BBC: Armenia Migration: The Villages Of Women Left Behind

Damien McGuinness

BBC News

August 10, 2011

Women in the village of Dzoragyugh Women in Dzoragyugh can be seen
herding cattle or on their way to work in the fields

In many rural areas of the former Soviet Union, poverty and
unemployment are forcing people to leave. But in Armenia it is men who
are going, leaving whole villages almost entirely populated by women.

Here in the Armenian village of Dzoragyugh, it is often only women
and children you will see working in the fields.

That is because the only way for men to earn enough money to support
their families is to go to Russia.

One of those left behind is Milena Kazaryan, a mother-of-two in
her twenties.

As she tills the land behind her house, she tells me that her husband
is working in Moscow – as are her father, her grandfather and all
her brothers. In fact, all the men in her family have left.

Fears of second families

Ms Kazaryan smiles a lot. But she says what worries her and her
friends, is that their husbands will set up second families in
Russia. Something which happens a lot, she says.

Milena Kazaryan

All we want is jobs in Armenia so that our families can stay together
and so that fathers can see their children grow up”

Milena Kazaryan Dzoragyugh resident

“All of the women are really scared. We phone every morning and every
evening, to find out what our husbands are up to.

“It’s always really stressful wondering whether he’ll come back or
not. A lot of the women here worry because they think that in Russia
all the girls are beautiful. And the problem is that the men work very
hard so of course they also want to relax. That’s why they’re scared.”

Ms Kazaryan says the husbands of many of her friends now have second
families in Russia.

“Even if they have little children, men leave their wives and get
Russian girlfriends but when they are old and they can’t work anymore,
they come back here,” she says.

Ms Kazaryan and her husband married five years ago. Since then he has
spent most of the year working in Russia. Like many Armenians there,
he comes back for Christmas, and leaves again in March.

So it is hard to keep the family together.

Transfer of HIV

Women here say that almost all of the men from this village have
gone to work in Russia. Leaving women to do everything – including
the heavy labour, usually seen as men’s work.

And certainly when you walk round the villages in this region, it is
women you see herding cattle, on their way to the fields with tools
in their hands or carrying bales of hay on their backs – there are
very few men.

But the burden is also psychological, says Ilona Ter-Minasyan, the head
of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Armenia’s
capital Yerevan. Women have to also now make all the decisions –
a source of conflict in this rural, patriarchal society.

“Eventually it leads to shifted gender roles because, while he’s out
for eight or nine months, she’s head of the household.”

There are also other more fatal issues, says Ms Ter-Minasyan.

“Armenia has a very small population of people who are HIV-positive.

But recent surveys show that very often, large percentages of them are
labour migrants who go to the Russian Federation, become HIV-positive,
come back, and then transfer the disease to their wives. This is the
worst-case scenario.”

Birthrates ‘too low’

Human rights groups accuse the government of not doing enough to
tackle the problem of emigration.

But Gagik Yeganyan, head of the Armenian government’s department for
migration, says the only solution is to increase the number of jobs,
rather than set up any specific programme. And that this is something
not just the government, but the whole of society, including the media,
should work towards.

Women in the village of Dzoragyugh Human rights activists have called
emigration a national disaster

Officially unemployment is around 7% but the IOM says benefits are
so low that most people do not register as unemployed. So the real
figure is estimated to be around 30%.

According to human rights groups and opposition parties this means
that every year almost 100,000 people leave – most of them men, who
go to neighbouring Russia to work in the construction industry there.

The government denies that the figures are so high. But there is
general agreement that around a million Armenians are now living in
Russia – leaving only three million still in Armenia.

This is a fall of 25% since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,
when around four million people lived in Armenia.

There are now calls for the Armenian authorities to act: in July
human rights activists sent an open letter to the government, calling
emigration a national disaster.

One of the authors of the letter is Karine Danelyan. She says that
the lack of men is starting to be felt throughout society.

“It’s a really serious problem. There’s a new generation of girls
growing up who have no chance of getting married because all the boys
are leaving the country. So birthrates here in Armenia are now too
low to keep the population stable.”

But back in the village of Dzoragyugh, Ms Kazaryan’s concerns are
more immediate.

“It’s really tough because the whole family is just waiting and
waiting for the men to come back. All we want is jobs in Armenia
so that our families can stay together and so that fathers can see
their children grow up. A family is more than just the mum. We need
the dads here too.”

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