Armenia is a country of Asia
with a surface area of 29,743 km² (density of 109.63 inhab./km²). The population of Armenia is 3,260,600 inhabitants in the last census.The capital of Armenia is the city of Yerevan which has 1,107,800 inhabitants. President of the republic is Serge Sargsian.
Armenia or Republic of Armenia is a country located in Asia sharing its borders with Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran. Although located across the Bosphorus Strait and the Caucasus, which is widely accepted as the border between the European and Asian continents, Armenia is often considered to be culturally European. It also becomes European for some geographers who lean for a border along the Caspian Sea and the Koura River. This situation underlines the difficulty of considering Europe as a continent in its own right from a geographical point of view. It would be more accurate to speak of the Eurasian continent.
Europe is therefore an abstract notion and its borders are cultural and political. This difficulty of placing certain countries in Europe or Asia is mainly felt in the Caucasian regions which were influenced by the Greek and Roman civilizations as well as by Judeo-Christianity.
Armenia as well as Azerbaijan and Georgia returned to the Council of Europe in 2000, which reinforces the sense of belonging of these Transcaucasian countries to Europe.
Armenia at a glance
Parliamentary Republic of Armenia
Administrative divisions: 11 marzer (regions)
Population: more than 3 million inhabitants
Main languages: Armenian, Russian and English
Religion: Christianity (Armenian Apostolic Church)
Current Chairman: Serge Sargsian
Currency: Dram (1 dram = 100 loumas)
Conversion into euro: 100 drams = 0.18 euro
Tourism: Armenia is a relatively safe country apart from the border areas, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Siounik region
The Land of Noah's Ark
Armenia is a mountainous country with a high seismic activity in the Southern Caucasus (or Transcaucasia), the highest peak of which is Mount Aragats, culminating at an altitude of 4,095 meters. Mount Ararat, where, according to the Bible, the Noah's ark after the downpour, was once the highest point in the country, but is now integrated into Turkey.
Formed of high plateaus sheltering large lakes and mountain ranges, the country is arid with sparse vegetation in the south and forests in the north as well as lunar landscapes of volcanic origin.
The Armenian volcanoes of which the Aragats and the Porak are considered extinct since the last eruptions took place before our era. However, the country is located in an area with seismic activity. A major earthquake caused more than 55,000 deaths in northwestern Armenia in 1988.
The country enjoys a continental mountain climate with harsh winters and very hot summers due to its geographical isolation.
A history dating back to the Paleolithic
The occupation of the Armenian territories and more broadly of all Transcaucasia goes back to prehistory. Archaeological excavations have uncovered traces of the presence of hominids since the Palaeolithic. A Neolithic civilization was established along the Kasakh from the 10th to the 6th millennium BC. The following crops produce ceramics reminiscent of Mesopotamian pottery as well as copper objects.
The traces of cereal crops, cattle breeding and bronze work date back to the 4th millennium. The skill of the artisans of the Kuro-Araxian civilization and later that of Trialeti is particularly remarkable.
The Kingdom of Urartu
During the second millennium, the Hourrites from the southern Caucasus and organized into small kingdoms occupied Asia Minor. Their power worries neighboring peoples who in turn will try to appropriate their territories. Egyptians, Hittites and Assyrians succeed one another in this expansionist war. Finally, the Assyrians emerge victorious from the clashes against the kings of "Nairi" descendants of the Hourrites. The people will nevertheless unite against the invader and thus create the Kingdom of Urartu in the 9th century BC. This kingdom encompasses parts of Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Georgia at the height of its expansion. Many cities are founded and the kingdom becomes economically strong thanks to trade routes that allow the natural resources of the country to be disposed of.
Assyria, weakened by many wars and badly directed by kings without great scope, will recover under the impulse of Teglath Phalasar III, who takes power after a putsch. The new sovereign re-established the power of Assyria, which extended to Babylonia before confronting the kingdom of Urartu in 743 BC. Step by step, it nibbled territories offering a revival to Assyria which will reach its apogee in the 7th century BC, extending from the Mediterranean to Iran and from Anatolia to the Arabian Desert.
The first Armenians
The power of Assyria will be undermined by an internal crisis caused by the succession of Assurbanipal in 627 BC. These conflicts, which lasted about twenty years, plunged Assyria into chaos and precipitated the end of its supremacy and, very quickly, the end of the Empire.
At the same time, the kingdom of Urartu also disappeared in the 6th century following the raids of the Scythians, the Persians or the Medes.
A first Armenian state under Persian suzerainty is mentioned at the same time. Even if the origin of this people remains unclear, they are probably descended from a Thracian tribe who migrated at the time of the invasion of the Sea Peoples in Egypt and Anatolia.
The Armenians quickly dominated the Urarteens and settled easily in the region, protected by the Persians to whom they supplied horses.
When Alexander the Great seized Persia in the 4th century BC, the successors of the satrap of Armenia Orontes I took power and proclaimed themselves kings. Under the Orontides, the country tends to become Hellenized. Two centuries later, the empire is divided into two kingdoms, Greater Armenia founded in 190 BC by Artaxias I and the Seleucid kingdom led by Antiochos III.
Armenia, which became a Hellenistic kingdom, was then ruled by the Artaxiades dynasty, who extended its possessions towards the Mediterranean.
This expansion is not to the liking of the Romans who openly enter the war. The weak Armenians agreed to ally themselves with Rome. Armenia will become totally Roman in the year 1 of our era. The power is then in the hands of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthian descent. But in the 3rd century, a new power appeared, the empire of the Sassanids who call themselves descendants of the Persian king defeated by Alexander the Great, Darius III. In the following century, they will share Armenia with Rome in 387.
In 428, the last representative of the Arsacids was defeated by the Sassanids who were to found the Marzpanat of Armenia whose governors were chosen from the nobility. The Armenians did not, however, convert to the state religion of the Sassanids, Mazdeism. They remain faithful to Christianity.
Byzantines, Ottomans and Russians
In 627, Persia, and thus Armenia, was conquered by the Roman Emperor of the East, Heraclius I. Armenia retains a certain independence and is governed by a prince before depending on the Arab caliphate while retaining a part of its autonomy.
At that time, many Armenians who fled the Arabs found themselves scattered throughout the Byzantine Empire. They will occupy important positions there and several emperors are of Armenian origin.
In the 9th century, the kingdom of Armenia was recognized by both the caliphs and the emperor, but two centuries later the Byzantines regained power and the last Armenian king was to abdicate.
The Byzantine Empire cannot resist the assaults of a Turkish tribe, the Seljuks who devastate the country causing an exodus of local populations to neighboring countries such as Moldova and Transylvania and mainly in Cilicia.
It was in this region of south-eastern Anatolia that the exiles founded the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, which enjoyed great power. The incessant attacks of the Mamelukes ended by using the country which was to submit to the Turkish sultans of the Karamanids and later, in 1488, to the Ottomans.
From then, Armenia was caught between the Ottoman and Persian empires, whose borders were not delimited until 1639, leaving the country bloodless and an extremely poor people, a situation at the origin of the Armenian Diaspora. The Armenians established in Europe or in the Far East become skilled merchants but also financiers and printers.
Armenia will once again change hands after the war between Russia and Persia in 1828. Despite its dreams of independence, Eastern Armenia is now part of the Russian Empire. The Armenians who remained in the hands of the Ottomans will rally the Russian Armenians, forming a large Christian community.
But the Russians intend to dominate Armenia by reducing the rights of the religious while the nobility disappears giving way to a middle class composed of craftsmen or merchants and a peasant class. Some of the traders will found a colony in Russia, at Nor Nakhitchevan, on the banks of the Don, at the end of the 18th century. Taking advantage of tax advantages granted by Tsarina Catherine II, the colony will rapidly develop.
At the same time, the Ottoman Armenians occupy important functions. They keep the freedom of their religion, which awakens their plans for independence in spite of the mistrust of the Muslims, who accept with difficulty the Christian, Catholic or Protestant minorities.
When Russia attacks the Ottoman Empire, a large number of Armenian civilians are massacred by the Kurds. The Europeans want to intervene but the Sultan Abdülhamid II refuses any interference in the "Armenian question".
Armenians try to revolt but this rebellion is repressed and several hundred thousand Armenians are killed. Europe does not react despite the scale of these massacres. The sultan is overthrown by the Young Turks party, which gives hope to the Armenians to regain a normal life.
Unfortunately, things are getting worse and the new leaders will simply organize the Armenian Genocide in 1915. More than 60% of the population is killed or deported to camps in Syria. Muslims are allowed by their imams to kill Armenians. It is estimated that 1,500,000 Armenians died during the genocide. The Turks continue to deny the facts yet observed by international delegations that testify to the horrors committed.
The independence of the country
The conflicts of the First World War, however, changed the physiognomy of the world and changed the fate of the Armenians. After the weakening of Russia, which is facing a revolution, the Transcaucasian countries united and founded the Federative Democratic Republic of Transcaucasia in 1918, which soon underwent the attacks of the Ottomans.
The Transcaucasians are divided but the Armenians succeed in repelling the Turks. The country reduced to its simplest expression proclaimed its independence on May 28th 1918 and chose Yerevan as capital.
Typhus, influx of immigrants, new massacres of the population and confrontation with Georgia put the country on its knees. However, the young republic was represented at the Peace Conference in Paris in order to ask for the founding of an Armenian state which would extend from the Caucasus to Cilicia, the protection of a great power and the payment of compensation following the genocide Orchestrated by the Turks. But Armenia is far from being at the center of the preoccupations of the allied nations who renounce to settle the question of the Ottoman Empire while acknowledging the existence of an Armenian state.
Faced with this disinterestedness and with the Turks determined to rebuild their Empire from Anatolia, the Armenians turned to the Russians and in 1921 Armenia depended on the Soviet Union, which largely dismantled the country attributing different Regions to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia. Armenia was then the smallest republic of the Soviet Union included in the Soviet Socialist Federal Republic of Transcaucasia before becoming a true republic of the USSR in 1936.
The country lives dark hours and the Armenians who wish to return to the country are mostly sent to the Gulag.
The exit of the USSR
After Stalin's death, Armenia recovers its economy through flourishing agriculture and the establishment of industries. The Armenians still hope to get rid of the Soviet yoke and to recover the territories annexed by Turkey and Azerbaijan causing violent clashes.
When Gorbachev was the victim of a coup and resigned in 1991, the USSR did not survive and the Armenians took advantage of it to declare their independence and to place at their head Levon Ter-Petrosian who will try to reunite Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh causing war between the region and Azerbaijan. The conflict ended in 1994 but no agreement has been reached since then. Armenia is slowly recovering its economy by getting closer to Europe and taking advantage of its diaspora, which can now obtain dual citizenship.
The country is headed since 2008 by the President of the Republic Serge Sargsian who is also at the head of the Republican Party of Armenia. The president has a strong power and democracy is often undermined by corruption and the influence of the mafia within the government.
The legislative power is assured by the National Assembly elected for a period of four years while the constitutional court is responsible for reviewing the constitutionality of laws.
A slow economic revival
The eventful and often dramatic history of Armenia has led the country to the brink of collapse and has caused several mass exoduses of the population. The Armenian Diaspora is extremely important as it is estimated that there are four times as many Armenians living on foreign soil as in the country itself.
Since its independence in 1991, Armenia has been attempting to revive an abandoned economy during the Soviet period.
Large farms have been fragmented into smaller ones, more modern farms, while industries are gradually being privatized. The inflation is slowed down and the dram, the local currency, stabilizes.
However, this growth is not yet sufficient to raise the standard of living of the vast majority of Armenians.
The Armenian diaspora also plays an important role in the recovery of the country by providing substantial financial support in the form of grants for the improvement of communications and the motorway network and the restoration of buildings.
The economy of Armenia is partly based on agriculture. The farms exploit the fertile soil of the Ararat plain and produce enough grain to ensure the country's supply.
The subsoil exploitation of the country and the petrochemical and automotive manufacturing industries and machine tools installed mainly in the capital Yerevan region but also emerging tourism also participate in the economic development of Armenia.
A multicultural country
Armenian culture is strongly influenced by Greek, Italian, Russian, Iranian and Turkish influences. The country has developed its own specificities resulting from its history.
If more than 95% of the population speak Armenian, it is necessary to distinguish three forms: the classical Armenian which was spoken in the 5th century and which was used to convey the history of the country as well as a rich literature, Western Armenian diaspora and finally Eastern Armenian, the official language of the country and which borrows many terms from Greek, Turkish, Russian, Persian and even French.
The population of Armenia is aging and faced with precariousness, many women refuse to have children, which explains the high number of abortions in the country. This has led to a significant drop in the population.
Armenia is Christian since the 4th century, the time of the conversion of King Tiridate IV by St. Gregory the Illuminator.
Most of the inhabitants are Orthodox Christians and belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, the official religion of the country. Judaism, Islam and Yezidism are present in small proportions.
Armenian gastronomy has also benefited from various influences from Greece (mezzes, grape leaves ...) and the Middle East (hummus, böreks, ...) but it has kept its own identity. The grilled meats or fish accompanied by salad and rice or unleavened bread called lavash and flavored with fresh herbs are unavoidable. The beets, the cabbage, the pulses, bulgur reminiscent of Lebanese or Russian cuisines while desserts consist of tasty oriental pastries.
The wine, yogurt-based tan and Turkish-style coffee are the main beverages in the country.
An emerging tourism
Armenia has undertaken a policy to attract tourists to the country. However, it is recommended to avoid any stay in areas near the borders, particularly in Azerbaijan, due to frequent incidents and the presence of antipersonnel mines.
The Nagorny Karabakh region, which forms a secessionist entity not recognized by the international community, is also dangerous and formally avoided.
On the other hand, the crime is moderate and outside risk areas, Armenia is a safe country for tourists who are warmly welcomed by the locals.
However, there is a health risk due to the frequent epidemics of cholera and hepatitis A and gastroenteritis mainly in summer. It is absolutely necessary to avoid drinking water that is not offered in encapsulated bottle and the raw food.
Armenia is a culturally rich country and many sites are particularly noteworthy. The numerous monasteries and churches dating from the 7th and 8th centuries testify to the Armenians' attachment to their faith. These monuments make it possible to trace the history of Armenian architecture over the centuries and the influences of different cultures, such as the Hellenistic pagan temple of Garni or cupola churches.
The capital city of Yerevan is undergoing major changes and now offers a large hotel infrastructure as well as numerous activities for tourists. The shopping areas have also been set up and host international brand boutiques since the opening of the country to the outside world.
Most of the city's monuments date back to the Soviet period and were designed by the architect Alexandre Tamamian in the neo-Armenian style, including the Yerevan Opera House and the majestic Republic Square.
Dominating one of the hills of the city, the Tsitsernakaberd memorial was built in 1965 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the genocide. A museum is set up on site and people from all over the world are invited to plant a tree.
Hiking and mountaineering enthusiasts also appreciate the sumptuous landscapes of a country that are still rarely visited.