Armenia Country Overview
The Republic of Armenia has an executive branch that includes a president and a prime minister and a legislative branch composed of a National Assembly or Parliament. Members of Parliament are elected for four-year terms. The judicial branch includes a Supreme Court system as well as regional and city courts.
Peace Corps/Armenia is currently collaborating with the Ministries of Higher Education and Science, Trade and Economic Development, Health, Nature Protection, and Foreign Affairs.
In 2004 the per capita Gross National Income in Armenia was $1,120 and the purchasing power parity was $4,270. For comparison the per capita Gross National Income in USA was $41,400. The Armenian economy is based on the Armenian Dram. One U.S. dollar is equal to approximately 400 drams.
The country’s chief crops are grains, vegetables, and fruits. Livestock production includes sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, and cattle. Armenia is rich in precious and semiprecious metals and minerals, but it has no significant oil reserves. Its natural resources include copper, zinc, aluminum, and molybdenum.
Progress has been made in harnessing the Hrazdan River for hydroelectric power. A Soviet-era nuclear plant (not of the Chernobyl design) meets all of Armenia’s power requirements, and Armenia exports some electricity to neighboring countries.
The major industries are mechanical engineering, mining, chemicals, textiles, and building materials. Current exports include cut gems, jewelry, scrap metal, copper, molybdenum, textiles, cognac, fresh fruits, processed agricultural products, and some machinery. Most of the large factories that supplied the Soviet Union are closed, with little hope for revival.
Although the transportation infrastructure in Armenia is adequate, the entire country is currently under a limited blockade (borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed), which disrupts much of the former import-export system. Businesses use alternative routes, and access to consumer goods in the capital is excellent.
Several economic sectors show promise as replacements for the former heavy industry in Armenia. Tourism has great potential. Armenia has incredible ancient ruins, fortresses, churches, and monasteries; Neolithic sites; and fascinating places such as the “Armenian Stonehenge.” The country’s performing arts, including a ballet and a symphony, are highly developed. Its cuisine is an eclectic mix of European and Middle Eastern tastes, and it produces wool carpets, gold jewelry, and other items attractive to tourists.
Armenia produces high-quality wines and excellent fruits, including apricots, cherries, apples, and berries. In the past few years, fruit juices, cheeses, and wines have been developed for export markets. While the rate of export remains small, it is increasing as consumers begin to recognize the quality of these products.
Information technology is also a potential growth area; since Soviet times the country has been a computer science center.
People and Culture
Census records indicate that there are more than 3 million people in Armenia, but given the high rates of emigration to Russia, Europe, and the United States, the actual population is probably much smaller. The capital city of Yerevan has a population of 1.4 million. The largest cities are Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Abovian.
The country’s ethnic composition is 95.9 percent Armenian, 1.7 percent Kurdish (including Yezdis), 1.6 percent Russian, 0.3 percent Ukrainian, 0.2 percent Assyrian, 0.1 percent Greek, and 0.2 percent “other.” Several Armenian enclaves exist in neighboring countries, the most important of which is Nagorno-Karabakh (also referred to as “Artsakh”) in Azerbaijan, whose population is 90 percent Armenian. The official language is Armenian, although many people also speak Russian. The majority of the population is Armenian Apostolic Christian.
Armenia has a strong musical tradition. Many children take music lessons or attend music schools. If you have a small, portable musical instrument, we recommend that you bring it with you; and if you read piano music, you may have opportunities to practice. Traditional Armenian instruments include the doudouk, a wooden flute; the dehol, a drum held under the arm; the kemancha, a stringed instrument played with a bow; and the zourna, another type of flute.
Armenians are extremely hospitable and welcoming to Americans. They are also strong and determined as they struggle to recover from the collapse of the Soviet Union and a dramatic drop in their standard of living, the war with Azerbaijan, and the disastrous 1988 earthquake.
The historical area known as Greater Armenia covers more than 260,000 square kilometers (104,000 square miles). The Republic of Armenia today constitutes only about 10 percent of that area, or 29,800 square kilometers (11,920 square miles). Slightly larger than Maryland, Armenia is the smallest of the former Soviet republics. Despite its small size, Armenia’s highland location at the junction of various biogeographical regions has produced a variety of landscapes: semidesert, steppe, forest, alpine meadow, and high-altitude tundra.