Government in Nagorny Karabakh gives incentives to encourage couples to get married and have children.
By Lusine Musaelian in Stepanakert (CRS No. 439 09-Apr-08)
three years of living together, a young Karabakh couple - who prefer not to be
named - are thinking about legalising their union.
“We’ve decided to register our relationship in order to receive cash assistance from the government,” said the husband-to-be.
From January 1 this year, the government of the unrecognised republic of Nagorny Karabakh has handed out a one-off allowance worth 300,000 drams (around 1,000 US dollars) to newlywed couples.
The hope in Karabakh is that the benefit will encourage marriage and boost the population of the territory.
In 2008, the republic’s budget is providing 450 million drams (1.5 million dollars) to support about 1,500 new families. This followed a pre-election pledge by Bako Saakian in last summer’s presidential contest to help young families with a variety of economic measures.
The new allowance has already prompted many couples to tie the knot. In the first three months of this year, Stepanakert’s registry offices recorded 714 marriages – a record high number compared to the same period in previous years.
Ararat and Gayane Hairapetians initially planned to get married last year, but they postponed their wedding till 2008 in order to receive the allowance.
“We knew that we would get the sum if we got married in 2008 and decided to wait for several months,” said the new husband. His wife said they would use the money to buy all kinds of household equipment.
“Every day we receive 20 to 25 applications and register the same number of marriages,” said Ruzanna Danielian, who is head of one of Stepanakert’s marriage registry offices.
The official population of Nagorny Karabakh in 2006 was recorded as 137,700. Some international observers dispute the figures, saying that they are artificially inflated. Another statistic revealed by recent events is that in last July’s presidential election, the central electoral commission said that were 92,114 voters, of whom 71,286 had cast a legal ballot
What no one disputes is that the war of 1991-4 upset the demographic balance amongst Karabakh Armenians. By official estimates, 3,150 Karabakh Armenians died in the conflict.
In addition, according to information from Karabakh’s statistics service, 1,310 people left Karabakh in 2006, followed by a further one thousand in 2007.
“During the war, many young people left, many died, others became invalids,” said sociologist David Karabekian. “Today, invalids in Karabakh have no resources for creating a family and cannot get them, as they are not able to work.”
In the Nagorny Karabakh countryside, people still get married at an early age. “Girls in our village wed between the ages of 17 and 22,” said Armine Minasian, a resident of the village of Mets Takher in the Hadrut District, who is 22 and pregnant. “You are unlikely to find here a girl of this age unmarried.” She said some of the girls she went to school with already had two or three children.
But in the town of Stepanakert there are many single women aged over 30, which is an unusual phenomenon in this traditional society.
Irina Soghomonian is 32 and unmarried. She blames it on the war, in which she says many of the men of her age died, while those who survived have long been married.
Irina says she wants a child of her own so as not to be alone when she grows old, possibly through adoption but acknowledges that it is an expensive undertaking.
“Besides, in Karabakh, people tend to disapprove of adopting a child or having one out of wedlock,” she said. “It can become a subject for gossip. That is why one should make serious preparations before daring to take the step.”
Relationships in which people live together without official blessing as well as mothers having children outside marriage are not common in Karabakh, being seen as unacceptable, if not amoral, by local society.
Economic considerations way heavily on young people. The average salary in the republic is now 25,000 drams (82 dollars), having grown by 5,000 from last year.
Sasun Petrosian, 30, is a bachelor. He says he wants to have a family of his own, but won’t take risks because of the uncertain prospects he faces. “The problem is not the girls, it’s that I have no house of my own and no regular job to support a family,” said Petrosian, who is a mechanical engineer and receives a monthly salary of 50,000 drams. “What girl will want to date me, with a salary like mine?”
The Artsakh Development Agency is starting to provide mortgages that are repayable over long periods of up to 20 years and bear an annual interest rate of 12 per cent. However, there are worries that not all young people will be able to benefit from the programme.
While the government takes upon itself some of the burden of the interest (new prime minister Ara Harutiunian said the annual rate would be only six per cent), a person applying for a loan to buy a house is expected to earn more than 300 dollars a month, which is a high salary for Karabakh.
Family demands as well as government programmes mean that most Karabakhi girls do get married, if they find the right partner.
“It is commonly held in Karabakh that the average age for a girl to get married is 19 to 21, but I’m not worried that I’m still single,” said 22-year-old Lusine Gasparian. “Moreover, I am not going to get married in the next few years. I still need some time to establish myself, though I have decided for me that the latest age [for getting married] is 26. My family is more worried about me being single, and my grandma finds eligible suitors for me almost every week.”
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