Is the number of believers rigged? Religious organizations don’t acknowledge the census data

Religious organizations don't consider the Census data credible. Image courtesy: Census 2011's Facebook page.
Religious organizations don’t consider the Census data credible. Image courtesy: Census 2011’s Facebook page.

The number of Armenia’s religious population rendered by the data of Census-2011 cannot be correct; moreover, it demonstrates a discriminatory attitude towards the tens of thousands of people that are not members of Armenian Apostolic Church.

Members of legally acting religious organizations and human rights activists are ascertained that the data on religious population published in the end of 2013 does not coincide with their numbers. The data is also not properly classified: for example, all the Evangelical Churches are listed under one title, the Evangelical.

Moreover, according to the information maintained by “Freedom of Conscience”, the data regarding religious population in at least two cities has been altered.

“The christens of Armenian Apostolic Church compiled approximately the 60 per cent, but during the sum-up we had registered 90 per cent,” said one of the regional authorities responsible for the Census 2011 who preferred to remain anonymous. Another authority noted that in villages and towns people were not asked about their confession, but the desirable numbers were registered.

According to Census 2011 among the 3 mln 19 thousand citizens of Armenia nearly 2 mln 900 thousand people that is the 96 per cent of the population belong to a confession. Meanwhile according to another sociological poll, the  “Religiosity and Atheism Index” released by Win-Gallup International, the religious population in Armenia composes 92 per cent.

Armenia is the third country in the world in religious population. Diagram courtesy of
Armenia is the third country in the world in religious population. Diagram courtesy of

According to the census data, Armenian Apostolic Church is the largest: 2 million 800 thousand people, that is the 96.5 percent of religious population (figures are rounded, with a slight variety). The other communities are dozens of times inferior, for example the Evangelical 29 thousand 280 people, Shar-fadinian, 26 204 thousand (mostly Yazidis), Catholics 13 thousand 843. Jehovah’s Witnesses 8.6 thousand, Orthodox , 7.5 million, the Pegans 5.5 thousand, Molokans 2.8 thousand. Non-adherents (we can assume the atheists) are a little over 34 thousand and the people of other confession make up to 7 thousand 888. 76 thousand people didn’t mention their confession (when a member of family didn’t state anything about the other’s confession), and almost 11 thousand didn’t respond to the question about religion.

Before the publication of Census 2011 results, the president of  “Aid and Rehabilitation Center for the Victims of Destructive Cults” NGO, a former National Security Service officer Alexander Amaryan noted that according to their evaluation the number of members of “religious organizations considered destructive” in Armenia composed than one hundred thousand (he didn’t consider Apostolic, Catholic and Orthodox churches as well the adherents of Shar-fadinian confession, the Molokans, the pegans and the atheists destructive).

A year after the census, according to “Aravot” newspaper, he stated a higher number. “The followers of Protestant branch are more dangerous, the charismatics, the pentecostals, the adventists, those whose number in Armenia reaches approximately 180 000.”

According to Amaryan, they consist the 15 per cent of the population of the country, writes Aravot daily.

Alexandr Amaryan. There are 350 thousand non-adherents of Armenian Apostolic Church.
Alexandr Amaryan. There are 350 thousand non-adherents of Armenian Apostolic Church.

According to census results, the simple arithmetics, nonetheless demonstrates that the protestants, referred to by the common name of Evangelicals (Amaryan calls them desrtuctive) are less than 30 thousand. If we even add the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the people who didn’t mention their confession and those, who didn’t respond to the question about confession then we will get only 133 thousand 77 people.

Hence, either the census doesn’t reflect the real situation, or Amaryan’s estimates are inaccurate.

The representatives of Religious organisations tend to think that the results of the Census are not reliable.

According to the “Jehova’s Witnesses” organization, the number of their members is 11 thousand, whereas the Census shows 8 695.

“If we skip those who immigrated the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armenia is approximately 11 thousand,” said the head of the organisation’s public relations department Tigran Harutyunyan.

“This number doesn’t include those who regularly or permanently take part in our meetings or study the Bible with the Witnesses.”

“Honestly saying if you compare the real number of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the results of the Census, it   of course won’t reflect the reality,” adds Harutyunyan.

The assistant to Senior Pastor of one of the biggest religious communities after the Apostolic community Armenian Evangelical church (AEC) Hovhannes Hovsepyan agrees with Harutyunyan.

“The Census 2011 doesn’t reflect the real and overwhelming picture on religious population, as the questionnaire didn’t include all the religious organizations registered in the country,- he mentioned. – Such an approach could not represent the reality. Different denominations exist in Armenia under the “Evangelical” title, but according to the census all of them are presented under the “Evangelical” title.”

Not stating the official number of their followers Hovsepyan, however, makes some secrets open.

“Armenia-based Evangelical Church, together with Armenian Evangelical Association,  staying truthful to their mission,  (freedom of religion, religious, cultural and educational endeavors in the  last 20 years without any discrimination have supported more than 100 thousand people, in religious, cultural and social spheres,” said the assistant of the  Senior Pastor of Armenian Evangelical Church.

The department of National and Religious Minorities of Government of Armenia  released a list according to which the 33 out of the 65 organizations registered religious organizations contain the word “evangelical”  or “gospel” in their titles, which  allows them to call themselves “Evangelical” churches.

According to Alexander Amaryan the number of non-registered religious organizations is 200, writes Aravot daily.

Armen Lusyan, the method of inquiring the religious affiliation via census was ineffective.  Image courtesy: Armen Lusyan.
Armen Lusyan, the method of inquiring the religious affiliation via census was ineffective. Image courtesy: Armen Lusyan.

The responsible for public relations of “Word of Life” religious organization Armen Lusyan says that the Census data could have not objectively reflected even on the approximate number of their church members for the simple reason that in the survey there was no separate line fixed for the Church of “Word of Life”.

And he can’t tell the real number of their church members, “…since we don’t carry out an official tab of our church followers and we don’t think that the presentation of the approximate numbers is appropriate.”

According to Lusyan, every time when there was a common, “Evangelical” point of identification for the followers of the churches of Evangelical family, they would orientate and mention that point, nevertheless the census data is incorrect.

“The thing is that as a result of various researches the number of Armenian Evangelical Christians is around 100 thousand. Whereas according to the census data the number of Evangelicals is 29 thousand 880. As we can see the difference between those numbers is quite big.”

The census method of inquiring the religious affiliation of the population, according to Lusyan, was ineffective and that experience demonstrated at least two vulnerable circumstances:

“Firstly the reporters have frequently not addressed that question to the citizens (this is an opinion formed as a result of personal observations). Secondly, there are believers who avoid mentioning their ecclesiastical affiliation for some reasons. Let alone these two reasons render the census data on religious affiliation of the population incorrect.”

Also the leader of Armenian Yazidi community is displeased with the data of Census 2011 regarding the religious affiliation. The president of Yazidi Union Aziz Tamoyan says, those numbers don’t correspond to reality, since the aids and accountants of the village headman of yazidi-inhabited villages have filled in that data in their work-rooms.

“They have registered false numbers. There are some Yazidis that are sectarian, I don’t neglect that, but it’s not many of them,” Tamoyan says angrily. Even the representatives of our union have not been present in village headmen’s rooms.”

According to Census 2011, Yazidi population in Armenia is 35 thousand 308, 24 thousand 518 of which belong to Shar-fadinian confession, the others have presented themselves as Christians, Pagans, Atheists etc. 3 thousand 597 consider themselves Apostolics, 532, Evangelicals, 40 Jehovah’s witnesses, 3 thousand 624 Pagans (it is likely that there are people of Shar-fadinian confession among those who considered themselves Pagan).

Presented separately from the Yazidis in census data are the Kurds living in Armenia who belong to the same ethical group with Yazidis, with the same religious roots. Among 2 thousand 162 Kurds living in Armenia 2 thousand 98 belong to confession, to the largest Pagan confessional community, 1 thousand 68 people, Shar-fadinians are 682, Apostolicss 180, Evangelicals 42, Jehovah’s Witnesses 2, 124 belong to other confession (this number possibly includes the Muslims).

“What I’m saying is let’s ask what religion people profess in the places where you have carried out the poll,” Tamoyan adds.

The question about the religious affiliation was first introduced in the census of RA exactly in 2011.

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