TBILISI, DFWatch–The 2014 census sheds light on issues related to ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities in Georgia.
The size of all ethnic minorities fell drastically.
While Georgia has lost 15% (658 thousand) of its population since the 2002 census, the number of representatives of ethnic minorities declined at a much higher rate – 31%.
Azerbaijanis are still the largest ethnic minority making up for the 6.3% of the country’s population, although their number declined by 18% (52 thousand).
The regions with the highest concentration of ethnic Azerbaijani are Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti, and Tbilisi.
Armenians are the second largest ethnic minority making up for 4.5% of the population, although their number declined by alarming 32% (81 thousand).
The majority of ethnic Armenians live in Samtskhe–Javakheti, Tbilisi, and Kvemo Kartli.
The number of Russians declined by 61% (currently making up 0.7% of the population), Ossetians by 62% (0.4% of the population), Yazidis by 33% (0.3% of the population), Greeks by 62%, Kists by 20%, Assyrians by 26%, and Jews by 20%.
Surprisingly, the only minority that became more numerous are Abkhaz. The 2014 census reported over 1 thousand more ethnic Abkhazians living on Georgia–controlled territory than in 2002 — a 29% increase.
However, linguistic data suggests that the number of self-reported ethnic Abkhazians (4.6 thousand) might be inflated, which can be related to the fact that some Georgians consider themselves Abkhaz by the virtue of being born in Abkhazia. Only 272 people in Georgia proper declared Abkhaz as their mother tongue.
Neither 2002 nor 2014 census took into account the population living in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are considered under Russian occupation by Georgian law.
Ethnic minorities still struggle with proficiency in Georgian
Azerbaijani is the first language 213 thousand people in Georgia and corresponds roughly to the number of people who declared Azerbaijani ethnicity.
Only 19% native speakers of Azerbaijani declared that they spoke Georgian.
Armenian is the first language of 145 thousand people and among them 40% can speak Georgian.
Russian is the first language of 46 thousand people and among them 64% can speak Georgian.
5.7 thousand people declared Ossetian as their mother tongue (85% proficiency in Georgian) while only 272 declared Abkhaz as their mother tongue (60% proficiency).
Orthodox Christianity and Islam strengthen their positions
83.4% of Georgia’s population is Christian Orthodox. The only religious minority whose number didn’t decline at a faster rate than that of general population were Muslims. The relative percentage of Muslims in Georgia rose from 9.9% in 2002 to 10.7% of the population.
Georgian Muslims are mostly concentrated in Kvemo Kartli, Achara, and Kakheti.
43% of the population of Kvemo Kartli is Muslim (mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis), 40% in Achara (mostly ethnic Georgians), and 12% in Kakheti (mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis with a significant minority of 5.6 thousand Kists).
According to the 2002 census, only 31% of the population of Achara were Muslims.
The third biggest confession are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who make up for 2.9% of the population. They also make up for 40% of the population of Samtskhe–Javakheti.
Additionally, there are 19 thousand Catholics in Georgia, 12 thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses, 8.6 thousand Yazidis, 2.5 thousand Protestants, and 1.4 thousand Jews.
Catholics live compactly in small pockets in Samtskhe–Javakheti where they constitute 9% of the population.