|Country Profile: Armenia||Country Profile: Turkey||Country Profile: Azerbaijan|
|A landlocked country with Turkey to the west and Georgia to the north, Armenia boasts striking scenery with high mountains and caves, lakes and hot springs. |
Situated along the route of the Great Silk Road, it has fallen within the orbit of a number of empires and come into contact with many cultural influences throughout its history.
|Once the centre of the Ottoman Empire, the modern secular republic was established in the 1920s by nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk. |
Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey's strategic location has given it major influence in the region - and control over the entrance to the Black Sea.
|Oil-rich Azerbaijan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 amid political turmoil and against a backdrop of violence in Nagorno-Karabakh.|
One of the earliest Christian civilisations, its first churches were founded in the fourth century. It later spent centuries largely under Turkic or Persian control and its rich cultural and architectural heritage combines elements from different traditions. The Armenian language is part of the Indo-European family but its alphabet is unique.
Yerevan wants the world, and particularly Turkey, to recognize that the killing by the Ottoman Empire of hundreds of thousands of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 was genocide. Turkey says that there was no genocide and that the dead were victims of World War I. The two countries have no diplomatic relations.
An independent Republic of Armenia was proclaimed at the end of the first world war but was short-lived, lasting only until the beginning of the 1920s when the Bolsheviks incorporated it into the Soviet Union.
When that empire in turn collapsed in 1991, Armenia regained independence but retained a Russian military base at Gyumri.
In the mid-1990s the government embarked on an economic reform programme which brought some stability and growth. The country became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001.
Unemployment and poverty remain widespread. Armenia's economic problems are aggravated by a trade blockade, imposed by neighbouring Turkey and Azerbaijan since the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. The conflict over the predominantly Armenian-populated region in Azerbaijan overshadowed Armenia's return to independence in 1991.
Full-scale war broke out the same year as ethnic Armenians in Karabakh fought for independence, supported by troops and resources from Armenia proper. A ceasefire in place since 1994 has failed to deliver any lasting solution.
There is concern over safety at the Metsamor nuclear plant west of Yerevan. It was closed in 1988 following a catastrophic earthquake in the area but reopened in 1995 for economic reasons. The country is heavily reliant on it for electricity.
Armenia receives most of its gas supply from Russia and, like some other republics of the former Soviet Union, has had to face sharp price rises. The Russian gas giant Gazprom more or less doubled the price in April 2006. Russian gas arrives via a pipeline running through Georgia.
Armenia has a huge diaspora and has always experienced waves of emigration, but the exodus of recent years has caused real alarm. It is estimated that Armenia has lost up to a quarter of its population since independence, as young families seek what they hope will be a better life abroad.
Conversely, Armenia is richly endowed with potential as a tourist destination and recent figures indicate that some success is being achieved in attracting visitors.
|After years of mounting difficulties which brought the country close to economic collapse, a tough recovery programme was agreed with the IMF in 2002. Since then, Turkey has seen impressive progress. Economic growth has been strong and inflation has fallen dramatically. However, huge foreign debt remains a major burden. |
Turkey's powerful military - which sees itself as the guardian of the secular system - has a long history of involvement in politics. In recent years, as Ankara has set its sights firmly on European Union membership, the profile of the military has been lower in public life.
However, the military questioned the government's commitment to secularism in the run-up to presidential elections in 2007, amid a stand-off between the Islamist-rooted administration and secularists. The army warned that it would defend Turkey's secular system.
The latest step in the stand-off with the secularists came in March 2008, when the Constitutional Court only narrowly rejected a petition by the chief prosecutor to ban the governing Justice and Development Party and 71 of its officials, including President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for allegedly seeking to establish an Islamic state.
Turkey has long been at odds with its close neighbour, Greece, over territorial disputes in the Aegean and the divided island of Cyprus.
It became an EU candidate country in 1999 and, in line with EU requirements, went on to introduce substantial human rights and economic reforms. The death penalty was abolished, tougher measures were brought in against torture and the penal code was overhauled.
Reforms were introduced in the areas of women's rights and Kurdish culture, language, education and broadcasting. Women's rights activists have said the reforms do not go far enough and have accused the government of lacking full commitment to equality and acting only under EU pressure.
After intense bargaining, EU membership talks were launched in October 2005. Accession negotiations are expected to take about 10 years. So far, the going has not been easy.
The breakthrough came just weeks after Turkey agreed to recognise Cyprus as an EU member and despite unfavourable comment over its declaration that this was not tantamount to full diplomatic recognition.
Turkey is home to a sizeable Kurdish minority, which by some estimates constitutes up to a fifth of the population. However, they complain that the government has tried to destroy their Kurdish identity and that they suffer economic disadvantage and human rights violations.
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the best known and most radical of the Kurdish movements, launched a guerilla campaign in 1984 for an ethnic homeland in the predominantly Kurdish southeast. Thousands died and hundreds of thousands became refugees in the conflict between the PKK and the army in the 1980s and 1990s.
The past few years have seen an upsurge in rebel attacks, which had subsided after the 1999 capture of the group's leader, Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the US and the European Union.
|It has been famed for its oil springs and natural gas sources since ancient times, when Zoroastrians, for whom fire is an important symbol, erected temples around burning gas vents in the ground. |
In 1994 Azerbaijan signed an oil contract worth $7.4bn with a Western consortium. Since then Western companies have invested millions in the development of the country's oil and gas reserves. However, the economy as a whole has not benefited as much as it might have done.
Caspian oil is now flowing through a pipeline running from Baku through Georgia to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, providing western countries with ready access to a vast new source of supply. Environmental groups have protested that the cost of this benefit is unacceptable.
Azerbaijan has large gas reserves too.
Azerbaijan became a member of the Council of Europe in 2001. Often accused of rampant corruption and election-rigging, ruling circles walk a tightrope between Russian and Western regional geo-strategic interests.
As the Soviet Union collapsed, the predominantly Armenian population of the Nagorno-Karabakh region stated their intention to secede from Azerbaijan. War broke out. Backed by troops and resources from Armenia proper, the Armenians of Karabakh took control of the region and surrounding territory.
In 1994 a ceasefire was signed. About one-seventh of Azerbaijan's territory remains occupied, while 800,000 refugees and internally displaced persons are scattered around the country.
Azerbaijan was in the media spotlight in June 2007 when Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the US the use of the Gabala radar station for missile defence as an alternative to using bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Full name: The Republic of Armenia
|Full name: Republic of Turkey |
Population: 75.8 million (UN, 2008)
Largest city: Istanbul
Area: 779,452 sq km (300,948 sq miles)
Major language: Turkish
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: Turkish lira
Main exports: Clothing and textiles, fruit and vegetables, iron and steel, motor vehicles and machinery, fuels and oils
GNI per capita: US $8,020 (World Bank, 2007)
Internet domain: .tr
International dialling code: +90
|Full name: Republic of Azerbaijan |
Population: 8.5 million (UN, 2008)
Area: 86,600 sq km (33,400 sq miles)
Major language: Azeri, Russian
Major religion: Islam
Life expectancy: 64 years (men), 71 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 manat = 100 qapik
Main exports: Oil, oil products
GNI per capita: US $2,550 (World Bank, 2007)
Internet domain: .az
International dialling code: +994
|President: Serge Sarkisian |
In presidential elections held in February 2008, Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian was declared winner in the first round with 52.9% of the vote. But thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest the poll, which they say was rigged.
Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Mr Sarkisian and Europe's main election monitoring body, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the vote had mostly met international standards.
Outgoing President and close ally, Robert Kocharian, handpicked the prime minister to succeed him after Sarkisian's Republican Party swept parliamentary polls in May 2007.
Serge Sarkisian was a Soviet soldier and later worked in the defence-committee of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. He was then appointed Armenia's minister of defence. He had a spell as minister of national security and head of the presidential staff before returning to the defence ministry.
Mr Sarkisian faces the challenge of restarting stalled talks in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh. He has also pledged to use his time as leader to improve living standards for the Armenian people.
Mr Sarkisian was born in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1954.
President: Abdullah Gul
The army top brass and the main opposition Republican People's Party, stayed away from Mr Gul's swearing-in ceremony.
Mr Gul started in politics in an Islamist party that was banned by the courts, but later renounced the idea that Islam should be a driving force in politics. In 2001, along with other moderate members of the Islamist movement, he founded the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and distanced himself from his past political leanings.
The party won elections in 2002 and Mr Gul served as stand-in prime minister before stepping aside for Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Gul served as foreign minister under Mr Erdogan and cultivated an image as a moderate politician, acting as an impassioned voice for reforms to promote Turkey's EU bid.
The government holds most power but the president can veto laws, appoint officials, and name judges. The post carries moral weight as it was first held by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Father of Turks), who ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1920s.
Voters in a referendum in October 2007 backed plans to have future presidents elected by the people instead of by parliament.
Prime minister : Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Tayyip Erdogan, who became premier in March 2003, led his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) to victory in the July 2007 elections.
Erdogan called the poll early after the army-backed secular elite blocked his choice of an ex-Islamist ally as the next president. The AK Party boosted its share of the vote in the 2007 parliamentary elections to 47% despite opposition efforts to portray his pro-business party, which has Islamist roots, as a Trojan horse set to turn Turkey into an Iran-style theocracy.
Mr Erdogan first became prime minister several months after his party's landslide election victory in November 2002.
He had been barred from standing in the poll because of a previous criminal conviction for reading an Islamist poem at a political rally. Changes to the constitution paved the way for him to run for parliament in 2003.
He identified EU entry as a top priority and introduced reforms which paved the way for the opening of membership talks in October 2005.
Although the AK has Islamist roots, he insists that it is committed to a secular state. From a lowly background, Mr Erdogan worked as a street seller to help pay for an education. He attended Koranic school before studying economics at university.
As mayor of Istanbul in the mid 1990s he banned alcohol in municipal buildings and won popularity for improving services.
President: Ilham Aliyev
Ilham Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar, in 2003.
Heydar Aliyev described his son as his "political successor". When his father died, Ilham was already prime minister, vice chairman of the state oil company and deputy leader of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (NAP).
He won the 2003 presidential elections by a landslide. Western observers were highly critical of the campaign which they said had been marred by voter intimidation, violence and media bias. Opposition demonstrations were met with police violence. There were many arrests.
Heydar Aliyev, a former Soviet Communist leader, reinvented himself as a post-independence political strongman and had ruled Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993 following a period of great instability. His record on human rights and media freedom was often criticised in the West.
The opposition continues to have strong doubts about Ilham Aliyev's commitment to democracy.
These were reinforced when police used force to break up opposition demonstrations in Baku in the run-up to and following November 2005 parliamentary elections in which the ruling NAP won well over half of the seats. OSCE and Council of Europe observers declared that the vote had fallen a long way short of international standards.
Mr Aliyev won a second term of office in 2008, scoring an overwhelming victory in an election that was boycotted by the main opposition parties. Western observers said that although the conduct of the election represented a marked improvement on previous votes, it still fell short of fully democratic standards.
He looked set to cement his grip on power even further when a move to life the two-term limit on the president was approved in a referendum in March 2009, paving the way for a possible third term.
Ilham Aliyev was born in 1961 and has a doctorate in history. His business interests have enabled him to build substantial personal wealth since independence. He is married with three children.
|Television is Armenia's dominant medium. There are more than 40 private TV stations, operating alongside the two public networks. The main Russian TV channels are widely available. |
Few Armenians rely on newspapers as their primary source of news. Print runs are small and most publications are owned by wealthy individuals or political parties.
Censorship is prohibited under a 2004 media law. However, libel and defamation are punishable by prison terms and journalists have been sentenced under these laws.
The US-based NGO Freedom House reports that self-censorship is common, particularly in coverage of corruption, security and the Nagorno-Karabakh situation.
Under a state of emergency, which was declared amid political unrest in early 2008, broadcasters could carry only government-sanctioned news. The state of emergency ended on 21 March.
|Turkey's airwaves are lively, with some 300 private TV stations - more than a dozen of them with national coverage - and more than 1,000 private radio stations competing with the state broadcaster, TRT. |
Powerful businesses operate many of the press and broadcasting outlets; they include the Dogan group, the leading media conglomerate.
For journalists, the subjects of the military, Kurds and political Islam are highly sensitive and can lead to arrest and criminal prosecution. Media watchdogs and rights groups report that journalists have been imprisoned, or attacked by police. It is also common for radio and TV stations to have their broadcasts suspended for airing sensitive material.
Some of the most repressive sanctions against journalists have been lifted as part of reforms intended to meet EU entry requirements. But the Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders noted in 2006 that journalists were "still at the mercy of arbitrary court decisions".
An article in the penal code makes it a crime to insult Turkish national identity. It has been used to prosecute journalists and publishers.
Kurdish-language broadcasts, banned for many years, were introduced by the state broadcaster in June 2004 as a part of reforms intended to meet EU criteria on minorities. Some overseas-based Kurdish TV channels broadcast via satellite.
Azerbaijan's state-run and public media outlets compete with private and opposition publications and broadcasters. Television is the most-popular medium.
Freedom of speech is guaranteed by the constitution, but in 2007 the Organization For Security And Cooperation In Europe (OSCE) said "continuous harassment" by officials threatened the existence of independent media.
In 2008 Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the private and opposition media were "under constant pressure" from the government.
A public broadcaster, set up in 2005, is intended to be free from government control. The service is a requirement for Azerbaijan's membership of the democracy and human rights body, the Council of Europe.
Local relays of the BBC and US international radio stations were taken off the air at the end of 2008 by the broadcasting regulator. The move was condemned by media rights bodies.
Turkey's state-run TRT TV is rebroadcast in Azerbaijan. Iranian and Russian channels can be seen in border areas.
There were around one million internet users by March 2008 (ITU figure).