Rates of births and marriages have increased in Nagorno-Karabakh so far in 2022, reversing declines seen in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic and the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.
In the first half of 2022, 864 children were born in Karabakh, the territory’s de facto authorities reported. That would be the highest per capita rate since before 2020.
The recent record year for births per capita in Karabakh was 2018, when 2,204 children were born in a population then estimated at 150,000, a birth rate of about 1.4 percent. That dropped to 1,614 in 2020 and then further to 1,463 in 2021. The 864 in the first six months of 2022 would outpace either of those years.
The per capita rate may be even larger than in 2018, given that the population’s territory has shrunk in the aftermath of the war. As a result of the war Armenian forces lost control of some territories where Armenians had been living, and many other former residents also fled to Armenia or elsewhere. In July 2021, the local authorities reported that the population remaining in the Armenian-populated territories was roughly 110,000.
Marriage rates, too, have spiked recently.
In the first half of 2022, the Ministry of Justice has registered 451 marriages. That compares to 899 in all of 2018 (a pre-war maximum for marriages, as well as for births) and 836 in 2019. The figure dipped to just 165 in 2020, as coronavirus restrictions and then the war made weddings nearly impossible, before rebounding to 1,314 in 2021.
Demography has long been a concern among the Armenians of Karabakh. The issue was most memorably addressed by a 2008 mass wedding in which roughly 700 couples tied the knot. The endeavor was sponsored by a Karabakh-born Russian businessman, Levon Hayrapetyan, and supported by the local authorities. Hayrapetyan said he initiated the event to stimulate Karabakh’s birth rate, which he called its “weakest link.” Birth rates reportedly rose 25 percent following the mass wedding.
Also in 2008, the de facto government began giving aid to encourage marriages and births: It gave every newly married couple 300,000 drams (about $730) on their wedding day, and then grants of 100,000 drams ($245), 200,000 drams ($490), and 500,000 drams ($1,225) for their first, second, and third children, respectively. Fourth and subsequent children got 700,000 drams ($1,175) each and families with six or more children under 18 got a free apartment.
Following the war, the government further boosted those amounts: Now first and second children get 300,000 drams each, and parents with disabilities get even larger aid.
“Step by step, we are continuing to create the necessary conditions for living and development. The year 2021 should mark the beginning of a new vision of Artsakh, where the children of Artsakh will make a great contribution," the then de facto Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mane Tandilyan, said in announcing the new policy in December 2020. (Artsakh is an Armenian name for the region.)
Karabakh also is soon set to have a new maternity hospital, after construction was delayed as a result of the war. During the fighting in October 2020, Azerbaijani forces shelled the hospital, which was then under construction. That set back progress, but on July 19 the de facto Ministry of Urban Development announced that construction of the hospital, in Stepanakert, had been completed. They did not specify when it would open.
Lilit Shahverdyan is a journalist based in Stepanakert.