e-Residency for Diaspora Armenians?

Last month, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called for renewed ties between the Armenian Diaspora and the homeland. His cabinet voted to close the Ministry of Diaspora and vest its responsibilities to a newly-created High Commissioner of Diaspora Affairs. The Prime Minister entrusted the High Commission with two tasks: to map out a strategy for effective partnership with the Diaspora and to create a unified platform to coordinate dialogue between Armenians across the world and Yerevan.

Two weeks ago, I argued that Armenia ought to promptly implement an e-governance strategy on a blockchain-based ecosystem following the model set by Estonia’s X-Road. This innovation would immediately reduce service-delivery expenses, cut red tape, create a more dynamic bureaucracy and a satisfied citizenry. Instantly-collected and securely-shared data would allow for more precise government investments in various social and economic sectors.

E-Gov services do not need to be limited to Armenian citizens, however. The High Commission on Diaspora Affairs could find use for the same digital infrastructure in its quest to complete the tasks set forth by the Prime Minister.

To foster increased Diaspora engagement with the homeland, we can turn to another Estonian innovation for guidance: e-Residency.

This revolutionary concept was launched back in 2014 by government consultant and tech visionary Taavi Kotka as the next step to Estonia’s suite of e-government services. Directed primarily at location-independent entrepreneurs, the issuing of e-Residency digital identity cards facilitated the establishment of a bank account, the registration of a company and tax declaration in Estonia remotely.

The e-Residency program proved to be a runaway success for Estonia. In the five years since the program was launched, over 48 thousand entrepreneurs from 168 countries founded over six thousand new companies virtually. I’m proud to be part of that statistic. I was one of the first 100 people to receive e-residency status, meaning I could manage one of my ventures registered in Tallinn from my smartphone from the Yerevan tax office waiting in line to stamp papers for my Armenian business.

E-residency has generated over 18 million € ($20.2 million) in income for Estonia since its launch. The indirect benefits, which include increased tourism, private services fees, employment and taxation are even higher. The Estonian government is already working on E-Residency 2.0. There is no reason Armenia cannot follow suit with comparable results.

The challenges for Armenia’s new authorities, however, are two-fold. First, they must regain the diaspora’s trust after nearly three decades of malfeasance and accusations of profiteering. Second, they need to progress from diaspora philanthropy to diaspora investment. The first step to renewing goodwill lies in the establishment of genuine rule of law, overseen by truly independent courts.

With that in mind, the implementation of an e-Residency system on top of the already-(soon-to be) existing digital governance infrastructure could go a long way to reinvigorate diaspora participation in the homeland. Since independence, many entrepreneurs among Armenia’s wealthy diaspora have expressed a desire to invest in the country. Some have tried and failed for a variety of reasons. Others have cited the difficulty of managing a business in a risk-prone environment from abroad.

E-residency could facilitate philanthropic, cultural, diplomatic and educational cooperation as well.

E-residency could potentially solve most of these issues by allowing digital identity card holders to make secure investments in Armenia, open bank accounts, launch and operate businesses and much more. Diaspora industrialists could answer Mr. Pashinyan’s call to “enrich [Armenia] while enriching [themselves]” without ever leaving their suburban ranch-style home. Young entrepreneurs or digital nomads could set up their vegan blogging operation in the homeland and benefit from the business-friendly, low flat tax rates while sipping lattés in trendy Saryan Street coffee houses.

Of course, the possibilities are not limited to business ties. E-residency could facilitate philanthropic, cultural, diplomatic and educational cooperation as well. For instance, armed with data collected by a centrally governed distributed integration software, the Armenian e-government could prove an invaluable partner for a diaspora-based organization, like Teach for Armenia, improve the quality of rural education by pinpointing the target schools and cross referencing test scores, attendance records or levels of state subsidies.

In the wake of the 2016 April War, the Armenian authorities were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of individual donations coming in from the Diaspora. The lack of coordination between the Ministry of Defense and the many foundations which popped up around that time increased the likelihood for the misuse or diversion of funds destined for the military. E-gov could help avoid such a scenario in the future. An integrated database of all ongoing diaspora charities in Armenia could allow the Armenian State to better orient its own government expenditures toward critical areas.

The Armenian people have been following the ‘blockchain’ approach to nation-building for a long time now. Students at Armenian schools in Montreal or Buenos Aires take the same Armenian history lessons and graduate speaking the same Armenian without the need for a state school-board to coordinate the curriculum. Armenian sports organizations compete in spontaneously-organized Olympiads all over the world. The Armenian Church simultaneously maintained houses of worship, community centers, retirement homes, charities and so on in several dozen countries while Armenia lingered under foreign occupation. Armenians were a digital nation before that was even a thing; receiving an official Armenian digital ID card is as close as one could get to Armenia without moving here. To unleash the full potential of diaspora-cooperation, the Armenian Government should look no further than an E-residency program for the Diaspora.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.

12 Comments

  1. e-Residency is another red herring concept aimed at not providing Western Armenians full-fledged Armenian citizenship.

    It would imply that Armenia is formalizing a caste system in which Western Armenians are at best second-class Armenians without the right to vote, serve, etc. as equal citizens.

    Under these circumstances, why should Western Armenians even consider Armenia their homeland and get involved?

    • Under the current constitution, any Armenian, be they Western, Northern, Southern, or from Narnia have a birthright to Armenian citizenship with full voting rights and expectations to serve and pay taxes. All you have to do is apply for it lol.

      I really don’t get what your point is.

    • There are no such things as Western Armenians. There are no such things as Eastern Armenians. There are Armenians whose ancestors lived in the Ottoman Empire and Armenians whose ancestors lived in the Russian Empire.

      Individuals of Armenian descent can easily apply for full fledged citizenship. In fact, Diasporan Armenians don’t have to prove proficiency in the Armenian language or establish a residence in the republic.

      E-residency should not be aimed at Diasporan Armenians. It is ideal for odarner who want to escape taxes, though.

  2. If the situation was as you stated, there would be at least one Western Armenian in Nikol Pashinyan’s cabinet and in the Armenian National Assembly.

    Over 50 percent of Western Armenians scattered worldwide would also already be Armenian citizens, with the right to vote in Armenian diplomatic representations and the right to serve in the military as dual citizens.

    Eastern Armenian authorities generally do not want to extend Armenian statehood to the children and grandchildren of Armenian Genocide survivors who were born and raised in the West and Middle East not by choice.

    Look at all the administrative troubles Syrian Armenian refugees are today facing in Armenia.

    Shame on Armenia.

    • Garo It looks like you’re either a troll or have an incredibly immaculate understanding of the subject matter:

      I repeat – anyone across the World who can prove to be at least 1/4 Armenian is entitled to automatic citizenship. You can take your baptism certificate and head over to the nearest Armenian consulate to get yours. (Claim takes 6 months to process) – you don’t even need to speak Armenian or even live there – how many countries in the World do that?

      I’m a Western Armenian born in a Western country who applied for, and received Armenian citizenship. It’s easy and I can tell you from experience that there is no such thing as a “second class” Citizenship.

      There are many Western Armenians currently working in the Armenian Government. According to the Armenian constitution, ministers and members of parliament cannot be dual citizens, and the prime minister must have lived in the country for at least 4 years. That’s not discrimination it makes sense: you need to be loyal to the country you run and understand the population. For reference, the US president can’t be a dual citizen and must be born in the USA. By contrast, Armenia’s first president is a Western Armenian who was born in Aleppo Syria.

      You’re also clearly misinformed about Armenia’s relationship with the Syrian Armenians: when the war started, Armenia set up passport issuing offices directly in Aleppo and automatically gave citizenship to all who requested. In fact, Armenians living in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon can get Armenian passports issued immediately (on the same day they apply) from their local embassy.

      I don’t know how much easier they can make it for western Armenians to participate in Armenia’s political life.

      Based on your comment, it seems to me that you want the right to be part of Armenia’s political life without making even the slightest effort to do so. No wonder you feel “discriminated” against.

      You want to be treated like a real Armenian citizen? Apply for citizenship.

  3. I am a western Armenian spending at least half of the year in Hayastan. Yes there is some discrimination on both sides,
    West against East and East against West just like the Halebtsis and the Beirutsis had or still have.. That is normal and solvable through time and education. However, the Armenian government is doing its best to minimize the shock of acculturation. I am writing from experience. My 15 year old nephew from Beirut is getting an incredible help from the school and instructors in Hayastan to facilitate his learning and developing friends

  4. Without the integration and the participation of diaspora Armenians in the Armenia’s National Assemply (minus the Tuxov regime) all the above mentioned wishful thinking is null and void.

  5. Vardan,
    “Apply for citizenship to be treated like a real Armenian”? 🤤 oh, okeh.
    First, Diaspora Armenians should’ve been granted Armenian citizenship the day it gained its independence. Secondly, Diaspora Armenians should’ve been included in the National Assembly for decision making, by doing so I would’ve been glad to submit five percent of my annual income to the government. Your comment makes no sense.

  6. I will reiterate that if the situation was fair and welcoming there would be at least one Western Armenian on PM Pashinyan’s cabinet and one Western Armenian in the Armenian National Assembly. And over 50 percent of Western Armenians scattered worldwide would already be Armenian citizens, with the right to vote in Armenian diplomatic representations, serve in the military and pay taxes as dual citizens.

    Armenia can’t be considered the homeland of all Armenians or a “New Armenia” so long as the country’s policies are centered on preventing Western Armenians from automatically becoming citizens, repatriating, holding political office, etc.

    It is as if the majority of Western Armenians are foreigners with evil intentions for Armenia and thus must be kept far, far away.

    Armenia’s citizenship laws are bad. For example, one should not have to be a baptized Christian to become a citizen of the country. Most Armenians are Christians in name only. This means Armenia and Armenians can’t consider unbaptized greats such as Tigran the Great and Aram Khatchaturian as Armenians worthy of Armenian citizenship.

    Most of you above, just like the Armenian state, are acting as if the Western Armenian Diaspora was created by choice and natural processes, that Western Armenians left the Armenian Highlands for better economic opportunities and not because of a horrific Genocide!

    On top of this, there are lots of cultural and linguistic differences between Eastern and Western Armenians so much so that neither side really engages the other or wants to get along in the Diaspora communities (the exceptions don’t matter).

    One day there will be two Armenian nations at the United Nations, which may or may not eventually unite. And that is for the benefit of all Armenians.

  7. Agree that much more has to be done to welcome Diasporans of Western Armenian descent into present-day Armenia AS CITIZENS with full rights. The nation’s survival depends on it.

  8. It is very difficult for a Diasporan to become a citizen of Armenia, despite what some people say or what you read.

    Don’t believe those who say “all you have to do is …”.

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