Influx of Russians in Armenia: why do they come and will they stay?
How Russians who escaped to Yerevan live
According to the existing data, approximately 50,000 – 100,000 citizens of Russia have arrived in the Armenian capital in March this year. Some of them went to Georgia, some will return (or have already returned) home – but some will settle there indefinitely. Will small Armenia be able to become a second home for them?
A report by Novaya Gazeta correspondent Natalya Lavrinovich from Yerevan, which is now hosting more Russians than in the high of a tourist season.
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“Facebook! Instagram! No VPN!
Check-in for a flight to Yerevan at Mineralnye Vody airport is delayed for half an hour. Some are waiting impatiently, a Cuban couple is walking their dogs – two tiny chihuahuas, citizens of Tajikistan are squatting down. Finally, a door to the international departures hall opens.
First comes a passport control with a spectacular blonde in the window.
— Where are you flying to? How long are you going to stay in the destination country?
I’m telling the truth: “I’m flying to Armenia, and from there, I’ll probably go to Georgia. My medicines included in the Vital and Essential Drug List have disappeared from sale. I present a certificate of a disabled person, extracts from a medical institution and a prescription.
The face of the Snow Queen softens as she puts a stamp and says goodbye.
There are two more employees in the hallway on the way to the front desk. “Dollars, euros?” they ask a little conspiratorially. “Alcohol, alcohol, chickens go-a-achie”, peddlers used to walk around the stations in the mid-90s with the same intonation. Again I tell the truth: “I have some, but not much.”
The flight of Azimuth Airlines takes off almost on time, which is rather rare these days. “The flight has been rescheduled for 21.30, the flight has been canceled”, these announcements fill the lines of the Departures scoreboard of the Minvody airport.
Flights to Istanbul and Yerevan are canceled and rescheduled. Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines has curtailed its flight program to Russia until the end of April. Until April 15, all flights to the Armenian capital were canceled by Armenia air company. Cancellations were recorded with Utair. Red Wings and Azimuth are still relatively reliable.
After 50 minutes, as soon as the mountains appeared in a cloudy haze, the plane lands at the Zvartnots airport. “Facebook! Instagram! Without a VPN!” a young girl in line in front of me rejoices. “Air of freedom!”, several people say at the same time. The crowd is diverse: people with children, with pets – in conversations about relocation to Armenia and Georgia local citizens are surprised that Russians take their pets with them everywhere. Huge suitcases crawl along the baggage belt: no one knows when they will be able to return back or whether they will return at all.
Passport control takes minutes. A couple more to show a PCR test or vaccination certificate (Sputnik V is also accepted). Welcome to Armenia! Barev dzez!
“I’m raising the price. Either you agree or I rent it out to Russians”
“I have never seen so many bright faces on the streets, even in Moscow,” laughs Arshaluys Mghdesyan, journalist and political commentator for CivilNet channel. “It’s mostly young people, there are almost no people over 40 among them. My friend says that he lives on the outskirts of Yerevan, in Nor Aresh. He has never seen Russians in his area before, but now there are a lot of them”.
According to Arshaluys, there are no official figures on how many people moved to Armenia during these four weeks: “Some of those who arrived are Armenians: both guest workers and citizens of Russia. Some fear general mobilization, others notice the deterioration of the business environment. How to count Russians is also unclear: many of them use the country as a passage to Georgia. During the peak dates of transportation, the first two weeks of March, up to 42–43 flights were made from Russia to Armenia, which is 8,500 people a day”.
Rough estimates show that between 50,000 and 100,000 Russians arrived in the country in March. How many of them have settled in the capital remains unknown.
The second wave is expected in April.
According to Armenian realtors and hostels, before the “special operation” the occupancy of the apartment and room stock was at the level of 40% – a normal figure for this time of year. Now it is 75-80%: there are still places to live, but rented housing has already risen in price by at least 30-40%, and in many cases even more.
Arshaluys and his family rent a small two-room apartment on the border of the center and residential areas for $300. In a month, rent in the area has increased by $100 or more. “There were cases when the owner of the apartment called and told the tenants: “I am raising the price. Either you agree or I rent it out to Russians”, he says.
Contracts among tenants and landlords here are rare, because this means official taxes and an increase in the final price. They prefer to make deals verbally.
“Now we often see situations where tenants terminate their old contracts and rent out housing at new prices”, says political scientist Johnny Melikyan. “I think that by the summer everything will stabilize, there will be a balance of supply and demand. Moreover, the government has a program designed for young Armenian families, when interest on a mortgage loan can be paid using income tax. It is expected that next year it will spread to the regions, and, perhaps, people with a permanent residence permit will also be able to participate in it.
Despite this, Russians are universally treated with great sympathy, which is felt even at the everyday level.
Nurse Maria sits next to me in a funny little (yet regular) bus. Knowing where I’m from and overtaken by emotions, she hugs me. We leave together, and Maria, despite objections, pays 100 drams to the driver for me.
Tour guide Rosa serves lahmajun, a thin flatbread with minced meat, at her favorite café and refuses to take money. For Rosa, in this strange March, all business went awry: those who had been planning to come for a long time postponed their arrival indefinitely. The new residents of Yerevan have not yet come to their senses, they have no time for excursions. But there are also pleasant exceptions: someone had enough money for a one-way ticket, they will go back by bus, but the vacation was not canceled; On March 29, a large Russian group of tourists is due to fly on Aeroflot.
“Recently, we helped transport an IT company where one employee was an Azerbaijani with Russian citizenship”, Rosa says. “We were very afraid that he would be deported. But everything worked out: he was interrogated for an hour at passport control, but in the end they let him into the country”.
“I have been sitting here every day for four years”, says Artur, owner of the Old Shop antique shop on Khachatur Abovyan Street. The second floor is filled with carpets, on the first – figurines in national clothes are mixed with busts of Lenin, daggers are diluted with samovars. Previously, Arthur kept a similar shop on Rublyovka, “next to Gazmanov’s house”, but in recent years he returned to his homeland – his mother is aged, she needs help. “There are a lot of Russians. Yesterday some of yours came, bought three mahogany elephants, each figurine costs $50. If you need something, come and ask, I will always explain”.
“There are various sociological surveys that show that the Armenians generally treat the Russian population kindly, their arrival is perceived with a plus sign.
They don’t see a threat in Russia, moreover, they see it as a country that can help Armenia restore its potential after the war”, says Arshaluys Mgdesyan. – On the other hand, Russia is the guarantor of Armenia’s security on a contractual basis. This is a rather large dependence both in the economic and political aspects. There is a huge category of people working in Russia and sending money from there. In 2020, according to official figures, it was about $824 million, one-fifth of Armenia’s budget.
“We didn’t care where we went, as long as we escaped”
“There are five times more Russians in our hotel”, says Khoren, the owner of a chamber hostel in the city center. “That is, for the summer such a figure would be normal, but not in March”.
A two-story hotel resembles Noah’s Ark: not every creature is paired here, but each guest has their own, often difficult story.
Greta, a Karabakh Armenian from Shusha, a refugee. She left her entire family 11 kilometers south of Stepanakert, but Greta herself has been living in Yerevan for more than a year, currently in a tiny four-bed female dormitory. Greta’s relatives have been left without gas for two weeks: as a result of unclear circumstances, the gas pipeline in the region collapsed. The Armenian side accused the Azerbaijani side of not allowing the repair work to be carried out.
“For two weeks, children do not go to schools and kindergartens, people do not work”, Greta explains. “They warm themselves with firewood, cook food on a fire”.
This March turned extremely cold in Armenia: on 24th, Yerevan was once again covered with snow, which fell in fluffy flakes on the violets that began to bloom. A year ago at this time, the country was a peach orchard in full bloom. Greta has high hopes for the Russian peacekeeping troops stationed in Karabakh: they should take over the negotiation process. Negotiations have been going on for the fourth day, but so far without effect: over 100,000 people are still left without heating and hot water.
Amid all the worries, a friend from Moscow calls Greta on the speakerphone: “Everything is fine with us!” she shouts, constantly breaking into a cheerful mater. “And what about Putin? What is he to blame for?!”
Manicurist Greta hangs up and goes to the salon for the day. The work is very hard, but if you try hard, you can earn from $500 to $1000 a month. “You have a bad manicure in Russia,” she delivers a verdict. The woman has already filled out an application and is waiting in line to go to Abu Dhabi, where a master of her level is paid three times more.
There is Peter. Peter is originally from Kharkiv, but in recent years he lived with his mother in the Crimea. He is 21 years old, he has two passports – Russian and Ukrainian, Yerevan is a transit base for him. With the Russian passport, he left the Crimea for Mineralnye Vody, from there, also by Azimuth, he arrived in Yerevan.
With a Ukrainian passport, the young man is going to fly to Vienna, then to Leipzig, where his grandparents live in a special care home. When something that cannot be named began, the Kharkiv old people were put in a taxi and taken first to Cherkasy (for a fee equivalent to 50,000 rubles), then by bus to the Polish border. In Poland, they were intercepted by completely unfamiliar German volunteers and transported to Leipzig.
“My grandparents live well, they have already received benefits in a two-room apartment given to them. But they complain about the lack of social circle: out of the many guests of this house, no one speaks Russian. Only volunteers with knowledge of the language sometimes help with everyday issues”.
Peter is listening to Alexei Arestovich’s speech. Sometimes he texts friends: they all left Kharkiv, most of them are safe now. At the same time, Petya’s stepbrother is participating in hostilities on the side of Ukraine, and his brother’s wife went to friends, to the north of the Kharkiv region, to the Russian border: it is not at all logical, but together it as not so scary.
Here is Oleg and Tatyana from St. Petersburg, an IT specialist and a financier. When Tatyana went outside for the first time after covid and saw a minibus with the letter Z, she felt sick.
“We didn’t care where we went, we just wanted to escape from there”, the girl says. They were not stopped by the fact that Tanya’s international passport will expire this year, and it will take Russian consulate in Armenia at least six months to make a new one.
Oleg has an open Schengen visa, they are happy to accept him in Scandinavia, but the captain of the reserve categorically refused to go to Finland or Sweden without Tatyana. And without a residence permit, she will not receive a Schengen in Armenia.
The cost of direct flights to Yerevan in early March reached 75,000-80,000 rubles one way, so the couple went through Istanbul, and from there flew to the capital of Armenia.
They have been in this hostel for almost two weeks and one of these days they are moving into a rented apartment. They rented a Euro-room apartment 15 minutes from the center for six months for $600 a month. Both are optimistic about the prospects of finding a job here: the IT sector is being relocated to Armenia by entire labor collectives.
“Our friends in Moscow were told: whoever does not want to move should leave of their own free will. Everyone wanted to leave”. And although Yandex denied the message about moving the headquarters to Yerevan, the number of company employees who arrived in the country in recent weeks has reached a hundred, and a search for coworking is underway for them.
The couple has already realized that local IT representatives were wary of the prospect of increased competition. The same will soon apply to other professions. “But on the other hand, the formation of a new diaspora will lead to the fact that Russians – baristas, barbers, nannies, journalists, gallery owners, etc. — will work for themselves”, says Tatyana. She herself intends to look for a job as a financier.
“Mir” cards are accepted everywhere
“Without knowledge of the language, it is quite difficult to find a job in state institutions, there are other segments where knowledge of Armenian is mandatory. But great importance is attached to IT, tourism, export, knowledge of Russian and English is encouraged. The IT sector is developed here. They say that those who are used to advertising and advertising go to Georgia, this direction is developed there.
Information technology is quite developed in Armenia, there are a lot of vacancies, professionals, regardless of whether they know Russian, English or Burundian, are in great demand. And their average salary starts at $3,000”, says Arshaluys Mgdesyan. “I think a good specialist will find a Jobe everywhere. There is a great shortage of qualified personnel in Armenia, ranging from locksmiths and plumbers to warehouse managers, furniture makers, representatives of the service sector, etc”.
Several Russian colleagues came to see his friend, a very famous professor at New York University. They live in the same apartment “until better times.” In Armenian social networks, the community offers to do everything to keep the professorship here – this is a great incentive and a chance for the students of the country.
“We are all in the Eurasian Union, and the idea of its creation was based on four freedoms, one of which is the freedom of movement of labor”, says Johnny Melikyan. “For many years after the creation of the Eurasian Union, it acted in one direction: Armenian citizens went to Russia to work. Now it turns out that there is still a return flow, there are people who come here in the hope of finding a job.
Competitive specialists will probably be able to get a job here, especially people with experience in such head offices in Moscow as Ernst & Young and the like. But there will probably be dozens of them, no more. The rest may have problems: our market is still small, knowledge of the state language is important in many places. But the sphere of tourism, service, etc. will live, will be engaged in compatriots. For example, the Iranians succeed in this, they open firms, translation offices, law offices that serve mainly their citizens.
Those who cannot afford an apartment at the new Yerevan prices are advised to join co-living or consider other cities in the country. What is rented in the capital for 200,000 tdrams (or $400), in Gyumri, located 100 kilometers from Yerevan, can be rented for half the amount, and in Vanadzor for $150.
The post of the mayor’s office of a small resort town
“Dear citizens of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Ukraine, who arrived in the Dilijan community, we inform you that the Dilijan City Hall expresses its readiness to assist in solving priority tasks, such as providing information, finding housing, informing about vacancies, document management , ensuring that children attend preschool institutions, business support, as well as prompt response to any problems. We inform you that every Thursday, starting at 10.00 am, is the day of the reception with the mayor of Dilijan, who you can contact in case of any problems”, the city administration announced on March 18.
Moving to Armenia theoretically has many advantages.
The order of prices here is comparable to the Russian one. For the time being, the first settlers, who shop together in SAS and Yerevan City, analogues of the expensive Moscow Azbuka Vkusa, did not appreciate the advantages of markets and small private shops, but experience is something that can be acquired.
For Russians in Armenia, there is a simplified process of obtaining a residence permit. Registration of an individual entrepreneur, that is, your own business, takes a day (a week – in the most difficult case).
It is easy to open an account and get a multi-currency card here, and Mir cards are accepted everywhere.
Armenians almost everywhere speak good Russian, signs in the metro are duplicated in Russian, many houses have an address written in Cyrillic.
There are several schools in the city that work entirely according to Russian programs, there are separate classes, there are private Russian-speaking educational institutions, even in “ordinary” Armenian schools, Russian lessons are obligatory from the 2nd grade. True, these classes are overcrowded, and the number of students can reach up to 30. But demand creates supply, new ones will open.
What will happen in practice – the future will show.
Now even an ordinary walk through the streets of the capital turns into a nostalgic journey: in the park in front of the opera house, a man in a cellophane “house”, hiding from rain and snow, plays the keys “Beautiful is far away”.
But will staying in the country be safe for those who face persecution in their home country? Or can membership in the CSTO be a reason for repeating the Belarusian scenario, when Russian activists who have been noted in the protests in Belarus are detained and sent to serve criminal terms in Zhodino, Vitebsk and Baranovichi?
“My Russian colleagues asked me about this, but I don’t think it will come to that”, comments Arshaluys Mgdesyan. “Well, what did the relocants do? A couple of statements, they wrote something on social networks. Among these people, perhaps 10 percent are political activists, others have moved for various reasons.
I do not think that Armenia will become an island of the Russian liberal opposition, a second London. But the situation is very, very uncertain. It all depends on how quickly it all ends, how long the sanctions against Russia will be. If something changes in a month or two, concessions will begin, of course, many will go back. It’s rational, it’s normal”.