Kundera revisited: Are Armenians longing to leave their country because of unhappiness?

Although many literature lovers take their favorite novels’ quotes for granted, a hybrid literature lover and social scientist cannot resist but putting literature’s postulates to data scrutiny. In one of his most famous works, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera wrote that “A person who longs to leave the place where he lives is an unhappy person.” If Kundera’s statement is taken as a hypothesis and generalized from the individual to the societal level, it could be argued that the unhappier people are, the more they will long to leave their countries, emigrating either temporarily or permanently.
Using data from CRRC’s 2010 and 2013 Caucasus Barometer surveys, this blog post tries to test Kundera’s postulate on Armenia. Armenians demonstrate higher interest in both temporary and permanent emigration compared to Azerbaijanis and Georgians. This is consistent throughout the 2008-2013 period covered by Caucasus Barometer surveys. In both 2010 and 2013, almost 1 in 3 Armenians reported that they would leave the country forever if they had the chance, compared to roughly 1 in 5 Azerbaijanis and only around 1 in 14 Georgians. Moreover, regarding temporary emigration, the same pattern emerges, with roughly 3 in 5 Armenians that would leave the country for a certain period if they had the chance, compared to 1 in 2 Azerbaijanis and almost 1 in 2 Georgians.

Note: Options “Do not know” and “Refuse to answer” are excluded from the analysis throughout this blog post.

While it is clear that, in the South Caucasus, Armenians are the most eager to leave their country either temporarily or permanently, it is difficult to point out a single reason behind this eagerness, given the socio-historic background of Armenian emigration and the well-organized diaspora communities that provide support for Armenian emigrants worldwide. Nevertheless, it is interesting to explore whether Armenians’ reported level of (un)happiness is in any way associated with their distinct willingness to leave their country.

Unhappy people in Armenia are slightly less inclined to emigrate temporarily, while there is no significant difference between happy and unhappy people in relation to permanent emigration. Thus, in 2010, 67% of those Armenians who reported to be happy also reported that they would like to leave the country for a certain period if they had the chance, while 58% of unhappy citizens reported the same. In 2013, 62% of Armenians reporting to be happy also reported that they would like to leave the country for a certain period if they had the chance, compared with 54% of the unhappy citizens that were willing to do so. In both years, though, almost the same share of happy and unhappy people would leave Armenia forever if they had the chance.

Note: Answer options to the question “Overall, how happy would you say you are?” were re-coded from a 10-point scale into a 3-point scale, so that answer options 1 through 4 were re-coded into “unhappy”, 5 and 6 into “neither happy nor unhappy,” and 7 through 10 into “happy”. 

Although literary postulates are admired and quoted for their aesthetic beauty rather than their statistical significance, this does not make them immune from data truthiness testing. Despite the sacrilege of putting Kundera’s famous quote under data scrutiny, this blog post showed that in the case of Armenia, there is no statistical association between the level of (un)happiness and Armenians’ distinct willingness to leave their country either temporarily or permanently. Maybe J.R.R Tolkien was right instead, “Not all those who wander are lost.”

What are your thoughts on Armenians’ distinct willingness to emigrate? Join in the conversation on the CRRC Facebook page or in the comments section below. 

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