A photo project about Nagorno-Karabakh's birth encouragement program

January 18 |
Narine Hakobyan, 19, plays with her new born daughter at home. All photos by Anastasia Taylor-Lind.

Jenn recently shared a NY Times piece called The National Womb, which is a project that documentary photographer Anastasia Taylor-Lind undertook. The focus is a "birth encouragement program" that the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh implemented in 2008: basically, the government gives cash to newlyweds each time they have a kid.

The goal of the program is to rebuild the population of the region, which was severely lowered due to a war that lasted from 1991-1994. Couples receive $780 when they get married, $260 when they have their first kid, $520 for the second, $1300 for the third, and $1820 for the fourth. As the slideshow tells you, families with six or more kids under 18 are given a house.

Maro Hakobyan feeds one of the triplets born to her son, Artak Hakobyan, and his wife Ani.
Gayane Aghajanyan breastfeeds her newborn son Rafael at Stepanakert Maternity Hospital.
Marianna Avanesyan, 24, puts on her two-year-old daughter Mane's shoes at home in Askeran, Nagorno Karabakh.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a region that also suffers from high unemployment, low salaries, and a population of youth that are intent on leaving the area for opportunities elsewhere. According to VII, the four-year-old program has increased birth rates by 25.5%.

You can see more photos at the NY Times slideshow and VII The Magazine.

  1. This has nothing to do with the article posted. I just wanted to let you know that it's disappointing to see that Offbeat Mama chose not to participate in the blackout that so many other bloggers are participating in.

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    • SOPA issues are hugely important to me, but I'm a small-business owner who spends a massive of time trying to keep my sites UP — a protest that involves taking them down just doesn't work for me. Just yesterday, I spent hours in a white-hot panic talking to my server people about why my sites had gone offline for 8-hours Sunday night — all while fielding non-stop emails from pissed off readers, concerned advertisers, and confused staff… after going through all that, I simply am not in a place to take the Empire down for a day.

      I'm also not in the mood for getting scolded by readers — especially when it's over issues that we're in political agreement about. If Offbeat Mama or any of my other publications disappoint you, you're welcome to go elsewhere.

      If you or anyone else has any questions, please email me rather than derail this comment thread.

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        • Since one of the main points of protesting SOPA is to avoid the economic ramifications that would come about from censoring the Internet so heavily (including loss of ad revenue), it seems silly to expect everyone to shut down their websites and lose a full day's revenue just to make a point. Though I respect those who make that choice, I TOTALLY support the Offbeat Empire's ultimately very reasonable decision to stay online!

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      • I agree with this response so much, I almost typed my name
        as Agree. Tactful, firm, and to the point. Way to go!

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  2. What beautiful and touching photographs. Thanks for posting this!

  3. I had no idea about this! Great information and it's documented really gorgeously.
    I think the world could take a nod from this region; a house isn't a luxury. Shelter and food and water should be civil rights, but handing them out in rations is complicated, too.
    Good for this government for doing this though.

  4. I think the idea behind this is amazing, and the pictures are beautiful…but I have to wonder….isn't the earth over populated enough already?

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    • Yes but damn ye olde population density. People don't settle down and out equally, and this unfortunately can cause gaps in a smaller economy. Imagine not having a grocery store because there's no one to run it, and not enough people in town to keep it open.

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      • My biggest worry though is how they plan to keep the people there, once they grow up. The post even says it has "a population of youth that are intent on leaving the area for opportunities elsewhere". I hope the government is doing as much to incentivize staying as reproducing. (Of course, I have done nothing but read this post, so I would presume they are.)

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        • Great point donteatmenooo, and REALLY interesting blog post!

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  5. Beautiful photos, interesting issue that I had no idea about.

    And, apropos of nothing — ARTAK!!!

  6. This post leaves me conflicted on the issue. I understand what the government is trying to do, and I'm glad to see that they've identified the problem and are generously compensating people for taking part, but there are other issues. As mentioned in an above comment, what is going to keep this new population in place? Presumably with not much in the way of family roots, the children born will want to leave when they reach the age of independence. And, won't these families who've had children to get the government stipends find that they can't thrive in an area that is so neglected and underpopulated and find the need to move elsewhere? I'll stop now and go read the original article and picture essay. Thank you for bringing this corner of our world to light!

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    • I have the same concerns plus a few more. In Australia we've experienced the baby bonus which has helped many families with the extra bits and pieces when bub arrived. The problem is, for the most part, the people convinced that $260, $520, $1300, $1820, etc is worth having a baby for (a baby they otherwise wouldn't choose to have) are families for who are already struggling, often aren't great with finances and give birth to children who are probably not going to have an easy life.

      I'm all for helping people who are having a hard time, but paying them for babies who are going to cost a whole lot more to actually raise feels like a bait and switch to me. Why not offer a permanent tax break or something like that? And in Australia, why the hell are we means testing it and not encouraging higher income earners to have a family? Especially when most are only in that bracket because of dual incomes?

      And if we're going to encourage people to have babies we need to make sure there are other supports and services in place first and that those babies will get the best chance they can get to grow into happy & healthy people. They need decent education and a chance to get a job. Without that we're just creating slums for people who never had a chance to support themselves and the live the life they deserved.

      Over here, the only strongly correlating response to the baby bonus has been a matching rise in child protection reports. Most of which will never be acted on because we didn't have enough social workers to begin with. Sorry for the ranty essay, but as a pro-reunification foster carer it really bothers me that the parents of the kids I care for are being bribed to have children that really never had a chance at a happy & healthy life.

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      • Great points. I'm also curious as to how much this money will help families. Where I live, that kind of cash won't go far at all, but maybe it is very significant for there families. What does a house cost for example? Is this enough capital for someone to eventually start a small business? Interesting and great article.

    • I'm conflicted too.

      On one hand, I can see that this is a great incentive for repopulating the region and will help out with the costs of having a baby.

      On the other hand, I can see how this (especially the house part) could see women under incredible pressure to have children, for money that may not be a 'bonus' but a necessity. I'm not totally up on how women's right are going in that region, but I would hate to see women basically forced by their husbands or family to have children.

      Completely oversimplified, but I can just see a lot of potential for negative consequences.

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  7. I react a bit on that they want people to have more children, but at the same time it is a population that suffers from high unemployment. I hope they have a plan as to what all these children are going to do in the future to make money. There is no need for more societies that live in poverty in this world.

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  8. In Australia the government gives us 5k everytime we have a baby! Weeeee freeeeee moneeey. Oh snap, gotta raise a kid now 😉

    The photos were beautiful thank you for sharing and I really loved your response to the reader above. x

  9. I essentially agree with all the main points made in previous comments. While I think the intentions here were good, this seems like a really poorly thought out plan to save the region. I simply don't see this doing the right kind of good in the community. It seems very foolish to me.

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  10. I live in a rural/remote area and we have the problem of too many people moving away to the bright lights of the big city.. theres not much work here, theres not many people and theres no reason to stay.

    The point is, with more people comes more employment opportunities and it creates its own little self fulfilling economy. Eg: There will be a high need for babysitters then educators and then you have more demand for doctors etc. More people in an area needs more (or better) banking, shops, postal services, roads, buildings, houses etc. All of a sudden there is enough population to make it feasible for someone to open a good sized store and employ a few people etc et and so it goes until you have a thriving economy again.

    Obviously it would not be as simple as that but you get the idea.

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  11. I was looking through the photos and the people seem so unhappy, is it because they are having kids they don't want for money?? I'm
    not demonizing the program, I'm just wondering if anyone else noticed this and has any ideas or info as to why they look so sad.

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    • You know.. I think it might be more that the expressions support something the photographer is trying to say.. she was in control, to a degree, of what she shot and how it's presented. I imagine she's inviting viewers to form their own ideas about a heavily political issue. there's no way to know what the women feel, but a statement is definitely being made.

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  12. I'm not sure I agree that they look sad – I found the top photo wistful and spiritual, not unlike lots of other mother/baby photos we see in the West. There's a kind of universalism to it that I really like – the situation is so crazy, to our eyes, but the mother/baby bond remains the same.

    I also see where people are coming from in their comments, but depopulation caused by war can be really destructive. Particularly if it causes a gender imbalance, you can end up with an aging population with no working-age people to look after them. That could be a real drain.

    In any case, like some of the rest of you, I know nothing at all about this region, so I'm talking off the top of my head. But I suspect that trying to rebalance and increase the population of the area could be very sensible. As QCaz says, there are more demands for your services in a better-populated area.

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