“Friends, as refugees, how can we leave the country? Which country accepts us? Who knows for sure? Please give us some details.” There are sentiments of leaving Armenia among groups of forcibly displaced Artsakh citizens on social networks and people with such questions are trying to understand what opportunities there are for emigration.

In the answers to this question, users pointed to France as a country that accepts refugees and emphasized that “making the papers costs 5000 euros per person.” “Actually, it hurts so much to see my nation forced to leave the country to an unknown path, for an unknown time, not a good life… Every time I start or read about it, my heart is torn to pieces,” a user answered the questioning citizen. The other raised rhetorical questions: “Now the moment has aarrived for us to go from here too? Again, and again? What about our homeland, our children, our houses and graves?”

The number of Artsakh citizens who emigrated from Armenia was announced recently by former Artsakh human rights defender Gegham Stepanyan. According to him, around 11,000 Artsakh citizens have already left the country. “The main reason is the socio-living conditions, which disrupt the normal life of people in Armenia, that’s why they prefer to move, for example, to the southern parts of Russia, where it is much cheaper to organize life than in Armenia,” said Stepanyan.

The head of the Migration Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Armen Ghazaryan, does not have the data on how many Artsakh citizens have left Armenia, because “the body responsible for the electronic border system is the National Security Service.” As for what is being done for the people of Artsakh not to leave the country, the official points to the “general policy of the government”, for example, the housing provision program.

According to the plan proposed by the government, 3-5 million drams [ about $7500- 12,500] per person will be allocated for buying or building a house, depending on the place of residence. First of all, beneficiaries of the program will be families with 3 or more minors, families of fallen servicemen who also have minors, as well as families with a certain level of vulnerability. After that, families with 1 or more minor children and representatives of other groups will benefit from the program. And the right of ownership of the given apartment or house will pass to them only at the end of the 10th year, if they live in the given house or apartment during that entire period. Those who will become citizens of the Republic of Armenia can benefit from housing support. It should be noted that if the average amount of support is 3 million drams, then the entire program will cost the state about 400 billion drams. The government emphasized that this program will allow everyone to be provided with an apartment within 5 years.

How is it possible to buy an apartment in Armenia for 3-5 million drams? The citizens of Artsakh expressed these and other concerns regarding the government’s plan during a gathering organized in Freedom Square, in various meetings with journalists, and also in an open letter to the government.

The people of Artsakh propose to implement the program on the principle of preservation of Artsakh communities and allocate a basic 5 million drams to each forcibly displaced person on the principle of irreversibility. Also, to set the implementation period of the project at 2 years, actively involving international and diaspora financial resources. For the purpose of acquiring residential real estate, allocate a base amount of AMD 5,000,000 (five million) to each forcibly displaced person, which corresponds to the average prices of the secondary market of regional settlements.

The people of Artsakh also propose to abandon the requirement of RA citizenship for the beneficiaries of the program. “A special approach should be planned in the program for small families of up to 3 members. A reasonable amount of financial support should be allocated to each family, according to the number of members, in order to acquire property. In the program, priorities and additional privileges should be set up for the families of the victims and disabled persons. The program also should envisage systemic solutions for the provision of stable employment for people forcibly displaced from Artsakh and the population of host settlements,” stated the open letter distributed by 32 Artsakh organizations.

Artsakh organizations expressed their belief that the proposed program will exclude emigration.

On April 2, Sona Hambardzumyan, the representative of the Artsakh People’s Needs Initiative, stated that the open letter of Artsakh organizations with concerns and suggestions regarding the housing provision program was ignored by the executive power and they did not receive any response.

“During this time, it is obvious that, as a result of our struggle with the Armenian government, certain approaches have been revised. In particular, if before our initiative it was announced that from April they would significantly reduce the existing housing rent support program (40 thousand + 10 thousand AMD), then at the end of March the government approved a new decision to extend the rent provision program until the end of the year and even expand it. We can consider this as an important interim result,” Artak Beglaryan, chairman of the NGO Union for the Protection of the Interests and Rights of the People of Artsakh, said.

Nevertheless, according to him, there are still problems regarding a number of fundamental issues. Beglaryan says that they are ready to hold open and closed meetings on these issues and unanimously make mutually acceptable decisions.

“The government avoids meeting with us, discussing issues with us,” said Beglaryan, expressing hope that the government will not accept the project of providing housing to the forcibly displaced Artsakh citizens without discussion with the target group.

Hasmik Hambardzumyan

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