Armenians - Orientation

Identification. Historically, the Armenian nation has been situated in the Anatolian highlands of Asia Minor. Greater Armenia, as identified by the ancient Romans, once lay to the east of the Euphrates River, while Lesser Armenia lay to the west. At different times Armenian kingdoms have occupied territory within the present-day boundaries of modern Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, as well as the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia. As recently as the early nineteenth century, Eastern Armenia was controlled by Persia and Western Armenia by the Ottoman Empire. In 1828 Eastern Armenia came under Russian rule. The transition to Soviet rule was marked by a brief and difficult period of independence (1918-1921). In 1915 many Armenians fled persecution and genocide in eastern Turkey (Western Armenia) and came as refugees to Eastern Armenia. This genocide and the subsequent seventy years of Soviet rule have played a major role in shaping contemporary Armenian culture and consciousness, in addition to determining the geography and demography of present-day Armenia.

Location. The Armenian Republic (formerly the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic) is in the southwestern region of the former Soviet Union, bordered on the east and west by Azerbaijan and Turkey, respectively, and on the north and south by Georgia and Iran, respectively. Its territory comprises 29,740 square kilometers, and its border is 1,422 kilometers long. Armenia encompasses multiple climatic zones, varying seasonally in temperature from —13° C to 25° C. Much of the land is dry and arid, which has made large-scale cultivation difficult.

The Armenian Republic consists of thirty-seven administrative regions and twenty-seven towns and has its own constitution and governmental institutions. The official language of the republic is Armenian. The three main industrial centers are the capital city, Erevan; the pre-Soviet capital city, Gumri (formerly Leninakan, and before that, Alexandropol); and Kirovakan. The republic consists of six economic regions: Ararat, Shirak, Lori, Agstev, Sevan, and Sjunik. Since the 1920s the Soviet republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan have opposed each other in a violent border dispute over the fertile region of mountainous Karabagh (the Nagorno-Karabagh Oblast), which by Soviet law is an autonomous region within the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, but which is populated by a majority of Armenians (80 percent in the 1970s) and is, according to Armenian accounts, traditionally Armenian.

Demography. In 1990 the population of the Armenian Republic was 3,515,000, with the second-highest population density in the Soviet Union. The ethnic composition of Armenia is highly homogeneous, with Armenians constituting 93.5 percent of the population. Russians make up 2.7 percent, and Kurds account for 1.5 percent. The remaining 2.3 percent is composed of other nationalities. Nearly 66 percent of the Armenian people live in urban areas, and 60 percent (1.5 million) live in Erevan, the republic's capital.

Linguistic Affiliation.

The Armenian language represents an independent subgroup of the Indo-European Language Family. The Armenian alphabet was devised in the early fifth century by Mesrop Mashtots, for the purpose of translating biblical texts and Christian liturgical materials. In the twentieth century, written Armenian has undergone two spelling reforms in Soviet Armenia, to improve the phonetic relationship between the written and spoken languages and to standardize the grammar. There are many spoken dialects in Armenia today.

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