BY RAZMIG SHIRINIAN
This article is a product of shared sense of demographic crisis in Armenia. The Census and Demography Department of the National Statistical Service recently reported that Armenia’s natural population growth in the first half of 2015 declined by 8.6 percent. This is a clear indication of an acute demographic crisis at the national level.
It seems that the recurrent population decline in Armenia is primarily an identity crisis more than an economic one. Politically speaking, Armenian citizens and their shared knowledge about politics are yet to produce the idea of an independent country as a state, or the belief that the Armenian state exists as a collective self and protects the desires and beliefs of its citizens. If individuals realize that they are the component units of the whole called the state, then the state persists through time and develops long-lasting political values, such as human resources, national interests, infrastructural development, etc. The existence and continuity of the state are constructed and explained as collective knowledge to which individuals can be socialized and closely attached. However, over the last twenty five years we have casually reduced the idea of state to the individuals who govern it and who have controlled it. Ordinary people are habitually detached and alienated from the state
To overcome this deficiency, it is important for Armenian state to have a decision system that institutionalizes collective action by its citizens. This means that citizens start to take it for granted that they belong to the entity and will cooperate. They also begin to internalize state norms as they define their identities. When state norms are not internalized by citizens, then arbitrary and utilitarian (what’s in it for me) attitudes are developed toward the state. People might agree with the idea of the state only because they see the utility and the benefits of their agreement at a given situation.
It has been a customary behavior that individuals constantly question the rationality of their cooperation with the state and constantly look for ways to leave the country, and as such, the elements of political culture of the Armenian state, such as collectivism, civic duty, and liberty endure as long as they are useful to narrow individual interests. This is the root cause of political deficiency in Armenia. If the idea of state as a political culture is achievable by all, then people cooperate not merely because of what is in it for themselves, but out of a sense of loyalty to and identification with the state norms.
The stability and institutionalization of the state largely depend on the relations of authority, citizenry, and accountability among the individuals to construe group or individual actions as collective actions. This suggests a system or a structure in which the actions of citizens can be trusted or authorized as the actions of the state and gives the country the unity and the resolve that it needs. It also conveys the sense that primarily the state is acting rather than merely an individual or a group of individuals who happen to act together randomly. In an institutionalized state, citizens gain increased confidence by the collective and act responsibly on behalf of the state. Individual actions are clearly understood and accepted as actions on behalf of the whole. A young protester against the rising electricity price, for example, cannot be held responsible and punished for his action, just like the soldier at the Artsakh border who kills an enemy is not held responsible. They both are acting on behalf of the state.
The pressing issue for the Armenian individual is to develop an increased sense of national identity in conjunction with a high sense of state belonging and bonding. Long alienated from the idea of the state, the Armenian identity today appeals to authenticity of national character. What seems to be essential about bracing the current identity is the need for a genuine bonding between the independent state and the ideology of nationalism.
Notably (as some recent surveys such as the Caucasian Barometer have indicated,) over 96 percent of Armenians show pride in their ethnic belonging. However, the increased gravity of the emigration from the country since 1991 is also indicative of not just demographic or economic hardship, but also the systemic nature of national identity problem. Attempts at a comprehensive solution to the population decline and emigration problems have been at the sub governmental level at best (ARF’s “we will live in our country” plan, for example). More concerned with their corporate and business agenda, government agencies, including ministries and parliamentarians have been reluctant to accept or even realize the seriousness of the demographic problem. They have largely failed to include it within the jurisdiction of government authority.
Systemic thinking is more likely to grasp this agenda. Ideally, systemic thinking incorporates issues of national importance that merit public attention and mobilize the legitimate jurisdiction of government authority. Emigration from the country, for that matter, would primarily be considered part of the agenda of state building and not be regarded as one of personal choice. This is a broad agenda of government that begs for thorough attention and includes all issues of infrastructural development subject to systemic action by the government.
Natural population decline implies a sustained deficiency in reproductive capacity and an uneven distribution of the population across the country. The absence of high quality human capital in rural areas, for example, has been a major impediment to the state development. In the long-term perspective, it is unfeasible for Armenia to ensure a sustainable socioeconomic development without human capital in the rural areas. Government services such as transportation, water, sewerage, police protection and other customary services have not been primary concerns for the government resulting in detrimental effects on the demographic balance in the country.
The growing deficit in demography has clearly exposed the systemic nature of the emigration as well as abortion problems. Strategically important issues, both emigration and abortion, notably gender-selective abortions that favor males, beg for national attention and comprehensive solutions. They are systemic issues not to be reduced to or avoided as issues of personal choice. It is a well-established understanding that high trend of emigration and abortion tends to uproot the balanced development of the state.
Razmig B. Shirinian is a Professor of Political Science at the College of the Canyons.