- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2003

MOSCOW — It was a small thing, but to Ashot Petyan mushrooms sum up the culture clash of his mixed ethnic marriage.

“Last Sunday I came home and the kids said, ‘Mom isn’t here’ and she had left a note saying, ‘I’m out picking mushrooms,’ and I had to fix dinner,” said Mr. Petyan. “In Armenia, it would be a small tragedy.”

Mr. Petyan grew up in Armenia, where traditional roles for women mean they are expected to be at home taking care of their husbands.

But as a young man, Mr. Petyan moved to Russia and married a Russian woman, Svetlana.

Immigration from countries in Central Asia and the southern Caucasus is on the rise as restrictions on travel have eased and the economic decline of many post-Soviet republics has sent men to Moscow and other Russian cities in search of jobs. And like Mr. Petyan, many of these men end up marrying Russian women.

Immigration and intermarriage are quite literally changing the face of Moscow. It is a trend that worries many Russians who say they will someday be in the minority.

In 1912, a few years before the Russian Revolution, slightly more than 95 percent of Moscow was ethnic Russian, also known as “white” Russians. By 2000, the percentage of Russians in Moscow dropped to 89 percent and by 2025 it is expected to drop to about 73 percent, says Olga Kurbatova, a specialist on interethnic marriages at the Institute of General Genetics, a government research center in Moscow.

Interethnic marriages make up about 22 percent of all marriages in Russia, according to the most recent figures from 1995; updated figures are expected to be released later this year when the results of last year’s census are completed.

The marriages result from romance and, in some cases, the quest for a legal loophole — as a way to get the proper documents to allow the men to live and work in Moscow.

For Russian women, there is an attraction to immigrant men. Immigrants have a reputation of being teetotalers, a plus in a country where vodka is the national beverage and alcoholism is rampant among Russian men.

Alexander Belov, head of the Moscow-based organization Union Against Illegal Immigration, frowns upon mixed-marriages like the Peytans’. His organization lobbies the government to implement tougher laws to prevent immigration and to punish or deport those who do come to Russia illegally.

“Soon we’ll be able to read about Russians only in history books,” said Mr. Belov, especially because immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus usually have more children than Russians and are quickly outpopulating the Russians.

Although Mr. Peytan and most Armenians are Christian, the fact that many of the new immigrants from the southern republics are Muslim makes it even worse to Mr. Belov and others who identify Muslims with the ongoing war in Chechnya.

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