Armenia is situated at a cultural, historical, and religious intersection and located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, in the southern Transcaucasus. The country spans 29,743 square kilometers (11,490 square miles, about the size of Belgium or Maryland) of mountainous terrain centered on the Ararat Valley, the heart of the Armenian nation since biblical times. Ancient geographers called the Armenian Highlands the "Island of Mountains" or the "Rooftop of Asia Minor." In fact, the average altitude of the country is over a mile high, at about 1800 meters above sea level. Presently, the country is landlocked and has no navigable waterways, in contrast to Historic Armenia, which at its height under King Tigran the Great, stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and was more than ten times the current size of the present day Republic. Armenia has borders with Georgia to the north, with Turkey to the west and south, with Azerbaijan to the east and southwest, and with Iran to the south.
Armenia's landscapes offer boundless beauty. Seven main landscape types are represented across the different altitudinal zones of Armenia. Across these desert, semi desert, dry steppe, steppe, woodland, sub alpine and alpine zones is geography as diverse as high mountain peaks, fertile valleys, picturesque land formations, basalt columns, rock sculptures, and waterfalls. More than 200 rivers and streams traverse Armenia, with steep falls, rapids and swift currents. Armenia has 5 scenic canyons. In addition, there are over 200 therapeutic mineral springs, differing in composition and temperature.
The Armenians, an ancient people living on an ancient land, call Armenia "Hayastan," and themselves “Hay." Oral history explains the lineage of the Armenian people as being the direct descendants of Noah's son Habeth. The indigenous people of the land of Ararat, Armenians forged their national identity with the rise of powerful Armenian kingdoms, the adoption of Christianity as Armenia's state religion, and the creation of the Armenian alphabet, which spurred the development of literature, philosophy, and science.
From ancient times, Armenians have cherished their artistic traditions, which reflect a unique culture and landscape. Aspects of everyday life are expressed in the most artistic fashion, in needlework, embellishments, carvings and design.
Architecture is one of the most interesting art forms in Armenia, as, for example, churches bear artistic illustrations in frescoes and reliefs. Sculpting is everywhere - in nearly every city, town, and village in Armenia.
Armenians love music, and they have been creating exquisite compositions for centuries. Sharakans are traditional Armenian liturgical songs, which are experiencing a revival today. Distinctive musical instruments are used to play Armenian folk songs. Sayat Nova, Komitas, and Aram Khachaturian are among Armenia's best-known musicians and composers. Contemporary music comes in the forms of jazz and pop.
Literature has always played a vital role in Armenia's cultural and national identity. Christian culture and the invention of the Armenian alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots gave new stimuli to the development of unique cultural traditions. There is no better place to view this literary and artistic history than Yerevan's unique Matenadaran (Institute of Ancient Manuscripts), which houses an extraordinary collection of 14,000 complete manuscripts, fragments and miniatures.
The Caucasus region and Armenia in particular have been cited by scholars as the place where rug and carpet weaving originated. Armenians continue this tradition, and one can find many shops specializing in fine new and old rugs and carpets. At the weekend flea market, rug sellers lay out their eye-catching merchandise filled with appealing colors and designs. At the same market, you will come across loads of charming handicrafts that will be hard to resist purchase. Visitors to Armenia find handmade crafts, Armenian gold, precious and semi-precious stones which inspire jewelers in many regions. Obsidian stone is used for jewelry, desk accessories, and decorative items. Carpet making is not only a fine art, but Kilim weaving, for example, is applied to clothing items, bags, and home furnishings. Wood carvings replicate the ancient stone crosses (khachkars) found throughout the country, and no two are exactly alike. Armenian crafts couple elegant utility and delightful whimsy in textiles, ceramics, metal and woodworking.
Armenia is often referred to as an open-air museum. Tourists find over 4,000 historical monuments throughout Armenia, covering various periods of the country's history from prehistoric to Hellenistic times, and from the early to medieval Christian era. The Armenians created their masterpieces during rare periods of peace and relative prosperity over the centuries. Within Yerevan alone there are more than 40 fine arts museums and galleries.
About 94 percent of Armenians consider themselves to be Armenian Christians. Armenia became the first nation to declare Christianity as its state religion in 301 AD.
Traditionally, the Armenian Church recognizes the Catholicos of All Armenians as its leader. He resides in Holy Etchmiadzin, where St. Gregory the Illuminator established the Armenian Church in 301 AD. A National Ecclesiastical Assembly consisting of lay and clergy representatives of Armenian communities around the world elects the Catholicos. There are four hierarchical Sees in the Armenian Church: the Catholicate of All Armenians in Etchmiadzin; the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia; the Patriarchate of Jerusalem; and the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Church entered its most recent era of leadership on October 27, 1999, when Armenian Christians chose His Holiness Garegin II as leader of their worldwide church following the death of Catholicos Garegin I.
Small Roman Catholic and Protestant communities also exist in Armenia. Catholic missionaries began converting Armenians in the Ottoman and Persian empires in the early modern era, and American Protestant missionaries were active in the nineteenth century. The Kurdish population is mostly Yezidi or Muslim. A Russian Orthodox Church also serves its community.
When Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion, the need of an indigenous language arose in order to translate the Bible. A devoted scholar and monk, Mesrop Mashtots, created a distinctly Armenian alphabet after traveling all over Armenia to gather the sounds of Armenian speech. In 405 AD he introduced the thirty-six unique characters that make up the basis of the Armenian alphabet. During the Middle Ages, two additional characters were added to write words borrowed from foreign languages.
Russian is widely known in Armenia as well, and English is increasingly gaining prominence, followed by French, Spanish and several oriental languages.
According to the February 2012 report on preliminary results of the 2011 census, Armenia’s de facto population is 2,871,509. The National Statistical Service (NSS) reported that the preliminary operational indicator of enumerated population during the 2011 Population Census is 3,285,767. The previous 2001 census showed Armenia’s population as 3,458,303. Thus, the NSS used two categories: enumerated population and de facto population. 12.6% of enumerated citizens are out of Armenia.
The official title of the country is the Republic of Armenia (Hayastani Hanrapetutyun). The Republic of Armenia was established on September 21, 1991. The Constitution of the Republic of Armenia was adopted through a national referendum on July 5, 1995 and amended during another referendum on November 27, 2005. All citizens aged 18 and older have the right to vote.
The highest executive authority is the President, who appoints the Prime Minister (who is subject to a no-confidence vote by the National Assembly) and appoints the members of the Government (ministers) at the proposal of the Prime Minister. The first President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was elected on October 16, 1991. In 1998, he resigned. Then Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan became Acting President. Extraordinary elections were set for March 16, 1998. Because no candidate garnered 50% + 1 of the votes, the first round of elections required a run-off between the top two candidates from the 12 original candidates. Acting President Robert Kocharyan was elected President of the Republic of Armenia on March 31, 1998. President Robert Kocharyan was re-elected on 2003. On February 19, 2008 Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was elected President of the Republic of Armenia. He was re-elected on February 18, 2013.
The legislative branch is the National Assembly (Azgayin Zhoghov), which has 131 elected parliamentarians who are elected every five years. The National Assembly is a single-chamber representative body. Its members are elected by a combination of single member district and proportional representation.
Women comprise 11% of National Assembly members, 12% of Government Ministers and 13% of Deputy Ministers. The 2010 Human Development Report introduced the Gender Inequality Index (GII), which reflects gender-based inequalities in three dimensions – reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. Reproductive health is measured by maternal mortality and adolescent birth rates; empowerment is measured by the share of parliamentary seats held by women and attainment in secondary and higher education by each gender; and economic activity is measured by the labor market participation rate for women and men. Armenia has a GII value of 0.318, ranking it 62 out of 155 countries in the 2014 index.
Since 1991, the Armenian Government has moved quickly and effectively to establish friendly and close diplomatic and economic ties with the outside world. Armenia has established diplomatic relations with over 140 countries. Armenia has a permanent presence (embassy, consulate, or representation) in over 100 countries of North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Republic of Armenia among others has permanent representation missions to the following international organizations: UN, EU, OSCE, CoE, CIS, NATO and BSEC.
The tricolor flag of Armenia is comprised of three horizontal and equally sized stripes of red, blue and orange. The red color of the flag symbolizes the blood that the Armenian people have shed in the struggle for independence. Blue symbolizes the clear sky of Armenia, while the orange color symbolizes the creative drive of the nation.
The socio-economic situation
Armenia is a lower middle income country. Armenia’s human development index (HDI) value for 2012 is 0.729—in the high human development category—positioning the country at 87 out of 187 countries and territories. In 2012, the GNI per capita was 3,200 USD (no data yet on GDP per capita for 2013).
After a period of double digit economic growth of 12% between 2001 and 2007, the country was harshly hit by the global crisis in the last quarter of 2008. As a result, GDP dropped by 14.1% in 2009. The economic decline affected the poverty alleviation process, and jeopardized the achievement of many of the national MDGs targets. In 2010, 35.8% of the overall population was poor as compared with the 27.6% prior to the crisis in 2008, nearly 21.3% of them are very poor and 3% are in extreme poverty. According to the latest “Social snapshot and poverty” report of November 2012, the number of people living in poverty was 35% in 2011. More than third of the population (35.0 percent) is poor, 19.9% - very poor and 3.7% - extremely poor. In terms of urban-rural differences of welfare, majority of the poor (64.8%) and the extremely poor (80%) were urban residents.
The current macroeconomic situation has greatly improved compared to the 2009 crisis, and the economy is set on the path of recovery. It gradually picked up from 2.1% in 2010 and 4.6% in 2011 to 7% in 2012, driven mainly by the mining sector, agro-industries and remittances from abroad. The projection for GDP growth is 6.2% in 2013. The economy was supported by exceptional donor assistance, including macro-financial assistance from the EU worth 100 million EUR (a grant of 65 million EUR and a medium-term loan).
Remittances from migrant workers grew by 11% in 2012 constituting 14% of GDP. According to the National Statistical Service, unemployment reached 6% in 2012, whilst ILO calculation methodology indicated 19%. Inflation has come down to 2.6% in 2012. Armenia was included in a list of countries with a high degree of economic freedom in 2012 occupying 39th place in the annual "Index of Economic Freedom" by the Wall Street Journal. It ranked 32nd in IFC and WB Doing Business 2013. The significant progress was mostly stipulated by strengthened investor protections. Tax revenues increased by 13% in 2012. Nevertheless, Armenia still has comparatively low tax collection record. In 2012, foreign direct investments dropped by 40% due to remaining deficiencies in the business environment and the decline in construction.
The government carried on structural reforms and promoted fiscal stability. The improved tax administration secured additional revenues. Growth was achieved in the agriculture sector (9.5%) due to favorable climate/weather conditions in 2012 and government financing to the sector; as well as in the industrial sector (8.8%), due to high metal prices and increased outputs in the ICT sector.
The government foresees sound economic growth (GDP increase of 6.2%) with projected at 4±1.5% annual inflation in 2013. Armenia’s state budget for 2013 calls for a nearly 10% rise in government spending projected at $2.84 billion USD. It envisages a fiscal deficit of 2.6% of GDP. The government aims at cutting the deficit through a more than 13% rise in its tax revenues. Social expenditures have a major share in the total expenditures (41.7%).
The government has embarked on the process of finalization of the “Armenia Development Strategy for 2012‐2025” anticipated to enter into force in June 2013. The document aims to be a strategic roadmap for medium-term national socio-economic development objectives, modified as a result of the impact of the global economic crisis on Armenia.