By Atom Markarian
The population of Armenia has shrunk by almost one quarter over the past decade and is now just over three million, according to the preliminary results of a government census conducted last October.
The figures, released on Friday by the National Statistics Service, are the first official estimate of the scale of post-Soviet emigration.
The head of the statistics service, Stepan Mnatsakanian, said some 950,000 Armenians have out-migrated from the country since the Soviet collapse in the face of worsening living conditions. Mnatsakanian said only half of them could be covered by the census which gathered information about 3,458,303 people. Of them 3,020,768 -- including foreign nationals residing in Armenia for more than three months -- were in country from October 10-19, according to him
Most of the migrants are thought to be living in Russia on a permanent or temporary basis. Many others left for the United States.
The out-migration has largely resulted from a drastic fall in living standards in the early 1990s. Armenia is still reeling from the economic slump caused by the collapse of the Soviet command economy and the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
Some unofficial estimates put the number of people who have left the country since independence at more than one million. Their authors are bound to challenge the official figures.
Mnatsakanian claimed that the population survey’s margin of error will not exceed two percent. Its final results will be available next year, he said.
But Mnatsakanian’s predecessor, Eduard Aghajanov, argued on Friday that the census can not produce accurate demographic information because it was underfunded. Aghajanov, who headed the statistics agency from 1996 to 1998, told RFE/RL that $3 million spent by the government was highly insufficient for such an undertaking.
The bulk of the money was provided by Western donor states and organizations.