Armenia’s demographic challenges: Depopulation & Racist Policy

Armenia’s demographic challenges: Depopulation & Racist Policy

BAKU, Azerbaijan, Oct. 20

Trend:

Behind the fact of Armenia’s decades-long occupant policy in the South Caucasus and recent clashes over the Nagorno-Karabagh region – defeat is amongst many threats confronting Armenia in which the government seems to have missed the boat, Trend reports citing Azerbaijani Center for Economic Reforms Analysis and Communication.

Demographics of Armenia today.

One of the most alarming threats in Armenia is its current demographics problems and its long-term consequences. There is obvious evidence of the deep demographic problems in Armenia. According to the latest data provided by the World Bank, the current population of Armenia has been experiencing constant decline starting all the way back from 1990. Its population is about 2.9 million, its fertility rate is about 1.6, far below replacement level, and the population is slowly shrinking. The executive representative of the UN Population Fund, Tsovinar Harutyunyan previously said that Armenia has already reached the demographic crisis and is gradually approaching depopulation, that is, the stage when the mortality rate may exceed the birth rate – happening as you read this article. The mortality rate has been exceeding the birth rate throughout the country (Civilnet.am). According to experts, this is large because now the generation born in the 1990s in Armenia is entering the age of marriage. Accordingly, the generation of the 90s is 40 percent less than those born in the 1980s. And this significantly affects the number of marriages and birth rates now. Moreover, more than 25% percent of the 1990s generation emigrated from Armenia. “We should not forget migration. Over one million people have left Armenia” – says Tsovinar Harutyunyan.

Recent analysis shows that, since gaining independence in September 1991, the Armenian population grew to its largest size in 1992—at 3.63 million, compared to 3.57 million the year before. A rather sharp decline occurred between 1993 and 1995 when the number of Armenian residents fell to 3.26 million. Since then, the population decline has steadily continued to 2.957 million in 2020. It should be noted, however, that the registered population includes those who live abroad for most of a given year. So, the large numbers of labor migrants working in Russia, who mostly return to Armenia for a few weeks in winter, are still included in statistics measuring the registered population. According to some estimates, as many as 1.12 million Armenians — around 31 percent of the population—had de facto emigrated between 1991 and 2019, even though many are still officially registered in Armenia. According to the Armenian Statistical Committee, if in 1992, 3,633 million people were registered in Armenia, in 2019 this figure decreased by 668,000 inhabitants. The Committee, in its latest demographic data, states that the Armenian population began to decline since 1992 but hit the lowest rate in 2019, a record low of 2,965 million. The number of people leaving Armenia has been increasing every year. As a result of mass emigration and difficult socio-economic conditions, the country has been losing its population since the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan and its occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories in the early 1990s, which was followed by its economic degradation.

Factors behind Armenia’s depopulation.

Armenian demographers sound the alarm that the country has serious problems in three primary areas indicating the demographic situation: the birth rate, migration, and population aging.

For decades, emigration has been a major challenge for Armenia. In parallel with the decline in the birth rate, the level of migration is growing. Based on official data (Hetq.am) of the Statistical Committee, as a consequence of emigration of Armenians from Armenia in increasing numbers it turns out that during the 28 years after independence (1992-2019), the sum of the difference between the number of immigrants to Armenia and the number of emigrants from Armenia is negative 1 million 120 thousand people (the difference between those who came and those who left). As of the beginning of 1991, this is about 31% of the de jure population of Armenia (3 million 575 thousand). “Emigration left a heavy mark on Armenia, as people of reproductive age have left the country” – says Artak Markosyan, head of the demography department of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

According to Armenian experts, the predominant part of those emigrating from Armenia is people of the labor force and reproductive age, which conclusively leads to an increase in the proportion of the elderly population. Among the 20-40-year olds, the demographic balance is skewed: 60,000 men are missing from the country. The main reason is emigration. Authors of “Social Impact of Emigration and Rural-Urban Migration in Central and Eastern Europe: Armenia” Heghine Manasyan and Gevork Poghosyan portray Armenia as an aging society, stating that large-scale emigration for Armenia resulted in several negative consequences such as gender imbalance, the birth rate decrease, etc.

The sharp population decline in the early 1990s can be explained by the combination of the economic downturn following the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as the war in Karabakh, which, in addition to resulting in increased mortality figures, stimulated emigration among those wishing to avoid compulsory military service. Subsequently, in the mid-1990s, conscripts generally had to serve in the Armed Forces for 18 months, while those who deferred receiving university degrees still had to serve for 12 months; by 1998, however, those terms already had to be increased, to 24 and 18 months, respectively, because of a decreasing pool of potential draftees. And shortly thereafter, the military moved to a universal and mandatory 24-month term. In late 2017, former president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan signed into law the requirement that any male university student seeking a draft deferment must sign a contract to later serve in the military for 36 months (three years). The law was met with student protests (The Armenian Weekly, November 15, 2017) later resulting in thousands fleeing the country.

Tsovinar Harutyunyan, Assistant Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Armenia, said that, based on a survey conducted in 2017, couples in Armenia say that they want to have three children, however, they end up having only one or two. According to the World Bank, the fertility rate in Armenia in 2019 was 1.6 births per woman. Moreover, young men and women in Armenia lack the confidence to marry and take responsibility for their families – leading to the fact that along with emigration, an additional factor behind the country’s depopulation is not only people in Armenia not thinking about the birth of a third or fourth child but largely the reluctance to start a family in the first place. The primary reason behind this is Armenia’s difficult socio-economic situation.

Local experts confirm that in the current socio-economic situation, young people in Armenia cannot create a family, and after being a couple, they do not plan to have children, which is due to social problems. In recent years, the number of marriages in Armenia has been decreasing, while the number of divorces is increasing. Young couples claim that it is very tough to support a family, not to mention raising children with present salaries.

Today, Armenia is socially fragile. The living standards of the population, social welfare, level of development, and many other indicators demonstrate correspondingly. Analyzing the statistics, it can be seen that the minimum wage and the average salary is the lowest in the region. Widely spread poverty in Armenia is also no secret – according to the UN Sustainable Development Goals Index, the number of people living in Armenia with a daily income of less than $ 1.9 is 0.7 percent, and the number of people with a daily income of less than $ 3.2 is 6.5 percent. Among youth, the unemployment rate is high and few decide to marry. Thus, amongst emigrants, many doubt they will ever return to their homeland. “The issue of job creation in Armenia remains problematic. Yerevan has a hard road ahead.” – says Armen Grigoryan, Co-Founder and Vice President of the Yerevan-based Center for Policy Studies and a Eurasia Democratic Security Network fellow.

Moreover, for decades, the Armenian military-political government failed to acknowledge its occupant policy as the core threat to national security and the origin of Armenia’s demographic crisis. The latest illustration of this denial is when despite the 2020 crisis amid pandemic on the 27th of September; the Armenian government’s military forces violated international law and launched a large-scale attack on Azerbaijan to extend its geography of occupation. Deliberately dragged its people onto war over internationally recognized territories of Azerbaijan, did not quite go well this time for Armenia, since the former responded adequately.

It is a common sense in a modern world that a state cannot exist only with promises of a great future for the “ancient” people. The population should be allowed to live normally, otherwise, the people will keep leaving for other countries, and those who remain, will not risk having children in due measure to replenish the population. It is no surprise that the number of poor people in Armenia is growing and that very few allow themselves to have children in a combination of occupant policy and economy in crisis.

Government’s attempts to reverse the demographic crisis.

Armenian demographers did sound the alarm – the government had to react. The government is alarmed and launched some initiatives throughout the decades. But, to what extent those actions were practical? Indeed, were they effective at all?

Armenian governments over time have put forth various plans with the hope to reverse the depopulation of the country. One of those plans has been the famous “grandiose repatriation” including immigration of ethnic Armenians from “traditional” Diasporas.

Another distinct approach to stimulate immigration was adopted laws by several consecutive cabinets exempting returning young migrants from criminal liability if they join the army, while those over 27 years old, no longer subject to conscription, could, until January 1, 2020, pay an exemption fee of a few thousand dollars (Azatutyun.am). However, no new law has been adopted to extend it, so after the expiration of the mentioned law, the above-mentioned procedure did not allow anyone to be released from criminal liability anymore.

Additional depopulation avoidance action to reverse the damaging trends was expected to be the promotion of larger families and the return of those who have most recently left the country. A large influx of Armenians from other countries, for example, Syria, was thought to make a difference. But, with Armenian government trying to settle them mostly in occupied territories of Azerbaijan clearly did not go well and the action was condemned by the international community because it evidently broke the fundamental rules of the Geneva Convention – including most recent settlements of Syrian Armenians in occupied Nagorno-Karabagh and 7 surrounding regions. These actions were loudly protested by the Azerbaijani side. There is a further strong belief that many of those families are members of terror groups.

The repatriation program of Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was introduced to fill the gaps formed by the Armenians of the Diaspora, offering them numerous advantages over locals. But experts doubt its feasibility, even despite numerous benefits. Moreover, Armenian citizens with almost 50 percent of poverty are unlikely to understand their authorities, which provide benefits to returnees with the acceptable social situation, that the local people could not even dream about. Also, Armenian Diaspora communities from around the world today, who are supposedly prospering in their host nations, offer no guarantees of repatriation to Armenia, or even of having close ties with a country their parents chose to leave.

It would also be fair to note the extent to which Armenian authorities are racist. According to statistics, almost 99% of the population of Armenia are ethnic Armenians. Only very little percent are Yezidi Kurds, Russians, Ukrainians, Assyrians, and others, out of which mostly are spouses of ethnic Armenians. In comparison, in all other countries of the region, in each country over a dozen ethnic groups live together in peace and tranquility including Armenians. Referring to the given information from the Azerbaijani side, currently, beyond occupied Nagorno-Karabagh and 7 surrounding regions of Azerbaijan, over 35,000 Armenians are living in Baku and other parts of the country and they are rightful citizens of that country. Apparently, none of them intend to return to Armenia. These bring forwards an urgent questioning of the Armenia government’s racist policy. Just to compare, the number of Azerbaijanis living in Armenia and occupied Nagorno-Karabagh with 7 surrounding regions is – 0 (zero). Those territories have been ethnically cleansed by Armenian military forces. The outcome here is intolerance. Reportedly, representatives of other ethnic backgrounds find it hard to live in comfort within Armenia. They are allegedly made to struggle and eventually pushed to leave. Apparently, even Armenians born in other countries also face discrimination in Armenia. “Tolerance” is an underestimated factor in the demographics of Armenia, which the racist government perhaps preferred to banish.

With PM Nikol Pashinyan calling for the creation of the Council on Demographic Improvement and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs developing four programs aimed at improving the demographic situation, it was hard to expect any positive, not to mention reverse of depopulation, in the coming decades. The first 30 years of independence and decades lasting Nagorno-Karabagh conflict set in motion a demographic crisis so deep and lasting that it is unclear whether anything can be done today to rectify it. The resulting national security issues for Armenia are so serious as to jeopardize the viability of the country for the next 30 years. With the rising numbers of emigration, lack of a demographic strategy for decades, adventurist leadership, populist propaganda, and nation’s concerns about the economic situation of the country, it would be fair to agree when Armenian experts sound alarm warning that in several decades from now the very existence of Armenians might be under threat and the Armenian government is to be held responsible. Otherwise, depopulation will leave Armenia without Armenians in it.

Human – a shield for politics & Consequences of demographic crisis.

The demographic crisis in Armenia has already started to show the future consequences. Consecutively, it is evident that they will be terrible for the Armenian statehood. The demographic crisis is an inevitable factor and it cannot but also affect the combat capability of the Armenian armed forces. The demographic and social crisis in Armenia leads to a drop in the level of combat training of soldiers. While the whole generation has passed since the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and we see a sharp decline in the combat recruitment for Armenian military forces. Current fightings in Armenian occupied Nagorno-Karabagh and adjacent regions leave a heavy mark on the army’s psychology and enthusiasm, leaving soldiers demoralized. In the case of Diaspora Armenians, it is much easier to broadcast and spread loud patriotism across thousand of miles and likewise for the Armenian government which has been dragging its nation to form a human shield for their politicians in a fight over other country’s territories. The Armenian government has been trying to cement this ideology for decades. However, the decent people are smart enough to see the reality, they would die to protect Armenia and the Armenian people, but they don’t want to die in someone else’s territories.

However, the Armenian government deliberately drags its people to the edge of the lever to pump oxygen to what is left from its ruling authority. The PM of Armenia desperately uses all kinds of sensitive, ethnic, and unhealthy patriotic calls to justify his radical actions while using the Armenian people as a human shield for his authority knowingly dragging his own nation to death while committing a war crime with his military-political regime. The Armenian PM had the courage to prohibit any men from leaving the country so that no one can escape the authority’s human-shield. Enterprises and industries in Armenia have already started lacking human resources to function properly. Alongside military actions, it is very hard to tell whether the Armenian government thinks of its economic circumstances and consequences. In terms of resources, the government knows that without the intervention of third parties, the reality dictates – The government cannot afford to carry a war against international law.

The government’s actions outside the security interests of its nation, leave Armenian people revisiting the circumstances on the background of current events – whether who and what is really the threat to their security.

Armenia, ruled by warlords for decades, has suffered major losses, both economically and demographically primarily because of its occupant policy. These deprived Armenian people of potential development, glorification, and all the benefits and advantages the region has to offer. These resulted in Armenia being excluded from the region’s major-global projects. Despite Armenia offering strategic geography, billions of dollars of worth projects bypassed the country due to its path of governance.

Russian expert Yevgeny Mikhailov believes, that Armenia is facing catastrophe as consequences of depopulation just because of short-sighted policy and namely since it acquired the status of an aggressor and occupant with all its neighbors. "How ironic... Yerevan cries out for recognition of the genocide, while the Armenians themselves go to work and study in Turkey. This is the true realization of the Armenian establishment's intentions. To escalate the hatred for the neighbors didn't quite work. Ordinary Armenians understand everything and draw conclusions that run counter to the official line.” – he says. The Russian political scientist pointed out that apparently, the Armenian political establishment demonstrates ignorance towards the people. Eventually, this will lead to the collapse, if nothing is changed.

The next population census in Armenia will take place in October 2020. Behind the timeline of current demographics and on the course of fierce fight carried by Armenia within the territories of Azerbaijan, makes it rather difficult to hope for positive changes in the country’s demographics policy.

The geopolitical reality of the modern world dictates that the key to any positive development in Armenia’s socio-economic development lies in regional peace. In this situation, it seems the regional peace can only be reached through the withdrawal of Armenian military forces from Azerbaijan and start building lasting good relations in the region. Perhaps, only then any attempts by the Armenian government and institutions to reverse the depopulation crisis and improve socio-economic welfare can start having its tangible reflection on the country’s demographics and benefit both Armenia and the region. In any case, it is critical times for the Armenian government and Armenian people to make the right choices. Second chances don’t come that often in the modern era.

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