Staunton, July 27 – While most of the neighboring republics of the North Caucasus have high birthrates and falling death rates, leading to rapid growth, the situation in South Osetia since 2008 is very different: birthrates and death rates are nearly equal, and outmigration is large. As a result, South Osetia in general and the Osetians in particular face a demographic collapse.
One of the basic themes of Moscow’s propaganda at the time of Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia was that the peoples of South Osetia were undergoing demographic decline under Georgian rule. But the Russian move into what even Russian sources describe as a “partially recognized” republic has not helped matters. Indeed, they have gotten worse.
Zaur Karayev, a “Kavkazskaya politika” analyst, suggests the Osetians may be headed toward extinction and the loss of national identity. “Big peoples swallow small ones,” he writes, “leaving in the best case only a memory about their ancestors. The question is only how long this or that ethnos will hold out” (kavpolit.com/articles/dve_osetii_demografija_na_eksport-18606/).
South Osetia’s population growth is now at zero, and because the population includes representatives of other groups like the Ingush who have much larger numbers of children, the situation with regard to Osetians in that republic is thus worse, with childbirths now below zero publication growth levels.
The situation in North Osetia is somewhat better, Karayev says. There the number of births exceeds the number of deaths, but again many of the births are from non-Osetians and there has been a massive outflow of people since 2002. And the birthrate has remained almost constant: in 1999, it was 11 per 1,000 population; in 2007, 11.6.In 2008, there was growth when “a little more than 10,000” newborns appeared. That led to a jump in the birthrate to 14.5 per 1,000, “but the cause of that,” the analyst says, was not any change in preferences for the number of children but “the mass flight of south Osetians from their motherland where a war was going on.”
Since that time, Karayev writes, there has been a gradual increase in the birthrate in both north and south, but “morality always was at a high level in North Osetia,” and “during the last several years, the republic has led the North Caucasus in infant mortality,” with a rate of 11.1 per thousand, one that has “almost not changed” since 2008.
If the situation in North Osetia can be said to have improved slightly in recent years, Karayev says, “in independent South Osetia the demographic situation since august 2007 has sharply deteriorated.” In 2014, the head of that republic even suggested that “for the last three years, the birthrate relative to the death rate had fallen by 2.5 times.”
In fact, the analyst says, that overstates the problem because it doesn’t include the large number of South Osetian women who choose to have their children in hospitals and other medical facilities in the north given how bad those in the south now are. If those births are counted, the balance of births and deaths is nearly equal.
Most of the South Osetian residents who give birth in North Osetia “as a rule return to their motherland although not all of them,” the analyst continues. And that further depresses the demographic situation there. Indeed, in that republic, he says, it can be said that “the Osetins as a people are disturbingly close to dying out.”