Reaching the Nations

Armenia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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ArmeniaGeography

Area: 29,743 square km.  Located north of the Middle East in the Caucasus, Armenia borders Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey, and Georgia.  Two Azerbaijani enclaves are in extreme northeast Armenia, and one Armenian exclave is in Azerbaijan near Lake Sevan.  Highlands cover most areas, with large rivers and fertile valleys for agriculture.  Hot summers and cold winters characterize the climate.  Lake Sevan occupies five percent of Armenia and is the largest lake in the Caucasus Mountains.  Severe earthquakes and droughts are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include contaminated soil from chemicals, deforestation, and water pollution.

 

Population: 2,967,004 (July 2009)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.03% (2009)    

Fertility Rate: 1.36 children born per woman (2009)   

Life Expectancy: 69.06 male, 76.81 female (2009)

 

Peoples

Armenian: 97.9%

Yezidi (Kurd): 1.3%

Russian: 0.5%

Other: 0.3%

 

Almost the entire population is Armenian.  Most ethnic Armenians live outside Armenia in neighboring Middle Eastern nations, Eastern Europe, the United States, and other Western nations.  Yezidi (Kurds), Russians, and Azerbaijanis are minority ethnic groups.  There may be as many as 100,000 Azerbaijani refugees displaced from the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.  Low birth rates and emigration result in a negative population growth rate. 

 

Languages: Armenian (97.7%), Yezidi (1%), Russian (0.9%), other (0.4%).  Azerbaijani is also spoken.  Eastern Armenian is spoken in Armenian and border regions of neighboring nations.  Western Armenian is spoken outside of Armenia.  Up to 75% of Armenians speak Russian as a second language.[1]  Armenian is the official language and only language with over one million speakers (2.9 million). 

Literacy: 99.4% (2001)

 

History

Armenia has a long and complex history.  The Bible states that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat which today sits in Turkey near the Armenian border.  Several ancient kingdoms occupied the region until the formation of the Kingdom of Armenia in 600 BC.  Greeks and Romans invaded the region in the following centuries.  Armenia became one of the first areas Christianity spread to and by the fourth century became the first country to official adopt Christianity.  For the following centuries, various kingdoms conquered Armenia and although there were some periods of autonomy.  The Byzantine, Sassanid, Mongol, and Ottoman Empires at one point controlled Armenia.  Integration of Eastern Armenia into the Russian Empire occurred in the early 1800s, whereas Western Armenia was annexed into Turkey.  The Armenian Genocide in the 1910s resulted in between 500,000 and 1.5 million deaths of Armenians in Eastern Turkey.  These events remain disputed by Turkey and the topic remains sensitive for both Armenians and Turks.

 

Brief independence occurred in the late 1910s until the arrival of Soviet troops.  During Soviet rule Armenians continued to voice their discontent of foreign occupation and desire for greater autonomy.  In 1988, a massive earthquake severely crippled much of the country, killing approximately 50,000.  Conflict over predominantly Armenian Nagorno-Karabakh, which was the jurisdiction of Azerbaijan, intensified in the late 1980s and war with Azerbaijan began.  Armenia won independence in 1991 and remained at war with Azerbaijan until 1994.  Turkey protested Armenian endeavors to regain Nagorno-Karabakh by closing the border in 1994.  The borders of Turkey  and Armenia remain closed today as a result of ongoing tensions, limiting trade and economic development and restricting access of Armenians to ancestral territory in what is now eastern Turkey. 

 

As a result of progressive encroachments on the Armenian homeland, persecution of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, and economic pressures, Armenia has a large diaspora estimated at approximately eight million - more than twice the number of Armenians remaining in Armenia.

 

Armenia is one of the only nations in the world to simultaneously maintain good relations with Russia, Iran, and the United States, although its relations with other neighbors are not as favorable.  Surrounded by hostile neighbors along the long Turkish and Azerbaijani borders, Armenia retains close ties with Russia.  Russian troops guard Armenian borders with Turkey and Iran. 

 

Culture 

Armenia possesses a unique culture that has endured for thousands of years.  There is a rich legacy of dance and art.  The Armenian alphabet was created in the fifth century.  The Armenian Apostolic Church strongly influences culture and daily life.  Marriage and engagement ceremonies are elaborate and traditional and often are accompanied with alcohol although alcohol use is lower than most nations.  Cigarette consumption rates rank among the highest in the world. 

 

Economy

GDP per capita: $5,900 (2009) [12.7% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.798

Corruption Index: 2.7

Armenia has successfully privatized much of the small and medium sized government enterprises over the past two decades.  Financial ties with Russia remain pronounced as trade with Armenia’s most populous neighbors is restricted due to conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and historic tensions over the Armenian Genocide.  The Turkish border remains closed, resulting in greater geographic isolation.  High GDP growth rates were maintained for much of the 2000s but the financial crisis in the late 2000s initiated a severe economic recession.  Agriculture employs 46% of the workforce and produces 19% of the GDP.  Services account for 38% and 48% of the workforce and GDP, respectively.  Fruit, vegetables, and livestock are primary agricultural products whereas diamond processing and machinery are major industries.   Russia, Germany, and the United States are primary trade partners. 

 

Government attempts to reduce corruption have been unsuccessful.  Some drug trafficking and illicit drug use occurs. 

 

Faiths

Christian: 98.7%

Yezidi: 1.3%

 

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  110,000

Jehovah’s Witnesses  10,586  109

Latter-Day Saints  2,833  15  

Seventh-Day Adventists  868  16

 

Religion

Nearly 90% of Armenians adhere to the Armenian Apostolic Church.  Most of the non-Apostolic population resides in Yerevan.  Catholics tend to live in northern religions.  Yezidi – a monotheistic religion with incorporates some aspects of nature worship – is followed by many Kurds around Mount Ararat.[2] 

 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Some minority groups experience a few legal restrictions which are not enforced by government officials.  The Armenian Apostolic Church maintains special relations with the government as it is considered the national church.  Only registered religious groups can rent spaces for worship services and must be deemed socially acceptable.  In 2009, steps by government were taken to limit the religious freedom of non-traditional religious groups.  The proposed legislation would restrict proselytism, only recognize Trinitarian Christian denominations, and increase the number of adult members required for registration.  The legislation was reviewed by the European Commission for Democracy through Law which concluded that many proposed changes would reduce religious diversity and religious freedom and offered suggestions for revisions which would maintain rights for minority religious groups.  Jehovah’s Witnesses receive the most persecution.[3] 

 

Largest Cities

Urban: 64%

Yerevan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Ejmiatsin, Hrazdan, Abovyan, Kapan, Ararat, Armavir, Gavarr.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation

 

Four of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  53% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

 

LDS History

Missionary work commenced among Armenians outside Armenia in the late 19th century particularly in Turkey.  These efforts were sporadic due to conflict in the region and by 1950 most of the Armenian converts lost contact with the Church or immigrated to the United States.[4]  Elder Russell M. Nelson delivered a check for $100,000 to the Soviet Ambassador to provide relief for victims of the 1988 Armenian earthquake.[5]  The Church gained converts among American-Armenians by the late 1989.[6]  In 1989, the Church announced that it would begin long-term assistance in Armenia rebuilding and distribution humanitarian aid following the severe earthquake.[7]  In June 1991, Elder Dallin H. Oaks dedicated Armenia for missionary work.[8]  Seminary and institute began in 1995.  The Armenia Yerevan Mission was created in 1999 from the Russia Rostov Mission and the translation of the Book of Mormon in Eastern Armenian was completed in 2000.[9]  In 2000, Armenia became part of the Europe East Area.  Elder M. Russell Ballard visited the Armenian President in 2006.[10]

 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,833 (2009)

Membership has grown rapidly since the establishment of the Church in the early 1990s.  There were 200 members in 1995 and by year-end 1997, there were 656 members.  By year-end 2000, there were 792 members.

 

Growth continued in the 2000s as membership reached 1,265 in 2002, 2,083 in 2005, and 2,650 in 2007.  During this period the first missionaries were assigned outside of Yerevan and additional congregations were organized.  Membership growth rates ranged from 10-20% during most of the 2000s.  In 2008 and 2009, membership growth rates slowed dramatically to three to four percent.  Missionaries reported that the drop in membership growth was attributed to increased reactivation efforts and raising the standards for investigators to be baptized.

 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 15

A branch was organized in Yerevan in 1994.  In 1995, the first district was organized in Yerevan.  The sole Yerevan branch met in six groups and each group became a branch in the new district.[11]  In 2000, there were seven branches; all in Yerevan and surrounding communities.  Additional cities were opened for missionary work in the 2000s, including Ararat, Ashtarak, Charentsavan, Gyumri, Vanadzor, and Alaverdi.  Congregations increased to eight in 2001, 10 in 2003, and 15 in 2006. 

 

The Yerevan Armenia District was divided to create the Yerevan Armenia South District in 2008, the former included eight branches and the latter consisted of six branches.  A branch for the Armenia Yerevan Mission administers to members living in remote regions of the country.  The most recently created branch was in Alaverdi. 

 

Activity and Retention

In 2001, 75% of the 220 convert baptisms were retained in early 2002.  Nation-wide meeting tend to be well attended.  800 of the 2,000 Church members attended a meeting with Elder M. Russell Ballard in 2006.[12]  In 2008, 700 members assembled to witness the creation of a second member district. 

 

The number of inactive members has increased substantially over the 2000s as membership more than tripled whereas congregations only doubled.  The average number of members per congregation increased between 2000 and 2009 from 113 to 190, respectively.  The number of active members varies from branch to branch.  The Gyumri Branch had approximately 40 active members and hundreds of inactive members in late 2009.  A branch in Yerevan had 340 members on the records and only 30 attending weekly in 2010.  The Alaverdi Branch had between 20 and 30 active members in 2009.  Most branches appear to have between 50 and 75 active members.  246 were enrolled in seminary and institute in 2008-2009.  Nationwide, approximately 20% of LDS members are active, or between 550 and 600.

 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Armenian (East), Russian, Armenian (West)

All LDS scriptures are available in Armenian (East) and Russian.  A wide selection of Church materials is translated in Russian whereas several Priesthood, unit, temple, Relief Society, Sunday School, teacher development, young women, Primary, missionary, audio/visual, family history, church proclamations, hymns, and children’s songs are available in Armenian.  The Prophet Joseph Smith’s Testimony, Book of Mormon selections, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are translated in the western dialect of Armenian, which is spoken outside of Armenia.

 

Meetinghouses

In 2002, the Church dedicated its first meetinghouse in Yerevan.[13]  Most congregations meet in renovated buildings or rented spaces.

 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church donated 10,000 pounds of powdered milk in 1989.[14]  In addition to large amounts of food donated, the Huntsman family constructed a cement plant in the late 1980s and early 1990s which provided concrete to rebuild homes for the 500,000 homeless following the earthquake.  Humanitarian missionaries participated in a private aid relief effort which feed over 200,000 needy Armenians.[15]  In 2008, the Church conducted clean water projects[16] and donated wheelchairs.[17]  By 2010, 33 humanitarian projects had been carried out by the Church in Armenia.[18]

 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

 

Religious Freedom

The Church enjoys the privileges of a registered religious group and missionaries openly proselyte.  Past humanitarian projects have fostered cooperation with the government and the many citizens who benefited from Church assistance.  Potential legislation may create future challenges for the Church in regards to open proselytism and maintaining government registration.  Societal abuses of religious freedom directed toward the LDS Church have not been reported and for the time being legislation which may jeopardize the Church’s missionary activity in Armenia appears on hold as it is undergoing revision. 

 

Cultural Issues

Strong societal and family ties to the Armenian Apostolic Church create challenges for missionaries to find investigators and for potential converts to be baptized and remain active.  Missionaries report that many Armenians do not view the Church in a favorable light, but that the Church does not receive persecution like Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Some cultural practices, like drinking alcohol during engagement or marriage festivities, may create friction between Latter-day Saints and the general population.  High cigarette consumption rates create challenges for potential converts to quit smoking as there is likely a high frequency of investigators who smoke.  Converts who quit and join the Church may be more prone to relapse than in other nations due to societal influences. 

 

National Outreach

Yerevan is central to national outreach as it is home to 37% of the population.  Six of the 12 neighborhoods have congregations and several of the neighborhoods without congregations – which amount to approximately half a million inhabitants – have missionaries assigned.  The combined population of all cities with branches accounts for 48% the national population.

 

In recent years, mission efforts have expanded into smaller towns, the smallest with an independent congregation being Alaverdi.  Missionaries have conducted periodic visits to towns – such as Stepanavan in northern Armenia – where small groups of members meet.  In the late 2000s, a district branch was created for members living and meeting in isolated areas within the boundaries of the Yerevan Armenia District.  The district branch and mission branch allow for flexible and dynamic outreach in unreached areas with the organization of small groups of members for Sunday meetings.  Outreach in rural areas, particularly in the southern areas of the country will be challenging due to distance for Yerevan, a small population dispersed over rough terrain, and conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 

Nagorno-Karabakh – a de facto republic in Azerbaijan bordering Armenia – is predominantly Armenian and has a population of over 100,000 inhabitants.  Violence and political instability in the region have prevented LDS mission efforts in the breakaway state under Azerbaijani sovereignty, but close proximity to Armenia and a large ethnic Armenian population provide opportunities for future expansion of missionary work in the region and establishing a Church presence in Azerbaijan, which as of 2010 had no members meeting in congregations. 

 

Mission efforts among Armenian diaspora around the world can assist in expanding mission efforts in Armenia through referrals of relatives and friends.  An Armenian branch once functioned in Glendale, California and was discontinued in the early 2000s.  Efforts to reactive and strengthen Armenian members in the area were renewed in May 2010 with the assignment of a senior missionary couple.  The missionary couple reported that they frequently asked members for references of interested individuals back in Armenia which may be taught by missionaries.

 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity rates have decreased over the past decade as mostconverts have not been retained.  Missionaries report that many branches have a small, yet organized, leadership but have been overwhelmed with the large numbers of new converts.  Leadership was initially developed rapidly in the 1990s, which may indicate that converts in the 2000s have been less able to integrate into established congregations.  Many active members emigrate, especially young people, lessening local resources in addressing and preventing convert attrition.

 

The Armenia Yerevan Mission has been the top-baptizing mission in the Europe East Area since the mid-2000s.  However, much of this nominal growth has not been reflected in active membership. For several years, a policy was in place that missionaries were not allowed to teach a second discussion to investigators who did not accept the baptismal commitment on the first discussion. While the intent of this policy was ostensibly to increase baptisms and to focus missionary time on receptive investigators, it fueled patterns of very low convert retention in which investigators were rushed to baptism without first establishing positive gospel habits and overcoming substance abuse and other difficulties. There are also serious theological questions about how investigators were expected to gain a testimony based on a single missionary encounter without adequate opportunity to read, pray, study, and investigate the church.  Sincere, more potentially committed investigators may have been driven off by such high-pressure approaches.

 

In 2008, President Ronald Dunn reversed the policies of his predecessor and emphasized the need for quality pre-baptismal preparation of new converts, leading to substantially higher retention rates.  In 2009, missionaries reported that the average convert attended church for at least six weeks before baptism, and one-year convert retention had increased to over 50%. Convert retention may increase further as higher standards become consistently enforced. 

 

 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The lack of ethnic diversity simplifies mission outreach.  Integration issues have not been reported.  Conflict between Armenians and Azerbaijanis may be a future source of friction once Azerbaijanis join the Church, although very few Azeris live in Armenia.

 

Language Issues

The Church has translated a large amount of ecclesiastical materials in Armenian, allowing for concentrated efforts in outreach distributing proselytism literature.  There are no church materials in Azerbaijani or Yezidi as these groups have few if any LDS members. 

 

Missionary Service

18 full-time missionaries served in the Armenia Yerevan Mission in early 2001.[19]  A missionary zone was created in Gyumri in early 2002.  In 2010, missionaries reported spending significant amounts of time on reactivating less active members.  Armenians regularly serve full-time missions, but not in sufficient numbers for Armenia to be self-reliant on its full-time missionary force. 

 

Leadership

Limited leadership remains a primary obstacle for greater church growth.  Emigration of returned missionaries has reduced potential leadership and set back long-term growth.  Available leadership appears well-trained and dedicated.  Arayik V. Minasyan from Artashat became the first Area Authority Seventy from Armenia in 2010.[20]

 

Temple

Armenia belongs to the Bern Switzerland Temple district.  Once the Kyiv Ukraine temple is completed in August 2010, Armenia may be reassigned to this temple district.  Temple trips to Switzerland occur at least twice annually.   The costs of travel, lodging, and document preparation are largely paid by the Church, as few local members would be able to afford such trips on their own funds.

 

Comparative Growth

No other nation in the Middle East or Caucasus have as many members, congregations, and missionaries as Armenia.  Georgia is the only other nation in the Caucasus with a Church presence and had fewer than 200 members and only two branches in 2009.  War in Chechnya, few members, and distance from Rostov has prevented a Church establishment in Russian areas of the Caucasus.  In the Middle East, there are no nations with an active missionary program and most members are non-natives.  Armenia achieved some of the most rapid membership and congregational growth in the 2000s among former-Soviet republics. However, only a fraction of nominal members are active, and so LDS growth achievements in Armenia are much more modest than they may appear on paper.

 

Many Christian denominations report slow to moderate growth.  Evangelicals and Jehovah’s Witnesses have experienced the greatest growth.  Seventh-day Adventists gain few converts annually as Adventists increased by about 100 between 2002 and 2008.

 

Future Prospects

Emigration of Armenian Church members and poor convert retention over the past decade stunt greater church growth.  Half of the population remains unreached by mission outreach and will likely receive little outreach in the coming years due the high use of full-time missionaries in reactivation efforts in cities with congregations. Continued and consistent implementation of appropriate pre-baptismal preparation is necessary to break a low retaining patterns of the past and foster long-term indigenous growth. Greater member-missionary efforts will be required to expand national outreach and strengthen branches in Yerevan to prepare for the eventual possibility for a stake, although such a development is likely at least two decades off at present growth rates. 

 

 



[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenia

[2] “Armenia,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127297.htm

[3]  “Armenia,” International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127297.htm

[4]  “Armenia,” Deseret News 2010 Church News Almanac, p. 423-424.

[5]  “Plans for building discussed with ambassador,” LDS Church News, 24 December 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18025/Plans-for-building-discussed-with-ambassador.html

[6]  Hart, John L.  “Los Angeles: Hispanics, other minorities strengthen inner-city wards,” LDS Church News, 17 June 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18725/Los-Angeles--Hispanics-other-minorities-strengthen-inner-city-wards.html

[7]  “Church will help Armenian homeless,” LDS Church News, 19 August 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18894/Church-will-help-Armenian-homeless.html

[8]  “Two republics in USSR are dedicated,” LDS Church News, 28 September 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20974/Two-republics-in-USSR-are-dedicated.html

[9]  “97th translation, Armenians receive Book of Mormon,” LDS Church News, 5 May 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39834/97th-translation-Armenians-receive-Book-of-Mormon.html

[10] Stahle, Shaun D.  “Preaching gospel that gospel is hard,” LDS Church News, 16 September 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49438/Preaching-gospel-that-gospel-is-hard.html

[11]  Hughes, Jack.  “The sons on the prophets,” retrieved 10 May 2010.  http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=main&wid=10

[12]  Stahle, Shaun D.  “Preaching gospel that gospel is hard,” LDS Church News, 16 September 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49438/Preaching-gospel-that-gospel-is-hard.html

[13]  “Armenia,” Deseret News 2010 Church News Almanac, p. 423-424.

[14]  “Church sends dry milk to Armenia,” LDS Church News, 2 December 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18595/Church-sends-dry-milk-to-Armenia.html

[15]  “Assistance proffered in Armenia,” LDS Church News, 1 April 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26295/Assistance-proffered-in-Armenia.html

[16]  “Clean water,” Humanitarian Services, retrieved 11 May 2010.  http://www.lds.org/library/page/display/0,7098,6212-1-3216-1,00.html

[17]  “Wheelchairs,” Humanitarian Services, retrieved 11 May 2010.  http://www.lds.org/library/page/display/0,7098,6213-1-3215-1,00.html

[18]  “Humanitarian activities worldwide,” Provident Living, retrieved 11 May 2010.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-3,00.html

[19] “97th translation, Armenians receive Book of Mormon,” LDS Church News, 5 May 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39834/97th-translation-Armenians-receive-Book-of-Mormon.html

[20]  “New Area Seventies,” LDS Church News, 24 April 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59238/New-Area-Seventies.html