Gays, refugees, oppositionists, students, quite well-off people, all of them suddenly decided that the grass is greener somewhere else
The Manat rate is falling, the unemployment increases at a fearful rate. However, instead of the promised reforms, so much longed-for by many in Azerbaijan, the referendum was conducted. None of the ordinary citizens expect anything good from the constitutional amendments that have been passed. In this regard, there have been lively social media discussions on who and where is leaving. For good.
“I’ve been simply haunted by the immigration theme in the recent months, says Vlad, an advertising agency script writer. “Each and every person has been discussing that on Facebook in private; the immigration bureau ads have livened up on the page. We just recently installed an air conditioning at home and all of the suddenly the worker told me: ‘You’d better do one!’ Some 15 minutes later, when I went out into the street, I saw my friend driving a car, who told me: ‘Are you still here? And I’m moving’. Nearly half of those, whom I communicated with a decade ago, either have left or are about to leave, and sometimes I am haunted by this theme in the most mysterious way.
Why do people leave?
“There were no signs of trouble: I worked in a bank, I got married, I bought an apartment and a car, I made some savings – every month I placed money on deposit, so that I could ensure good education for my daughters, says Anar, an accountant. “Then one bank merged with another, my salary in Manats was halved, whereas in dollars it was cut four times. I sold my car twice cheaper than I’d bought it in order to pay off the apartment loan. I withdrew education money from the bank. After giving it a good deal of thought, I finally decided that instead of sending my daughter to Europe to study there, it was better to go there ourselves.
Anar Mammadov, a blogger, wrote on his Facebook page: “Many good, smart and clever guys are leaving Azerbaijan. As I’m sitting here and writing this text now, I am trying to find an answer – what spurs on my compatriots, who are talented, gifted and capable of being useful here, to leave the country and go somewhere in search of the better life. The problem is that no one needs us here. Neither the social institutions, nor the police, the mayor’s office, the ministries, or even a neighbor, Ali Mardan, need us. We don’t need ourselves either.
Rauf Ismaylov is consulting those, who are willing to leave abroad. He himself has been living in Canada for 5 years already. In his words, the number of those, leaving Azerbaijan for permanent residence abroad has considerably increased this year. “My observation is that the immigration rate dropped in the past 5-6 yeas. In other words, people mostly leaved the country for career and job reason, rather than for economic reasons. In 2016, there has been a hike in immigration rates. About 8 families, whom I know, have moved to the Great Britain alone. It is noteworthy that most of them are quite successful and well-off.
“Certainly, all of them have different reasons to leave. Basically, all of them say, they left because of their children, so that they could get decent education and grow up in the community that respects human rights and freedoms. Personally I left the country for that very reason, he says.
Where and how?
People emigrate from Azerbaijan in different ways. Some of them find jobs in the USA, Australia, the EU countries. Others set up their business in the developed countries. There are also people, who leave under LGBT status (to the EU countries, mostly to Scandinavian states). Young people leave to study abroad, then they find work and settle there.
In Rauf Ismaylov’s words, people give preference, first of all, to the USA, Canada, Australia and Western Europe. “However, their preferences don’t always fall in with their possibilities. I think, then come Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Many of my acquaintances have moved or are in the midst of moving to Turkey, Ukraine. This is, first of all, due to the fact that the majority of more or less legal programs for immigration to Europe are either closed or rather complicated. Personally I wouldn’t go once again through all those hellish phases of immigration…It was very hard for me, I was nearly driven to tears, he says.
What do figures say?
How many people actually leave the country? Azerbaijani State Statistics Committee doesn’t publicize any immigration data. One could have judged it by the population census data. But even in this case it’s not all that simple.
As Arif Yunus, a historian and conflict expert, pointed out in his article for the Consortium of Applied Research on International Migration, the official census data are rather equivocal due to intentionally unscrupulous methodology. “As we can see, migration statistics in Azerbaijan are not at a satisfactory level. Coverage of migrants, both of immigrants and emigrants, through existing sources of information is incomplete. In addition, the issue of migrant records is politicized in modern Azerbaijan and this also has a serious impact; one cannot treat the material from Goskomstat (State Statistics Committee) and the State Migration Service (SMS) as reliable information.
International statistical data are also far from perfect. The CIA Factbook doesn’t show any dynamics on Azerbaijan in the countries’ migration rating. The situation is the same with the UN country data . As for the CARIM-East research center, their latest data cover the year 2007, and even for that period they show the negative balance of those who arrived in or departed from Azerbaijan .
Cowards and traitors?
Andrey, a taxi driver: ‘As it is said, ‘the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence’. Personally I, for instance, lived in Ukraine, in Russia, but I returned to Baku, it’s good, calm and quiet here. And those, who leave, are most often the losers. Both of parents are Russians, whereas I regard myself as an Azerbaijani. It’s a nice, tolerant country and I fully support the President in this regard.
Vahid, an athlete: “Oh no, what are talking about. Do you know, how much our people earn in Ukraine? My friends, Azerbaijanis, are working there. As for the Ukrainians, they are lazy people, that’s why they are in such a poor condition. It’s a perfect place, in general. Pensions are good there.
Taxi driver: “It was good there during Poroshenko’s ruling, whereas now, under Obama, they go without food and money. And why haven’t you left yourself? Because you aren’t a coward, you are an athlete defending your country’s honor. And those who left, they have no idea what honor is.
Taxi driver Andrey’s opinion is very popular among those, who are not going to leave themselves. Such people are often the representatives of the civil society and their key argument is that ‘yes, it’s not all that good, but we should struggle to make our native country suitable for living, rather than just escape.’
Myatanat Azizova, Azerbaijani human rights activist and political immigrant: “If a person has made his/her choice and intends to leave the country, it’s his/her right and he/she shouldn’t be reprimanded for that. I frequently read publications saying people are leaving due to the economic problems. But I’ve noticed that the majority of those, who leave, have quite good salaries or have managed to make some savings. The problem is more psychological in nature: a fear of the future, a depressed society, limited opportunities for self-realization, etc., poor-quality medical services, education… Someone believes, all that could be achieved at home as well, provided that there are relevant skills and knowledge. Others think that even if there are such skills and knowledge, no one needs them here.
Vahid, who immigrated to the Great Britain 20 years ago: “I am positive about our immigration and take it with understanding. A human being should be free; he/she has just one life. A place, where he/she was born, may not be suitable for him/her for professional, economic, spiritual, aesthetic, climatic, and dozens of other reasons. Immigration is a complicated thing, but it could enrich and develop a person, of course, if he/she wants it. The fact that a person leaves the country doesn’t make him/her either a non-patriot or enemy of the country of origin. It’s a primitive view. My observation is that people are driven away from the country by the aforesaid incompatibility with the reality and dissent from where things are coming to; concerns about future and children’s fate. It’s a common survival instinct and unwillingness to live in prison, no matter whether it’s in a literal sense or not.
Having summed up all available data and opinions, it could conclude as follows:
1. Azerbaijan is in the beginning of a new wave of immigration; more people are leaving the country, though it’s hard to tell precisely, how much the immigration rate has increased, because there is no relevant statistics.
2. First people to move abroad have been those, who have possibilities to ensure more or less convenient change of scenery.
3. In most cases, those people have complex motives – the country’s economic crisis with no visible prospects of coming out of it, and also, an intention to bring up children in a safer and more civilized community.
Meanwhile, one blogger wrote: ‘‘Let the last person who leaves turn off the lights at the airport after him’.
• Azerbaijan experienced two dramatic hikes of devaluation of the national currency within the past year and a half;
• As a result, the prices on imported consumer goods increased twice within a year and a half;
• The inflation rate made 4% in 2015; it has been projected at 12% in 2016;
• Several huge banks were closed;
• Explaining the reasons behind the crisis, the government refers to a drop in oil prices. Oil export has the largest share in the country’s budget revenues;
• Despite numerous promises to carry out reforms and ‘develop the oil sector’, no substantial measures have been taken;
• Over 100 representatives of the opposition and the civil society have been arrested, detained or convicted on various charges and for various terms during this year.