- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 14, 2003 

Decision 2003: Votes count, even from a distance

"What elections are you talking about when I am the only member of our family staying in Armenia," says Nina, a Goris pensioner who like many relatives of the dispersed, doesn't know when her children and grandchildren will return.

Social and economic problems have separated families throughout Armenia, as thousands have gone abroad in hopes of finding employment.

But when Armenians choose their President next Wednesday, even those who have left the country will have a chance to vote.

Any citizen of Armenia can vote by presenting even a former Soviet Union passport and registering at an appointed polling station.

"Even those citizens who illegally left Armenia can participate in this year's Presidential elections," says Dzunik Aghajanyan, press secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

There were 36 precincts (polling stations) established in 34 cities for citizens living outside Armenia. Taking into account that there are big Armenian communities in Los Angeles and Moscow there were two polling stations established in each of those cities.

"Polling stations can be established only in the cities where Armenia has either embassy or consulate," says Aghajanyan, "they can get the whole information about candidates from the Armenian representations in the country as well as from Internet."

The most pressing issues for the Armenian citizens residing abroad are employment and dual citizenship. However, introduction of dual citizenship depends not only on the President, but also on changes in the Constitution, which, according to the law can be made only through referendum.

About 15,000 citizens living abroad voted in the last Presidential elections, a low number considering the vast number of citizens who have left the country. One main reason for not participating is remote polling stations.

Paitsar Galstyan, who lives in Belgium, says she will not vote even though she wants to, but doing so would mean a five to six hour trip to Brussels.

"Of course, we don't think it is realistic that Armenians residing in Siberia will put all things to do aside, will spent money to come to Moscow for voting. But we also cannot open polling stations in all the cities of the world," says Aghajanyan.

According to National Statistics Service's data about 700,000 Armenians left Armenia in the past 10 years. But as to the "Sociometer" independent sociological center's information the migration rate is much higher, about 1.5 million.

Independent sociological center "Sociometer" conducted research starting from October 2002 till January and found out that only 10 to 11 percent of Yerevan residents plan to emigrate.

"This figure is very optimistic, as far as 10 years ago 80 percent of the population hoped to live and work abroad, "says Aharon Adibekyan, director of the center.

The main reason for emigration is unemployment, and while there are few reasons for emigration they have numerous consequences.

Marianna, who lives in Colorado, says she wishes to see conditions in Armenia change, rather than setting up means for those abroad to participate in elections.

"The terrible migration rates have to be reduced," she says, "not by making airplane tickets more expensive and refusing applications in the embassies. Instead favorable conditions for the population have to be set up."

But Armine Abroyan, who now lives in Germany, says she will take advantage of her right, even though she no longer lives at home.

"To vote in elections is our duty to our country, which we have to implement without fail," she says.


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  Photo of the week
  Photo of the week: Tamper resistant?
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Tamper resistant?

Journalists flocked to Zvartnots Airport Tuesday to greet the arrival of plastic boxes, heralded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as Armenia's first step toward "transparent" elections. The 2,000 boxes - at a cost of about $4 each - were financed by the US, Swiss, German and Norwegian governments. Newspaperman Tigran Liloyan gave one ballot bucket a test run.



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