Armenia Country Profile
Armenia means "Land of Stone" and is a fitting name for this Transcaucasian nation – between its soaring mountain ranges, stone monasteries and capital city built from pink volcanic rock, Armenia practically doubles as a finely chiseled open-air museum. It’s a country that quietly impresses and welcomes anyone willing to get off the beaten path to climb its mountains, tour its monasteries and linger in Yerevan long enough to hear the stories that still echo through its boulevards and stone edifices.
Armenia’s extensive and often turbulent history has shaped the country in countless ways. One of the greatest assets that travelers to Armenia can bring to the country is an understanding of the nation’s background and cultural heritage and its sources of national pride. Take a virtual tour of the Land of Stone through the Armenia Country Profile to learn more about this special land and people.
Armenia Country Facts
Official Name: Republic of Armenia (Hayastan)
Capital of Armenia: Yerevan
Country Population of Armenia: 3.1 million (2019)
Total area: 29,743 square km
Land Boundaries: Georgia (north), Azerbaijan (east), Iran (south), Turkey (south, west)
Climate: continental, subtropical
Ethnic Makeup of Armenia: Armenian (93.3%), Yazidi (1.7%), Russian (1.5%), other (3.5%)
Armenia Religion: Christian, Armenian Apostolic (94.8%), Christian, other (4%), Yazidi (1.2%)
Independence: September 21, 1991
Internet Domain: .am
Administrative Divisions: 10 provinces a d 1 city (Yerevan)
National currency: Armenian dram
National GDP: 12.43 USD billion
Electricity: 230V AC, 50 Hz; type C and F round two-pin plugs are standard
Flag of Armenia
Armenia’s flag was officially adopted in 1990 upon independence from the Soviet Union.
The flag of Armenia has a simple design of three equally sized horizontal stripes of red, blue and orange.
Red symbolizes the central Armenian highland and the Armenians’ ongoing fight for survival, and gives reference to the blood of Armenians shed in wars and genocide in the past.
Blue represents Armenian territory - its pure sky and calming nature.
Orange reflects the bravery, productiveness and creativity of the Armenian people.
History of Armenia
Armenia’s history reaches back to time immemorial, and though plagued by conquests and tragedy, is a testament to the resiliency of this ancient people.
The term ‘Armenian’ is likely a derivative of ‘Aramean’. When the Armen people of the northern Balkans migrated to the Armenian Highland around 1200 BC, they intermarried with the Hayasa-Azzi tribe residing on the plateau, resulting in the birth of the Armenian race.
The first Armenian empire existed between 800-585 BC under King Aramu. Referred to as either Urartu, Armenia or the Kingdom of Ararat, the empire was known for its advanced architecture, developed writing system and unification of the peoples within its realm.
The kingdom of Evanduni eventually replaced Urartu in the region, but by 520 BC had been subjected to the Persians, resulting in many Iranian customs being absorbed into the Armenian culture.
In 331 BC Alexander the Great conquered the region and the Armenian Kingdom was divided into three sections. Armenia regained partial autonomy in 190 BC as the two states of Greater Armenia and Sophene.
The climax of the Armenian Empire was reached in 95-66 BC, when the two kingdoms were united under Tigran the Great. A map of Armenia from this period would reveal greatly expanded borders. Likewise significant cultural developments were achieved, including the formation of the Armenian language.
The Romans invaded under Pompey in 66 BC, forcing Armenia to ally with Rome. After becoming entangled in battles and political alliances, Armenia was fully under Roman rule by 1 AD. The Parthians and Romans, and later the Persians and Byzantines, took turns wielding power in the area over the ensuing centuries.
In an effort to separate itself from the religion of the ruling Persian Dynasty, Armenia declared itself a Christian nation in 301AD, becoming the first official Christian nation in the world. Despite Arab invasion a few centuries later, Armenia was given eventual permission to continue practicing Christianity.
In 885, Armenian gained independence, which ushered in a 200-year period of Armenian renaissance and peace. This period came to a halt in 1071 with the invasion of the Seljuk Turks, causing many to flee Armenia.
History attests that in 1080, Rupen I established a “little Armenia” in Cilicia, which lasted several centuries and had strong ties with Europe. This helped to preserve Armenian statehood and culture until it succumbed to Egyptian invasion in 1375.
Meanwhile, in 1124 Armenia’s then-capital Ani was freed by Georgia from the Seljuk Turks; Armenia thus began a loose subservience to Georgia until 1236, when the Mongols invaded.
For the next 6 centuries, Armenia would be subject to surrounding nations – Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, the Ottomans, the Persians and surrounding tribes all conquered the land in turn. While Nagorno-Karabakh maintained independence, Armenia was ultimately divided between Turkey and Iran.
While under Persian rule, East Armenia began to be partitioned to Russia in the 19th century as it gained independence from Iran during the Russo-Persian War. Increased contact with Russia and the West led to the Armenian Renaissance of the 19th century.
East Armenia remained under Russian rule until joining the USSR shortly after its formation, while West Armenia continued under Turkish control.
During the tragic years of 1894-1896, over a quarter million Armenians were massacred at the hands of Turkish and Kurdish forces, as the Turks tried to annihilate the Armenians in an attempt to establish a pan-Turkic rule through Central Asia. A similar massacre occurred again in 1909.
1915-1923 was a tragic time in Armenian history. Approximately 1.5 million Armenians, or 80% of the population of Western Armenia, was killed at the hands of the Turks, who claimed the Armenians were allies with Russia in WWI. As a result, millions of Armenians fled their homeland, creating the large Armenian diaspora that still exists today.
During this tumult, for the first time since the Middle Ages, Armenia gained independence in 1918. Freedom was short-lived, however, as the Russians and Turks again gained control of the land.
In 1920 West Armenia tried to ally with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Eastern Armenia, then sought full independence. This attempt failed and the related skirmishes are known as the Turkish-Armenian War.
In 1921, Armenia briefly formed the Republic of Mountainous Armenia, which lasted only a few months. In 1922 Armenia was made a state within the USSR, and the support from Russia led to a growth in industry, medicine and infrastructure development for Armenia.
Armenia was declared an independent republic within the USSR in 1936. Upon creation of the SSR states, Stalin gave the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan. While the ensuing decades were a time of peace and development for Armenia, their cultural identity was largely suppressed.
In 1988, protests over Nagorno-Karabakh led to the massacre of Armenians living in Azerbaijan. Over 250,000 Armenians fled Azerbaijan for Armenia, and many Azerbaijanis likewise fled Armenia. Travel to Azerbaijan by Armenians was banned and retaliatory sanctions by Azerbaijan left Armenia’s economy in shambles, forcing thousands more Armenians to emigrate abroad.
Also in December 1988, the 6.8 magnitude Spitak Earthquake killed more than 25,000 people and devasted the country.
On August 23, 1990, Armenia declared its independence from the USSR, yet its independence was not recognized until the following year.
From 1991-1994, Armenia and Azerbaijan were enmeshed in the Nagorno-Karabakh War over the disputed territory with the same name, which was primarily ethnic Armenian and desired to be free from Azerbaijani rule. A ceasefire was signed in 1994 but tensions remain between the two nations even today.
In the past 20 years, Armenia’s economy and social stability has steadily improved, funded largely by Armenians in diaspora.
Government of Armenia
Armenia is a parliamentary republic consisting of executive, legislative and judicial branches. Its constitution was drafted in 1995 and while having undergone major amendments since that time, is still the basis of the national government.
The prime minister acts as head of government and the president as head of state. Presidents are not permitted to be affiliated with any political party.
The legislative branch is comprised of a 101-seat National Assembly, with members serving 5-year terms.
The judicial branch acts independently and is comprised of the Constitutional Court, Court of Cassation and several smaller courts.
Levon Ter-Petrosyan (LTP) was Armenia’s first president, elected upon independence in 1991 and serving until 1998. His tenure in office bore the country through the war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Robert Kocharyan became Armenia’s second president in 1998 and led the country for the next decade. Prior to becoming Armenia’s leader, Kocharyan was the president of Nagorno-Karabakh, his birthplace, from 1994-1997.
Serzh Sargsyan served as president from 2008-2018 after having completed two terms as Prime Minister. Some opposed his election, claiming he was a close ally of President Kocharyan. However, his was a largely peaceful term until it ended in 2018.
Armen Sarkissian, Armenia’s fourth president, was elected to office in April 2018. The next month Nikol Pashinyan was elected as Prime Minister, despite attempts from outgoing president Serzh Sargsyan to secure the position.
Armenia’s government was restructured in late 2018 and early 2019. The country is a member of the United Nations, Commonwealth of Independent States, World Trade Organization and the Council of Europe.
The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, referred to internally as Artsakh, has its own governmental system.
Geography of Armenia
Armenia, a landlocked country roughly the size of Belgium, is home to no less than seven geographical regions. Fertile farmland and semi-desert terrain, forests and swamps, alpine meadows and mountainous territory all merge together to form the landscape of Armenia.
One look at a map of Armenia reveals that the Lesser Caucasus Mountains are by far the most dominant landscape, particularly in the north and east. Over 90% of the country sits at least 1,000m above sea level, with Mount Aragats (4,090 m,13,419 ft) the highest peak in both Armenia and the entire Lesser Caucasus Range. Mount Ararat, while now situated in Turkey, was historically part of Armenia and is by far the tallest mountain in the region. On a clear day it can be easily seen from Armenian territory and continues to be a significant landmark to the Armenian people.
Although mountainous, much of the soil is fertile, thanks to a limited number of rivers and tributaries that snake their way through the country. Key bodies of water include the Aras, Razdan and Debet Rivers, and more notably Lake Sevan, which comprises 5% of the country’s land.
During Soviet times, Armenia was one of the most densely populated republics within the USSR. The vast majority of the population, and all of the country’s major cities, are located in the nation’s central and southwest region, comprised mostly of flatland and the most temperate climate in all of Armenia.
Moving toward the northern and eastern regions of Armenia, travel becomes more rugged, as the terrain is dominated by the aforementioned Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The southeast corner is regarded by many to be the most beautiful region, with a conglomeration of mountains and woods.
Armenia contains a range of mineral resources but is particularly known for the hundreds of hot springs that provide potable water to the entire nation. Extinct volcanoes also dot the landscape. The country is susceptible to earthquakes, the last significant one having occurred in 1988.
Climate of Armenia
Armenia has a mostly dry continental climate, although due to its terrain and location between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black and Caspian Seas, it experiences a wild range in temperatures and weather patterns.
Armenia welcomes every season in turn. Winters are usually long, cold and icy, with snowfall upwards of 100 cm. The highest peaks retain snow year-round, while the highlands may have snow until the spring. Although the Northern Caucasus shields the country from frigid northern blasts, the valleys still experience biting cold. Average winter temperatures range from -5° to -10°C.
Springtime in Armenia is beautiful, festive and short-lived. Beginning in late March but peaking in April, the weather is typically warm and stable. Spring also sees the refreshing thaw of winter and the blossoming of gorgeous wildflowers.
Summers are typically hot, dry and sunny, beginning in June and lasting through much of September. Although precipitation is uncommon this time of year, when it does rain it often comes on suddenly, quickly developing into a downpour. While summer days are usually hot, temperatures may fall suddenly at night. Summer temperatures average anywhere from 23° to 36°C.
Autumn is a gorgeous season in Armenia. It generally lasts much longer than spring and is notable for its breathtaking hues of red, orange and yellow. While rainfall may increase towards the end of the season, autumn is generally sunny and pleasant, making it a prime time for travel to Armenia.
Precipitation varies greatly throughout Armenia. While average yearly precipitation is estimated at 500mm, the mountainous zones receive much more snow and rainfall than the plains. The southern region has a distinct subtropical climate and is particularly dry. Spring and late fall are the wettest seasons of the year.
“Is Armenia part of Europe or Asia?” is one of the most commonly asked questions regarding the country. Armenia is located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, technically in Asian territory but with strong European influence in language, culture, and worldview.
Unlike the other former USSR nations, Armenia is very monoethnic, with well over 90% of the population claiming Armenian heritage. The Armenian peoples’ history of genocide, diaspora, cultural suppression and domination by other cultures has led to a close-knit Armenian community today. Young and old alike willingly hold onto cultural traditions, taking a special pride in their ancestry and ethnic heritage.
This is true not only of the Armenian population within the country’s borders but of the sizable Armenian diaspora, which is actually larger than the local Armenian community. Currently there are over 1.5 million Armenians in the former USSR nations, particularly in Russia and Georgia, and another 1 million in the US. There are also significant communities of Armenians in Europe and the Middle East.
Despite this fact, the rights of minorities are guaranteed in Armenia. The most significant minority people groups living in Armenia today include the Yazidis and Russians, with smaller pockets of Assyrians, Georgians, Ukrainians, Molokans and Iranians. Since independence from the USSR, these minority groups have been more fully recognized and permitted to embrace their ethnic heritage. For example, approximate 50,000 Yazidis may now study their language and culture at school. Women also are accorded nearly equal access to education and work opportunities.
Armenian people are known to be artistic, creative and expressive. Classic architecture and stone engravings (khachkars) are famous in the region, and the many opera houses, concert halls and theaters are well attended year-round. Armenia’s musical roots reach back to ancient times, and more recently, Armenia composers have been credited with greatly aiding the development of Mideastern musical styles.
Traditional Armenian folk music is a blend of Middle Eastern, Oriental and classical influences and is expressed uniquely among each dialect of Armenian. Special stylistic songs and dances exist for many occasions, including the rhythmic Yarkhusta battle dance and the Uzundara bridal dance.
Family and traditions are at the core of everyday Armenian life. Children are adored and are often cared for well into adulthood. While arranged marriages may still occur in rural areas, it is no longer the norm. Great emphasis is placed on hospitality, with guests being lavished with honor and respect.
Nearly two-thirds of Armenia’s population lives in urban areas.
Economy and Industry
Armenia’s economy faced an uphill battle during the first years after independence. Landlocked with limited natural resources, tensions with neighboring countries blocked the Armenian peoples’ access to the ocean and participation in multi-country efforts. Yet Armenia displayed remarkable resiliency as it steadily built up sustainable industries, earning it the title “Tiger of the Caucasus”.
Today, agriculture, mining and food processing are Armenia’s key industries.
Major crops include fruits and vegetables, most notably melons, wheat, barley and olives. Orchards and vineyards are plentiful throughout the country. Small-scale agriculture prevails in Armenia, whose industrialized and state-run ventures have almost completely been privatized.
Armenia’s mining industry centers on ores and metals, most notably copper, diamonds, gold, silver and iron.
The food processing industry continues to expand, with an emphasis on eco-friendly products that use minimal fertilizers. Goods include wine, brandy, coffee, cheese and jam.
Other steadily growing industries include the IT sector, supported by international investments, and tourism. Shoe and apparel industries are being locally financed to increase overall production and provide small business support. Jewelry is also made from Armenia’s natural deposits of diamonds and gold.
Armenia imports nearly all of its oil and gas. Key exports include diamonds and copper ore, pharmaceuticals and equipment. Russia is by far its primary trade partner, although strong trade relations also exist with Iran and Russia.
Armenian is one of the oldest languages in the world, with evidence pointing to its existence as early as 5,000-7,000 years ago. In 405 AD, Mesrop the Monk created the written Armenian alphabet, and written literature began to be widely produced that same century.
Armenian is an Indo-European language, and while it’s loosely related to Greek, it forms its own branch within the Indo-European language family, having no close ties with other languages.
The Armenian written script evolved somewhat independently from the spoken language, which both encountered multiple changes over the centuries due to contact with other cultures. Today the original written language, known as Grabar, is still used for religious ceremonies in the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Spoken Armenian contains over 60 dialects, which formed over the centuries as the people were divided by war, geography and forced exile. Today, some of these dialects are no longer mutually intelligible with one another. There are two key dialects today. Eastern Armenian is spoken by Armenian people in Armenia, the former USSR and Iran, while Western Armenian is spoken by many Armenians residing in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas. Due to great diversity among Armenian dialects, the huge Armenian diaspora and the natural tendency to revert to the majority language spoken around them, Armenians have been gradually losing proficiency in their mother tongue.
Many Armenians can speak at least 2-3 languages. Other commonly spoken languages within Armenia include Kurdish, Assyrian, Greek and Russian. While most of the population understands the latter language, they will rarely speak it unless required to do so. In recent years English has become the preferred second language for the younger generations, who are required to learn it in school.
Religion of Armenia
Armenia became the first official Christian nation in 301, and since that time the Armenian people have remained loyal to their Orthodox faith as a symbol of their beliefs and national identity. The church has long been a symbol of Armenian culture and one of its key propagators, having aided the spread of the written language and traditional culture for centuries. It continues to be a connecting point for Armenians in diaspora around the world.
Today the vast majority of Armenians (roughly 95%) are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Its headquarters are located in the city of Etchmiadzin, situated just west of Yerevan and regarded as a holy city.
Over the centuries, the Armenian Apostolic Church has gradually incorporated elements of other ancient religions into its own observances, such that today in Armenia, religious customs are sometimes a combination of traditional Orthodox and ancient pagan beliefs. For example, in accordance with ancient Zoroastrian customs, newlyweds may dance around or jump over a fire to protect their marriage from future calamity.
In Armenia, religion for most Orthodox adherants includes belief in the afterlife. Honoring the dead through grave visitation and memorial services at designated times is standard practice, as is attendance at the church for special ceremonies, holidays, etc. Unlike in the Catholic tradition, however, the existence of purgatory isn’t taught, and the need to be cleansed from sin is given little emphasis.
Today freedom of religion in Armenia is guaranteed, as it is an officially secular state. Minority religious groups within Armenia include Yezidis, Jews, Catholics, Protestants and Muslims. In addition to churches, Armenia is home to the world’s largest Yazidi temple and a Shi’a mosque and community center.
Capital of Armenia
Armenia’s capital Yerevan, which celebrated its 2,800th birthday in 2018, holds the record as one of the world’s oldest continually occupied cities. Today Yerevan, situated on the Hrazdan River in the Ararat Valley, is home to over one-third of Armenia’s total population, about 1.2 million people.
A clean city with well-kept parks, it’s easy to see why Yerevan is a major tourist destination within Armenia. The city’s vibe reflects the laid-back, cultured and dignified character of the Armenian people. Coffee shops and tea houses abound and in summer, downtown Yerevan itself feels like one big café - it remains light out until late and people drink coffee, enjoy live music and socialize until the early hours. Locals and tourists alike enjoy climbing up Yerevan Cascade for a striking view of the city, particularly glorious at night.
At the geographic and social center of Armenia’s capital is Republic Square, designed by famed architect Alexander Tamanyan and taking more than 50 years to construct. Resplendent in the pink-hued tuff (volcanic stone) that has given Yerevan the nickname ‘Pink City’, the square is framed with the History Museum, Art Gallery, various government buildings and colorful singing fountains that delight young and old.
Other notable locales include Abovian Street, a major thoroughfare flaunting traditional architecture, and Mesrop Mashtots Prospect, Yerevean’s main street and cultural center.
Yerevan’s numerous museums, theaters and concert halls reflect the Armenian peoples’ love for music and the visual arts. Visitors will not want to miss the State Opera and Ballet House in Freedom Square, the renowned Opera and Ballet Theater, or the seven-story National Gallery Museum. At Vernissage open-air market, locally made handicrafts can be bought and sold in a festive and friendly atmosphere, particularly on the weekends. For anyone fond of exhibitions, a trip to Saryan Park on Saturdays will not disappoint. Browse the many paintings on display and interact with some of the artists themselves.
The Armenian Genocide Memorial is a moving commemoration of the millions who perished in the 20th century attacks. Numerous monuments and statues throughout the city likewise pay daily tribute to Armenia’s key historical figures.
January 1-4 – New Year Holiday
January 5-7 – Armenian Christmas
January 28 – National Army Day
March 8 – Women’s Day
April 24 – Armenian Remembrance Day
April 27 - Citizen’s Day
May 1 – Labor Day
May 9 – Victory Day
May 28 – First Republic Day
July 5 – Constitution Day
September 21 – Independence Day
December 31 – New Year’s Eve
Date Varies - Good Friday and Easter (end of March-beginning of May)
Notable Historical Figures
Anania Shirakatsi (610-685 AD) – сonsidered the first Armenian mathematician and astronomer, he’s hailed as the father of sciences in Armenia.
Gregory of Narek (951-1003) – also known as St. Gregory Narekatzi, this poet and saint of the Armenian church is famous for his mystical poems and hymns, most notably Lamentations.
Khachatur Abovian (1809-???)– the father of modern Armenian literature, Abovian mysteriously disappeared in 1848 and was never found.
Andranik Ozanian (1865-1927) – Armenian military commander hailed as a national hero for his key role in the Armenian independence movement of his time.
Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869-1923) – regarded as the national poet of Armenia, Tumanyan is best known for his poems, but also wrote literature and translated various works.
Komitas Vardapet (1869-1935) – Armenia’s leading composer who helped to birth Armenia’s unique musical style.
Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) – the greatest Armenian composer of the 20th century and one of the most renowned musicians from the Soviet Union, he shaped Armenian culture through his life and music.
Vazgen 1 (1908-1994) – chief bishop of Armenia from 1955-1994, Vazgen was a symbol of unity for Armenians worldwide and the first to be awarded the title “National Hero of Armenia”.