Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Dual Citizenship

On the 26th of February, 2007, the Parliament approved the bill on dual citizenship. This belated legislation is some 15 years in the making since Armenia’s independence in late 1991, and long overdue. This change, of course, is not enacted without any opposition. Indeed, opponents of this legislation in the ruling coalition and some in the opposition have argued that granting dual citizenship to the Diaspora would increase corruption [sic], and lead to a loss in the country's sovereignty [sic]. These are virtually the very same arguments underlying the policy advanced in the early 1990s, one that is in many ways responsible for preempting the integration of the Diaspora into the fabric of Armenian society.

Contrast this with the Israeli experience. Under the Law of Return, Jews are granted immediate citizenship in Israel. Often they are provided with subsidized housing, language training, and many other benefits upon their arrival. On the eve of its independence in 1948, its population stood at 805,000. This increased to 2.15 million by 1960. Approximately 65 percent of the increase in the population during this period can be attributed to the in migration of 869,400 newcomers (mostly from middle eastern countries). After the breakup of the Soviet Union, about a million arrived on its shores. Few if any spoke Hebrew and, as Soviets, had little exposure to Israel's western ways of business and commerce. Yet, they were all welcome and fully absorbed.

Israeli Population and Immigration (in 1000s)
Source: here, Table 2; also a good summary of Israel's economic history.

Returning to Armenia, what I find truly sad is not the restrictions on voting as much as those related to the economics. Almost immediately after its independence, the government made the integration of the Diaspora into Armenia’s economy an impossible task. Diaspora Armenians, for instance, were prohibited from land ownership, a prohibition that continues to date (the introduction of a special 10-year passport relaxes this constraint). They were also discouraged by sheer intimidation. A member of the Diaspora, and a "supporter" of the then ruling regime, wrote in 1993 that "… Diaspora Armenians who (motivated by patriotism or profit) have tried to start businesses or engage in joint ventures have soon found out that they are being ripped off. But the saddest realization comes when they learn that their corrupt partners enjoy protection from higher echelons in the government ..." (see here, page 38)

In the name of national security and sovereignty, policymakers have inflicted serious damage to the country and exacerbated the pains of its transition to a market economy. As explained in a recent article in the Armenian Law Review, it takes little effort to make the legislative changes necessary to make dual citizenship a reality. However, the final chapter may not be written yet, as little is known how the enacted changes (once signed by the President) will be actually administered.

More on the economic effects in a future posting. These would have been much larger if we were able to turn the clock back to 1991 with the country's institutions of higher education and productive capacity intact. In the mean time, does any one know of a link to the legislative bill that the parliament passed (I checked the parliament's website)? What I read in the press is confusing!

[March 2 -- Table is replaced. I'll replace with plain text if it disappears again.]


nazarian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David said...

It'll be good to see how the new legislation and the administrative procedures are drafted.

The point of my post is not voting as much as the economic and social integration of the Diaspora in Armenia. Just take a look at what was done to the Najarians, despite the enormous humanitarian aid and services they had provided to the country. With citizenship, or at least the right to direct property ownership, they would not have been robbed and mistreated by the justice system.

The ideal is to have the Diaspora move to the country and set roots; buy a home, send their kids to school, and so on. This should have been facilitated in 1991 when the country's educational system and industrial capacity were intact, and when the nation had tremendous confidence and sense of unity. In any event, I am not sure why you bring up the ARF (they are already in the country), or what the ARF has to do with the 5 million Diasporans. Surely you don't mean they represent them? Also, is the Diaspora responsible for the outcome of elections in 2003 and 1996? or for the poor governance? or the compromised educational system? ...

I am well aware of the politics of the issue. But I find it very troubling that some have no shame in designating who is a good Armenian and deserving of citizenship.

Every time I write a recommendation letter for a student to study in the west, I am happy for them particularly after they are accepted. But in a way, I find it depressing that they have to leave the country in the first place. The Diaspora has such untapped potential, particularly in human capital, that it could have (perhaps still can) made a tremendous contribution to the country's well being and prosperity, well beyond its present contribution.

akhanjian said...

The ARF is not a Fascist political party. It is a socialist and a democratic party and is a member of the socialist international, along the labor party of England, and socialist parties of Sweden, Austria etc. etc. It is not productive to repeat the propaganda of the communists that the ARF is a Fascist party. I understand that those who were raised in Armenia under the communist rule were brain washed by their propaganda. But in a forum such as “the Armenian Economists” I am surprised and saddened that educated Armenians are still repeating the same misinformation.

In forums such as “the Armenian Economists”, we should make an effort to avoid using labels and communicate with each other with respect. We could have different point of views, but we should be able to discuss controversial issues without insulting each other for the sake of improving the economic conditions of the Armenian people. Otherwise “the Armenian Economists” would be become the forum of one group of Armenian economists and not the forum of all Armenia economists.

Anonymous said...

I read with a lot of interest that article.

A new idea that I have not seen so much spread so far, but that does make sense to me is the following.

What about seeing it the other way round: that Armenia has to help Diaspora? If we started to adopt that point of view (in Diaspora), then sooner or later, people in Armenia will realize how true that is too, and would be much less reluctant to hearing to Diasporan advocates.