Armenia

Introduction Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in an estimated 1 million Armenian deaths. The eastern area of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Muslim Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey imposed an economic blockade on Armenia and closed the common border because of the Armenian separatists' control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas.
History

Antiquity
Main article: Prehistoric Armenia

Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which, as Judeo-Christian theology states, Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood. (Gen. 8:4). In the Bronze Age, several states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1500-1200 BC). Then, the Nairi people (twelfth to ninth centuries BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000-600 BC) successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highland. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people.[8][9][10][11] Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by the Urartian king Argishti I.

The Kingdom of Armenia at its greatest extent under Tigranes the Great.

Around 600 BC, the Kingdom of Armenia was established under the Orontid Dynasty. The kingdom reached its height between 95 - 66 BC under Tigranes the Great, becoming one of the most powerful kingdoms of its time within the region. Throughout its history, the kingdom of Armenia enjoyed periods of independence intermitted with periods of autonomy subject to contemporary empires. Armenia's strategic location between two continents has subjected it to invasions by many peoples, including the Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, Persians, Ottoman Turks and Russians.

In 301, Armenia became the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official state religion,[12][13] while a number of Christian communities have been established in Armenia since 40 AD. There had been various pagan communities before Christianity, but they were converted by an influx of Christian missionaries. Tiridates III (238-314 AD) was the first ruler to officially Christianise his people, his conversion occurring ten years before the Roman Empire granted Christianity an official toleration under Galerius, and 36 years before Constantine the Great was baptised.

After the fall of the Armenian kingdom in 428 AD, most of Armenia was incorporated as a marzpanate within the Sassanid Empire. Following an Armenian rebellion in 451 AD, Christian Armenians maintained their religious freedom, while Armenia gained autonomy.

The Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, 1199-1375.

Middle Ages
Main article: Medieval Armenia

After the Marzpanate period (428-636), Armenia emerged as the Emirate of Armenia, an autonomous principality within the Arabic Empire, reuniting Armenian lands previously taken by the Byzantine Empire as well. The principality was ruled by the Prince of Armenia, recognised by the Caliph and the Byzantine Emperor. It was part of the administrative division/emirate Arminiyya created by the Arabs, which also included parts of Georgia and Caucasian Albania, and had its center in the Armenian city Dvin. The Principality of Armenia lasted till 884, when it regained its independence from the weakened Arabic Empire.

The reemergent Armenian kingdom was ruled by the Bagratuni dynasty, and lasted till 1045. In time, several areas of the Bagratid Armenia separated as independent kingdoms and principalities such as the Kingdom of Vaspurakan ruled by the House of Artsruni, while still recognizing the supremacy of the Bagratid kings.

In 1045, the Byzantine Empire conquered Bagratid Armenia. Soon, the other Armenian states fell under Byzantine control as well. The Byzantine rule was short lived, as in 1071 Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantines and conquered Armenia at the Battle of Manzikert, establishing the Seljuk Empire. To escape death or servitude at the hands of those who had assassinated his relative, Gagik II, King of Ani, an Armenian named Roupen went with some of his countrymen into the gorges of the Taurus Mountains and then into Tarsus of Cilicia. The Byzantine governor of the palace gave them shelter where the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was eventually established.

The Seljuk Empire soon started to collapse. In the early 1100s, Armenian princes of the Zakarid noble family established a semi-independent Armenian principality in Northern and Eastern Armenia, known as Zakarid Armenia. The noble family of Orbelians shared control with the Zakarids in various parts of the country, especially in Syunik and Vayots Dzor.

Map of Imperial Russia's Armenian oblast.

Foreign rule
Further information: Ottoman Armenia, Russian Armenia, Persian Armenia

During the 1230s, the Mongol Ilkhanate conquered the Zakaryan Principality, as well as the rest of Armenia. The Mongolian invasions were soon followed by those of other Central Asian tribes, which continued from the 1200s until the 1400s. After incessant invasions, each bringing destruction to the country, Armenia in time became weakened. During the 1500s, the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Persia divided Armenia among themselves. The Russian Empire later incorporated Eastern Armenia (consisting of the Erivan and Karabakh khanates within Persia) in 1813 and 1828.

Under Ottoman rule, the Armenians were granted considerable autonomy within their own enclaves and lived in relative harmony with other groups in the empire (including the ruling Turks). However, as Christians under a strict Muslim social system, Armenians faced pervasive discrimination. When they began pushing for more rights within the Ottoman Empire, Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II, in response, organised state-sponsored massacres against the Armenians between 1894 and 1896, resulting in an estimated death toll of 80,000 to 300,000 people. The Hamidian massacres, as they came to be known, gave Hamid international infamy as the "Red Sultan" or "Bloody Sultan."

As the Ottoman Empire began to collapse, the Young Turk Revolution (1908) overthrew the government of Sultan Hamid. Armenians living in the empire hoped that the Committee of Union and Progress would change their second-class status. Armenian reform package (1914) was presented as a solution by appointing an inspector general over Armenian issues.[14]

World War I and the Armenian Genocide
Main article: Armenian Genocide

The United States contributed a significant amount of aid to the Armenians during the Armenian Genocide. Shown here is a poster for the American Committee for Relief in the Near East vowing that they (the Armenians among others) "shall not perish."

With onslaught of World War I, the Ottoman Empire and Russian Empire engaged during the Caucasus and Persian Campaigns, the new government began to look on the Armenians with distrust and suspicion. This was due to the fact that the Russian army contained a contingent of Armenian volunteers. On April 24, 1915, Armenian intellectuals were arrested by Ottoman authorities and, with the Tehcir Law (29 May 1915), eventually a large proportion of Armenians living in Anatolia perished in what has become known as the Armenian Genocide. There was local Armenian resistance in the region, developed against the activities of the Ottoman Empire. The events of 1915 to 1917 are regarded by Armenians and the vast majority of Western historians to have been state-sponsored mass killings, or genocide. However as Turkey is an ally of the west and holds a strategic position near to the Middle East, both the United States and United Kingdom governments continue to maintain that there is a lack of unequivocal evidence to categorise the events as genocide. Turkish authorities maintain that the deaths were the result of a civil war coupled with disease and famine, with casualties incurred by both sides. Most estimates for the number of Armenians killed range from 650,000 to 1.5 million. Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have been campaigning for official recognition of the events as genocide for over 30 years. These events are traditionally commemorated yearly on April 24, the Armenian Martyr Day, or the Day of the Armenian Genocide.

Although the Russian army succeeded in gaining most of Ottoman Armenia during World War I, their gains were lost with the Russian Revolution of 1917. At the time, Russian-controlled Eastern Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan attempted to bond together in the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic. This federation, however, only lasted from February to May 1918, when all three parties decided to dissolve it. As a result, Eastern Armenia became independent as the Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) on May 28.

Political divisions of Europe in 1919 showing the independent Armenian republic.

Democratic Republic of Armenia
Main article: Democratic Republic of Armenia

Unfortunately, the DRA's short-lived independence was fraught with war, territorial disputes, a mass influx of refugees from Ottoman Armenia, spreading disease, and starvation. Still, the Entente Powers, appalled by the actions of the Ottoman government, sought to help the newly-found Armenian state through relief funds and other forms of support.

At the end of the war, the victorious Entente powers sought to divide up the Ottoman Empire. Signed between the Allied and Associated Powers and Ottoman Empire at Sèvres on August 10, 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres promised to maintain the existence of the DRA and to attach the former territories of Ottoman Armenia to it. Because the new borders of Armenia were to be drawn by United States President Woodrow Wilson, Ottoman Armenia is also referred to as "Wilsonian Armenia." There was even consideration of possibly making Armenia a mandate under the protection of the United States. The treaty, however, was rejected by the Turkish National Movement, and never came into effect. The movement, under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, used the treaty as the occasion to declare itself the rightful government of Turkey, replacing the monarchy based in Istanbul with a republic based in Ankara.

In 1920, Turkish nationalist forces invaded the fledgling Armenian republic from the east and the Turkish-Armenian War began. Turkish forces under the command of Kazım Karabekir captured Armenian territories that Russia annexed in the aftermath of the 1877-1878 Russo-Turkish War and occupied the old city of Alexandropol (present-day Gyumri). The violent conflict finally concluded with the Treaty of Alexandropol (December 2, 1920). The treaty forced Armenia to disarm most of its military forces, cede more than 50% of its pre-war territory, and to give up all the "Wilsonian Armenia" granted to it at the Sèvres treaty. Simultaneously, the Soviet Eleventh Army under the command of Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze, invaded Armenia at Karavansarai (present-day Ijevan) on November 29. By December 4, Ordzhonikidze's forces entered Yerevan and the short-lived Armenian republic collapsed.

The coat of arms of Soviet Armenia depicting Mount Ararat in the center.

Soviet Armenia
Main article: Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic

Armenia was annexed by Bolshevist Russia and along with Georgia and Azerbaijan, it was incorporated into the Soviet Union as part of the Transcaucasian SFSR on March 4, 1922. With this annexation, the Treaty of Alexandropol was superseded by the Turkish-Soviet Treaty of Kars. In the agreement, Turkey allowed the Soviet Union to assume control over Adjara with the port city of Batumi in return for sovereignty over the cities of Kars, Ardahan, and Iğdır, all of which were part of Russian Armenia.

The TSFR existed from 1922 to 1936, when it was divided up into three separate entities (Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, and Georgian SSR). Armenians enjoyed a period of relative stability under Soviet rule. They received medicine, food, and other provisions from Moscow, and communist rule proved to be a soothing balm in contrast to the turbulent final years of the Ottoman Empire. The situation was difficult for the church, which struggled under Soviet rule. After the death of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin took the reins of power and began an era of renewed fear and terror for Armenians. As with various other ethnic minorities who lived in the Soviet Union during Stalin's Great Purge, tens of thousands of Armenians were either executed or deported.

Fears decreased when Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khruschev emerged as the Soviet Union's new leader. Soon, life in Soviet Armenia began to see rapid improvement. The church which suffered greatly under Stalin was revived when Catholicos Vazgen I assumed the duties of his office in 1955. In 1967, a memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide was built at the Tsitsernakaberd hill above the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan. This occurred after mass demonstrations took place on the tragic event's fiftieth anniversary in 1965.

During the Gorbachev era of the 1980s with the reforms of Glasnost and Perestroika, Armenians began to demand better environmental care for their country, opposing the pollution that Soviet-built factories brought. Tensions also developed between Soviet Azerbaijan and its autonomous district of Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian region separated by Stalin from Armenia in 1923. The Armenians of Karabakh demanded unification with Soviet Armenia. Peaceful protests in Yerevan supporting the Karabakh Armenians were met with anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. Compounding Armenia's problems was a devestating earthquake in 1988 with a moment magnitude of 7.2.[15]

Armenian students gather at Theater Square in central Yerevan to protest Soviet policies and rule in 1988.

Gorbachev's inability to solve Armenia's problems (especially Karabakh) created disillusionment among the Armenians and only fed a growing hunger for independence. In May 1990, the New Armenian Army (NAA) was established, serving as a defence force separate from the Soviet Red Army. Clashes soon broke out between the NAA and Soviet Internal Security Forces (MVD) troops based in Yerevan when Armenians decided to commemorate the establishment of the 1918 Democratic Republic of Armenia. The violence resulted in the deaths of five Armenians killed in a shootout with the MVD at the railway station. Witnesses there claimed that the MVD used excessive force and that they had instigated the fighting. Further firefights between Armenian militiamen and Soviet troops occurred in Sovetshen, near the capital and resulted in the deaths of over 26 people, mostly Armenians. On March 17, 1991, Armenia, along with the Baltic states, Georgia and Moldova, boycotted a union-wide referendum in which 78% of all voters voted for the retention of the Soviet Union in a reformed form.[16]

Restoration of independence

In 1991, the Soviet Union broke apart and Armenia re-established its independence. Declaring independence on August 23, it was the first non-Baltic republic to secede. However, the initial post-Soviet years were marred by economic difficulties as well as the break-out of a full-scale armed confrontation between the Karabakh Armenians and Azerbaijan. The economic problems had their roots early in the Karabakh conflict when the Azerbaijani Popular Front managed to pressure the Azerbaijan SSR to instigate a railway and air blockade against Armenia. This move effectively crippled Armenia's economy as 85% of its cargo and goods arrived through rail traffic.[17] In 1993, Turkey joined the blockade against Armenia in support of Azerbaijan.[18]

The Karabakh war ended after a Russian-brokered cease-fire was put in place in 1994. The war was a success for the Karabakh Armenian forces who managed to secure 14% of Azerbaijan's internationally recognised territory including Nagorno-Karabakh itself.[19] Since then, Armenia and Azerbaijan have held peace talks, mediated by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The status over Karabakh has yet to be determined. The economies of both countries have been hurt in the absence of a complete resolution and Armenia's borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan remain closed.

As it enters the twenty-first century, Armenia faces many hardships. Still, it has managed to make some improvements. It has made a full switch to a market economy and as of 2008, is the 28th most economically free nation in the world.[20] Its relations with Europe, the Middle East, and the Commonwealth of Independent States have allowed Armenia to increase trade. Gas, oil, and other supplies come through two vital routes: Iran and Georgia. Armenia maintains cordial relations with both countries.

Geography Location: Southwestern Asia, east of Turkey
Geographic coordinates: 40 00 N, 45 00 E
Map references: Asia
Area: total: 29,800 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Maryland
Land boundaries: total: 1,254 km
border countries: Azerbaijan-proper 566 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan exclave 221 km, Georgia 164 km, Iran 35 km, Turkey 268 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: highland continental, hot summers, cold winters
Terrain: Armenian Highland with mountains; little forest land; fast flowing rivers; good soil in Aras River valley
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Debed River 400 m
highest point: Aragats Lerrnagagat' 4,090 m
Natural resources: small deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum, zinc, bauxite
Land use: arable land: 16.78%
permanent crops: 2.01%
other: 81.21% (2005)
Irrigated land: 2,860 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 10.5 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 2.95 cu km/yr (30%/4%/66%)
per capita: 977 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: occasionally severe earthquakes; droughts
Environment - current issues: soil pollution from toxic chemicals such as DDT; the energy crisis of the 1990s led to deforestation when citizens scavenged for firewood; pollution of Hrazdan (Razdan) and Aras Rivers; the draining of Sevana Lich (Lake Sevan), a result of its use as a source for hydropower, threatens drinking water supplies; restart of Metsamor nuclear power plant in spite of its location in a seismically active zone
Environment - international agreements: party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants
Geography - note: landlocked in the Lesser Caucasus Mountains; Sevana Lich (Lake Sevan) is the largest lake in this mountain range
Politics

Politics of Armenia takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic. According to the Constitution of Armenia, the President is the head of government and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and parliament. The unicameral parliament (also called the Azgayin Zhoghov or National Assembly) is controlled by a coalition of three political parties: the conservative Republican party, the Prosperous Armenia party, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. The main opposition parties include Artur Baghdasarian's Rule of Law party and Raffi Hovannisian's Heritage party, both of which favor eventual Armenian membership in the European Union and NATO.

The Armenian government's stated aim is to build a Western-style parliamentary democracy as the basis of its form of government. It has universal suffrage above the age of eighteen.

International observers of Council of Europe and U.S. Department of State have questioned the fairness of Armenia's parliamentary and presidential elections and constitutional referendum since 1995, citing polling deficiencies, lack of cooperation by the Electoral Commission, and poor maintenance of electoral lists and polling places. Freedom House ranked Armenia as "partly free" in its 2007 report, though it did not categorise Armenia as an "electoral democracy", indicating an absence of relatively free and competitive elections.[21] However, significant progress has been made and the 2008 Armenian presidential election was hailed as largely democratic by OSCE and Western monitors.[22]

Foreign relations
Main articles: Foreign relations of Armenia and Armenia and the European Union

The Armenian embassy in Washington, D.C.

Armenia presently maintains good relations with almost every country in the world, with two major exceptions being its immediate neighbours, Turkey and Azerbaijan. Tensions were running high between Armenians and Azerbaijanis during the final years of the Soviet Union. The Nagorno-Karabakh War dominated the region's politics throughout the 1990s.[23] The border between the two rival countries remains closed up to this day, and a permanent solution for the conflict has not been reached despite the mediation provided by organisations such as the OSCE. Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan represents Armenia in the peace negotiations.

Turkey also has a long history of poor relations with Armenia over its refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The Karabakh conflict became an excuse for Turkey to close its border with Armenia in 1993. It has not lifted its blockade despite pressure from the powerful Turkish business lobby interested in Armenian markets.[24]

Due to its position between two unfriendly neighbours, Armenia has close security ties with Russia. At the request of the Armenian government, Russia maintains a military base in the northwestern Armenian city of Gyumri as a deterrent against Turkey.[25] Despite this, Armenia has also been looking toward Euro-Atlantic structures in recent years. It maintains good relations with the United States especially through its Armenian diaspora. According to the 2000 US census, there are 385,488 Armenians living in the country.[26]

Armenia is also a member of the NATO Partnership for Peace as well as the Council of Europe, maintaining friendly relations with the European Union, especially with its member states such as France and Greece. A 2005 survey reported that 64% of Armenia's population would be in favor of joining the EU.[27] Several Armenian officials have also expressed the desire for their country to eventually become an EU member state,[28] some predicting that it will make an official bid for membership in a few years.[29] Some too have also looked with favour in joining NATO.[25] President Robert Kocharyan, however, wants to keep Armenia tied to Russia and the CIS and the CSTO, becoming partners, not members of the EU and NATO.

People Population: 2,971,650 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 19.5% (male 307,610/female 271,381)
15-64 years: 69.3% (male 962,126/female 1,098,192)
65 years and over: 11.2% (male 132,705/female 199,636) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 30.8 years
male: 28.1 years
female: 33.6 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: -0.129% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 12.34 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 8.29 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: -5.34 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.16 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.133 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.876 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.665 male(s)/female
total population: 0.894 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 21.69 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 26.69 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 15.91 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 72.12 years
male: 68.52 years
female: 76.29 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.34 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate: 0.1% (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS: 2,600 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths: less than 200 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Armenian(s)
adjective: Armenian
Ethnic groups: Armenian 97.9%, Yezidi (Kurd) 1.3%, Russian 0.5%, other 0.3% (2001 census)
Religions: Armenian Apostolic 94.7%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi (monotheist with elements of nature worship) 1.3%
Languages: Armenian 97.7%, Yezidi 1%, Russian 0.9%, other 0.4% (2001 census)
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.4%
male: 99.7%
female: 99.2% (2001 census)
Government Country name: conventional long form: Republic of Armenia
conventional short form: Armenia
local long form: Hayastani Hanrapetut'yun
local short form: Hayastan
former: Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, Armenian Republic
Government type: republic
Capital: name: Yerevan
geographic coordinates: 40 10 N, 44 30 E
time difference: UTC+4 (9 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
Administrative divisions: 11 provinces (marzer, singular - marz); Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Geghark'unik', Kotayk', Lorri, Shirak, Syunik', Tavush, Vayots' Dzor, Yerevan
Independence: 21 September 1991 (from Soviet Union)
National holiday: Independence Day, 21 September (1991)
Constitution: adopted by nationwide referendum 5 July 1995; amendments adopted through a nationwide referendum 27 November 2005
Legal system: based on civil law system; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal
Executive branch: chief of state: President Robert KOCHARIAN (since 30 March 1998)
head of government: Prime Minister Serzh SARGSYAN (since 4 April 2007)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the prime minister
elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held 19 February 2008 (next to be held February 2013); prime minister appointed by the president based on majority or plurality support in parliament; the prime minister and Council of Ministers must resign if the National Assembly refuses to accept their program
election results: Serzh SARGSYAN elected president; percent of vote - Serzh SARGSYAN 52.9%, Levon TER-PETROSSIAN 21.5%, Artur BAGHDASARIAN 16.7%; note - president elect Serzh SARGSYAN is due to take office 9 April 2008
Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly (Parliament) or Azgayin Zhoghov (131 seats; members elected by popular vote, 90 members elected by party list and 41 by direct vote; to serve four-year terms)
elections: last held 12 May 2007 (next to be held in the spring of 2012)
election results: percent of vote by party - HHK 49.6%, Prosperous Armenia 19%, ARF (Dashnak) 12.2%, Rule of Law 6.1%, Heritage Party 5.3%, other 7.8%; seats by party - HHK 65, Prosperous Armenia 25, ARF (Dashnak) 16, Rule of Law 8, Heritage Party 7, Dashink 1, independent 9
Judicial branch: Constitutional Court; Court of Cassation (Appeals Court)
Political parties and leaders: Armenian National Movement or ANM [Ararat ZURABYAN]; Armenian People's Party [Tigran KARAPETYAN]; Armenian Ramkavar Azadagan Party Alliance or HRAK (includes former Dashink Party, National Revival Party, and Ramkavar Liberal Party); Armenian Revolutionary Federation ("Dashnak" Party) or ARF [Hrant MARKARYAN]; Heritage Party [Raffi HOVHANNISYAN]; National Democratic Party [Shavarsh KOCHARIAN]; National Democratic Union or NDU [Vazgen MANUKIAN]; National Unity Party [Artashes GEGHAMYAN]; People's Party of Armenia [Stepan DEMIRCHYAN]; Prosperous Armenia [Gagik TSAROUKYAN]; Republic Party [Aram SARKISYAN]; Republican Party of Armenia or HHK [Serzh SARGSYAN]; Rule of Law Party (Orinats Yerkir) [Artur BAGHDASARYAN]; Union of Constitutional Rights [Hrant KHACHATURYAN]; United Labor Party [Gurgen ARSENYAN]
Political pressure groups and leaders: Yerkrapah Union [Manvel GRIGORIAN], Aylentrank (Impeachment) [Nikol PASHINYAN]
International organization participation: ACCT (observer), ADB, BSEC, CE, CIS, CSTO, EAEC (observer), EAPC, EBRD, FAO, GCTU, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICCt (signatory), ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, ILO, IMF, Interpol, IOC, IOM, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, MIGA, NAM (observer), OAS (observer), OIF (observer), OPCW, OSCE, PFP, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WCO, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Tatoul MARKARIAN
chancery: 2225 R Street NW, Washington, DC 20008
telephone: [1] (202) 319-1976
FAX: [1] (202) 319-2982
consulate(s) general: Los Angeles
Diplomatic representation from the US: chief of mission: Ambassador Joseph S. PENNINGTON
embassy: 1 American Ave., Yerevan 0082
mailing address: American Embassy Yerevan, US Department of State, 7020 Yerevan Place, Washington, DC 20521-7020
telephone: [374](10) 464-700
FAX: [374](10) 464-742
Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), blue, and orange
Culture

Armenians have their own distinctive alphabet and language. The alphabet was invented in 405 AD by Saint Mesrob Mashtots and consists of thirty-eight letters, two of which were added during the Cilician period. 96% of the people in the country speak Armenian, while 75.8% of the population additionally speaks Russian although English is becoming increasingly popular.

The work Song of the Italian Girl by 19th century Armenian poet Mikael Nalbandian served as the inspiration for the Armenian national anthem Mer Hayrenik.

Music and the arts

The National Art Gallery in Yerevan has more than 16,000 works that date back to the Middle Ages. The Modern Art Museum, the Children’s Picture Gallery, and the Martiros Saryan Museum are only a few of the other noteworthy collections. Moreover, many private galleries are in operation, with many more opening each year. They feature rotating exhibitions and sales.

The Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra performs at the refurbished city Opera House. In addition, several chamber ensembles are highly regarded for their musicianship, including the National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia and the Serenade Orchestra. Classical music can also be heard at one of several smaller venues, including the Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory and the Chamber Orchestra Hall. Jazz is popular, especially in the summer when live performances are a regular occurrence at one of the city’s many outdoor cafés.

Yerevan's Vernisage (arts and crafts market), close to Republic Square, bustles with hundreds of vendors selling a variety of crafts on weekends and Wednesdays (though the selection is much reduced mid-week). The market offers woodcarving, antiques, fine lace, and the hand-knotted wool carpets and kilims that are a Caucasus specialty. Obsidian, which is found locally, is crafted into assortment of jewellery and ornamental objects. Armenian gold smithery enjoys a long tradition, populating one corner of the market with a selection of gold items. Soviet relics and souvenirs of recent Russian manufacture—nesting dolls, watches, enamel boxes and so on, are also available at the Vernisage.

Across from the Opera House, a popular art market fills another city park on the weekends. Armenia’s long history as a crossroads of the ancient world has resulted in a landscape with innumerable fascinating archaeological sites to explore. Medieval, Iron Age, Bronze Age and even Stone Age sites are all within a few hours drive from the city. All but the most spectacular remain virtually undiscovered, allowing visitors to view churches and fortresses in their original settings.

Armenian folk musicians.

The American University of Armenia has graduate programs in Business and Law, among others. The institution owes its existence to the combined efforts of the Government of Armenia, the Armenian General Benevolent Union, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the University of California. The extension programs and the library at AUA form a new focal point for English-language intellectual life in the city.

Many famous names in the music world are of Armenian descent including classical composer Aram Khachaturian and French singer Charles Aznavour. The members of the alternative metal band System of a Down all have Armenian backgrounds as well, although only bassist Shavo Odadjian was born in the country.

Hospitality and wedding ceremonies

Hospitality is well-known in Armenia and stems from ancient tradition. Social gatherings focused around sumptuous presentations of course after course of elaborately prepared and well-seasoned food. The hosts will often put morsels on a guest's plate whenever it is empty or fill his or her glass when it gets low. After a helping or two it is acceptable to refuse politely or, more simply, just leave a little uneaten food. Alcohol such as cognac, vodka, and red wine are usually served during meals and gatherings. It is rare and unusual for one to go inside an Armenian household and not be offered coffee, pastry, food, or even water.

The elaborate Armenian wedding process begins when the man and woman are "promised". The man's immediate family (parents, grandparents, and often uncles and aunts) go over to the woman's house to ask for permission from the woman's father for the relationship to continue and hopefully prosper. Once permission is granted by the father, the man gives the woman a "promise ring" to make it official. To celebrate the mutual family agreement, the woman's family opens a bottle of Armenian cognac. After being promised, most families elect to have a semi-large engagement party as well. The girl's family is the one who plans, organises and pays for the party. There is very little involvement by the man's family. At the party, a priest is summoned to pray for the soon-to-be husband and wife and give his blessings. Once the words of prayer have concluded, the couple slide wedding bands on each other's left hands (the ring is moved to the right hand once a formal marriage ceremony is conducted by the Armenian church). The customary time to wait for the marriage is about one year. Unlike in other cultures, the man and his family pay for the wedding. The planning and organisation process is usually done by the bride and groom to be.

Economy Economy - overview: Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia has made progress in implementing many economic reforms including privatization, price reforms, and prudent fiscal policies. The conflict with Azerbaijan over the ethnic Armenian-dominated region of Nagorno-Karabakh contributed to a severe economic decline in the early 1990s. By 1994, however, the Armenian Government launched an ambitious IMF-sponsored economic liberalization program that resulted in positive growth rates. Economic growth has averaged over 13% in recent years. Armenia has managed to reduce poverty, slash inflation, stabilize its currency, and privatize most small- and medium-sized enterprises. Under the old Soviet central planning system, Armenia developed a modern industrial sector, supplying machine tools, textiles, and other manufactured goods to sister republics, in exchange for raw materials and energy. Armenia has since switched to small-scale agriculture and away from the large agroindustrial complexes of the Soviet era. Nuclear power plants built at Metsamor in the 1970s were closed following the 1988 Spitak Earthquake, though they sustained no damage. One of the two reactors was re-opened in 1995, but the Armenian government is under international pressure to close it due to concerns that the Soviet era design lacks important safeguards. Metsamor provides 40 percent of the country's electricity - hydropower accounts for about one-fourth. Economic ties with Russia remain close, especially in the energy sector. The electricity distribution system was privatized in 2002 and bought by Russia's RAO-UES in 2005. Construction of a pipeline to deliver natural gas from Iran to Armenia is halfway completed and is scheduled to be commissioned by January 2009. Armenia has some mineral deposits (copper, gold, bauxite). Pig iron, unwrought copper, and other nonferrous metals are Armenia's highest valued exports. Armenia's severe trade imbalance has been offset somewhat by international aid, remittances from Armenians working abroad, and foreign direct investment. Armenia joined the WTO in January 2003. The government made some improvements in tax and customs administration in recent years, but anti-corruption measures will be more difficult to implement. Despite strong economic growth, Armenia's unemployment rate remains high. Armenia will need to pursue additional economic reforms in order to improve its economic competitiveness and to build on recent improvements in poverty and unemployment, especially given its economic isolation from two of its nearest neighbors, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
GDP (purchasing power parity): $16.83 billion (2007 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $9.27 billion (2007 est.)
GDP - real growth rate: 13.7% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP): $5,700 (2007 est.)
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 17.2%
industry: 36.4%
services: 46.4% (2007 est.)
Labor force: 1.2 million (2007 est.)
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 46.2%
industry: 15.6%
services: 38.2% (2006 est.)
Unemployment rate: 7.1% (2007 est.)
Population below poverty line: 26.5% (2006 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 1.6%
highest 10%: 41.3% (2004)
Distribution of family income - Gini index: 37 (2006)
Inflation rate (consumer prices): 6.6% (2007 est.)
Investment (gross fixed): 30.3% of GDP (2007 est.)
Budget: revenues: $1.648 billion
expenditures: $1.645 billion; including capital expenditures of $NA (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products: fruit (especially grapes), vegetables; livestock
Industries: diamond-processing, metal-cutting machine tools, forging-pressing machines, electric motors, tires, knitted wear, hosiery, shoes, silk fabric, chemicals, trucks, instruments, microelectronics, jewelry manufacturing, software development, food processing, brandy
Industrial production growth rate: 2.6% (2007 est.)
Electricity - production: 5.941 billion kWh (2006)
Electricity - production by source: fossil fuel: 42.3%
hydro: 27%
nuclear: 30.7%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption: 5.454 billion kWh (2006)
Electricity - exports: 754.5 million kWh; note - exports an unknown quantity to Georgia; includes exports to Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan (2006)
Electricity - imports: 354.9 million kWh; note - imports an unknown quantity from Iran (2006)
Oil - production: 0 bbl/day (2005)
Oil - consumption: 40,000 bbl/day (2005 est.)
Oil - exports: 0 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - imports: 41,240 bbl/day (2004)
Oil - proved reserves: 0 bbl (1 January 2006 est.)
Natural gas - production: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - consumption: 2.2 billion cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - exports: 0 cu m (2007 est.)
Natural gas - imports: 2.2 billion cu m (2007)
Natural gas - proved reserves: 0 cu m (1 January 2006)
Current account balance: -$440 million (2007 est.)
Exports: $1.157 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Exports - commodities: diamonds, mineral products, foodstuffs, energy
Exports - partners: Germany 18.3%, Netherlands 14.1%, Belgium 13.3%, Russia 13.1%, Israel 7%, US 6.1%, Georgia 5.1%, Iran 4.9% (2006)
Imports: $3.281 billion f.o.b. (2007 est.)
Imports - commodities: natural gas, petroleum, tobacco products, foodstuffs, diamonds
Imports - partners: Russia 21.8%, Ukraine 7.8%, Belgium 7.6%, Turkmenistan 7.1%, Italy 6.1%, Germany 5.7%, Iran 5.7%, Israel 4.8%, US 4.5%, Georgia 4.1% (2006)
Economic aid - recipient: ODA, $180 million (2007)
Reserves of foreign exchange and gold: $1.646 billion (December 2007 est.)
Debt - external: $1.372 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
Market value of publicly traded shares: $42.8 million (2005)
Currency (code): dram (AMD)
Currency code: AMD
Exchange rates: drams per US dollar - 344.06 (2007), 414.69 (2006), 457.69 (2005), 533.45 (2004), 578.76 (2003)
Fiscal year: calendar year
Communications Telephones - main lines in use: 594,400 (2005)
Telephones - mobile cellular: 318,000 (2005)
Telephone system: general assessment: telecommunications investments have made major inroads in modernizing and upgrading the outdated telecommunications network inherited from the Soviet era; now 100% privately owned and undergoing modernization and expansion; mobile-cellular services monopoly terminated in late 2004 and a second provider began operations in mid-2005
domestic: reliable modern landline and mobile-cellular services are available across Yerevan in major cities and towns; significant, but ever-shrinking gaps remain in mobile-cellular coverage in rural areas
international: country code - 374; Yerevan is connected to the Trans-Asia-Europe fiber-optic cable through Iran; additional international service is available by microwave radio relay and landline connections to the other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and through the Moscow international switch and by satellite to the rest of the world; satellite earth stations - 3 (2007)
Radio broadcast stations: AM 9, FM 16, shortwave 1 (2006)
Radios: 850,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations: 48 (private television stations alongside 2 public networks; major Russian channels widely available) (2006)
Televisions: 825,000 (1997)
Internet country code: .am
Internet hosts: 8,270 (2007)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 9 (2001)
Internet users: 172,800 (2006)
Transportation Airports: 12 (2007)
Airports - with paved runways: total: 10
over 3,047 m: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 4
914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2007)
Airports - with unpaved runways: total: 2
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2007)
Pipelines: gas 2,036 km (2007)
Railways: total: 839 km
broad gauge: 839 km 1.520-m gauge (828 km electrified)
note: some lines are out of service (2006)
Roadways: total: 7,700 km
paved: 7,700 km (includes 1,561 km of expressways) (2006)
Military Military branches: Armed Forces: Ground Forces, Nagorno-Karabakh Self Defense Force (NKSDF), Air Force and Air Defense (2006)
Military service age and obligation: 18-27 years of age for compulsory military service; 18 years of age for voluntary military service; 2-year conscript service obligation (2006)
Manpower available for military service: males age 18-49: 722,836
females age 18-49: 795,084 (2005 est.)
Manpower fit for military service: males age 18-49: 551,938
females age 18-49: 656,493 (2005 est.)
Manpower reaching military service age annually: males age 18-49: 31,774
females age 18-49: 31,182 (2005 est.)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP: 6.5% (FY01)
Transnational Issues Disputes - international: Armenia supports ethnic Armenian secessionists in Nagorno-Karabakh and since the early 1990s, has militarily occupied 16% of Azerbaijan - Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) continues to mediate dispute; over 800,000 mostly ethnic Azerbaijanis were driven from the occupied lands and Armenia; about 230,000 ethnic Armenians were driven from their homes in Azerbaijan into Armenia; Azerbaijan seeks transit route through Armenia to connect to Naxcivan exclave; border with Turkey remains closed over Nagorno-Karabakh dispute; ethnic Armenian groups in Javakheti region of Georgia seek greater autonomy; Armenians continue to emigrate, primarily to Russia, seeking employment
Refugees and internally displaced persons: refugees (country of origin): 219,324 (Azerbaijan)
IDPs: 8,400 (conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, majority have returned home since 1994 ceasefire) (2006)
Trafficking in persons: current situation: Armenia is a major source and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation largely to the UAE and Turkey; traffickers, many of them women, route victims directly into Dubai or through Moscow; profits derived from the trafficking of Armenian victims reportedly have increased
tier rating: Tier 2 Watch List - Armenia has failed to show evidence of increasing efforts, particularly in the areas of enforcement, trafficking-related corruption, and victim protection
Illicit drugs: illicit cultivation of small amount of cannabis for domestic consumption; minor transit point for illicit drugs - mostly opium and hashish - moving from Southwest Asia to Russia and to a lesser extent the rest of Europe