Armenia
 
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The Republic of Armenia, covering an area of 30 000 square kilometres (11,600 sq. mi), is located in the north-east of the Armenian Highland (covering 400 000 km² or 154,000 sq. mi), otherwise known as historical Armenia and considered as the original homeland of Armenians. The terrain is mostly mountainous, with fast flowing rivers and few forests. The climate is highland continental, which means that the country is subjected to hot summers and cold winters. The land rises to 4095 metres (13,435 ft) above sea-level at Mount Aragats, and no point is below 400 metres (1,312 ft) above sea level.

Mount Ararat, which was historically part of                          Armenia, is the highest mountain in the region. Now located in Turkey, but clearly visible in Armenia, it is regarded by the Armenians as a symbol of their land. Because of this, the mountain is present on the Armenian national emblem today.

Environmental problems

Armenia is trying to address its environmental problems. It has established a Ministry of Nature Protection and introduced taxes for air and water pollution and solid waste disposal, whose revenues are used for environmental protection activities. Armenia is interested in cooperating with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, a group of eleven former Soviet republics) and with members of the international community on environmental issues. The Armenian Government is working toward closing its Nuclear Power Plant at Medzamor near Yerevan as soon as alternative energy sources are identified.

Climate

The climate in Armenia is markedly continental. Summers are dry and sunny, lasting from June to mid-September. The temperature fluctuates between 22° and 36°C/71-97°F. However, the low humidity level mitigates the effect of high temperatures. Evening breezes blowing down the mountains provide a welcome refreshing and cooling effect. Springs are short, while falls are long. Autumns are known for their vibrant and colorful foliage. Winters are quite cold with plenty of snow, with temperatures ranging between -10° and -5 °C/14-23 °F. Winter sports enthusiasts enjoy skiing down the hills of Tsakhkadzor, located thirty minutes outside Yerevan. Lake Sevan nestled up in the Armenian highlands, is the second largest lake in the world relative to its altitude, 1,900 metres above sea level.

Economy

Main article: Economy of Armenia

The Armenian economy heavily relies on investment and support from Armenians abroad.[33] Before independence, Armenia's economy was largely industry-based – chemicals, electronics, machinery, processed food, synthetic rubber, and textile – and highly dependent on outside resources. Agriculture contributed only 20% of net material product and 10% of employment before the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. The republic had developed a modern industrial sector, supplying machine tools, textiles, and other manufactured goods to sister republics in exchange for raw materials and energy.[12]

Water World entertainment park in Yerevan.
 
Water World entertainment park in Yerevan.

Armenian mines produce copper, zinc, gold, and lead. The vast majority of energy is produced with fuel imported from Russia, including gas and nuclear fuel (for its one nuclear power plant); the main domestic energy source is hydroelectric. Small amounts of coal, gas, and petroleum have not yet been developed.

Like other newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, Armenia's economy suffers from the legacy of a centrally planned economy and the breakdown of former Soviet trading patterns. Soviet investment in and support of Armenian industry has virtually disappeared, so that few major enterprises are still able to function. In addition, the effects of the 1988 Spitak Earthquake, which killed more than 25,000 people and made 500,000 homeless, are still being felt. The conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh has not been resolved. The closure of Azerbaijani and Turkish borders has devastated the economy, because Armenia depends on outside supplies of energy and most raw materials. Land routes through Georgia and Iran are inadequate or unreliable. GDP fell nearly 60% from 1989 until 1992–1993. The national currency, the dram, suffered hyperinflation for the first years after its introduction in 1993.

Nevertheless, the government was able to make wide-ranging economic reforms that paid off in dramatically lower inflation and steady growth. The 1994 cease-fire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has also helped the economy. Armenia has had strong economic growth since 1995, building on the turnaround that began the previous year, and inflation has been negligible for the past several years. New sectors, such as precious stone processing and jewellery making, information and communication technology, and even tourism are beginning to supplement more traditional sectors in the economy, such as agriculture.

This steady economic progress has earned Armenia increasing support from international institutions. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and other international financial institutions (IFIs) and foreign countries are extending considerable grants and loans. Loans to Armenia since 1993 exceed $1.1 billion. These loans are targeted at reducing the budget deficit, stabilizing the currency; developing private businesses; energy; the agriculture, food processing, transportation, and health and education sectors; and ongoing rehabilitation in the earthquake zone. The government joined the World Trade Organisation on February 5, 2003. But one of the main sources of foreign direct investments remains the Armenian diaspora, which finances major parts of the reconstruction of infrastructure and other public projects. Being a growing democratic state, Armenia also hopes to get more financial aid from the Western World.

A liberal foreign investment law was approved in June 1994, and a Law on Privatisation was adopted in 1997, as well as a program on state property privatisation. Continued progress will depend on the ability of the government to strengthen its macroeconomic management, including increasing revenue collection, improving the investment climate, and making strides against corruption. However unemployment still remains a major problem due to the influx of thousands of refugees from the Karabakh conflict, which currently stands at around 15%.

In the 2007 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Armenia ranked 99 of 179 countries.[34][35] Armenia ranked 80th on the 2006 UNDP Human Development Index, the highest among the Transcaucasian republics.[36] In the 2008 Index of Economic Freedom, Armenia ranked 28th, ahead of countries like Austria, France, Portugal and Italy.[20]

Demographics

Armenian children at the UN Cup Chess Tournament in 2005.
 
Armenian children at the UN Cup Chess Tournament in 2005.

Armenia has a population of 3,215,800 (April 2006 est.) and is the second most densely populated of the former Soviet republics. There has been a problem of population decline due to elevated levels of emigration after the break-up of the USSR. The rates of emigration and population decline, however, have decreased drastically in the recent years, and a moderate influx of Armenians returning to Armenia have been the main reasons for the trend, which is expected to continue. In fact Armenia is expected to resume its positive population growth by 2010.

Ethnic Armenians make up 97.9% of the population. Yazidis make up 1.3%, and Russians 0.5%. Other minorities include Assyrians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Kurds, Georgians, and Belarusians. There are also smaller communities of Vlachs, Mordvins, Ossetians, Udis, and Tats. Minorities of Poles and Caucasus Germans also exist though they are heavily Russified.[37] During the Soviet era, Azerbaijanis were historically the second largest population in the country (forming about 2.5% in 1989[38]). However, due to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh virtually all of them emigrated from Armenia to Azerbaijan. Conversely, Armenia received a large influx of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan, thus giving Armenia a more homogeneous character.

Diaspora

Main article: Armenian diaspora

Armenia has a relatively large diaspora (8 million by some estimates, greatly exceeding the 3 million population of Armenia itself), with communities existing across the globe. The largest Armenian communities outside of Armenia can be found in Russia, France, Iran, the United States, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon, Argentina, Australia, Canada, Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Ukraine. 40,000 to 70,000 Armenians still live in Turkey (mostly in and around Istanbul).[39] Also, about 1,000 Armenians reside in the Armenian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel, a remnant of a once-larger community.[40] Italy is home to the San Lazzaro degli Armeni, an island located in the Venetian Lagoon, which is completely occupied by a monastery run by the Mechitarists, an Armenian Catholic congregation.[41] In addition, approximately 130,000 Armenians live in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh where they form a majority.[42]

The influence of St. Gregory the Illuminator led to the adoption of Christianity in Armenia in the year 301 AD. He is the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
 
The influence of St. Gregory the Illuminator led to the adoption of Christianity in Armenia in the year 301 AD. He is the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Religion

Main article: Religion in Armenia

The predominant religion in Armenia is Christianity. The roots of the Armenian Church go back to the first century. According to tradition, the Armenian Church was founded by two of Jesus' twelve apostles -- Thaddaeus and Bartholomew -- who preached Christianity in Armenia between  40-60  AD. Because of these two founding apostles, the official name of the Armenian Church is Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, in 301. Over 93% of Armenian Christians belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church, a form of Oriental (Non-Chalcedonian) Orthodoxy, which is a very ritualistic, conservative church, roughly comparable to the Coptic and Syriac churches. Armenia also has a population of Catholics (both Roman and Mekhitarist - Armenian Uniate (180,000)), evangelical Protestants and followers of the Armenian traditional religion. The Yazidi Kurds, who live in the western part of the country, practice Yazidism. The Armenian Catholic Church is headquartered in Bzoummar, Lebanon. The non-Yazidi Kurds practice Sunni Islam. The Jewish community in Armenia has diminished to 750 persons since independence due to Armenia's economic difficulties, with most emigrants leaving for Israel. There are currently two synagogues operating in Armenia - in the capital, Yerevan, and in the city of Sevan located near Lake Sevan. Intermarriage with Christian Armenians is frequent. Still, despite these difficulties, a lot of enthusiasm exists to help the community meet its needs.[43]

Culture

Main article: Culture of Armenia
See also: Music of Armenia, Armenian cuisine, and Sport in Armenia

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.
 
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.
 
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.

See also

Armenia is divided into ten marzes (provinces, singular marz), with the city (kaghak) of Yerevan (Երևան) having special administrative status as the country's capital. The chief executive in each of then ten marzes is the marzpet (marz governor), appointed by the government of Armenia. In Yerevan, the chief executive is the mayor, appointed by the president. The republic has 953 villages, 48 cities and 932 communities, from which 871 are rural and 61 urban[32]

Marz  ↓ Capital  ↓ Area  ↓ Population  ↓
Aragatsotn (Արագածոտն) Ashtarak (Աշտարակ) 2,753 km² 126,278
Ararat (Արարատ) Artashat (Արտաշատ) 2,096 km² 252,665
Armavir (Արմավիր) Armavir (Արմավիր) 1,242 km² 255,861
Gegharkunik (Գեղարքունիք) Gavar (Գավառ) 5,348 km² 215,371
Kotayk (Կոտայք) Hrazdan (Հրազդան) 2,089 km² 241,337
Lori (Լոռի) Vanadzor (Վանաձոր) 3,789 km² 253,351
Shirak (Շիրակ) Gyumri (Գյումրի) 2,681 km² 257,242
Syunik (Սյունիք) Kapan (Կապան) 4,506 km² 134,061
Tavush (Տավուշ) Ijevan (Իջևան) 2,704 km² 121,963
Vayots Dzor (Վայոց Ձոր) Yeghegnadzor (Եղեգնաձոր) 2,308 km² 53,230
Yerevan (Երևան) 227 km² 1,091,235

Geography

Main article: Geography of Armenia

Armenia is a landlocked country in the southern Caucasus. Located between the Black and Caspian Seas, the country is bordered on the north and east by Georgia and Azerbaijan, and on the south and west by Iran and Turkey.

Topography

The 12th century Khor Virap monastery in the shadow of Mount Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark had supposedly once come to rest.
 
The 12th century Khor Virap monastery in the shadow of Mount Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark had supposedly once come to rest.

 
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