Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Is Living in Armenia Financially Sustainable?

Lately, I’ve had doubts. Doubts about living here, surviving here, settling here. For let’s be honest, I’m still not quite settled. I remember the big question I had before I made the move to live here: is it sustainable? By sustainable, I don’t mean is it environmentally or ecologically sound to live in Armenia; I mean, can one live and work in Armenia without any outside support (financial or otherwise). Are the resources inside the country sufficient to make a decent living?

To elaborate further: I know that those who have savings and investments built up from a life abroad, those who work for international agencies in Armenia where the money comes from outside the country and those who’ve established businesses in Armenia, but their sole (if not the majority of their) earnings come from clients outside the country — all these groups of people can live in Armenia quite comfortably, but it doesn’t solve the equation: the money is still coming from outside.

The more I’ve looked into this issue, the more depressed I’ve become. Because, if only by surveying the many, many others I know who live and work here, I’ve come to the conclusion that no, living in Armenia is not sustainable.

And that’s what’s gotten me depressed over the past few days.

Conversations with friends and acquaintances have also made me realize that I’m not alone. Perhaps it’s the changing of the seasons, the first signs of winter in the air that’s getting us down. But I think it has to do with more than that.

For instance, a good friend of mine Artur recently published a post on his personal blog that resounded with me: he, a young man in his thirties, married with 2 kids, is finding it more and more difficult to justify staying in Armenia. He works hard (he knows he does — and I know he does too!), he has a fairly good job working in media and he’s quite active online and in the journalistic community. He has offered and attended many trainings and continues to improve his skills/trade/craft by being involved in new projects and continuing his education (in a broad sense).

He is a professional in his field.

And yet he sees no hope in this country. Or, more specifically, he sees no future for his children. To be honest, Artur blogs a lot about local politics and events and, working in news media myself, I too follow the numerous opposition rallies, the struggles for freedom of the press, Armenia’s relationships with its neighbors, the Azerbaijani film festival in Yerevan that seems as if it might never happen, the latest racist remark that either Sargsyan or Ter-Petrossian and his supporters made. I too see no true alternative voice in politics, which really only adds to the bleak picture.

Because as much as I am frustrated at how much importance Armenian citizens put on good government, I understand the need to have good, honest, educated people running the country.

In an earlier post, I had been critical of this and said it was a “leftover Soviet mentality,” and I still think that’s partly true. I argued that revolution never came from top-down: one only needs to examine countless other countries’ histories to know that revolution comes from the people. But I also understand what change — much needed change — could come from having good government in Armenia. And until one sees even a glimmer of hope in this issue, the situation in the country paints quite a depressing picture indeed.

But back to my original point: sustainability. I still don’t see it and even if an ideal government were to be established in Armenia tomorrow, I think that it would take a long time for the country to stand up on its feet and for its citizens to be truly independent.

If only because I like to end on a positive note (!), if there’s any “glimmer of hope” that I see in this country it’s the people. I have met such talented, amazing people while living here that if it were not for them, a lot of the change (even if it’s a drop in the ocean) wouldn’t be happening and the hope that some of us keep would be non-existent. People like Artur, and the countless others whose presence does give me the hope that maybe, just maybe, change will come sooner rather than later.

P.S. I would just like to add shout-outs to fellow blogger Lori, who I met for the first time yesterday, and Kirstin, working in Armenia on contract, who I also met yesterday. Learning that there are people who I don’t know who follow my blog, and knowing what I throw into cyberspace is actually received by someone somewhere, really made my day. Thanks, guys ;)

23 comments:

  1. Adrineh, thanks for the kind words. And I guess you're right, it's the season-change affecting our mood?

    You know, even if the glass is half full of water, the other half is full of air, so technically, it's never empty :)))

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  2. I like the way you think, Artur jan! ;)

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  3. I wanted to add a few more thoughts on the topic of repatriated Armenians and the stark contrast between our privileged selves and those who have Armenian passports: we still keep our identities overseas. We have our driver's licenses, our health insurance, and in some cases we still file our taxes.

    Many of us even lie to our government, saying we are full-time residents of the country listed in our passport because we know the benefit of this still far outweigh the benefits of a Republic of Armenia passport.

    Can anyone tell me of a single person they know who moved to Armenia from "the West" who has given up their original passport and adopted an Armenian passport? I, for one, do not know of anyone.

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    1. I do know one, and it's Raffi Manukian :)

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  4. I demand so called "pink eyeglasses" for those who live in Armenia !!! :)

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  5. Great post Adrineh! things that are constantly in our minds as repats:) Your concerns are very true, but i must add that financial sustainability can be hard everywhere and not only in Armenia. The difference maybe is that the market is much more limited here than in a larger country. I moved here 8 years ago with husband and 2 kids, i did not let go of my lebanese citizenship or my canadian one because they are part of my identity. But i did let go of social security, free health insurance and many other things. I don't have rich parents either to support me but i truly believed that i had a better opportunity here in Armenia (did not come only out of patriotism but to have a better life). For some, financial sustainability is having 9-5 jobs, 2 cars, a house, yearly vacations etc, for others it is doing something they are passionate about and living in an environment where they still feel what they are doing is making a change- the last option is what is keeping me in Armenia. I don't think changing passport will make us feel more legal here and i don't see how much it will help to improve the situation.
    My husband after several years opened his own business and struggles daily with corruption and other problems related and i do the same in my work area. I think all of us have challenges here on different levels and i don't think those who opted for leaving for other places are having all they wished for. I wish i could add something more to change the mood you are in right now:) all i could say is you should be in the place you feel the most complete regardless where that is, and remember that challenges are everywhere, different but there!

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  6. ay you typical spyurrqs who go to Hayastan and sit at your computers and COMPLAIN non-stop bout my homeland. if you hate it so much...then LEAVE, GET OUT !!!!! my homeland is not yours for you to complain about. ara go back to YOUR homelands and complain from there. those of you who moved to my wonderful beautiful precious Hayreniq need to either do something to change it or GET THE F OUT. hele mi rope, du inch eq anum ognelu im Hayastans ha??? ba yete duq iran cheq havanum, da uremn herraci iranic. im Hayastans iskakan Hayeru hamarn e, ayn vor sirum en Hayastan yev ayl uzum en ognel popoxelu hamar. voch te vorerun vra n'stel complain momplain anel 24 zham. you want to change it??...ARA THEN CHANGE IT !!! eeeh sa heriq e dzer complainneric.

    and as for this LARA lebanese mebanese canadian manadian spyurrq ara go be the canadian arab that you are some where else. you of all have absolutely NO rights to complain how sh***y & corrupt my homeland is. oohh you living there for 8 years putting up with corruption & greed and whatever else hardships you "supposedly" are enduring, oh mexq es vay...vay janit merrnem che? aydpes es uzum vor menq qez sirenq u hargenq ha? oh yah that automatically gives you rights to complain about Hayastan. yaaaah suuuure. it's more like you and the rest of the gor gor spyurrqs there are living it up very nicely in your luxury apts, bills always paid, bellys full of good foods, having money to buy whatever you want and go vacationing here & there in europe and where-ever else it is you gor gors go. pff...you are no better than those ruling corrupt/greedy elite stancis who are the internal enemy of Hayastan. and you are LYING about not having rich mommy & daddy to support you, we know all you gor gors are wealthy. so dont think you can fool us real Hays about not having MONEY and that you 'supposedly' suffer financially and having hardships. LMFAO at your lies & deceits. I know you gor gors very well, so I know for a FACT that you are lying about not having rich mommy & daddy supporting you. you gor gors would NOT be able to live in my Hayreniq if its not for your wealhy backgrounds. and you gor gors can make all the threats you want to me, you dont scare me. you're all dogs who bark, but will and could never bite...even if you could do it, you still would not do it. you dont have it in you to make good on your lousy loser empty threats at me. LMFAO at you !

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  7. Dear Adrineh, I'm pretty much sure it's season changing stuff. Me too a little bit depressed these days.
    But I would like to raise some economical topics.

    Look, how could Armenia have money not form outside, if we will think globally? If we consider state of Armenia as a single person. How she could get money if she is not so rich to redistribute that in her own pockets. After all Russia selling hydrocarbons to the rest of the world and gets money from outside too. And than our oligarchs (and Russian ones too) took the biggest share of that money and spend it outside of the country, so i'm coming to conclusion that in our modern world it's normal flow of money through the borders of the countries. So think globally, and don't give a shit to the passport issues. Passport is just a piece of paper, taxes are just a tithe that one should pay for some unknown reason to the state, which ignores it's own citizens. Though I'm paying taxes, but I don't do it intentionally. It just happened that way that my employee does a good and clean accounting :D
    May be I'm sound a little bit anarchic, but one should be so or should be "a little pofigist" to survive in this long depressing winter w/o snow (o;

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  8. Damn Andranik, relax.

    If Lara says that she isn't receiving family financial support, I'd be inclined to believe her.

    If you really want to engage in this topic, namecalling and false accusations are more likely to be ignored than intelligent discussion.

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  9. Interesting post, Adrineh. I hear your frustration and have encountered it also in talks with my Armenian colleagues. In a world where people, countries, companies, banks etc are becoming increasingly more interdependent on each other, financial sustainability is very fragile, in any country (see development in several EU countries). The number of people in richer countries who have several jobs and still do not earn enough to be sustainable and independent is growing as are those who are dependent on social benefits (and of course also the number of rich people). True, at least these benefits are (still) available to people in other countries. Armenia has its own twist and history on this question but financial stability is an issue that is becoming more and more relevant to many countries and individuals around the world. PS Was nice meeting you in person!

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  10. Adrineh, very well written... Your concerns are warranted as I just moved here a few months ago myself and share the same sentiments with regards to concerns for true sustainability.

    The world in general seems to be in a chaotic and completely unstable state. Even the U.S./Europe are walking on shaky grounds, while change has to begin internally, the external walls of the world aren't steady either and that frightens me just as much.

    I hope our collective energy will help this country come to it's feet a little bit quicker and give us the ability to live where we love and where we have CHOSEN to live.

    Andranik, your ignorance is sad. The difference between you and I is that I along with many others CHOSE to come to this country. Revolution forced my family to leave Iran and move to the U.S where I grew up and I have just as much a right to plant my feet on this soil as you do. What you deem as complaints are legitimate concerns of ours not just as Armenians but as human beings who are trying to survive not just in Armenia but on this planet. Corruption exists everywhere among all nations and people but since it's hindering the growth of our nation and people the wounds are deeper.

    You're asking us to leave a country that we seem to be more concerned about than you, you're being unpatriotic in your attempts to be patriotic.

    I feel you Adrineh, we're definitely in survival mode out here much more than I had anticipating prior to my move but I have hope... You just have to keep on pushin'.

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  11. Thanks for the shout out!!! It was really great to meet you....FINALLY. I really like this post, a lot. I can say, I am a foreigner living here, married to an Armenian man and I have no help from the outside. I don't work for a foreign company or organization (full disclosure...VERY occasionally I do contract work for the UN, but not very often). I teach English and my husband works in media. Of course, we don't have kids which makes it financially easier, but we do ok. I can see though, that we are an exception. I can also say that I think that going back to the States now would hold some of the same difficulties.
    And...Andranik, negativity never got anyone anywhere. It's too bad you need to be so angry.

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  12. oh...and I do have my driver's license from the USA, but no medical insurance or really any other benefit. I obviously don't have an Armenian passport though!

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  13. 'Can anyone tell me of a single person they know who moved to Armenia from "the West" who has given up their original passport and adopted an Armenian passport?'

    How about Raffi Hovannisian. He gave up his American citizenship in order to be a candidate for President of Armenia.

    Anyway as someone else said we live in a world where many people have several identities, passports, residences, etc.

    I find this kind of commentary to be a glass half-empty one. As a small, landlocked, resource-poor country, Armenia can only achieve 'sustainable' economic growth by exporting goods and services. In other words the money will always come from 'outside'.

    Comparable countries such as Singapore, Israel, Switzerland, Ireland (even now) have achieved this. Armenia could do worse than follow these examples by emphasizing rule of law, education, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

    As far as repatriates go, realistically there will never be many people from the West who will repatriate (this is true also for Israel where very few North American Jews move to) because few people are prepared to give up their comfort.

    Without a prosperous and stable Armenia, Armenian identity in the Diaspora will not survive. So those who care are duty-bound to help Armenia become what it must.

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  14. I am prepared to give up such comforts in exchange for simple life in my homeland. However with out money to buy a small residence, secure job/business, and have no deep connections there it would be virtually impossible for me to live there as unlike all wealthy spyurqs I don't have rich mommy & daddy to send me a golden wire transfer every month like clockwork. I suppose I can always live the park and feed from the scarps of the restaurants. It would be better to live that way in my homeland than in the richest country in world

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  15. Wow. I must say, until today, I was unaware that this blog post generated so many comments — in fact, it might be the post on this blog with the most comments yet! But that's another story.

    I agree with so many of you and it's so inspiring to read comments from others and hear their/your stories. I would like to address all the comments so far.

    @Reporter_arm: yes, rose-colored glasses for all! ;)))

    @Lara: thank you for your honesty and support. I understand and agree that doing something you're passionate about and living in an environment where you feel that what you are doing is having an impact is a big reason for staying here. In fact, if I can be honest with myself (and with you, dear readers), those are the moments when I feel I am exactly where I need and want to be. When I am doing something in Armenia that I am passionate about, when I am thoroughly engaged in the work and when I feel that what I am doing means something not just to me, but to others. Those are the times when I have no doubt that financial sustainability or not, Armenia is where I want to be.

    And you're right of course: many who have left didn't find or get all that they wished for. I suppose it's the ol' "the grass is greener on the other side" which works both ways (leaving Armenia and coming to Armenia).

    Yes, there are challenges everywhere and there are also possibilities for passion and doing what you love. Let's hope that we both continue to have the chance to do what we love ;)

    @Andranik: I don't know where to begin. Others have already addressed you in their comments and I have to say I agree with them. And may I ask: where do you live? Because if you don't live in Armenia yourself, I have to say I'd be a little more cautious in making such claims if I were you. Et "gor gor" aselnel shat viravorakan e, u asem qez vor voch polor Spyurkahayery arevmtahay en, orinak im maman Erevan a dznac medzacac. So please, think before you write. We, repat Armenians and expat non-Armenians, chose to move here and please don't assume that we're not doing anything to "change it" (your "wonderful beautiful precious Hayrenik," jan ;)

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  16. @mk: ah, yes the weather! Cold weather but no snow and too early to prepare for the holidays (at least in Armenia ;) makes for a depressing period indeed. But I like your point about looking at the issue globally: of course, in our "global village," it seems foolish to consider any country living in a bubble, without any exports/imports. It's just that I find Armenia's dependence to be more than, for example, Canada's (where I came from). The issue is limited market and maybe limited resources? I'm not that familiar with Armenia's resources to speak on this matter. But, in any case, this thread reminds me of iCon Communications CEO Raffi Kassarjian's TEDx Yerevan talk. For those who didn't have a chance to see it live, you can watch it here: http://www.tedxyerevan.com/videos.html

    @Kirstin: good to meet you in person too! And thanks for leaving a comment (finally ;) And thank you for reminding me that financial sustainability (of course!) is fragile everywhere, not just in Armenia.

    @Lucie: hello! So happy to meet a fellow repat. Yes, we are in survival mode here much more than I anticipated too — and much more than was the case when I was living in Toronto, at least it feels that way to me these days. (And thank you for your comments to Andranik, which I agree with wholeheartedly.)

    @outsiderinsider: thank you too for your honesty and full disclosure, jan ;) It was great to meet you in person too! Let's get together one day and chat some more when I guess we both have a chance ;)

    @Richard: thank you for your comments and for mentioning Raffi Hovannisian. He might be the only person I know (though I don't know him personally) who gave up his American citizenship for an Armenian one and I commend him for that. I also echo your concerns about Armenian identity in the Diaspora not surviving without a prosperous and stable Armenia. There are a few repats I know who also agree and I know they are putting much effort in not only making sure Armenia is prosperous and stable, but also letting the Diaspora know of the important relationship between Diasporan identity and working to make the homeland a better place for all.

    @Andranik2: not sure if this is the same Andranik as the first, but I thought I would address this comment separately. Just to clarify, not all Diasporan Armenians are wealthy and as it's been said before, those of us who moved here made the choice to do so and many of us are not living so well off (and in fact, maybe worse off) here than in the countries we came from. And, as mentioned previously, financial sustainability is fragile everywhere. Not all of us who moved to Armenia had the money to buy a small residence or secure a job. I came here with no prospects and no apartment. Luckily, I have a partner and friends and family here in Hayastan to rely on, which helped a lot. So if you want to move here but you're just waiting for the money to come rolling in to do so, who knows, you might be waiting a long time. If it's better to live here than the richest country in the world, then why aren't you here?

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  17. @mk: ah, yes the weather! Cold weather but no snow and too early to prepare for the holidays (at least in Armenia ;) makes for a depressing period indeed. But I like your point about looking at the issue globally: of course, in our "global village," it seems foolish to consider any country living in a bubble, without any exports/imports. It's just that I find Armenia's dependence to be more than, for example, Canada's (where I came from). The issue is limited market and maybe limited resources? I'm not that familiar with Armenia's resources to speak on this matter. But, in any case, this thread reminds me of iCon Communications CEO Raffi Kassarjian's TEDx Yerevan talk. For those who didn't have a chance to see it live, you can watch it here: http://www.tedxyerevan.com/videos.html

    @Kirstin: good to meet you in person too! And thanks for leaving a comment (finally ;) And thank you for reminding me that financial sustainability (of course!) is fragile everywhere, not just in Armenia.

    @Lucie: hello! So happy to meet a fellow repat. Yes, we are in survival mode here much more than I anticipated too — and much more than was the case when I was living in Toronto, at least it feels that way to me these days. (And thank you for your comments to Andranik, which I agree with wholeheartedly.)

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  18. @outsiderinsider: thank you too for your honesty and full disclosure, jan ;) It was great to meet you in person too! Let's get together one day and chat some more when I guess we both have a chance ;)

    @Richard: thank you for your comments and for mentioning Raffi Hovannisian. He might be the only person I know (though I don't know him personally) who gave up his American citizenship for an Armenian one and I commend him for that. I also echo your concerns about Armenian identity in the Diaspora not surviving without a prosperous and stable Armenia. There are a few repats I know who also agree and I know they are putting much effort in not only making sure Armenia is prosperous and stable, but also letting the Diaspora know of the important relationship between Diasporan identity and working to make the homeland a better place for all.

    @Andranik2: not sure if this is the same Andranik as the first, but I thought I would address this comment separately. Just to clarify, not all Diasporan Armenians are wealthy and as it's been said before, those of us who moved here made the choice to do so and many of us are not living so well off (and in fact, maybe worse off) here than in the countries we came from. And, as mentioned previously, financial sustainability is fragile everywhere. Not all of us who moved to Armenia had the money to buy a small residence or secure a job. I came here with no prospects and no apartment. Luckily, I have a partner and friends and family here in Hayastan to rely on, which helped a lot. So if you want to move here but you're just waiting for the money to come rolling in to do so, who knows, you might be waiting a long time. If it's better to live here than the richest country in the world, then why aren't you here?

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  19. @Adrineh
    ay quro jan, cavt tanem eli
    then you and your mayrik have every reason to complain, but not others. those who are stanci can complain aaaall they want, its our country, its our homeland, we live there and we take care of it, but others dont. so those who are not stancis can not dare to complain about how sh**ty Hayastan is. they are the ones with the wealth & power, if they wish for Hayastan to be better then they can change it, but to dare sit at their comp's and complain about it...LooooL vay ara, they're very lucky they do it behind the comp and not in front of "the people", especially me.

    Yes, I'm waiting for the money to roll in. maybe you right, maybe (most likely) I'll never receive it, enough of it anyway. however, I am assured that I will be there. prospects or none, apt or none, either way I will become so disgusted to remain where I am that I will pack my sh*t and come there. however, unlike you and the rest...I dont have others to "rely" on, to be dependant on. so, hence you are lucky to have that. if I were you, I would not complain...much ! and yes ALL spyurrqs are wealthy. I can prove it every time. spyurqs love to flaunt and show off their wealth, whether discretely or undiscretely. they want everyone to know they have money & power and that they can use it as they wish to their discretion

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    1. I think Hayastancis are the flaunters of the wealth which they don't have. They are the biggest show offs of all. Just ask anyone in Glendale, Ca. They are hated by everyone and they give the rest of the Armenians a bad name.

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  20. Adrineh, thanks for the link to TEDx yerevan. I really enjoyed Raffi Kassarjian's talk.

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