Imperialism hits the most vulnerable

Author: Maria Zakaryan


After Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, hundreds of thousands of Russians fled their country, many to Armenia. 

While the waves of migration have bolstered the Armenian economy, it has also led to surging rent prices that have left Armenians struggling to find an affordable place to live.  Today, a year since Russians began to migrate to Armenia in large numbers, rent prices in capital Yerevan are between 30-40 percent higher than before. For instance, in the beginning of 2022, rent on a one-room apartment was 100,000 drams ($250). Today a similar apartment in poor condition costs 180,000 drams a month. 

Photojournalist Maria Zakaryan explored how the new reality is affecting young professionals living in Yerevan, from escalating tensions with landlords to an increasing sense that they are unwelcome in their own home town. 

 Aksanna, 20, a marketing communication specialist, had been renting an apartment with her roommate for about four months when her landlord told them that he found new clients for the place, a Russian couple. Aksanna and her roommate had about two weeks to move out. 

 “It happened when the second flow of Russians came to Armenia after the mobilization announcement [in September 2022]. Rental prices in Armenia were so high that for 150,000 drams ($390) you could only rent a room in someone's house," Aksanna said.

While she looked for another place, Aksanna lived with friends.  "I didn't have many requirements; I just needed a place to sleep and bathe. I agreed to take this place because I didn't have many options,” she said.

“The landlords decided to make money at the expense of people who temporarily moved here, who are here today, but not tomorrow. They are not taking into account the nationality of those people and how many problems come along with them.”  

Aksanna notes that the influx of Russians has caused more problems than just high living costs. For example, many of the new arrivals only speak Russian, and expect locals to know their language. 

“Language can be a form of protest. In Georgia, for example, we can see how uncomfortable the Russians feel because people are not answering them in Russian. I believe we should do the same and stop adapting to Russians. They are the ones who must try to fit in our culture, adjust to us.”

Sona Keyan, 29, a product designer, had to find a new apartment on New Year's Eve because her landlord told her to vacate the apartment on December 28. She gave her just one day to clean the house and get out.

 “She said that he would double the price, and if I did not agree to pay it, I could go. I said ‘thank you for a New Year's gift.’ Then I talked to a lot of people so that I could find this apartment. And it happened by chance: I was constantly refreshing the website,, when I saw it. I saw it had been posted 15 minutes prior; it was completely luck.”

This is Sona’s third apartment since the invasion.  Last year, in September, her landlords informed her that if she wanted to stay in the apartment where she had been living for a year, she would need to pay $1000 a month. “He called me and said that he was raising money because he had heard that the neighbor next door was also raising money.” Sona loved that apartment very much. “I was very attached to it. Even now, when I pass by it, I remember it and feel sad.

Sona says that she understands that Russians experience difficulties but it often seems they enjoy more privileges in Armenia then Armenians. "Nevertheless I do not support anti-Russian propaganda; I am completely okay with them. And, in any case, it is very unpleasant that homeowners are trying to extort money from them. It is not their fault that they came to escape and try to build a new life from scratch, but people take advantage of that situation and it is not nice.”

Today, Sona is happy with her apartment and hopes she will be able to stay. I would really like to keep a cat, but I won't be able to because of all this, because I don't know what will happen in the future, I might have to leave the house again. I just pet street cats for now.” 

Sona Grigoryan, 27, a communication specialist, had 15 days to leave her apartment after her landlord told her he was doubling the rent in September 2022. 

 “When we came to see this apartment honestly, I didn’t like it that much and I did not want to take it,” she says. “When we came here, we saw this family that was living here, but they had to leave the place because of the same reasons. It was a couple, a grandmother and a small child, and the wife seemed to be pregnant. And I was the person who was forcing them out of the apartment. It was unpleasant for me and I didn't want to be the one who did that, but the circumstances turned out like that.”

 "At least the quality of apartments should have increased along with the rent. In Russia or Georgia you can at least see what you are paying for. Now I have a contract, but I don't think it has much power. There is a stipulation that the landlord has to give me a month’s notice.” 

After five months in the new place, Sona is finally starting to feel at home she says.  “In seven months we will have to leave the apartment, but I am just getting used to it. The contract is ending, I don't know if we will extend it or not… maybe they will say ‘the owner of the apartment has come and you have to leave.’ Anything can happen. There is no sense of safety.”           

Sona says things have gotten to the point that she has started to feel like a second-class citizen in her own country--a feeling she used to have when she lived in Moscow. “I started to analyze the situation a lot to understand how much this sense of imperialism is in these people. I'm not saying that all Russians are like that, it's just my thoughts and a feeling of injustice that I feel all the time,” she says.

“Because you were born in Armenia, things will always happen to you, and the rich will always come out of every situation well. Let's say, where have you seen a white rich refugee who is upset that there is no Starbucks?  And I don't think that they deserve the hospitality that they are shown here. 

But Sona adds that there have been some upsides to the influx of Russians in the country. “Because of them, Armenians have started to dress more diversely and feel safe, especially women and queer people,” she says. “Maybe it has become a little safer.”

This photo story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of FES.

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