Armenia Cements Ties With India Via ‘Migrant Route’ With 50K Workers In 2023; Emerges Top Buyer Of Indian Weapons

The Caucasian state of Armenia is witnessing an influx of Indian migrants – rising from 20,000 to 30,000 in 2018 to over 50,000 in 2023 – who have earned a reputation for their hard work within the local population. The migration has been taking place even as India and Armenia get closer — much to the discomfiture of Turkey and Azerbaijan.  

Two former Soviet Trans-Caspian states of Azerbaijan and Armenia are steadily growing bigger on the political chessboard of the Caucasus and Central Asia. This phenomenon is not only because of the Russian military action in Ukraine but also because of the implications of regional strategies in which Turkey and Iran are assuming dynamic roles.

The dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast (NKAO) — the unmitigated legacy from the Soviet times — became inflammable after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the declaration of independence by many federating units, including Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Subsequently, though Russian influence remained in place in almost all former federating units, new strategies also gained influence over these states. Turkey and Iran were conspicuous by their active role in the Caucasus region, whether overt or covert.

Two wars between Azerbaijan and Armenia, in which Turkey openly and aggressively supported Azerbaijan, left Armenia rather weakened. After the Second war, finally, Azerbaijan was able to capture Nagorno-Karabakh.

A bit of military support to Armenia from Moscow was of no avail. As per the latest reports, Armenia has decided to pull out from Russia-led CSTO.

Labour Migration

In an article captioned ‘Indian migrants reshape Armenia’s labor market,’ the Eurasianet of February 21 pointed out that Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, has seen a surging number of labor migrants from India over the past year and a half. It adds that the city’s demography and economy have already been reshaped by the “influx of Russians fleeing the consequences of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The number of Indians in Armenia (with just under three million of its total population) has grown steadily since 2018. From a few thousand, the number has grown to about 20,000 – 30,000, as reported by Vahan Kerobyan, the then Economy Minister, in 2018.

However, figures provided by the State Statistics Committee (Armstst) show that in 2023, a total of 54,582 Indian citizens entered the country, of which nearly 34,000 were “tourists.”

It is somewhat tricky to distinguish between tourists and labor migrants, largely because many of the latter group never register to seek residency or the formal right to work. Economists say all this makes it clear that most Indians in Armenia are engaged in the shadow economy.

The Attraction

Indians, like other labor migrants, migrate with one goal in mind: to find work and send money back home to their families. Armenia’s rapid economic growth in the past few years has made it an attractive destination.

Over the past few years, Armenia’s GDP per capita has nearly doubled in dollar terms. The IMF informs us that the indicator rose from just over $4,200 in 2018 to over $8,200 in 2023. It’s now the highest GDP per capita among the South Caucasus countries. India’s GDP per capita, meanwhile, is around $2,800.

Armenian economist Armin Ktoyan believes that the influx of Indian migrants to Armenia has two main causes: higher wages than back home and the strengthening of the national currency, the dram, against the dollar over the past year and a half.

“It’s precisely these factors that have triggered the influx of labor migrants from India, and this is important in terms of stimulating economic growth. Businesses in spheres such as construction, agriculture, and services hire them and save money by doing so. And this, in turn, lowers the cost price of their products,” Ktoyan told Eurasianet.

Impact On The Labor Market

The appearance of large numbers of Indian workers has changed the Armenian labor market, eliciting mixed reactions from locals. Some worry that Indians are taking their jobs because they’re willing to work for less. Others, particularly members of the business community, are distinctly positive.

“I wouldn’t say that the Indians are taking jobs away from locals. As a rule, they work in fields where there is not enough labor. I hire Indians not because I want to pay them less. Sometimes, I pay them more than locals since they’re good workers. They don’t ask many questions, they work, they don’t laze about,” a local businessman producing canned goods and non-alcoholic drinks told Eurasianet.

The businessman, who requested anonymity, added that the Indian migrants were creating “healthy competition” on the market. “It’s becoming clear to local workers that businesses have an alternative, and this spurs them to be more productive,” he said.

Congenial Atmosphere

The influx of migrants to Armenia is taking place against a backdrop of strengthening relations between Yerevan and New Delhi. In the past year and a half, Armenia has signed contracts with India on the purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons, the biggest buyer of Indian military hardware in the world.

These growing ties have given India the image of a friendly country in the eyes of Armenian society. For the most part, this positive feeling is extended to the Indian migrants themselves, though there have been occasional manifestations of xenophobic aggression. Such stray incidents are overlooked as these are not consequential.

“Indians as labor migrants is a new phenomenon in Armenia. Twenty or thirty thousand people are a large number for our country, so it’s been hard for some people in Armenia to comprehend what’s going on. People are adapting to each other, and in this process, there might be some misunderstanding or incomprehension. But I don’t see any discrimination against Indians in Armenia, let alone discrimination on a large scale,” social anthropologist Aghast Tadevosyan told Eurasianet.

File Image: Indian and Armenia Top Leaders

Indo-Armenia Defense Productivity

Last September, India and Armenia signed significant military agreements focusing on bolstering the Armenian defense forces with heavy weaponry.

The deal includes export orders for some crucial systems like the Pinaka Multi-Barrel Rocket Launchers, capable of offering a salvo of 12 rockets in just 44 seconds, and Anti-Tank Missiles, Rockets, and Ammunition, as well as a $43 million contract to supply four Swathi weapon-loading radars which can track incoming artillery projectiles and pinpoint enemy gun positions.

India has reportedly also signed a deal with Armenia for Akash surface-to-air missiles.

The deal irritated Turkey and Azerbaijan both. Azernews published an article titled “India’s Warmongering in South Caucasus is a Wake-Up Call for Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan.” It emphasized that India’s actions could destabilize the region.

Generally, the Gulf States are the priority with Indian migrant laborers to try their fortune. Several lakhs of Indian labor migrants have been working in these littoral states and making a huge remittance of foreign currency.

The Caucasus has not been the destination of the Indian migrant labor force. However, owing to several reasons- political, financial, economic, and adventure- more Indians are interested in finding a foothold in Armenia.

These laborers may like to seek permanent residence in Armenia, given the goodwill and encouragement of the local authorities. The diasporas are usually strong entities to influence the home governments.

In the background of the road and rail connectivity program between India and Europe, Armenia’s status will effectively bring Europe and Asia together.