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Reported Population Growth In Chechnya Open To Question

Counted twice?

Counted twice?

Experts have periodically questioned the reliability of Chechen demographic data ever since the All-Russian census of 2002. The figures for the first nine months of this year, which the Chechen government has just released, are similarly questionable.

According to the new data, live births (24,885) during the first nine months of 2013 exceeded deaths (4,977) by a ratio of 5:1. That fits the pattern that emerged from the findings of the All-Russian census of 2010, when according to Ramzan Digayev, head of the Chechen subsidiary of the State Statistics Service, the average number of births per year was 32,000, compared with 6,200 deaths.

The ratio of births to deaths appears implausible, however, in light of the fact that infant mortality in Chechnya (17.5 per 1,000 live births) is more than double the average for Russia as a whole (7.5 per 1,000 live births).

One prominent Russian expert, Nikita Mkrtchian of the Higher School of Economics Institute for Demography, attributed the low mortality rate registered in Chechnya in 2010 to the fact that the conduct of the census in both Chechnya and Ingushetia was flawed, with an unspecified number of people being counted twice, both in their home village and in the town to which they had moved. If the total population figure for a given region is overstated, Mkrtchian explained, the mortality rate will appear lower than it is in reality. He opined that "if the population had been counted accurately, the mortality rate in the North Caucasus would not be different from that in other Russian regions."

Mkrtchian was not the first scholar to suggest that Chechnya's population has been significantly inflated. In the wake of the 2002 All-Russian census, Aleksandr Cherkasov of the human rights watchdog Memorial said he believed the current population of Chechnya was approximately 700,000, compared with the official total of 1,088,816.

Between the Soviet censuses of 1979 and 1989, the population of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR grew by 11 percent to reach 1,277,000. If that rate of increase had been sustained for a further 13 years, the combined population of the two republics in 2002 would have been in the region of 1.42 million. The permanent population of the Republic of Ingushetia as of 1 January, 2001, not counting displaced persons from Chechnya, was 460,100, according to Consequently, the population of the Chechen Republic in 2002 would have been less than 1 million -- even without factoring in the estimated 250,000 fatalities during the fighting of 1994-96 and 1999-2000, and the massive outmigration during that period of the region's Russian population.

The population of the Chechen Republic at the time of the 2010 census was given as 1,269,000, an increase of some 180,000, or 16.5 percent, since 2002. That increase was apparently the consequence of a baby boom in the mid-2000s: In February 2008, then-Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's press service said 27, 989 children were born in 2006 and 33,661 in 2007, contributing to a total population of 1,205,000 on January 1, 2008, 22,000 more than one year earlier. Chechen analysts questioned the accuracy of those figures.

According to Digayev, the Chechen population on September 1, 2013 numbered 1,339,317 people. That is an increase of 135,000, or over 10 percent, in 5 1/2 years. At the same time, thousands of Chechens have reportedly left Russia to apply for asylum in Poland or Germany.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.