Donating with the Kardashians: Armenia's diaspora supports embattled homeland

LONDON (Reuters) - Along with reality TV star Kim Kardashian, members of Armenia’s large and often wealthy diaspora are digging deep to help their country of origin as it suffers a hit from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

While Armenia’s population is less than three million, overseas-based ethnic Armenians are estimated at around eight million.

Although the donations help to meet urgent needs such as medical aid and shelter, Armenians working or settled overseas have a long tradition of sending money back home.

Such remittances accounted for around 11% of Armenia’s annual output last year. Yet this year’s coronavirus crisis caused a near 20% plunge in those funds, central bank data shows, even as the pandemic savages Armenia’s tiny economy and defence spending mounts.

(Graphic: Remittances to Armenia are down this year - )

But the diaspora might still be coming to the rescue. More than $120 million has been raised for humanitarian needs since fighting erupted in late September, and donations are piling up, according to the website of the country’s largest nonprofit, Hayastan All Armenian Fund.

This month, Kardashian, who visited Armenia last year, said she donated $1 million to the Los Angeles-based Armenia Fund, an independent nonprofit organisation aimed at funding humanitarian and infrastructure needs for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Footballer Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who plays for Italy’s AS Roma and is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, has been active on Twitter, calling for donations and pleading with Russia, France and the United States to push for peace to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Others are also stepping up,

“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 Armenians, we’re anxious from afar, but donating money is a way of reaching some internal peace, knowing we’re helping our country defend itself and its people,” Grigorian told Reuters on Twitter.

He said Azerbaijan, backed by Turkey and its own oil wealth, had far more financial and military muscle than his homeland.

Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year, while the country has financial firepower from a $43.2 billion sovereign wealth fund.

Hopes that a humanitarian ceasefire would end fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh have faded as the death toll continues to rise.

Although Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.


Russia has a defence pact with Armenia but has so far sought a peacemaking role, even brokering last Saturday’s ceasefire.

Russia is also one of the largest sources of remittances to Armenia, with the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund’s website showing a large number of recent individual donations originating there.

Although remittances to Armenia recovered slightly in the second quarter, there are still concerns about its foreign exchange reserves, which stood at $2.7 billion at the end of August.

That was barely above the recommended minimum level of three months of external payments cover, said Beth Morrissey, managing partner of emerging markets-focused Kleiman International Consultants.

On the plus side, Armenia this year received a financial boost from the IMF, which in May raised its funding for the country under a stand-by arrangement to $280 million, and from the European Union.

“From a fiscal perspective, Armenia is not well equipped,” said Morrissey.

“For this year they are fine, but if the NK conflict drags on and the world is still without a COVID vaccine, securing adequate financing may become difficult in 2021.”

Azerbaijan however is in better fiscal shape and not so reliant on remittances, which comprise less than 3% of is economic output. But Azeri expats are also trying to help.

(Graphic: Azerbaijan, Armenia economies - )

“What I am doing now is to organise mental support for those who lost their families and soldiers who became handicapped,” said London-based business analyst Jeyla Alizada, 28.

“I know that people are sending whatever they can within Azerbaijan like warm clothes (and) cigarettes.”

(This story has been refiled to fix soccer club name)

Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Editing by Sujata Rao and Giles Elgood