Commentary: The Population Weapon


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Population growth is a strategic weapon for many nations. For long, European countries have adopted “birth encouragement” programs to overcome the drop in their populations. France, especially, has a very generous “birth encouragement” program, which was adopted a long time ago due to concerns about the decline in births there. However, with the flow of immigrants, mostly from France’s former North African colonies, the program has benefited these immigrants, rather than the ethnic French people.

Now that many similar programs are in place throughout Europe, many politicians have been alarmed that within the next half century, Muslim populations may make up the majority population on the European continent.

The former Soviet Union had a similar plan in place, which also benefited the Muslim population; women with multiple children were awarded the title “hero mothers.” Most of those “hero mothers” in Soviet Armenia were either Kurds or Azeris. China, with a population well over 1.5 billion, has a reverse population policy. Families are discouraged from having more than two children. China is an economic super power developing at a very fast rate, and its population control plan is intended to calibrate its birth rate with the pace of its economic progress. Runaway population growth may hamper its economic growth.

Armenia has a half-hearted population program in place, which has not contributed much to its growth because such a program needs solid infrastructure to sustain the intended rise in population. Surveys taken in Armenia have demonstrated that many families are reluctant to have children because of economic problems and uncertainties facing the youth there. Should Armenia one day enjoy a strong economy and help its citizens resist the lure of foreign countries, it would benefit from fertility clinics for some population increase.

In Muslim countries polygamy is standard practice and it contributes significantly to the population growth. As a

Muslim country, Turkey’s population grew at a faster pace and now it is over 70 million. Parallel economic progress has justified the population growth, although out of 70 million, 20 million are Kurds who have become, over the years, more and more assertive of their ethnic identity.

On the other hand, Egypt’s overpopulation has become a national trauma, because the economy does not keep pace with the population growth. Birth control is a voluntary option for Egyptian families and it is not encouraged by the religious authorities. With the recent emergence of the Muslim Brotherhood, that problem can only be compounded, as the fundamentalist party will try to impose on the country Sharia law.

In its December 10 issue, the New York Times ran a feature article about the population problem in Nagorno Karabagh, under the title, “The National Womb.” The article refers to a recent government program to encourage population growth, because, the ethnic profile of the Karabagh Republic is a critical one, well beyond economy and politics. The future of that tiny republic hinges on its population retention and growth. The Times has also given some statistics which seem to be disappointing: “Since its introduction four years ago, the birth encouragement program has been credited for an increase in births, 2,694 in 2010 from 2,145 in 2007. The program pays each couple about $780 at their wedding and then an additional $260 for the first baby, $520 for the second, $1,300 for the third and $1,820 for the fourth. Families with six or more children under the age of 18 are given a house. These payments are quite substantial in a region where an average monthly salary is $50.” The above statistics demonstrate that the population growth has been at a snail’s pace; only an incremental growth in three years, yet Karabagh’s future depend on its population growth.

Throughout all the negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, under the auspices of the Minsk Group, a referendum has been one of the sticking points. Azerbaijan insists that in order to have a national referendum, Karabagh’s Armenian population, along with Azerbaijan’s 7-million population should participate to determine the future status of Karabagh. In that scenario, it is obvious what the outcome would be. The Armenian side maintains that referendum must be limited to the Karabagh population. In this case, the outcome can also be predicted very easily. But there is an inherent danger here. Even if the exiled Azeri population returns to Karabagh to participate in the referendum, their numbers could have increased to dangerous levels, because, even in refugee camps, the Azeri population can grow at a faster pace than the Armenian population, without counting the decrease of Armenian population due to the youth seeking employment in foreign countries. There is also a caveat in this scenario; the Armenian side maintains pre-war ratio of 20 percent to 30 percent in favor of the Armenian population.

No one knows exactly the number of Karabagh’s current population and no one wishes to know. The generally-accepted figure is 180,000.

Since Israel’s independence in 1948, the Jewish population has grown exponentially trying to outnumber Palestinians, particularly the right-wing, religiously-intolerant faction wanting to settle in Palestinian territories, despite the wars and siege mentality, all helped with US tax dollars.

Despite the rise in the Jewish population, the growing Palestinian population within Israel and in the occupied territories poses a serious demographic problem for Israel’s future.

That is why some extremist groups in Israel maintain that all Palestinians must be expelled to Jordan.

Despite a massive infusion of funds and military support, Israel is still under a demographic threat. Which brings us back to Armenia and Karabagh: where will that support for Armenia come from?

That is why the Times sees a very gloomy prospect for that policy, by stating: “In a region as economically deprived as Nagorno Karabagh, is the solution simply to increase the birthrate? Without first improving education, infrastructure and employment opportunities for future generations and raising the standard of living, the children of today’s baby boom may grow up to leave in search of better lives abroad, just like the youths of today.”

The Karabagh population demonstrated its patriotism and heroism by winning the war but patriotism and heroism are not enough to win the peace and to win the future of the land.

Something more tangible is necessary.