Armenia facing critical depopulation: selective abortions, war, and Covid-19 pandemic
In recent years, a tendency towards depopulation has been observed in Armenia. This means that in the country more people die than are born.
Experts are surprised that the situation is especially dramatic in the regions. All over the world, positive demographic tendencies are characteristic of rural communities, however, in Armenia it is the villages that “perish”. This year, depopulation was observed in all regions of the country, except for Gegharkunik.
Experts warned that the demographic crisis in Armenia had reached a critical point back in 2019. However, after that, the situation became even more complicated due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Karabakh war.
Analysis of the demographic situation in Armenia: are there opportunities to overcome the crisis, what is already being done, and what can be done in the future?
- “The Armenian regions will grow and develop if people like me stop leaving”
- Why is Armenia facing a demographic crisis?
The first child of the 21st century
A participant of the 44-day Karabakh war, David Uzunyan was awarded a combat medal for his participation in hostilities and the “Battle Cross” order. He also has awards for his successes in football. But David’s parents cherish the first award that their son got the most.
“David was born on 01.01.2001. This is evidence that he is the first child of the 21st century, born in Armenia. I remember this day and how the doctors told us about it”, says his father, Bagrat Uzunyan.
David died in the fall of 2020, during the second Karabakh war. He is one of those 3,777 servicemen (official figures as of 08/26/2021) who did not return home.
According to preliminary data, every third person dying in Armenia is a young person aged 18-20. Demographers state that it was they who were to provide the main indicators for marriages and fertility in the coming years.
Politicians’ promises and real numbers
On September 21, 2020, during the celebration of Armenia’s Independence Day, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made one of his most ambitious statements – by 2050, the population of Armenia will reach five million people.
Earlier, the third president of Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan, made a similar statement. He talked about his goal of reaching four million inhabitants by 2040. Moreover, he called this goal “nationwide and achievable”.
Meanwhile, according to UN forecasts, 2.7 million people will live in Armenia by 2050, and 1.8 million by 2100.
Moreover, this is a forecast two years ago – without taking into account the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and the Karabakh war.
From 1992 to 2002, the natural population growth in Armenia decreased by 60%. This was the largest recession among the countries of the former USSR. Georgia occupied second place with a total of 57%.
In 1992 70,000 babies were born but in 2002 the number of newborns did not exceed 32,065. According to the statistics committee, in 1992 3,633,000 people inhabited Armenia, and in 2019 their number decreased by 668,000.
As of October 1, 2020, the number of permanent residents of Armenia increased by about 8,200 compared to the beginning of the year, but behind this indicator is the coronavirus, due to which the borders were closed.
Unborn girls and dead boys
Over the past 20 years, the lowest birth rate in Armenia was recorded in 2001-2002. This was facilitated by the increased rates of emigration and selective abortions.
In the early 2000s, Armenia was among the leaders in selective abortions, and in 2000-2001, the gender disparity among newborns reached a peak.
For every 100 girls, 120-140 boys were born. This ratio is one of the highest recorded in the world.
And it was the boys born in those years who became victims of the 44-day Karabakh war.
Birth rate growth in Yerevan
A paradoxical demographic picture has developed in Armenia, says Artak Markosyan, an expert at the Armenian Institute for International Affairs and Security, demographer:
“After 2014, for the first time in the first half of 2021, we recorded an increase in the absolute number of births by about 1,413. But there is one feature here, it is that the main growth was recorded in Yerevan. In all regions, except for Gegharkunik, there was a tendency towards depopulation, that is, the indicator of natural growth was negative.
The concern is that the decline continues in Armavir and Ararat regions, which was also observed last year. This is a dangerous situation because if earlier we talked about depopulation in border settlements and regions, today this trend has reached the districts adjacent to the capital. According to data for January-June 2021, mainly Yerevan contributed to an increase in the indicators of natural population growth.
This indicates the concentration of the population in Yerevan, which cannot be good news. In addition, it should be borne in mind that all these children were born from pregnancies planned before the war, and it is too early to say what the picture will be in the second half of the year”.
According to the expert, the main reasons for the deterioration of the demographic situation are still the same – emigration, a decline in the birth rate, which are based on uncertainty in the future, an insufficient number of citizens of marriageable, reproductive age.
Research shows that there is no reason to expect a dramatic improvement in the situation.
After the war, people are extremely worried about the security of Armenia, this determines not only the decision of people to stay in the country or to leave, but also the decision to have children or not.
According to demographer Artak Markosyan, children are now mainly born to the generation born in the late 1980s, which is still in reproductive age, and this potential must be used. At the same time, the number of newborns is growing due to the third and subsequent births, and the situation with the first and second births is depressing:
“In demographic terms, the most serious problem is that those born in the second half of the 1990s and early 2000s are entering the age of marriage. The decline in terms of firstborns, which began in 2010, will continue. According to 2019 data, firstborns made up 37.9% of the total number of babies, while in 2014 their number was 45.4%.
This figure, unfortunately, will decline. The age indicators of marriage and the birth of the first child are also changing. The average age of motherhood is now 27.6 years, and according to UN forecasts, by 2050 the average age of first childbirth will be 30.5 years, which will become a serious challenge for the demographic situation in Armenia”.
“State approach – avoiding the catastrophe”
Artak Markosyan is in no hurry to predict the impact of the war and the number of victims on the demographic situation. He believes that the picture will be clearer in two to three years. But it is already clear now that a clear state strategy is needed to avoid a demographic catastrophe:
“First, we need to understand that in terms of demographics, we count on people who are planning their third and subsequent children and we need serious programs to support them. The next task for us is the implementation of programs to increase the birth rate outside Yerevan and the decentralization of state policy. Until 2009, there were no state programs in this direction, although it was then that effective work could lead to serious changes”.
According to the expert, certain actions have been taken since last year:
- the allowance for the first child has increased by six times,
- the allowance has increased twice – for the second child,
- To stimulate fertility in rural communities, all mothers living in villages receive a childcare allowance for children up to two years of age, regardless of whether they are working or not.
“The next important step is the Provision of housing for families with children program, which began last year. These programs provide certain benefits of mortgage lending, and their size is determined by how many children there are in the family. But there are also problems with this program – there are very few housing construction programs in the regions.
I think that the new law “On large families” will also have a serious impact, which implies not only financial support, depending on the number of children, but also long-term social guarantees. Today, the residents of Armenia need predictable, long-term guarantees for the birth of children – not only of a social nature but also of safety”, says Artak Markosyan.