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Cablegate: Armenia's Political Crisis Spurs Emigration

VZCZCXRO4018
RR RUEHBW RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHYE #0375/01 1231240
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 021240Z MAY 08 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY YEREVAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7492
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 YEREVAN 000375

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CARC

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/29/2018
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL ECON KDEM AM
SUBJECT: ARMENIA'S POLITICAL CRISIS SPURS EMIGRATION

REF: YEREVAN 368 YEREVAN 00000375 001.4 OF 003

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Joseph Pennington, reasons 1.4 (b, d).

SUBJECT

1. (C) For those Armenians who have long considered emigrating abroad to pursue a brighter economic future, the current political crisis appears to have finally moved some to action. Besides the twenty or so asylum seekers who approached the Embassy after the fatal March 1 clashes and state of emergency, an increasing number of intending immigrants from Armenia's middle class have also come to our attention, including one of the Embassy's GSO staff who abruptly ended 12 years of USG service to emigrate to the Czech Republic. These successful, middle class citizens tell us that the crisis has played a consequential role in spurring them to finally emigrate, saying it has dashed any remaining hopes they had for a stable, post-independence Armenia. Many say the political instability from the crisis has added yet one more disturbing element to their long list of concerns that include economic uncertainties and a worsening environment in which to raise their kids. Some also say they see an ongoing moral decay in society, where rich, well-connected, law-breaking elites run roughshod over ordinary Armenians' rights. In addition to these voices from the middle class, we have also begun to hear disenchanted officials contemplate emigration. END SUMMARY.

WE'VE ALWAYS PONDERED EMIGRATING

2. (C) Hrachia Hackopian, a US Embassy employee for 12 years who worked as a GSO procurement officer, told Emboff April 22 that he had long contemplated emigrating abroad, but never had the gall to carry through with it until now. The middle-aged Hackopian abruptly ended his employment on April 17 and emigrated to the Czech Republic on April 28. Leaving a stable, well-paying job, unemployed wife and two adolescent sons behind, Hackopian headed to Prague without any employment offer in the hopes of landing a procurement job with a Western firm. Ruben Alexanian, a successful, 40-year-old real estate and hydro-power developer, told Emboff that he, too, was on the verge of emigration with his wife and five-year-old son to Prague -- along with his two brothers and their young families -- after years of putting it off for personal and financial reasons. Karine Afrikian, a 50-year-old Armenian diplomat fired in late February for issuing a public statement with other diplomats denouncing Armenia's presidential election, said that while she had stayed in Armenia after independence to contribute to the country's post-Soviet development, she has now lost hope and is pondering emigration.

... AND NOW WE'RE FINALLY READY TO DO IT

3. (C) Like others in his position, Hakopian told Emboff that there were many factors driving his decision to emigrate, but that the political instability from Armenia's post-election crisis was pivotal in dashing any remaining hopes he had for the country to right itself after independence. Far from being an LTP supporter, Hakopian harshly criticized the ex-president, basing his assessment on his father's intimate relationship with LTP while both worked as researchers at Armenia's Matenadaran Manuscript Museum. Hakopian placed blame for the fatal clashes of March 1 on both sides, and said the instability it continued to cause in society gave him little hope that any of the current political leaders could -- or wanted to -- remedy the situation.

4. (C) Alexanian, who voted for Sargsian, said mounting economic uncertainties initially inspired his emigration plans, prompting him and his business partners, two of whom are his brothers, to diversify their real estate development business outside of Armenia. Alexanian said doing business in Armenia is increasingly "tough," and opened his arms wide to show how many licenses he had to obtain this past year before he could begin development of a small hydropower facility in southern Armenia. He vented that "one never knows what new laws will be passed," and that this factor is damaging to his present and future business plans. He was frustrated that Russian business partners with whom he invested in commercial real estate in Yerevan last year have now suspended their plans to develop the property in light of YEREVAN 00000375 002.2 OF 003 the political crisis. Alexanian also lost a business associate to emigration one month ago, to Canada, who also took his wife and young family. One of his brothers immigrated to Prague last year, and Alexanian has visited the Czech capital four times in the past 18 months to assess real estate options there. He said once he finds the right property to buy in Prague, he will take his wife, who is employed in Yerevan by the British internet firm Lycos, and his five-year-old son to begin a new life in Prague.

WE WERE ALWAYS TOLD THINGS WOULD IMPROVE

5. (C) Alexanian and Hackopian consider themselves true patriots, and say they will not become "those Armenians" who never return to Armenia after emigration. But both worried out loud about raising their sons in today's increasingly authoritarian Armenia, where they say education has completely broken down, where merit means practically nothing, and future career possibilities are limited by one's class and clan affiliations. Alexanian hoped that his son would not have the tough time he was having pursuing his chosen career. He repeatedly lamented the fact that his parents had been let down by Soviet and later Armenian leaders' promises that living conditions for their kids would be better than their own. "I want my family to live for the now" vented Alexanian, and "I don't want to be like my mother" whose dreams for a better life for her sons have not materialized.

MORAL DECAY AND CHILDREN'S FUTURES

6. (C) Hackopian said he planned to return for his wife and sons as soon as he had a stable job. In addition to the fallout from the political crisis that shows no sign of letting up, he has also become alarmed by the pressures on his adolescent sons where "they learn that only might makes right" in today's Armenia. Hackopian thought the moral decay of Armenian society -- which he contended began in 1991 with independence and the lack of a guiding national principle -- had accelerated the past several years due to the growing influence of law-flouting elites and their offspring who show little regard for the rights of ordinary citizens. Karine Afrikian told Emboff something similar right after the March 1 clashes -- that teenagers in Armenia would now have to learn how to thrive in a corrupt, authoritarian society in order to survive and prosper. She said that youth would either "lose their souls" in the process, or emigrate to escape the ruling regime's stranglehold on power.

AUTHORITARIAN RULE DISENCHANTING TO OTHERS AS WELL

7. (C) Polchief recently met with Deputy Finance Minister David Avetissian, a leading young reformer in the government, who expressed profound cynicism about the direction in which the government is headed. He predicted a severe political and economic crisis by the end of this year, and is convinced that President Sargsian is making nothing more than empty gestures at reform to satisfy international and domestic audiences. He said that behind the scenes, however, the new president is centralizing control, marginalizing reformist voices, and empowering thuggish elements in and out of government. As a result, Avetissian said he will probably resign from government service this summer, and is headed to Washington in May to look into employment opportunities with the World Bank.

8. (C) Prominent members of the opposition have contacted us about asylum and/or the issuance of tourist visas to ride out the crisis in the United States. One of these is Tigran Ter-Petrossian, LTP,s nephew, who LTP lieutenants say is hiding out in the United Arab Emirates fearful for his life. LTP's confidants have asked the Embassy to help with a tourist visa, and insist that Tigran has no intention of applying for political asylum once in the United States. (NOTE: We've explained to LTP's representatives that since we cannot establish the bona fides of Tigran's case, we cannot intervene to issue a visa, and that he would have to apply at our consulate general in Dubai like everyone else. END NOTE.) LTP's son David went to Los Angeles before the election at the urging of his father, again presumably out of concern for his son's life. To our knowledge he has yet to return. (NOTE: While it's difficult to ascertain the validity of these allegations, it is undeniable that violence YEREVAN 00000375 003.2 OF 003 has plagued the development of Armenia's post-independence political culture. END NOTE.)

COMMENT

9. (C) Emigration from Armenia is nothing new. It has been estimated that since its independence from the USSR, Armenia has lost 1,000,000 of its citizens to emigration -- almost one third of its 3.5 million pre-independence population. What appears to be a new development, however, is the hemorrhaging of successful middle-class citizens who decided to stick out post-independence growing pains only to see that their wait has been for naught. The loss of these individuals is significant: they would stay if they thought the country was headed in the right direction. But their decision to pull up their tent stakes now, after one of modern Armenia's gravest political crises to date, suggests that a serious malaise has taken deep root in society. Disillusioned, the once-committed appear to have lost faith that their government cares about improving their welfare or moving the country forward. END COMMENT.

PENNINGTON

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