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Armenia - Introduction

Armenia's closest political and economic relationship is with Russia. As a small country, Armenia has had an unfavorable geopolitical situation, with no neighbors likely to provide support and security. Lacking an outlet to the sea, Armenia is surrounded by Muslim Turkey and Azerbaijan, both of which generally have been hostile to Armenia's interests; the militant Islamic republic of Iran; and a Georgia torn by civil war.

Armenia is located in southern Transcaucasia, the region southwest of Russia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Modern Armenia occupies part of historical Armenia, whose ancient centers were in the valley of the Aras River and the region around Lake Van in Turkey. Armenia is bordered on the north by Georgia, on the east by Azerbaijan, on the southwest by the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, on the south by Iran, and on the west by Turkey.

The forces of history have wrought dramatic changes on the boundaries of the various Armenian states; the population's size and the ethnic makeup of those states have also been strongly affected. In the twentieth century, particularly significant changes resulted from Turkish efforts to exterminate Armenians during World War I and from the large-scale emigration of Azerbaijanis from Armenia in the early 1990s.

The origins of the Armenian people are obscure. According to ancient Armenian writers, their people descend from Noah's son Japheth. A branch of the Indo-Europeans, the Armenians are linked ethnically to the Phrygians, who migrated from Thrace in southeastern Europe into Asia Minor late in the second millennium B.C., and to the residents of the kingdom of Urartu, with whom the Armenians came into contact around 800 BC after arriving in Asia Minor from the West. Although ethnologists disagree about the precise timing and elements of this ethnic combination (and even about the origin of the term Armenian), it is generally agreed that the modern Armenians have been a distinct ethnic group centered in eastern Anatolia since at least 600 B.C.

In the nineteenth century, the Armenians were the most urban of the Transcaucasian peoples, but they were also the most dispersed. A merchant middle class was the most powerful social group among the Armenians, although the church and secular intellectuals also provided leadership. Armenians pioneered exploitation of the oil deposits in and around Baku, and the economic growth of the ancient Georgian capital, Tbilisi, was largely an enterprise of Armenian merchants and small industrialists.

The massacres and displacements that occurred between 1895 and 1915 removed nearly all the Armenian population in the Turkish part of historical Armenia. In 1965 the Soviet Union estimated that 3.2 million Armenians lived in all its republics. The Turkish census the same year showed only 33,000 Armenians in Turkey, most of them concentrated in the far west in Istanbul. In 1988 Armenia's population declined by 176,000, reversing a trend over the previous decade of average population growth of 1.5 percent per year. According to the 1989 census, the population of Armenia was about 3,288,000, an increase of 8 percent from the 1979 census figure.

As a nation, Armenia has not had a great tradition of military success, even at the largest extent of the Armenian Empire. In the Soviet period, Armenian troops were thoroughly integrated into the Soviet army, and Armenian plants contributed sophisticated equipment to Soviet arsenals. After independence Armenia profited from some aspects of this close association, and a strong Russian military presence is expected to remain for some time.

Temperatures in Armenia generally depend upon elevation. Mountain formations block the moderating climatic influences of the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea, creating wide seasonal variations. On the Armenian Plateau, the mean midwinter temperature is 0 C, and the mean midsummer temperature exceeds 25 C. Average precipitation ranges from 250 millimeters per year in the lower Aras River valley to 800 millimeters at the highest altitudes. Despite the harshness of winter in most parts, the fertility of the plateau's volcanic soil made Armenia one of the world's earliest sites of agricultural activity.

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Page last modified: 17-04-2018 18:53:56 ZULU