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Armenia - People

Armenia's population was 3,041,000 as of January 1, 2013, of whome Armenians were 96%, with minorities including Russians, Yezidis, Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, Ukrainians, Jews and others. 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 BC, 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 BC.

Through the centuries, Armenians have conscientiously retained the unique qualities of their language and art forms, incorporating influences from surrounding societies without sacrificing distinctive national characteristics. Religion also has been a strong unifying force and has played a political role as well.

The Armenian language is a separate Indo-European tongue sharing some phonetic and grammatical features with other Caucasian languages, such as Georgian. The Iranian languages contributed many loanwords related to cultural subjects; the majority of the Armenian word stock shows no connection with other existing languages, however, and some experts believe it derives from extinct non-Indo-European languages. The distinct alphabet of thirty-eight letters, derived from the Greek alphabet, has existed since the early fifth century A.D. Classical Armenian (grabar) is used today only in the Armenian Apostolic Church as a liturgical language. Modern spoken Armenian is divided into a number of dialects, the most important of which are the eastern dialect (used in Armenia, the rest of Transcaucasia, and Iran) and the western dialect (used extensively in Turkey and among Western émigrés). The two major dialects differ in some vocabulary, pronunciation, grammar, and orthography.

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.

An official estimate in 1991 put the population at 3,354,000, an increase of 2 percent since 1989. In 1989 Armenians were the eighth largest nationality in the former Soviet Union, totaling 4,627,000. At that time, only about twothirds of the Armenians in the Soviet Union lived in Armenia. Some 11.5 percent lived in Russia, 9.4 percent in Georgia, 8.4 percent in Azerbaijan, and the remaining 4 percent in the other republics. In recent years, Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and the Central Asian republics have settled in Armenia, compounding an already severe housing shortage. The number of Armenians living in other countries, primarily France, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and the United States, has been estimated at between 3 million and 9 million.

In 1991 Armenia's population density, 112.6 persons per square kilometer, was second only to that of Moldavia (now Moldova) among the Soviet republics. About 68 percent of the population lives in urban areas and 32 percent in rural areas. In 1990 Armenia's capital, Erevan, had a population of 1.2 million, or about 37 percent of the population of the republic; the second largest city, Gyumri, had 123,000 residents. The twelfth largest city in the former Soviet Union, Erevan is the second largest in the Caucasus region, after Tbilisi.

In 1979 Armenian families residing in Armenia averaged 4.5 persons, including an average of 4.3 for urban families and 4.8 average for rural families. This average was larger than those of the Baltic, Georgian, Moldavian, and predominantly Slavic republics of the Soviet Union but less than the family averages of the Soviet Muslim republics. In 1989 average life expectancy was 71.9 years (69.0 years for males and 74.7 years for females). The birth rate was 21.6 live births per 1,000 population; the death rate was 6.0 per 1,000.

Ethnically the most homogeneous of the Soviet republics, Armenia had few problems with ethnic minorities during the Soviet period. According to the last Soviet census, conducted in 1989, Armenians made up 93.3 percent of Armenia's population, Azerbaijanis 2.6 percent, Russians 1.6 percent, and Muslim Kurds and Yezidi (Christian Kurds) together 1.7 percent. Fewer than 30,000 others, including Greeks and Ukrainians, lived in the republic in 1989. During the Soviet period, the republic's largest non-Armenian group was the Azerbaijanis. By 1989, however, almost all of the Azerbaijanis, who had numbered 161,000 in 1979, either had been expelled or had emigrated from Armenia. The figure for the 1989 census included 77,000 Azerbaijanis who had returned to their native country but were still considered residents of Armenia.

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Page last modified: 18-10-2013 18:53:50 ZULU