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Country Facts About Republic of Armenia

Updated on August 28, 2013
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Republic of Armenia is one of the former union republics of the USSR, now an independent country. Landlocked, it is situated in the southern Caucasus and has an area of about 11,500 square miles (29,800 sq km). Yerevan is the capital.

Situated some 6,000–8,000 feet (1,830–2,440 meters) above sea level, Armenia is a rugged plateau located south of the Caucasus Mountains. The plateau is broken up by short ridges, deep gorges and ravines, and narrow valleys. Many small rivers and streams carve its surface. The republic, a land of extinct volcanoes, has a rough, barren, dry terrain, with little forestland but excellent pasturage.

The principal lake of the republic is Sevan, situated at an elevation of approximately 6,300 feet (1,920 meters) and surrounded by extinct volcanoes. This lake is the main reservoir of the republic's irrigation water and is a principal source of its electrical energy. The main rivers of Armenia are the Araks (Aras), which empties into the Caspian Sea, and its tributary, the Hrazdan (Zanga), which joins the Araks on the Ararat plain. The Hrazdan and other rivers have provided the republic with more than half of its cultivated acreage and much of its electrical power. The Ararat plain has been industrialized, and most rural regions have been electrified.

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The climate is unusually varied and runs to extremes: chilly in the mountains, mild and cool in the highlands, and oppressively hot in the semiarid lowlands. The air is thin and dry, the winters severe, the springs brief, the summers hot, and the autumns cool.

Armenia was one of the most densely populated and ethnically homogeneous republics in the former USSR. It has a population of about 3,000,000, of which over 90% is Armenian, with Azeris, Russians, and Kurds accounting for the remainder. Since the breakup of the USSR, Armenia has undergone considerable demographic change and will continue to change. The conflict with Azerbaijan (1992–1994) resulted in the flight of some 300,000 Armenians to Armenia and about 100,000 Azeris to Azerbaijan. Many of the Armenian refugees who came from the conflicted region of Nagorno-Karabakh were later able to return.

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When the Armenian Soviet republic was established in 1920, only 10% of its population was urban. By 2010, 64% of its people lived in cities and towns. The largest city is the capital, Yerevan.

Grain and cotton are grown on the Ararat plain; fruit trees and vineyards prosper in the slightly higher elevations. The meadows, in the mountainous areas, provide pasture for most of Armenia's cattle and horses. The republic is irrigated by an elaborate system of canals.

Armenia has little coal or iron ore. Its principal metal deposits are copper, mined from the rich lodes near Alaverdi, and smaller quantities of zinc, lead, aluminum, molybdenum, and chromite. A rich variety of stone and marble supports a flourishing industry.

Manufactures include cotton fabric, wool, and silks. The cities of Yerevan and Gyumri specialize in machine building, while Vanadzor is an important center for chemical production and leather goods.

The republic has more than 500 miles (800 km) of railroad; its main line connects Yerevan and Gyumri with T'bilisi and points north. The other main mode of travel is by air.

During the Soviet era, Armenia was transformed from a backward, underdeveloped region into one of the most densely industrialized, modernized, and urbanized republics of the USSR. About one-third of its labor force is engaged in professional and technical pursuits, and nearly two-thirds is employed in industrial activity. Only 7% of the labor force is engaged in agriculture, yet the republic is virtually self-sufficient in the production of food products. Modernization, however, reflected the agenda of the central authorities and not the specific needs of Armenia.

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Before independence the Armenian economy suffered from a massive earthquake in September 1988. The tremor destroyed 30% of the country's industrial capacity and half of its schools, health facilities, and residential buildings. It killed more than 25,000 people and left more than 500,000 homeless.

Because Armenia is a landlocked mountainous country, the welfare of its economy, as well as its access to the world community, depends upon the state of its relationships with its neighbors. Armenia's economic problems are linked directly to its relationship with Azerbaijan and its energy-intensive industry. During the Soviet era, the republic imported 80% of its energy, with 82% of that amount coming from neighboring Azerbaijan. In mid-1988, a conflict arose with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan instituted a blockade that cut off Armenia's main rail routes and access to Azerbaijan's energy resources. Turkey, a supporter of Azerbaijan, closed its border to Armenia in 1993. The blockades severely reduced Armenia's industrial production and resulted in the shutdown of schools, hospitals, and other facilities.

The republic has joined the major international financial institutions and has signed a most-favored-nation trade agreement with the United States. The wealthy Armenian diaspora abroad has also provided assistance and investment. There has been rapid movement toward a market economy in agriculture, where 60% of the arable land, including 70% of the country's orchards, was privatized within a few years after independence. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian companies have invested heavily in Armenia's mining, energy, telecommunications, and transportation sectors. The construction industry became increasingly important, owing largely to government-sponsored projects.

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