Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia – this somewhat-isolated cluster of three countries is perpetually the center of a different kind of battle: are these countries in Asia or in Europe?
There are many reasons, both great and otherwise, for why these three countries are either Asian or European. But to look at this problem, it is first important to know where the borders are that separate the two aforementioned continents – a hard task, considering that there is only arbitrary boundaries that are not unanimous in nature. As I said in a previous article about the continents, borders of a continent are often based along cultural and political lines as much as geographical.
So, let’s take a look at some of the arguments on each side of the table; but first, below’s an interactive map to help familiarize yourself with the area that we’re referring to:
- Linguistically, the three countries have (slightly) more in common with Europe than with Asia. Most European languages fall within the Indo-European language family/phylum, and Armenian is its own subset of the Indo-European languages, most similar to Greek. Azerbaijani is a Turkic language, in the same subset as the Turkish language. The Georgian language, called Kartuli, makes up the bulk of the Kartvelian language family, a completely separate language family that is spoken mostly in and around Georgia.
- More citizens of these countries, when asked, seem to consider themselves Europeans rather than Asians.
- Their sociopolitical and religious leanings seem to favor the European side.
- All three are members of the Council of Europe, something that other Asian countries would not be able to become. (At the time I am writing this article, its Committee of Ministers’ presidency is even being held by Armenia!)
- Each country has shown some intent and ambition towards someday joining both NATO and the European Union.
- Turkey, to many, is said to be somewhat in both Europe and Asia. It is known as the “Gateway to the East,” and Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan lay directly to Turkey’s east. The bulk of Turkey is even referred to as Asia Minor, a peninsula also called Anatolia.
- The three countries are essentially south(east) of the Black Sea, one of the popularly-defined borders of the Europe-Asia boundary.
- The Caucasus Mountains are generally regarded to form the southeastern border of Europe, and though all three countries are partially within this mountain range, they are more south of it than north of it.
- Other Europeans (to the west) often don’t consider these countries to be European at all (but then again, they also seem to disdain including Russia as European).
- Some sources, such as the CIA World Factbook, categorize even Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia within the Middle East, though most disagree with this.
Most consider the Ural Mountain system to be the eastern border of Europe. Our three countries are well to the west of that, but also to the south. As far as Europe’s southern boundaries, the Black Sea and Caspian Sea are usually regarded as forming the southeastern border between Europe and Asia/Middle East. (On this website, the countries here in the regions we are considering fall into three categories: Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Though most of the Middle East is considered to be akin to an Asian subcontinent (like India), we group it separately for other reasons, including language and culture.)
And between the two seas, the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus Mountains have the general consensus that this range completes that southeastern border. However, parts of all three countries are in the Caucasus Mountains, putting us back in the original pickle. So, what now?
Well, since there is no scientific way to determine the official boundaries, and our geographical ones are nullified for the above reason, there could possibly never be a definitive answer. (Perhaps the government of each country could officially declare a stance) So, on this site, we will group them with the language and culture also in mind, and thus, they are perhaps leaning more towards being European rather than Asian. This is not a right answer, nor is it a wrong answer; I simply compared the two columns of differences above and their European-ness weighed more to me, albeit slightly.
So, there you go – another article with no firm conclusion, but hopefully the points above will help you to draw your own. If you have any other points to consider that I forgot to include, post in the comments below, and I will update the article to reflect them.
This is part of my ongoing series, “Versus/What’s the Difference?” With this series, I am to promote a better understanding and love of the differences that make us unique while at the same time casting out doubt; hopefully, this will make us better travelers, better citizens, and better people. For more, check out the “Versus/What’s the Difference?” category »