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Shrinking Armenian Population: Main Reasons

Jan SOYKOK (JTW) – According to the recent report, titled Social Demographic Challenges of Post-Soviet Armenia, declining birth rates, rising death rates, an ageing population and radical immigration have Armenia’s demographic make-up. The ageing and decreasing population cause long-lasting economic problems in Armenia according to EurasiaNet. Haroutiun Khachatrian from EurasiaNet reported that the Yerevan Government must take measures for Armenian economy.

During the Soviet period Armenia featured perhaps the healthiest demographic picture in the Union. The country benefited from an optimal population growth rate — 1.4 percent per year between 1979 and 1990 — and had the highest life expectancy (about 74 years as of 1987) of any Soviet republic. A good health care system, a relatively high number of children per family (2.4 on average) contributed to Armenia’s solid growth rate. However after the independence the population dramatically declined.

The first reason for demographic decline is natural disasters. Following the December 1988 earthquake at Spitak, most of the quake’s victims immigrated to other areas in Armenia, to former Soviet republics or to the Western countries.

The second reason was economic chaos. The Karabakh war and political tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan did not allow a recovery for Armenian economy. The war budgets succumbed all sources.

Another problem is undemocratic and non-promising political system. More than 75 per cent of Armenians believe that Armenia is not a democratic country. 80 percent of Armenian population says Armenia will move toward authoritarianism or totalitarianism in the case of maintaining the present system (‘Armenia’s Thirteen-Year-Old Independence and Sovereignty’, Armenian center for National and International Studies, October 2004).

The fourth and the most important reason was the aggressive and irredentist Armenian foreign policy: After the independence, the Armenian forces attacked the Azerbaijan Republic and expanded Armenian territories. Karabakh and many Azerbaijani towns were occupied with the Russian military help. The Armenian forces threatened another Azerbaijan territory, Naxchivan. The irredentist movements strongly supported the Armenian separatism in Georgia and Russian federation as well. Strangely the Armenian Independence Declaration and Constitution declared that Armenia does not recognize Turkey’s national borders, and called Turkey’s eastern provinces as ‘Western Armenia’. As a matter of fact that the last thing Armenia needed was more territories. Armenian country was small, but its population was not enough to survive this small country. A friendly Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia could be a solution for land-locked country’s suffering economy. As a result of the tension and conflicts in Armenia, foreign investment did not come to the country, while Azerbaijan enjoyed the foreign investments. When Armenia refused to withdraw its occupying forces from Karabakh Turkey and Azerbaijan cut their diplomatic relations with Yerevan and closed their borders. Under these circumstances the Armenian market was monopolized by Russia. The Armenian economy became more dependent to Russia and diaspora assistance.

During the 1990s Armenian population shrank more and more. Though the Armenian government still argues that the population of Armenia is over 3 million, the independence sources say population is about 2 million. Even a diplomat in Yerevan argued that the population in Armenia is less than 1 million. Many went to Moscow and other Russian towns while many others immigrated to European and North American countries. They first go to abroad for just working. They sent money for their families. However in time they take their families to overseas and never come back to Armenia. Even many Armenians had to go to Turkey to work. Abdullah Gul, Turkish Foreign Minister declared last week that about 50,000 Armenians work in Istanbul.

Declining economy and political tension affect the life standards in Armenia. Haroutiun Khachatrian from EurAsiaNet draw not a promising Armenia picture in his latest article ‘UNFAVORABLE DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS CLOUD ARMENIA’S ECONOMIC PROSPECTS’ (3/07/05):

“Armenia’s death rate began to climb to about 8 deaths per 1,000 people by 2000, an increase of 27 percent. The number remains largely unchanged today. Concurrently, life expectancy started to fall and, more than a decade after independence, has still not climbed back to its Soviet-era level… At the same time, Armenia’s birth rate has declined by half, prompting a sharp drop in the natural population growth rate. This statistic, which reflects the number of births minus the number of deaths, has undergone a six-fold decrease since 1990. That year, Armenia’s growth rate stood at 16.3 births per 1,000 people, but by 2001, it had fallen to a mere 2.7 births…”

Recent studies clearly show that the number of Armenians planning to emigrate is not decreasing, however the Government has not changed its policies. According to Dr. Nilgun Gulcan from ISRO, the Kocharian Government curtail all these problems by using the so-called Turkish threat:

“They know that without an external threat they cannot not continue their power. They are talking about more territories. They are talking about a greater Armenia. However they cannot survive a tiny Armenia. Armenians in Armenia do not want to live in Armenia. The diaspora Armenians similarly do not want to live in a poor Armenia. However they use Armenia for their own interests. They sacrifice newly founded Armenia. The only way to survive for the Armenian Republic is to make co-operation with Turkey, and if the Yerevan Government cannot find a solution with Tayyip Erdogan Government it would be more difficult to make negotiation with any other Turkish Prime Minister”.

8 March 2005

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2005-03-08 11:32:33

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Journal of Turkish Weekly is an ISRO (USAK) publication
ISRO is an Ankara based NGO

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