Sochi airport and rising nationalism in Russia

August 2019 began with the news that Armenian workers in Sochi airport are being massively fired. On July 31,2019, 29 Armenian nationals employed at Sochi International Airport issued a statement, that says the airport administration is discriminating against Armenians and has been firing Armenian nationals for the second year in a row. On August 1, this statement was denied by the airport. According to the explanations by Sochi Airport, the dismissed Armenian employees are simply trying to get special conditions from the airport by bringing up the ethnic argument. The former Armenian employees of the airport decided to apply to the Russian authorities to regulate the matter in the legislative field.

Is there a real problem?

Considering the conflicting statements of the parties, a question arises whether the reason for the dismissals is really  national discrimination. The Sochi airport is owned by “Basel Aero” company, which belongs to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch  close to  Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to 2018 data, the total number of employees at the four airports owned by Basel Aero (Sochi, Gelendzhik, Anapa, Krasnodar) was 6,000. According to the airport press service, the dismissed Armenians make up only three percent of their dismissed staff. Even if we consider that half of these 6,000 people work in Sochi airport (the number of airport employees not disclosed), then it turns out that about 1 percent of the staff (29 people) signed the statement against the airport.

The Sochi airport’s denial text refers to the one percent of the staff as “a small group of people.” The text of the statement, in particular, reads: “․․․ A small group of people who recently stopped working in the company, deliberately use the ethnic issue in order to demand special conditions for themselves. We consider that the activities of this group not only lack legal ground, but also incite inter-ethnic hatred, which is unacceptable. ”

The “Sputnik” Armenian Service also published an article according to which: the Sochi airport administration told “Sputnik” that only three percent of the total number of dismissed employees  are Armenians.

That is to say, according to the airport, a total of about 1,000 people were fired. This is one sixth of the total number of employees of “Basel Aero”. If this information is correct, then the company has serious financial problems.

In fact, if we exclude national discrimination, then it is assumed that the airport has financial problems and is making massive cuts. At the airport, though, such cuts do not seem to happen, at least, there are no reports of financial problems and the resulting massive lay-off.

Moreover, judging by the job announcements section of the airport website, the airport is able to hire new staff.

Xenophobia in Russia

Is the Sochi airport case an example of xenophobia in Russia? The fact that Russia has a clear negative attitude towards foreigners is not news. So, for example, according to the research done 2018 by “Levada” Research Center, 66% of polled Russian citizens are in favor of limiting the presence of representatives of this or that nation in Russia.

In 2017, 54% of respondents expressed such an opinion, and in 2016, 70%. In fact, the positive trend of reducing xenophobia in 2017 reversed again in 2018. At the same time, Armenians also regularly fall victim to xenophobia in Russia. For example, in 2013, Hrachya Harutyunyan, who hit a bus by a truck, by the demand of investigators was brought out of medical sleep by doctors and was brought to court the next day of the  accident in a floral robe.


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