Location: Southwestern Asia, east of Turkey
Geographic coordinates: 40 00 N, 45 00 E
Map references: Commonwealth of Independent States
total: 29,800 sq km
land: 28,400 sq km
water: 1,400 sq km
Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Maryland
total: 1,254 km
border countries: Azerbaijan-proper 566 km, Azerbaijan-Naxcivan
exclave 221 km, Georgia 164 km, Iran 35 km, Turkey 268 km
Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)
Maritime claims: none (landlocked)
Climate: highland continental, hot summers, cold winters
Terrain: Armenian Highland with mountains; little forest
land; fast flowing rivers; good soil in Aras River valley
lowest point: Debed River 400 m
highest point: Aragats Lerr 4,095 m
Natural resources: small deposits of gold, copper, molybdenum,
arable land: 17%
permanent crops: 3%
permanent pastures: 24%
forests and woodland: 15%
other: 41% (1993 est.)
Irrigated land: 2,870 sq km (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: occasionally severe earthquakes; droughts
Environment - current issues: soil pollution from toxic
chemicals such as DDT; energy blockade, the result of conflict with
Azerbaijan, has led to deforestation when citizens scavenged for
firewood; pollution of Hrazdan (Razdan) and Aras Rivers; the draining
of Sevana Lich (Lake Sevan), a result of its use as a source for
hydropower, threatens drinking water supplies; restart of Metsamor
nuclear power plant without adequate (IAEA-recommended) safety and
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification,
Hazardous Wastes, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Air Pollution-Persistent Organic
Geography - note: landlocked
Formal Name: Republic of Armenia.
Short Form: Armenia.
Term for Citizens: Armenian(s).
Date of Independence: September 23, 1991.
Size: Approximately 29,800 square kilometers.
Topography: Dominated by Lesser Caucasus range,
running across north and then turning southeast to Iran. Armenian
Plateau to the southwest of mountains. Plateau, major feature of
central Armenia, slopes gradually downward into Aras River valley,
which forms border with Turkey to west and Iran to south.
Climate: Mountains preclude influence from nearby
seas; temperature and precipitation generally determined by elevation:
colder and wetter in higher elevations (north and northeast). In
central plateau, wide temperature variation between winter and summer.
Data as of March 1994
Armenia is located in southern Transcaucasia, the region southwest
of Russia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Modern Armenia
occupies part of historical Armenia, whose ancient centers were
in the valley of the Aras River and the region around Lake Van in
Turkey. Armenia is bordered on the north by Georgia, on the east
by Azerbaijan, on the southwest by the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic
of Azerbaijan, on the south by Iran, and on the west by Turkey .
Topography and Drainage
Twenty-five million years ago, a geological upheaval pushed up
the earth's crust to form the Armenian Plateau, creating the complex
topography of modern Armenia . The Lesser Caucasus range extends
through northern Armenia, runs southeast between Lake Sevan and
Azerbaijan, then passes roughly along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border
to Iran. Thus situated, the mountains make travel from north to
south difficult. Geological turmoil continues in the form of devastating
earthquakes, which have plagued Armenia. In December 1988, the second
largest city in the republic, Leninakan (now Gyumri), was heavily
damaged by a massive quake that killed more than 25,000 people.
About half of Armenia's area of approximately 29,800 square kilometers
has an elevation of at least 2,000 meters, and only 3 percent of
the country lies below 650 meters. The lowest points are in the
valleys of the Aras River and the Debet River in the far north,
which have elevations of 380 and 430 meters, respectively. Elevations
in the Lesser Caucasus vary between 2,640 and 3,280 meters. To the
southwest of the range is the Armenian Plateau, which slopes southwestward
toward the Aras River on the Turkish border. The plateau is masked
by intermediate mountain ranges and extinct volcanoes. The largest
of these, Mount Aragats, 4,430 meters high, is also the highest
point in Armenia. Most of the population lives in the western and
northwestern parts of the country, where the two major cities, Erevan
and Gyumri (which was called Aleksandropol' during the tsarist period),
The valleys of the Debet and Akstafa rivers form the chief routes
into Armenia from the north as they pass through the mountains.
Lake Sevan, 72.5 kilometers across at its widest point and 376 kilometers
long, is by far the largest lake. It lies 2,070 meters above sea
level on the plateau. Terrain is most rugged in the extreme southeast,
which is drained by the Bargushat River, and most moderate in the
Aras River valley to the extreme southwest. Most of Armenia is drained
by the Aras or its tributary, the Razdan, which flows from Lake
Sevan. The Aras forms most of Armenia's border with Turkey and Iran
as well as the border between Azerbaijan's adjacent Nakhichevan
Autonomous Republic and Iran.
Data as of March 1994
Temperatures in Armenia generally depend upon elevation. Mountain
formations block the moderating climatic influences of the Mediterranean
Sea and the Black Sea, creating wide seasonal variations. On the
Armenian Plateau, the mean midwinter temperature is 0° C, and
the mean midsummer temperature exceeds 25° C. Average precipitation
ranges from 250 millimeters per year in the lower Aras River valley
to 800 millimeters at the highest altitudes. Despite the harshness
of winter in most parts, the fertility of the plateau's volcanic
soil made Armenia one of the world's earliest sites of agricultural
A broad public discussion of environmental problems began in the
mid-1980s, when the first "green" groups formed in opposition to
Erevan's intense industrial air pollution and to nuclear power generation
in the wake of the 1986 reactor explosion at Chernobyl'. Environmental
issues helped form the basis of the nationalist independence movement
when environmental demonstrations subsequently merged with those
for other political causes in the late 1980s.
In the postcommunist era, Armenia faces the same massive environmental
cleanup that confronts the other former Soviet republics as they
emerge from the centralized planning system's disastrous approach
to resource management. By 1980 the infrequency of sightings of
Mount Ararat, which looms about sixty kilometers across the Turkish
border, became a symbol of worsening air pollution in Erevan.
In independent Armenia, environmental issues divide society (and
scientists) sharply into those who fear "environmental time bombs"
and those who view resumption of pollution-prone industrial operations
as the only means of improving the country's economy. In the early
1990s, the latter group blamed Armenia's economic woes on the role
played by the former in closing major industries.
In 1994 three national environmental laws were in effect: the Law
on Environmental Protection, the Basic Law on the Environment, and
the Law on Mineral Resources. The Council of Ministers, Armenia's
cabinet, includes a minister of the environment. However, no comprehensive
environmental protection program has emerged, and decisions on environmental
policy have been made on an ad hoc basis.
Environmental conditions in Armenia have been worsened by the Azerbaijani
blockade of supplies and electricity from outside. Under blockade
conditions, the winters of 1991-92, 1992-93, and 1993-94 brought
enormous hardship to a population lacking heat and electric power.
(The large-scale felling of trees for fuel during the winters of
the blockade has created another environmental crisis.) The results
of the blockade and the failure of diplomatic efforts to lift it
led the government to propose reconstruction of the Armenian Atomic
Power Station at Metsamor, which was closed after the 1988 earthquake
because of its location in an earthquake-prone area and which had
the same safety problems as reactors listed as dangerous in Bulgaria,
Russia, and Slovakia. After heated debates over startup continued
through 1993, French and Russian nuclear consultants declared operating
conditions basically safe. Continuation of the blockade into 1994
gave added urgency to the decision (see Energy , this ch.).
Another environmental concern is a significant drop in Lake Sevan's
water level because of drawdowns for irrigation and the diversion
of water to hydroelectric plants to compensate for the electric
power lost through the inactivity of the nuclear plant at Metsamor.
This crisis was addressed in 1992-93 by construction of a tunnel
to divert water into the lake from the Arpa River. Engineers estimated
that once the project is finished, the tunnel will allow 500 million
cubic meters of water to be drawn from the lake annually, while
maintaining a constant water level. The Ministry of the Environment
reported that the lake's water level had dropped by fifty centimeters
in 1993. Experts said that this drop brought the level to within
twenty-seven centimeters of the critical point where flora and fauna
would be endangered.
Among major industrial centers closed to curtail pollution were
the Nairit Chemical Plant, the Alaverdy Metallurgical Plant, and
the Vanadzor Chemical Combine. Economic requirements triumphed over
environmental considerations when the Soviet-era Nairit plant was
reopened in January 1992 after being closed in 1989 because of the
massive air pollution it caused. Newly independent Armenia needed
the income from foreign sales of Nairit rubber and chemical products,
many of which had been assigned exclusively to that plant under
the Soviet system and were still unavailable elsewhere to the former
Soviet republics in the early 1990s. Up-to-date environmental safety
technology and adherence to international standards were promised
at Nairit when the decision to resume production was announced.
Data as of March 1994