Population and Ethnic Composition

Population and Ethnic Composition

The forces of history have wrought dramatic changes on the boundaries of the various Armenian states; the population's size and the ethnic makeup of those states have also been strongly affected. In the twentieth century, particularly significant changes resulted from Turkish efforts to exterminate Armenians during World War I and from the large-scale emigration of Azerbaijanis from Armenia in the early 1990s.

Population Characteristics

The origins of the Armenian people are obscure. According to ancient Armenian writers, their people descend from Noah's son Japheth. A branch of the Indo-Europeans, the Armenians are linked ethnically to the Phrygians, who migrated from Thrace in southeastern Europe into Asia Minor late in the second millennium B.C., and to the residents of the kingdom of Urartu, with whom the Armenians came into contact around 800 B.C. after arriving in Asia Minor from the West. Although ethnologists disagree about the precise timing and elements of this ethnic combination (and even about the origin of the term Armenian), it is generally agreed that the modern Armenians have been a distinct ethnic group centered in eastern Anatolia since at least 600 B.C.

In the nineteenth century, the Armenians were the most urban of the Transcaucasian peoples, but they were also the most dispersed. A merchant middle class was the most powerful social group among the Armenians, although the church and secular intellectuals also provided leadership. Armenians pioneered exploitation of the oil deposits in and around Baku, and the economic growth of the ancient Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was largely an enterprise of Armenian merchants and small industrialists.

The massacres and displacements that occurred between 1895 and 1915 removed nearly all the Armenian population in the Turkish part of historical Armenia. In 1965 the Soviet Union estimated that 3.2 million Armenians lived in all its republics. The Turkish census the same year showed only 33,000 Armenians in Turkey, most of them concentrated in the far west in Istanbul. In 1988 Armenia's population declined by 176,000, reversing a trend over the previous decade of average population growth of 1.5 percent per year. According to the 1989 census, the population of Armenia was about 3,288,000, an increase of 8 percent from the 1979 census figure. An official estimate in 1991 put the population at 3,354,000, an increase of 2 percent since 1989. In 1989 Armenians were the eighth largest nationality in the former Soviet Union, totaling 4,627,000. At that time, only about twothirds of the Armenians in the Soviet Union lived in Armenia. Some 11.5 percent lived in Russia, 9.4 percent in Georgia, 8.4 percent in Azerbaijan, and the remaining 4 percent in the other republics. In recent years, Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and the Central Asian republics have settled in Armenia, compounding an already severe housing shortage. The number of Armenians living in other countries, primarily France, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States, has been estimated at between 3 million and 9 million.

In 1991 Armenia's population density, 112.6 persons per square kilometer, was second only to that of Moldavia (now Moldova) among the Soviet republics. About 68 percent of the population lives in urban areas and 32 percent in rural areas. In 1990 Armenia's capital, Erevan, had a population of 1.2 million, or about 37 percent of the population of the republic; the second largest city, Gyumri, had 123,000 residents. The twelfth largest city in the former Soviet Union, Erevan is the second largest in the Caucasus region, after Tbilisi.

In 1979 Armenian families residing in Armenia averaged 4.5 persons, including an average of 4.3 for urban families and 4.8 average for rural families. This average was larger than those of the Baltic, Georgian, Moldavian, and predominantly Slavic republics of the Soviet Union but less than the family averages of the Soviet Muslim republics. In 1989 average life expectancy was 71.9 years (69.0 years for males and 74.7 years for females). The birth rate was 21.6 live births per 1,000 population; the death rate was 6.0 per 1,000.

For more recent population estimates, see Facts about Armenia.


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