Last week, the United Nations Population Fund organized a media tour for a group of Yerevan journalists to Armenia’s Vayots Dzor province for demographic data collection purposes. The choice fell on Vayots Dzor since this province has the second highest rate of population decline in the country after Gegharkunik.
The journalists first met with the head of the regional agency of the National Statistical Service Arushan Gazaryan. The statistician, who has worked at the agency for over 30 years, did not present a qualitative study of the population decline, saying that such extensive studies are usually conducted in Yerevan. Ghazaryan, however, pointed out the high rate of migration of urban residents to villages; people who own property in rural areas, he said, move there to work on their land and make a profit.
After the meeting with Arushanyan, the journalists decided to visit several villages with the highest rates of population decline and the worst living conditions. We managed to visit only two villages because of shortage of time – Herher and Zedea, where the locals, as it turned out, preferred to complain about the general economic situation of the country and widespread poverty, without concentrating on the problems of their specific villages. And although the asphalt on roads is badly damaged, the villagers say the connection with the towns of Vayk and Jermuk is not lost even in the coldest winters. We also learned that nearly every rural resident raises cattle and easily makes a profit out of it. When we began asking about the reasons for the village’s low birth rates, the locals advised us to meet with the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Artem Asatryan.
“Birth rates are prone to decline particularly in rural areas: in 1995-2015, the birth rate per woman fell from 2.3 to 1.5, which, of course, is lower than desired. Our goal is a minimum of three children per family, because this indicator would provide growth. Most importantly, the birth of each child should not be an increase in the load, but, on the contrary, it should lead to either an increase in family incomes or to a reduction in expenses,” Asatryan told us.
The minister added that they planned to ensure a natural and mechanical growth of the population in order to fulfill president Serzh Sargsyan’s promise about having a 4-million population by 2040. “It’s clear to all of us: having a 4-million population by 2014 is a matter of national security for Armenia.”
When asked why Armenia needs 4 million people, whether the country has spare jobs or infrastructures, and if so, why do people emigrate, Asatryan said: “A 4-million population is a necessity, taking into account first of all the geographical position of the country. The size of the domestic market is very important for a state. The domestic market implies proper investments and services. Investment opportunities are limited if you have a small market. I think it’s very simple and logical: the higher the number of population, the better for all of us.”