Armenia (republic),republic in the Transcaucasus region of western Asia, bordered by Georgia on the north, Azerbaijan on the east, and Turkey on the west and south. The Azerbaijani enclave of Naxçivan (Nakhichevan) also forms part of its southern boundary. Formerly a republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Armenia is an extremely mountainous country with a limited amount of arable land. Population is concentrated in river valleys, especially along the Hrazdan River, where Yerevan, the capital and largest city, is located.
Land and Resources
Armenia occupies about 29,800 sq km (about 11,500 sq mi) of the northeastern portion of the Armenian Plateau, an extensive upland area that extends as far south as Lake Van in Turkey. Armenia is characterized by high elevations and is extremely mountainous. Its average elevation is about 1800 m (about 5900 ft). Mount Aragats is the highest point in the republic, with an elevation of 4090 m (about 13,420 ft). Mountain ranges in the republic include the Pambak, Gegam, Vardenis and Zangezur branches of the Lesser Caucasus mountain system.
Rainfall varies greatly by location and elevation, with the greatest precipitation occurring on mountain slopes. The most arid region of the country is found along the Aras River, where average annual precipitation is less than 300 mm (about 12 in) per year. Armenia is covered by a dense network of small rivers and streams that are part of the Aras-Kura river basin. Due to the mountainous terrain, waterfalls and rapids are frequent. The republic contains numerous mountain lakes, the largest of which is Lake Sevana, which holds more than 90 percent of all standing water in Armenia.
Climate, soil, and vegetation vary greatly throughout Armenia, which contains twice as many soil types as European Russia. Vegetation typical of alpine, semi-desert, and steppe regions dominates much of the republic, although the extreme southeastern and northeastern portions contain forests of beech and oak. The republic's fauna includes wild boars, jackals, lynxes, and Syrian bears.
The population of Armeniaestimated in 1991 at 3,354,000is characterized by a high degree of ethnic homogeneity. Armenians constitute more than 90 percent of the republic's population, a proportion that increased considerably in recent years with the departure of Azerbaijanis and the influx of Armenian refugees from the Nagorno-Karabakh territory of Azerbaijan, because of the conflict in that region. Kurds and Russians are the next two most populous ethnic groups in the republic, but they each comprise only about 1.5 percent of Armenia's total population. Small numbers of Ukrainians, Georgians, and Greeks also live in the republic.
Armenia is highly urbanized, with more than two-thirds of all residents living in cities or towns. The largest city is Yerevan, which had an estimated population of 1,202,000 in 1990. The next most populous city, Gyumri (formerly Leninakan, also known as Kumari), is about one-tenth the size of Yerevan, with a population of 123,000 in 1990.
The official language of Armenia is Armenian, an Indo-European language with a distinct 38-letter alphabet. Russian is also commonly spoken. The vast majority of the population is Christian. The Armenian Apostolic (Orthodox) Church is the most popular among Armenians. Russian Orthodoxy and Shiite Islam are also practiced.
Armenia is highly industrialized. Industry comprised 46.3 percent of the country's net material product in 1992, and 41 percent of the labor force was employed in industry and construction in 1990. Industrial production is dominated by manufacturing and mining, including gold, copper, zinc, and silver mining. Electrical engines, machine tools, and chemical products, such as synthetic rubber, comprise the chief manufactured goods. The industrial sector suffered greatly from the economic blockade imposed by Azerbaijan in 1991, which resulted in severe shortages of natural gas, petroleum, and other energy sources. In 1994 Armenian officials announced their decision to restart the power plant at Mdedzamor, the only nuclear power station in the Transcaucasus region, in order to compensate for the diminished energy supply. The plant had been shut down after northern Armenia suffered a devastating earthquake in 1988, although the plant was not damaged. The government of Azerbaijan protested the announcement to restart the plant, because of the possibility that the plant would be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Agriculture is the second largest sector of the Armenian economy, producing about one-quarter of the country's net material product in 1991 and nearly 40 percent in 1992. It is also the second largest employer in Armenia; nearly 19 percent of the total labor force was employed in agriculture in 1990. Principal crops include wheat, potatoes, tobacco, vegetables, grapes, and other fruits. Agriculture is highly dependent on irrigation, especially in areas near the Aras River in the republic's south. Local food production does not satisfy domestic needs, however, so Armenia must import large quantities of food from abroad. During the Soviet period, Armenia imported about 60 percent of its bread and nearly two-thirds of its dairy products from other republics. The economic blockade by Azerbaijan and the civil war in Georgia caused food supplies to greatly diminish, but in contrast to industrial production, agricultural output increased considerably in the early 1990s. The increase in domestic food production was caused in part by the privatization of land holdings, which began in 1991.
After the breakup of the USSR, Armenia continued to use the Russian ruble as its currency. Beginning in mid-1993, however, the Central Bank of Russia refused to accept rubles printed before that year. This action caused a massive inflow of rubles to Armenia and other former Soviet republics where the ruble was still allowed to circulate. Inflation accelerated greatly as a result of the influx of old rubles, which were worthless in Russia. The Central Bank of Russia demanded strict control of the new ruble, prompting Armenian leaders to issue a separate currency, called the dram, in November 1993. The dram was originally issued at a rate of 200 rubles per dram.
The head of state of Armenia is the president, elected by direct popular vote. The highest governmental authority is the parliament, formally called the Supreme Soviet, a unicameral legislative body. Multi-candidate elections for parliament were held for the first time in 1990. The president has the power to appoint the prime minister, who selects government ministers. The current constitution was formed in 1978 during the Soviet period and was scheduled to be replaced by a new constitution in 1995. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Armenia is one of the earliest sites of human civilization. It is considered by some specialists to be one of the first areas of iron and bronze smelting, and some cereal grains, such as rye, may also have been first developed here. For most of its history, Armenia was controlled or occupied by external powers, including Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Mongols, Turks, and Russians. Independent Armenian states existed for short periods of time in the past, the most extensive of which existed under Armenian King Tigranes the Great. Under Tigranes, Armenian-controlled territory stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean and parts of modern-day Syria. This period of independence ended in 69 BC with the invasion of the Romans. Armenia later became the first Christian state in the history of the world in AD 301.
Armenia suffered from extremely harsh treatment by foreign powers several times during its history. The invasion of the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century resulted in the first large-scale emigration of Armenians. Other periods of emigration followed, especially during the late 19th century, when Armenians were persecuted by Turkish and Russian governments for agitating for political reforms. Between 1894 and 1896, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were systematically massacred by Turkish forces. The Russian government, although not as repressive as the Turkish government, closed Armenian schools and ordered the confiscation of church property. Even larger massacres occurred during the 20th century as the Turkish government of the Young Turk era (1908-1918) sought to move Armenians to Mesopotamia. Between 1915 and 1923 more than 1 million people were estimated to have died from the Turkish action.
In 1918, Armenia declared itself an independent state after the short-lived Transcaucasian Federation with Georgia and Azerbaijan collapsed. In 1922 Armenia was incorporated into the USSR as part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. In 1936 Armenia became a separate Soviet Socialist Republic within the USSR. (For the history of Armenia between 1936 and 1991, see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: History.)
In the late 1980s popular unrest demonstrated the desire for Armenian independence, despite half a century of Soviet rule. Under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Armenians took advantage of the policy of glasnost' (Russian for "openness") to publicly decry the state of the environment and rally for the annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan. A 1988 earthquake in Armenia killed 25,000 and left more than 400,000 homeless. In 1989 the Armenian Supreme Soviet declared the enclave part of Armenia and proclaimed the sovereignty of the republic of Armenia. In September 1991 Armenian residents voted overwhelmingly to secede from the USSR, and the Supreme Soviet declared Armenia a completely independent state in the same month. In October 1991 Levon A. Ter-Petrosyan, formerly chairman of the Armenian Supreme Soviet, became the first popularly elected president of the new republic. Armenia became a member of the United Nations in 1992.
Political tension in the country increased sharply in the first years after Armenian independence. Difficulties presented by the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the economic blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan resulted in an increase in political opposition to the government. The ruling party, the Armenian Nationalist Movement, which promotes a moderate program of economic reform and territorial delimitation, was challenged by a wide array of political parties. The foremost was the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), which has been in existence for more than a hundred years and was the ruling party during Armenia's brief period of independence from 1918 to 1922. The ARF, which exerts a great degree of control over Armenian military forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, rejects economic market reforms and advocates closer ties with Russia. Due to political pressure from the ARF and other opposition groups, Kosrov Arutyunyan was forced to resign as prime minister, and an interim prime minister, Grant Bagratyan, was appointed in 1993. In 1993 Armenian forces defeated the Azerbaijani army in several confrontations, which led to Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent areas. In 1994 Azerbaijan began a new push against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, but these new offensives generated very few results other than a high number of casualties and refugees. Several cease-fire agreements, some negotiated by Russia, were set and later violated as both sides attempted to gain an advantage. Meanwhile, Armenia continued to suffer from the Azerbaijani embargo. Shortages of electricity, food, and fuel continued. In November President Ter-Petrosyan announced new reforms to stabilize the economy. In response to these austerity measures the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Armenia's withdrawal of $25 million in December. Also in December, Ter-Petrosyan suspended the ARF from the parliament, accusing the organization of terrorism, drug trafficking, and political killings.
At the beginning of 1995, Armenia controlled about 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory. Increasing pressure to end the conflict came from Western oil companies that were eager to build a pipeline across Armenia to transport Caspian Sea oil to Turkey. The project could not begin without resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In early 1995 the parliament began working on the ratification of the country's new constitution.