Friday, April 21, 2017

Ethnic Sorting Out of South Caucasus Nearly Complete

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 21 – A century ago, the territories that are now Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were extremely mixed ethnically, but as a result of a combination of conflicts and government policies, the three countries are far more ethnically monolithic than they were with fewer of each living in the other two.

            In the current issue of Moscow’s Demoscope weekly, demographer Anzor Sakhvadze examines the shifting ethno-demographic balance in the south Caucasus with particular attention to the shifts among the three titular nationalities over the last 100 years when good census materials are available (

            There were six censuses during the Soviet period (1926, 1939, 1959, 1970, 1979, and 1989) and censuses in each of the three since 1991 – in Azerbaijan in 1999 and 2009, in Georgia in 2002 and 2014, and in Armenia in 2001 and 2011.  Over this century, Azerbaijan increased its share continuously, Georgia declined from the largest and Armenia also declined but not as fast.

            Azerbaijanis have been the core of the population of their republic throughout this period, growing from 61.2 percent in 1926 to 91.6 percent in 2009.  Ethnic Russians and Armenians vied for second place, but now the Lezgins are in second place, with Russians, Talysh and Armenians following.

            The decline in the Armenian share of the Azerbaijani population has been dramatic. In 1897, Armenians formed almost 20 percent of the total. In 1926, they declined to 12 percent and remained at that level until near the end of the Soviet period, when they fell to 5.6 percent in 1989 and then to only 1.3 percent in 2009.

            As far as ethnic Georgians are concerned, they were never numerous in Azerbaijan: at no point did they exceed 0.4 percent of the population.

            Compared to its neighbors, Georgia has been and remains a more multi-national state. In 1926, ethnic Georgians formed 67.1 percent of the population. In 1989, their share had risen to 70.1 percent and in 2014, to 86.8 percent, high by world standards but low relative to the share of the titular nationalities in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

            Georgian birthrates have been low and outmigration high. As a result, the total number of ethnic Georgians in Georgia declined by 14.9 percent between 1989 and 2014.  During Soviet times, ethnic Russians moved in but not in huge numbers and most of them have left since Georgia regained its independence in 1991.

            Between 1926 and 1989, the number of Armenians in Armenia rose 4.1 times while the entire population rose only 3.7 times. As a result, the Armenian share increased and in the latter year reached 98 percent where it has remained. Between 1959 and 1979, immigration of Armenians from Georgia, Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus provided 20 percent of the growth of the ethnic Armenian comment.

            In Soviet times, Azerbaijanis were the second largest nationality in Armenia, at first growing rapidly until in 1939, they formed 10.2 percent of the population and then falling, especially precipitously after the Karabakh conflict broke out. Today, there is not a single Azerbaijani left in Armenia “for all practical purposes,” the demographer says.

            Russians were the second largest minority until the 1980s when they were displaced by the Kurds. There were never many Georgians in Armenia, and today there are only 617 of them according to the last census. In fact, “today Armenia is practically a monoethnic state where there is a very insignificant opportunity for further ethnic transformation.”

            With regard to the concentration of the titular nationality in the respective countries, the three vary as well. Georgians were until the post-Soviet period, with 95.1 percent of all Georgians in the USSR living in that republic.  Armenians were exactly the reverse: Only 66.7 percent of all Armenians living in the USSR lived in the Armenian Republic.

            Azerbaijanis occupied an intermediate position. Eighty-five percent of Azerbaijanis lived in Azerbaijan at the end of Soviet times, although outmigration means that that figure has declined somewhat in recent decades. As a result of all these shifts, Armenia and Azerbaijan are now mono-ethnic states, while Georgia is somewhat less so but moving in that direction.

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