ISSN 2330-717X

Ethnic Sorting Out Of South Caucasus Nearly Complete – OpEd


A century ago, the territories that are now Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia were extremely mixed ethnically, but as a result of a combination of conflicts and government policies, the three countries are far more ethnically monolithic than they were with fewer of each living in the other two.


In the current issue of Moscow’s Demoscope weekly, demographer Anzor Sakhvadze examines the shifting ethno-demographic balance in the south Caucasus with particular attention to the shifts among the three titular nationalities over the last 100 years when good census materials are available (

There were six censuses during the Soviet period (1926, 1939, 1959, 1970, 1979, and 1989) and censuses in each of the three since 1991 – in Azerbaijan in 1999 and 2009, in Georgia in 2002 and 2014, and in Armenia in 2001 and 2011. Over this century, Azerbaijan increased its share continuously, Georgia declined from the largest and Armenia also declined but not as fast.

Azerbaijanis have been the core of the population of their republic throughout this period, growing from 61.2 percent in 1926 to 91.6 percent in 2009. Ethnic Russians and Armenians vied for second place, but now the Lezgins are in second place, with Russians, Talysh and Armenians following.

The decline in the Armenian share of the Azerbaijani population has been dramatic. In 1897, Armenians formed almost 20 percent of the total. In 1926, they declined to 12 percent and remained at that level until near the end of the Soviet period, when they fell to 5.6 percent in 1989 and then to only 1.3 percent in 2009.

As far as ethnic Georgians are concerned, they were never numerous in Azerbaijan: at no point did they exceed 0.4 percent of the population.


Compared to its neighbors, Georgia has been and remains a more multi-national state. In 1926, ethnic Georgians formed 67.1 percent of the population. In 1989, their share had risen to 70.1 percent and in 2014, to 86.8 percent, high by world standards but low relative to the share of the titular nationalities in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Georgian birthrates have been low and outmigration high. As a result, the total number of ethnic Georgians in Georgia declined by 14.9 percent between 1989 and 2014. During Soviet times, ethnic Russians moved in but not in huge numbers and most of them have left since Georgia regained its independence in 1991.

Between 1926 and 1989, the number of Armenians in Armenia rose 4.1 times while the entire population rose only 3.7 times. As a result, the Armenian share increased and in the latter year reached 98 percent where it has remained. Between 1959 and 1979, immigration of Armenians from Georgia, Azerbaijan and the North Caucasus provided 20 percent of the growth of the ethnic Armenian comment.

In Soviet times, Azerbaijanis were the second largest nationality in Armenia, at first growing rapidly until in 1939, they formed 10.2 percent of the population and then falling, especially precipitously after the Karabakh conflict broke out. Today, there is not a single Azerbaijani left in Armenia “for all practical purposes,” the demographer says.

Russians were the second largest minority until the 1980s when they were displaced by the Kurds. There were never many Georgians in Armenia, and today there are only 617 of them according to the last census. In fact, “today Armenia is practically a monoethnic state where there is a very insignificant opportunity for further ethnic transformation.”

With regard to the concentration of the titular nationality in the respective countries, the three vary as well. Georgians were until the post-Soviet period, with 95.1 percent of all Georgians in the USSR living in that republic. Armenians were exactly the reverse: Only 66.7 percent of all Armenians living in the USSR lived in the Armenian Republic.

Azerbaijanis occupied an intermediate position. Eighty-five percent of Azerbaijanis lived in Azerbaijan at the end of Soviet times, although outmigration means that that figure has declined somewhat in recent decades. As a result of all these shifts, Armenia and Azerbaijan are now mono-ethnic states, while Georgia is somewhat less so but moving in that direction.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

2 thoughts on “Ethnic Sorting Out Of South Caucasus Nearly Complete – OpEd

  • April 23, 2017 at 4:26 am

    Mr. Goble,

    Even the phrase “number of Armenians who live in Azerbaijan” is disingenuous. You clearly know this from your efforts in negotiating between Armenia and Azerbaijan. 1.3%, your claim as the “Armenian population Azerbaijani” corresponds to the number of Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region that fought for its independence from Azerbaijan. When its serves Baku’s propose, this population is added to Azerbaijani demographics. The only Armenians who “live” in Azerbaijan are spouses of hidden mixed marriages, amounting to a statistical zero. Armenians were violently expelled from across the breadth of Azerbaijan starting in the late 1980s. Over a quarter million Armenians were expelled from from Baku in 1990 alone. Armenophobia is a basic tenet of the Azerbaijani national ethos, thus no Armenians could survive in Azerbaijan — and you know this as well.

    If your goal was accuracy, you failed.

    Yerevan, Armenia

  • April 23, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Yes, Azerbaijan, is the most populous and wealthiest country in the Caucasus, but it is seemingly never satisfied with the amount of land it holds.

    For example, Azerbaijan covets Armenian Artsakh/Karabagh even though Azeris/Muslims have never constituted more than a small fraction of the population there. Stalin handed Artsakh over to Azerbaijan in the 1920s solely to curry favor with Turkey.

    Artsakh is demographically and historically Armenian, and its Armenians have long been the victim of massacres and ethnic cleansing by Azeris.

    Look at 100% Azeri-populated Nakhichevan. It used to have a huge Armenian population, but over the years Azerbaijan forced the Armenians there to flee.

    Several years ago Azerbaijan destroyed a large ancient Armenian cemetery there so as to try to erase all presence of Armenians. Please see the live video on YouTube.

    That’s what would have happened to Artsakh had not Armenians fought back.

    I think that the author, Paul Goble, should also have told his readers that while Armenia and Georgia are ancient nations and peoples, there was no country named Azerbaijan until 1918.

    The non-Christian people on what is now Azerbaijan simply referred to themselves as Turks, Muslims, or Tartars.

    For Azerbaijan to covet Armenian land is rather outrageous.


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