Vol. 4, No. 14 (July 15, 2011)

Demographic trends shift in Azerbaijan’s favor

Paul Goble
Publications Advisor
Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy

Two reports this month—one showing that more Azerbaijanis are moving to Azerbaijan than leaving it as was the case in the 1990s and a second highlighting the demographic collapse of Armenia—call attention to the fact that demographic trends in the South Caucasus are increasingly shifting in Azerbaijan’s favor, a pattern certain to affect both the domestic politics and the international relations of all the countries there in the years ahead.

In an interview posted on the website of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party, Salim Muslimov, the president of the State Foundation of Social Protection, reported that as Azerbaijan’s economic well-being has increased, the relative balance of those leaving the country and those returning has changed in favor of the latter. [1] Between 1990 and 1994 when the Azerbaijani economy was in a state of crisis, he reported, “the number of those leaving Azerbaijan was 342,300, while the number arriving was 211,200.  A decade later, between 2000 and 2004, when the economy had improved, “the number of people leaving the country was 28,100, while the number of people arriving was 13,100.” In 2005-2009, 12,500 people left the country, Muslimov said, while 12,100 arrived.  And he noted that in 2008-2009, “immigration exceeded emigration by 2,000 people.”  

This pattern shows, he suggested, that “migration processes are mainly connected with economic factors,” but he added that “naturally, one must not deny the influence on migration processes of various regional conflicts, as well as national, religious and ethnic problems inside the country”—an obvious reference to the continuing impact of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Armenian occupation of 20 percent of the country.

The overarching trend Muslimov points to has three serious consequences for Azerbaijan and its neighbors.  First, the return of those who left, along with the shift in populations generated by the Nagorno-Karabakh war, means that Azerbaijan is more homogeneously Azerbaijani than at any previous point in the country’s history, a pattern that is already affecting domestic political discourse and will have an impact on the re-absorption of areas now populated by ethnic Armenians such as Nagorno-Karabakh and the Lachin corridor.

Second, many of those now returning are Azerbaijanis who left in the 1990s to work in the Russian Federation in particular, and they may prove to be more nationalistic than those who never left, given the experiences that they have had, not all of them happy, in Russian cities during the intervening period.  While such attitudes will not determine Azerbaijani state policy, they will affect it, at least at a rhetorical level.

And third, the return of those who left earlier will have a mixed economic impact on the country, possibly affecting rural areas more profoundly than urban ones.  On the one hand, the return of those who had been working abroad will mean that the number of people sending remittances home will almost certainly decline, likely reducing the incomes of some villagers in particular.  And on the other, the return of skilled people will help boost the Azerbaijani economy still further.

But the second report, released by the United Nations on World Population Day, may have even more immediate and deep-seated consequences for the South Caucasus.  As an article in Zerkalo notes, that UN report shows that as a result of improvements in health and a reduction in poverty, Azerbaijan’s population is increasing, while as a result of economic problems and ever more frequent use of abortion to choose the gender of children, Armenia’s population is declining and in ways that are likely to exacerbate that trend. [2]

According to the UN, Azerbaijan’s population has been growing at an annual rate of 1.2 percent a year since 2005 and now, as of July 1, stands at 9,165,000 people.  Of these, 22.3 percent are children 14 and under, 72 percent people between the ages of 15 and 64, and six percent, 65 or more.  Significantly, the Azerbaijani population is almost evenly divided between the sexes, with 49.6 percent being male and 50.4 percent female.  The number of marriages has increased over the last year, far more than the number of divorces, and the number of those coming to Azerbaijan in the last year has exceeded the number of those leaving by almost a thousand.  All these factors point to a continuing pattern of growth.

The situation in Armenia is very different.  There, the UN reports, the population stands at just under three million, but is on track to decline to 2.5 million by mid-century.  Because of Armenia’s economic difficulties, families are not having enough children for replacement of the population, with the average now standing at 1.5 children per family rather than the 2.1 needed to maintain the existing population.

But as the UN experts note, Armenia faces even more serious problems ahead because of the increasing use of abortions and especially the use of abortions to choose the gender of the child.  In the last year alone, the number of abortions in Armenia rose by 10 percent officially and by even more according to expert observers.  And according to the National Statistical Service of Armenia, there were 23,000 boys as opposed to 20,900 girls born in the country, meaning that there were 114 newborn boys for every 100 newborn girls.  Where abortion is not used in this way, there are normally 105 boys for every 100 girls.  And Armenian officials are worried that the existing pattern in Armenia will entail serious problems because, in the words of one expert, there will be “a shortage of future mothers,” something that could push Armenia into a vicious cycle” from which it would be very difficult to escape. 


[1] See http://news.day.az/economy/277013.html (accessed 14 July 2011).

[2] See http://news.day.az/society/278470.html (accessed 14 July 2011).