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:


Pro-European Arguments

  • 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.

Pro-Asian Arguments

  • 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 our ongoing series, “Versus: ‘What’s the Difference?’” With this series, we aim 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 »

10 COMMENTS

  1. Georgians are old Christian nation and we (Georgians) are considered European for cultural and historical reasons. Georgian culture had a great influence of the Byzantine culture, therefore Georgian culture became even more similar to the European cultures and more different than Asian.
    Historically in old Greeks concept European-Asian border in Caucasus was the “Phasis” (modern Rioni) and the Kura Rivers (not Caucasus Mountains), because this two rivers for them was strait between the Black and the Caspian Seas, like the Bosporus, which is the strait between the Marmara and the Black Seas.
    Therefore Georgian territory historical and geographically is not wholly in Asia, Georgia is transcontinental country, because it has both territories in Europe (65%) and in Asia (35%) as Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkey (look at this map: kidsmaps . com/ political-map-europe), but Georgia and Russia are European-Christian transcontinental countries, and Turkey, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are Asian-Muslim transcontinental countries.
    Also Georgian race pigmentation of hair and eyes is lighter than Asian (Look at this map: wikimedia . org / commons/ Map_pigmentation_in_Europe).
    Therefore Georgia is old European-Christian transcontinental country, which has more territory in Europe than in Asia, also culture and race is more similar to the European and more different than Asian. I don’t feel myself Asian, because I have European-Christian mentality, European taste and so on. I am Georgian, and therefore I am European.

    • I strongly disagree. By the standard definition(the most widely accepted), only about 1% of Georgia’s land area is in Europe, with only a few hundred Georgians actually living within that area. I disagree with a number of other things that you have said as well. First of all, religion isn’t a qualification for being European. Europe has plenty of Muslim majority countries, that doesn’t make them any less European countries than other European countries. Secondly, bringing pigmentation to the table is rather absurd, if that was a criteria then southern Europe wouldn’t be considered Europe. As someone who visited Tbilisi in 1998, I can’t say that I felt that the country was European. Also, the point about Georgia being culturally like the Byzantine Empire (itself a transcontinental country) is not valid either, Greeks and Turks have nearly identical culture after a millennia of mixing, that would mean that Turkey would also have to be considered an European country. Georgia, just like the better known example of Turkey, is an Asian country with land area in Europe, thus it’s also a transcontinental country.

      • Michael, I don’t know whether war-torn Georgia in the dark 1990s “felt like” Europe or not. Maybe you expected palaces and Chanel stores staffed by skinny blondes… I was there recently, and I would never think Georgia was anything other than Europe. Ironically, I discovered that the few “Asian” looking buildings in Tbilisi are actually 19th century designs by European architects.

        “Greeks and Turks have nearly identical culture after a millennia of mixing” – this pretty much sums up your misinformed and simplistic view. First of all, Turks were not present there for “millennia”. Secondly, Spaniards/Portuguese have lived under Muslims for hundreds of years, does not mean they have become the same.

        “Europe has plenty of Muslim majority countries” – again, not plenty, but one or two and all share the same thing: they’re in the Balkans and have long been ruled by “outside” forces (Ottomans). Why spread these lies when they can so quickly be proven wrong? I’m starting to think you have some kind of agenda…

  2. I’d say the prevailing thought in the rest of Europe (certainly the UK, Germany & the Benelux) is that they are eastern Europe now rather than Asia. As you say, they are closer to Europe in terms of history and linguistics, but what probably helps even more is that they take part in pan-European events like the European football championships or the Eurovision Song Contest (which Azerbaijan even won and hosted). Actually I’d say they’re simply becoming more well known these days rather than people shifting their view as to which continent they’re in – 10 years ago I’m not sure your average Brit would have heard of any of them let alone know where they were! Never underestimate the power of Eurovision to promote awareness of your nation ;)

    • The Eurovision also has Australia and Israel, the Eurovision is completely irrelevant, even if it has the word ‘Euro’ in it. As for the sporting events, no one likes Jews so neither the Asian nor African sporting organizations wanted to accept them, thus Isreal wouldn’t be in any sports if it wasn’t accepted into European sports, so an exception was made. But none of this has anything to do with Geography, Cyprus and Armenia don’t ahve land area either, but are in European sports. Kazakstan interestingly enough, is in UEFA but in athletics they are part of the Asian organization.

      • What do you mean Cyprus does not have land in Europe? According to whom?there are as many versions as there are people… European geography is a political and social construct. Apparently it is European-enough to be member of the EU. And I don’t think Israel is a good counter-example – being included in European sports competitions as a last resort hardly counts.

    • Yes, yes, how dare they strive to integrated with Europe! they should just remain in their Soviet Kolkhoz and gulags, it’s so much better there.

  3. All modern geographic sources I have ever read place at least some portion of Georgian in Europe, so at this point the whole Europe/Asia discussion is pretty tiresome. Nevertheless, I will say that of the three Caucasus countries, where I have traveled extensively, Georgia matched my notion of Europe most closely. The wine, cheese, architecture, religion, people, it was all just like what you would see in Southeastern Europe. In fact, if you were to judge by its landscapes, at times I felt like I was in Switzerland. On the topic of ethno-linguistics, it is true that Georgians are not directly related to anyone in Europe but they are not related to anyone outside either, and this is not unusual in Europe. Unlike its neighbors, which have a strong ethnic foothold in Asia, Georgia is self-contained, encircle by mountains and very much a place of its own. To me Georgia is a European country that got buried under a layer of Ottoman/Soviet decay and is just now cleaning up and being accepted as a legitimate part of Europe. Yes, Georgia is farther east than Turkey but note that it is also entirely to the north of Turkey, which apparently makes a difference in geography. In fact, if Moscow was in the south, it would fall to the east of most of Turkey, as well.

Comment! Complain! Come On! Please?