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Lilit Avagyan

Armenia’s Deepening Demographic Challenge: Covid-19, Artsakh War Compound the Problem

On September 21, 2020, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan said he wanted to increase Armenia’s population to at least five million by 2050.

During his tenure, former Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan said it was feasible to increase the country’s population to four million by 2040.

According to UN forecasts, however, the population of Armenia will be 2.7 million in 2050, and in 2100 - 1.8 million. These predictions were made two years ago, when the impact of the coronavirus epidemic and the Artsakh war on the demographic situation in Armenia hadn’t been assessed.

According to those in the know, there is a deepening demographic crisis in Armenia.

“Rural migration to Yerevan continues”

Artak Markosyan, Advisor to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs

The coronavirus epidemic and the Second Artsakh War have not only dealt a major blow to current demographic developments but are also likely to have a significant impact on the demographic situation in the coming years. The above forecasts of demographic developments predicted for 2019 - 2024 may not come true, as the security, socio-economic, humanitarian and especially political uncertainties that emerged after the second Artsakh war were not included in those forecasts. Armenia can enter a depopulation cycle of the population before 2025.

It is gratifying that in the first two months of 2021, the absolute number of births increased by 106 compared to the same period last year.

One of the serious problems, in terms of demographics, is that those born in the second half of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s will enter the age of marriage (the generation of those killed and wounded in the second Artsakh war - ed.). Let me mention, we still have a "window". The generation of the mid-1980s is still in the active reproductive age and may have additional births. We must be able to use that potential as much as possible.

In the case of the firstborn, the decline, starting in 2010, will continue.

According to 2019 data, firstborns are 37.9% of the total number of children, while in 2014 they were 45.4%. That number will decrease. The number of second children will also decrease. Our main hope is the third and fourth children.

  The problem is that even with a third child the demographic problem cannot be solved, a fourth or more children are needed.

Why is there a law on large families? We have always tried to encourage extra births with money, but we understand that it is not enough. Serious social guarantees are needed. Families who want to have many children should know from the beginning what benefits they can enjoy: financial incentives, benefits, educational and health benefits. In other words, the state must provide social guarantees in advance.

(A draft “Law of Large Families” has been introduced to the Armenian National Assembly and should be approved by June.)

How effective are social programs aimed at reducing demographic problems if the state does not fulfill its main duty to ensure the physical security of citizens?

In 2015, when we were formulating the social policy for the next five years, the coronavirus and war were not considered. Today we understand that the security situation around Armenia has deteriorated. 

This is one of the priority issues that we need to be able to address quickly. Without making the environment safer, other steps will not bring the desired results. Internal migration poses a serious danger for us. The flow from the regions to Yerevan does not stop. We need to get out of this mindset. We need to unburden the capital. Until we do that, we will not be able to solve development issues in the regions and villages. All programs should be aimed at the development of the regions. Today we have worrying statistics that the number of children per woman in rural communities is less than in the cities. Rural settlements must become prosperous with an educational and cultural environment.

Is there a specific action plan to achieve this?

It took 14 months, for the Natural Security Program for Families with Children to take effect. Every project, from initial idea to implementation, is time consuming. There are programs in rural areas that will allow young people to stay in the village, earn money, and have children. This is a priority. Yerevan ceases to be the locomotive of socio-economic development. Today, Yerevan provides the main indicator of natural growth. Last year, the absolute number of births in Ararat Province decreased by 20.5%. The same took place in Armavir.

Programs aimed at improving the demographic situation in Armenia have been supposedly implemented for decades, but, as we see, they are not effective. Have such programs been monitored for cost effectiveness?   

If we had a demographic policy for decades, we would not be in this situation.

Such a policy was first mentioned in 2009, but at the time the plans were not implemented. We did not have a systematic demographic policy. 

Policy is when you set clear, targeted goals. Why did we increase the one-time benefit for the first child? So that the parents can make the decision to have a child as soon as possible. The sooner a family has a child, the more likely they are to have children in those families. We have a problem with increasing the birth rate. 

Today’s main problem is the country’s provinces, particularly the villages. In case of stabilization and development of the situation in the villages, they are more inclined to have children there. For example, in 2019, the birth of the first children decreased by about 810. The numbers of the second, third and subsequent children have increased. In 2014, when the one-time benefit for the third and fourth child was introduced, becoming one million drams, for the next child, one and a half million drams, the number of third and next children increased. The first and the second have decreased and will continue to decrease. I repeat, encouraging births using only one-time benefits is not highly effective.

The important thing are the social guarantees, and these have yet to be implemented in Armenia. If these guarantees are introduced, which we envisage, we will have a clear increase in births in the coming decades, even though it will be exceedingly difficult. The maternal pool is small, but in terms of increasing the birth rate, we will be able to ensure an increase of children.

"For the first time, the birth rate in villages is lower than in cities"

Anna Hovhannisyan, UNFPA Population and Development Program Officer.

As of January 1, 2021, there are 2,959,700 people in Armenia. According to UN population forecasts, the number will drop to 2,816,000. in 2050

These forecasts were made in 2019, and the UN carries out forecasts every two years. We will have new data this year, but our estimates are pessimistic due to the Covid epidemic and the war.

The picture of the population in our region today and in 2050 is as follows:

Armenia: Now – 2,959,000. 2050 – 2,816, 000

Azerbaijan: Now – 10,140,000. 2050 – 11,065,000

Georgia: Now - 3,989,0000. 2050 – 3,517,000

Turkey: Now 84,339,000. 2050 – 97,140,000

Iran: Now – 83,993,000. 2050- 103,098,000

Russia: Now – 145,934,000. 2050 – 135,824,000

The biggest demographic problem in Armenia is emigration. When talking about emigration, we must refer to passenger volumes. Before 2018 it was negative, after 2018 there was a small positive trend. In 2020, for the first time, we had a positive migration balance of 3,300 people. I think this number was due to the Covid virus.

The natural increase, the difference between births and deaths, has been significantly reduced. Last year, for the first time, depopulation was registered in Lori Province, where the number of births was lower than the number of deaths. Now, except for Yerevan and Gegharkunik, negative numbers have been registered in all regions, i.e., the number of deaths has exceeded the number of births. Fortunately, this was most likely due to internal migration.

The next biggest demographic challenge after emigration is the declining birth rate. The average age of first-time married people is getting older. According to 2019 data, the average age of men marrying for the first time is 30.5 years old, women - 27.1. This is a negative trend. Those marrying for the first time are delaying their marriages, which is the reason for the delay in having their first child.

In 2020, both marriages and divorces decreased by 20%. In my opinion, this indicator is conditioned by Covid. 

International experience shows that non-consummated marriages are postponed marriages. I am sure that the number of marriages will increase in 2021.

The age of having ones first child increases. The average age of motherhood is 27.6 years; of having a first child - 25. 

In Armenia, according to UN forecasts, the average age of having a first child by 2050 will be 30.5, which is a serious challenge for Armenia in terms of population.

In 2020 we’ve seen a slightly positive tendency to increase births. Births have increased by 400 compared to the previous year.

For the first time in Armenia, the birth rate is lower in rural areas than in cities. The birth rate of the urban population is 1.66; of the rural population - 1.46. Prior to 2012, more children were born in rural areas than in cities. The state, when developing a policy aimed at improving demographic problems, should pay special attention to rural areas and try to show a differentiated approach.

The next challenge is population aging. According to the UN, the population of Armenia is aging (in countries where the share of the elderly is higher than 7%, it is considered aging). The population over 65 in Armenia is 12.3%. According to UN forecasts, by 2050 that number in Armenia will increase to 22-23%.

This, in turn, leads to an increase in the dependency ratio. We are talking about the ratio of the elderly to the working age population. In 2019, that ratio was 5/1, in 2050 we will have a ratio of 2.9 / 1. This is the number of working-age residents who will care for one elderly person.

This will be a social and health burden for the state. We must be ready to take appropriate steps to alleviate this situation.

“Dried dung isn’t a national attribute”

Aghasi Tadevosyan, cultural anthropologist

In addition to social, economic and security issues, the "genetic predisposition" factor is also discussed among the reasons for the emigration of Armenians. It’s as if Armenians are born with travelling stick in their hands. There’s the saying -   "Where there’s bread, there’s life.”

I do not think that migration is a very Armenian phenomenon, although it is a common trait in our country. 

It is not that only Armenians emigrate from Armenia. The emigration rate is high among national minorities, which means that it is an all-Armenian phenomenon. Emigration is specific not only to Armenia, but also to other backward and underdeveloped countries, from where people go to more developed countries because they simply want to live better. 

If we want to prevent emigration, we must understand why people leave. Why are our villages being emptied? For a simple reason. For thirty years, governments in Armenia, including the current government, have not thought about economic modernization of the villages so that people do not live in 19th century conditions.

Our villages are very backward. It's the 21st century, but some people still say, "the dried dung is not dirty". You’ll recall this from the movie "We are our mountains". The phrase "this is not dirt, this is dung” is still relevant to many today. No friends, the dung is dirty. No national or rural romanticism should be added. People still burn manure. That is why people are fleeing the village. The village is backward in terms of management. Most farms remain at the level of natural production. Of course, in such conditions, young people do not want to stay and live there.

Second, village children are in a pitiful state. There is not even a toilet in the schools. There are no educational conditions in the classrooms. There are no qualified teacher or minimum conditions for the child's development. Naturally, people will leave. A thousand and one such problems, all of which relate to the unbearable conditions of human development.

One of the causes of demographic problems is our thinking. Our governments, as well as today's government, are backward and incapable of setting urgent and complex tasks. They have never had a vision of modernization and have hidden their incompetence and backwardness by spreading false claims about national values. 

If we compare the birth rates of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran, they are high mainly due to religious reasons. We are not such a society. We must find other solutions. The problem is the following. We need to think about modernizing the nation, solving the problem of natural growth in the conditions of modernization. We are in an unusual, critical situation today, and standard solutions do not work in such situations. Unusual solutions need to be found.

Inequality between the regions and Yerevan is a serious problem that causes emigration. 

Overcoming inequality is a strategic necessity. Large-scale business and educational programs are needed in the regions. One of the studies I conducted last year shows that young people who implement economically modern agricultural programs stay in the village and have children. And most such programs have been possible thanks to international business and educational grant programs. 

The age of marriage has increased in Armenia. Why do boys not want to get married? It’s understandable. The responsibility is on them. They are expected to have a family. Some are afraid and avoid getting married. But we have many economically independent and educated girls who do not get married because they often do not find boys with the appropriate educational qualifications and economic employment. 

They are complex problems that require complex solutions. The environment in schools and universities must change. Boys must go to learn, to get educated, and not to pose as tough gangster types. Those boys grow up ignorant. Educated girls do not want to marry such boys.

There’s another problem - moral complexes. 

How many independent, unmarried girls do we know older than 27? They do not marry. Fine, it’s their business. But they also do not have children. Why? Because the society condemns single mothers, considers it immoral to have children out of wedlock.

 We need to radically reconsider our values. These archaic values ​​must finally be abandoned. These values ​​prevent many of our girls from becoming mothers without getting married. If someone suddenly takes such a bold step, the relatives and friends nail her to the cross. We must modernize our values, while at the same time reviewing our demographic problems, which are related to our values, our thinking, our way of life. The national values ​​that hinder the reproduction of our nation, hinder unmarried girls from becoming mothers, should be rejected.

We have thousands of victims and wounded, so many girls will be left without boys. These girls should not be ashamed. They should have children. They should feel happy. Of course, the demographic problem requires complex solutions, but I want to say that it is necessary to find solutions that will help solve the demographic problem by modernizing and overcoming backwardness.

Comments (2)

Tony Martin
Sadly Armenia is circling the drain and has been for decades. I do not know what the solution is (if there is one) but what is clear is that Armenia needs to move in a completely new direction and stop the revanchist rhetoric and sabre rattling. The 44 day war has cost Armenia a generation and they are still talking about preparing for the next war. Putting aside the fact that it is a sad and impossible wet dream for Armenia to prevail against Azerbaijan in the future, it is deflecting attention from the key issue which is that while the politicians rant the population is leaving. Resources are needed for building a state attractive enough to reverse emigration trends not to plan future wars which encourages increased emigration!
VaaRouge
One possibility is that we encourage diasporans to marry locals, perhaps there can be a tax credit or a plot of land issued for 99 years for free; something the government can give to incentivize diasporans to go there and marry a local. It would be interesting to see what’s the result might be. At this point we have to think out-of-the-box anything to incentivize immigration

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