in artificial limitations on my development when I was a child. I knew that one day I would leave,” Khandanyan said.
“It is hard to dream when you live in a region that is completely closed off. And when people like me move to Yerevan, that means that fewer and fewer people in my hometown are dreaming [of how to create a better life].”

“It is hard to dream while you live in a region that is closed off. And when people like me move to Yerevan, there are fewer people left in my hometown who are dreaming of a better life. There are not many jobs in Gavar, but at the same time, I think that if you have experience and imagination, you can do something.”

Sargis cautions, however, that the issue is complicated. Many of the problems that exist in communities outside of Yerevan are interwoven with the very challenges that exacerbate the situation.

“Everything is interconnected: people don’t show initiative, there is a big problem with community management, a lot of programs are implemented in vain, and there is an absence of sophisticated policies to deal with the issue,” Sargis said.

Anna Sakhlyan, 26

Hometown: Vanadzor, Lori region

Anna graduated from the Department of Applied Mathematics at Yerevan State University.

Anna prefers to call her hometown, Vanadzor, by its old name, Kirovakan.  By either name, it is a city Anna loves even though it depresses her. She left her hometown after she graduated from high school. “My parents studied in Yerevan. My sister and I knew, even as children, that we would study in Yerevan, there was no other option”.

Anna is quick to list of the problems in her hometown: poor quality education, no jobs, depressed economy. In Yerevan, things have been different. Anna said she has always “been lucky” in her job searches — she landed job as a developer while working as a waitress and studying at the university.

But the move to Yerevan was not easy. Anna had a strong circle of friends in her hometown and had even started a band. “I left Kirovakan with tears in my eyes. Every week I expected to go back,” Anna said.

She works at PicsArt as an iOS programmer.
“Many of my friends would not have been able to accomplish what they have achieved [in Yerevan] if they had stayed in Kirovakan”.
“I like to surprise people, in addition to surprising myself. And in Kirovakan there is an opportunity to surprise people”.

Now, she has a new band, Jrimurner (seaweed in Armenian), with her friends in Yerevan. But Anna says she would be happy to return to Kirovakan.

“I would like to return to my hometown and do something good. Kirovakan is more relaxed, the people are not as driven. Here I feel like a zombie because I work all day,” she said. “But I understand that it is much easier to find a job in Yerevan and earn money. I understand why I am doing this, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking [about my hometown].”

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There are no reliable statistics on migration in Armenia, in part due to the fact that people often fail to report any changes of address to the passport and visa department at their local police station.

Uneven development between rural and urban areas is a challenge that all countries face, according to Deputy Minister of Territorial Administration and Development Vache Terteryan. But he stressed that this problem has been particularly acute in Armenia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. While the Armenian government wants to create equal conditions for all citizens regardless of where they live, so far that has been difficult to achieve.

 

Chai Khana
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