Anya Yeganyan, 23, born in Russia and with Russian citizenship, relocated to Armenia in March 2022 and applied for Armenian citizenship.
“Overall, the process was straightforward. I just didn’t like the bureaucracy,” says Yeganyan.
Yeganyan applied for citizenship at the Police Passport and Visa Department shortly after arriving in Armenia. Since she is of Armenian ancestry, she was not required to have lived in Armenia for the last three years, or to prove her knowledge of the Armenian language and the Constitution.
Around three months after submitting the required documents, she was granted citizenship and received her Armenian passport.
Yeganyan is one of approximately 14,000 Russian citizens who applied for Armenian citizenship in 2022; the vast majority of whom are Armenians. The Russo-Ukrainian war, which began in February 2022, has been a strong catalyst for an outflow of people from Russia to Armenia.
Becoming an Armenian Citizen
Requirements for obtaining citizenship are set out in the Law “On Citizenship of the Republic of Armenia”. There are two main ways through which a person can receive Armenian citizenship –– by birth and by naturalization.
Citizenship by Birth
According to former chief of the Police Passport and Visa Department and current director of the Migration and Citizenship legal office Mnatsakan Bichakhchyan, when applying for citizenship, the applicant should firstly be asked if their parents are, or have ever been, citizens of the Republic of Armenia.
Article 11 of the Law on RA Citizenship stipulates that a child, both of whose parents hold Armenian citizenship at the time of their birth, shall acquire Armenian citizenship regardless of their place of birth.
“It could even be that the parents were citizens of the Republic of Armenia at one time, but their citizenship was terminated later; however if the child’s citizenship is not terminated, they will continue to be a citizen of the Republic of Armenia and when an adult, they will apply not for citizenship, but for a passport,” explains Bichakhchyan.
If one parent holds Armenian citizenship at the time of the child’s birth, while the other parent is unknown or is stateless, the child shall acquire Armenian citizenship. If one parent holds Armenian citizenship at the time of child’s birth and the other parent is a foreign citizen, the child has the right to become an Armenian citizen, with the written consent of both parents.
A child can also acquire Armenian citizenship if they were born on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, and their parents do not have citizenship or their citizenship is unknown, or the parents cannot transfer their citizenship to the child.
Citizenship by Naturalization
As per Article 13 of the Law on RA Citizenship, an adult may apply for Armenian citizenship if they have been lawfully residing in the territory of the Republic of Armenia for the preceding three years, are proficient in the Armenian language, and are familiar with the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia.
Knowledge of the Constitution is ascertained with a test of 33 multiple-choice questions. If a person answers more than half the questions correctly, they are considered to be familiar with the Constitution. If they personally fill out their application for citizenship and correctly answer more than half of the Constitutional questions, then they are considered to be able to speak in the Armenian language.
A more simplified procedure for obtaining Armenian citizenship does not require the applicant to have lived in Armenia for the preceding three years and to have knowledge of the Armenian language. People eligible for this application track:
- have been married to a citizen of the Republic of Armenia for the past two years and have lived in Armenia for the past year or have a child who is a citizen of the Republic of Armenia;
- have at least one parent that has held citizenship of the Republic of Armenia in the past or was born on the territory of the Republic of Armenia and applied for citizenship of the Republic of Armenia within three years of becoming an adult;
- have renounced citizenship of the Republic of Armenia of their own accord after January 1, 1995; and
- have been recognized as a refugee in Armenia, or are stateless and living in Armenia.
A person can be granted citizenship without the prerequisite of three years of permanent residency and knowledge of the language and Constitution in only two cases. The first is that they must be of Armenian descent, and the second is that they must have provided exceptional services to the Republic of Armenia and significantly contributed to the development of various spheres.
Procedure for Acquiring Armenian Citizenship
The procedure and timelines for obtaining Armenian citizenship are stipulated in the Armenian Government’s decision No. 1390 of November 23, 2007.
In order to obtain Armenian citizenship, an application must be submitted to the Passport and Visa Department of the Police in Armenia or to an Armenian embassy or consulate in a foreign country.
WIthin two days of the submission of all required documents, a day is set to test the applicant’s knowledge of the Constitution. If the application was filed in an embassy or consular office, the applicant’s records, including test results, are sent to the Republic of Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs within 10 working days and subsequently, within three working days to the police.
The police then forward the documents to the National Security Service (NSS) for a decision within 15 working days. The NSS delivers their decision within 15 working days. If extra investigating is required, however, the time frame can be extended by up to 10 days.
If both the MFA and the NSS approve the application, the police prepare a separate report, which is sent to the President of the Republic of Armenia within 25 working days.
The President then grants the person citizenship and the person is invited to a swearing-in ceremony. The text of the oath, which must also be signed by the person acquiring the citizenship, states:
“I, (name, surname) in becoming a citizen of the Republic of Armenia, swear to be loyal to the Republic of Armenia, to comply with the Constitution and legislation of the Republic of Armenia, and to defend the independence and the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia. I pledge to respect the state language, the national culture and the traditions of the Republic of Armenia.”
Problems in Obtaining Citizenship
Vardan Marashlyan was previously the Deputy Minister of Diaspora. He is currently the co-founder and director of the Repat Armenia Foundation. Many of the repatriating Armenians they work with have gone through the process of obtaining citizenship. Marashlyan says they find it difficult to find accurate information about the process. For example, a person from Canada might arrive in Armenia with all the necessary documents, only to discover that they require an apostille stamp.
“All this information should be clearly presented on the website of the MFA. They should be able to receive detailed information in different languages about which documents are necessary, and in what form,” explains Marashlyan, saying that in such cases, the MFA should confirm the validity of these documents internally, through embassies and consular missions.
According to Marashlyan, there are also problems when submitting documents proving a person’s Armenian heritage.
“The requirements for proof of Armenian heritage have been made more stringent. If a person previously had Soviet citizenship, it is easy to find documentation stating that a person is Armenian, but in the case of other countries, it is more difficult. Previously they could present a baptismal certificate from an Armenian church as proof of ethnicity. Now however, the state requires that the ethnicity be written on the baptismal certificate. In other words, the state puts the responsibility of determining a person’s nationality on the church.”
There are other documents that can confirm a person as ethnically Armenian. This includes a birth certificate of a close relative –– that of a parent, grandparent, or sibling.
Marashlyan cites the Greek process for citizenship as a possible model to emulate. In Greece, a committee of specialists from various state institutions examines the applicant’s paperwork and interviews them, after which they determine whether they are Greek.
Citizenship for $150,000
Armenian citizenship can be granted to people who have provided exceptional services to the Republic of Armenia, as well as persons who have made significant contributions in the fields of economy, science, education, culture, healthcare and sports. This is stipulated in Article 13 of the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Armenia.
For these cases, there is no requirement of permanent residence in Armenia for the past three years, or of the person’s knowledge of the Armenian language and Constitution.
The “significant contribution” is defined by the government’s decision. Thus, on October 12, 2022, a draft government decision was presented for public discussion, in which the criteria for evaluating a significant contribution are defined.
The evaluation criteria for a significant contribution in the field of economy in particular became the subject of heated discussions. They are:
- gratuitous provision of funds of at least 150,000 USD for the purpose of supplementing the inviolable capital of a foundation created to carry out activities in the field of education or science;
- investment in the charter capital (acquisition of shares) of a commercial organization in the amount of at least 150,000 USD for a period of at least 10 years;
- acquisition of government bonds in the amount of at least 150,000 USD, for a period of at least 7 years;
- acquisition of real estate for at least 150,000 USD, for a period of at least 10 years, with a cadastral price close to the market price of the real estate;
- investment of at least 150,000 USD in any investment fund approved by the state for a period of at least 10 years;
- establishment of a company in the field of high and/or information technologies with a capitalization equal to 1 million USD or more in AMD in the Republic of Armenia, provided that the center of vital interests of the founder is located in the Republic of Armenia;
- establishment of a branch of a foreign information technology company in the Republic of Armenia with a capitalization equal to 100 million USD or more in AMD, which has 500 or more employees in the Republic of Armenia;
- establishment of a venture fund equivalent to 80 million USD and more in AMD in the Republic of Armenia;
- a financial investment equal to 100 thousand USD or more in AMD in a high-tech company or venture funds;
- having 20 or more years of work experience in high and/or information technology companies listed on the New York, Frankfurt or London stock exchanges;
- long-term (no less than 5 years) active cooperation in international postal structures, as well as financial, material and technical investments in the field, in an amount equivalent to at least 250 thousand USD in AMD.
According to Bichakhchyan, the draft decision does not provide for clear legal regulations: “What happens if the organization or foundation is liquidated before the deadline, the acquired property is expropriated, and the money invested in the charter capital of the commercial organization is taken back? What procedure will be followed if the person is to lose their Armenian citizenship through termination?”
Marashlyan also sees risks in this initiative, saying that for 150,000 USD, residency should be granted –– not citizenship.
“Granting citizenship for just 150,000 USD is wrong, but residency status can and should be given,” he says. “If the applicant makes an investment, they can get residency status, and then, for example, three years later, they can apply for citizenship.”
According to Marashlyan, citizenship through payment is dangerous also given the post-2020 Artsakh War context and the hostile policies of neighboring states. He does not rule out the possibility that representatives of hostile countries could seek citizenship through intermediaries, creating serious national security risks.
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The procedure for naturalization on the basis of Armenian ethnicity is marred by the documentary requirements, which assume the existence of documents unavailable to many diasporans. Nowadays only a few countries officially note ethnicity, and even fewer include “Armenian” as one of the choices. Baptismal records often do not mention ethnicity either, hence the reports of would-be repats getting “re-baptized” at Etchmiadzin, just for the document. No thought whatsoever is given to the situation of diasporans who belong to the “wrong” religion, or no religion. Worse yet, the documentary problem is bound to grow worse over time, since there is no way short of fraud to “repair” a lack of documents, and diasporans have been growing less and less involved with formal “Armenian” organizations.
A more basic problem is that at no point has any thought been given to how to define who “is” an ethnic Armenian in the first place, so that the documentary requirements might be designed with this in mind. Many people assume that the main criterion is “blood” (the state basically assumes a blood quantum of one-fourth, i.e. a grandparent–demonstrated by family documents, not DNA tests), but what about adoptees? What about cases of false paternity (in either direction)? Others propose cultural markers (language, religion, surnames) which exclude many diasporans. Conceivably it might be possible to put together some kind of “point” system.
“In Greece, a committee of specialists from various state institutions examines the applicant’s paperwork and interviews them, after which they determine whether they are Greek.”
Israel has a similar system, with heavy rabbinic involvement. The danger with such systems is that it can turn into a black-ball system, with conservative gatekeepers excluding those they feel to be insufficiently Greek or Jewish (using themselves as the implicit standard). There need to be clear criteria.
Another issue is that no one who does not possess a birth certificate can ever naturalize in any way. (Not everyone has one.)