Donating with the Kardashians: Armenia's diaspora supports embattled homeland
From Tom Arnold
LONDON (Reuters) - Along with reality TV star Kim Kardashian, members of Armenia's large and often affluent diaspora are digging deep to help their country of origin as it is affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
While Armenia has fewer than three million inhabitants, ethnic Armenians from overseas are estimated at around eight million.
Although the donations help meet urgent needs such as medical assistance and shelter, Armenians who work or settle abroad have a long tradition of sending money home.
These remittances made up around 11% of Armenia's annual production last year. However, this year's coronavirus crisis caused those funds to plummet by almost 20%, central bank data shows, despite the pandemic affecting Armenia's tiny economic and defense spending.
(Graphic: The transfers to Armenia are declining this year - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/oakvenajwpr/Capture.PNG)
But the diaspora could still come to the rescue. More than US $ 120 million has been raised for humanitarian causes since the fighting began in late September. According to the website of the largest nonprofit country, the Hayastan All Armenian Fund, donations are piling up.
This month, Kardashian, who visited Armenia last year, said she donated $ 1 million to the Los Angeles-based Armenia Fund, an independent nonprofit that aims to fund humanitarian and infrastructure needs for Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh.
Footballer Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who plays for Italy's AS Roma and is UNICEF's ambassador for goodwill, has been active on Twitter, soliciting donations and asking Russia, France and the United States to press for peace to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
Others also strengthen
"The Armenian diaspora is very small, but our unity is our strength," said Derenik Grigorian, 26, an ethnic Armenian born and raised in London.
"This is a moment of unrest for the Armenians, we are concerned from afar, but donations are a way to achieve inner peace as we know that we are helping our country to defend itself and its people," Grigorian told Reuters on Twitter.
He said Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey and its own oil wealth, has far more financial and military muscles than its homeland.
Turkey's military exports to Azerbaijan have increased sixfold this year, while the country has financial strength from a sovereign wealth fund of $ 43.2 billion.
Hopes that a humanitarian truce would end the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh have faded as the death toll continues to rise.
Although Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan according to international law, it is populated and ruled by ethnic Armenians.
Russia has signed a defense pact with Armenia, but has so far sought a peacemaking role and even brokered last Saturday's ceasefire.
Russia is also one of the largest sources of money transfers to Armenia. The Hayastan All-Armenian Fund website lists a large number of recent individual donations that originated there.
Although remittances to Armenia rebounded slightly in the second quarter, concerns remain about foreign exchange reserves, which stood at $ 2.7 billion at the end of August.
That was barely above the recommended minimum of three months to cover external payments, said Beth Morrissey, managing partner of emerging markets-focused Kleiman International Consultants.
On the plus side, Armenia received a financial boost this year from the IMF, which increased its funding to the country to $ 280 million under a stand-by arrangement in May, and the European Union.
"From a tax perspective, Armenia is not well equipped," said Morrissey.
"They are fine for this year, but if the NK conflict drags on and the world still doesn't have a COVID vaccine, it could be difficult to secure adequate funding in 2021."
However, Azerbaijan is in better budget shape and does not rely as heavily on remittances that represent less than 3% of economic output. But Azerbaijani expats are also trying to help.
(Graphic: economies of Azerbaijan, Armenia - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjpqaeoypx/Azerbaijan%20Armenia.JPG)
"What I am doing now is providing mental support to those who have lost their families and to soldiers who have been disabled," said London-based business analyst Jeyla Alizada, 28.
"I know that in Azerbaijan the people send everything they can, like warm clothes (and) cigarettes."
(This story has been rewritten to correct the football club name.)
(Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; editing by Sujata Rao and Giles Elgood)
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