Thursday, May 29, 2014

United States of America; the Sole Super Power in the World

9/11 Attacks led America to the War on Terror
The presidential election in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore was one of the closest in US history and helped lay the seeds for political polarization to come. The vote in the decisive state of Florida was extremely close and produced a dramatic dispute over the counting of votes. The US Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore ended the recount with a 5–4 vote. That meant Bush, then in the lead, carried Florida and the election. 

21st Century 

9/11 and the War on Terror 

On September 11, 2001 ("9/11"), the United States was struck by a terrorist attack when 19 al-Qaeda hijackers commandeered four airliners and intentionally crashed into both twin towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people, mostly civilians. In response on September 20, President George W. Bush announced a "War on Terror". On October 7, 2001, the United States and NATO then invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime, which had provided safe haven to al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden. 

Osama b. Laden was the most wanted person
The federal government established new domestic efforts to prevent future attacks. The controversial USA PATRIOT Act increased the government's power to monitor communications and removed legal restrictions on information sharing between federal law enforcement and intelligence services. A cabinet-level agency called the Department of Homeland Security was created to lead and coordinate federal counter-terrorism activities. Some of these anti-terrorism efforts, particularly the US government's handling of detainees at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, led to allegations against the US government of human rights violations. 

In 2003, from March 19 to May 1, the United States launched an invasion of Iraq, which led to the collapse of the Iraq government and the eventual capture of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with whom the US had long-standing tense relations. The reasons for the invasion cited by the Bush administration included the spreading of democracy, the elimination of weapons of mass destruction (a key demand of the UN as well, though later investigations found parts of the intelligence reports to be inaccurate), and the liberation of the Iraqi people. Despite some initial successes early in the invasion, the continued Iraq War fueled international protests and gradually saw domestic support decline as many people began to question whether or not the invasion was worth the cost. In 2007, after years of violence by the Iraqi insurgency, President Bush deployed more troops in a strategy dubbed "the surge". While the death toll decreased, the political stability of Iraq remained in doubt. 

Obama, the 1st African-American US president
In 2008, the unpopularity of President Bush and the Iraq war, along with the 2008 financial crisis, led to the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States. Obama's victory was due in part to his opposition to Bush's unpopular foreign policies, specifically with regards to his handling of the Iraq war, and is often credited by pundits and journalists for helping him narrowly win the Democratic Party's presidential nomination over Hillary Rodham Clinton, who initially supported the war during the early stages. After his election, Obama reluctantly continued the surge by sending 20,000 additional troops until Iraq was stabilized. Then he officially ended combat operations in Iraq on August 31, 2010, but kept 50,000 in Iraq to assist Iraqi forces, help protect withdrawing forces, and work on counter-terrorism. In December 15, 2011, the war was declared formally over and the last troops left the country. 

At the same time, Obama increased American involvement in Afghanistan, starting a surge strategy using an additional 30,000 troops, while proposing to begin withdrawing troops sometime in December 2014. With regards to Guantanamo Bay, President Obama forbade torture but in general retained Bush's policy regarding the Guantanamo detainees, while also proposing that the prison eventually be closed. 

Lehman Brother filed for bankruptcy in 2008
In May 2011, after nearly a decade in hiding, the founder and leader of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was killed in Pakistan in a raid conducted by US naval special forces acting under President Obama's direct orders. While Al Qaeda was near collapse in Afghanistan, affiliated organizations continued to operate in Yemen and other remote areas as the CIA used drones to hunt down and remove its leadership. 

The Great Recession 

In September 2008, the United States, and most of Europe, entered the longest post–World War II recession, often called the "Great Recession." Multiple overlapping crises were involved, especially the housing market crisis, a subprime mortgage crisis, soaring oil prices, an automotive industry crisis, rising unemployment, and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The financial crisis threatened the stability of the entire economy in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers failed and other giant banks were in grave danger. Starting in October the federal government lent $245 billion to financial institutions through the Troubled Asset Relief Program which was passed by bipartisan majorities and signed by Bush.

Obama signs the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act 2009
Following his election victory by a wide electoral margin in November 2008, Bush's successor - Barack Obama - signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was a $787 billion economic stimulus aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening recession. Obama, like Bush, took steps to rescue the auto industry and prevent future economic meltdowns. These included a bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, putting ownership temporarily in the hands of the government, and the "cash for clunkers" program which temporarily boosted new car sales. 

The recession officially ended in June 2009, and the economy slowly began to expand once again. The unemployment rate peaked at 10.1% in October 2009 after surging from 4.7% in November 2007, and gradually fell to 7.3% as of August 2013. 

A Govt Shut Down notice posted, statue of liberty in far back
Recent Events 

From 2009 to 2010, the 111th Congress passed major legislation such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act, which were signed into law by President Obama. Following the 2010 midterm elections, which resulted in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a Democratic-controlled Senate, Congress presided over a period of elevated gridlock and heated debates over whether or not raise the debt ceiling, extend tax cuts for citizens making over $250,000 annually, and many other key issues. These ongoing debates led to President Obama signing the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 - which resulted in budget sequestration cuts going into effect in March 2013 - as well as an increase in taxes primarily for the wealthy. Congressional gridlock continued as Congressional Republicans' call for the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - popularly known as "Obamacare" - along with other various demands, resulted in the first government shutdown since the Clinton administration and almost led to the first default on U.S. debt since the 19th century. As a result of growing public frustration with both parties in Congress since the beginning of the decade, Congressional approval ratings fell to record lows, with only 11% of Americans approving as of October 2013. 

Damage from Hurricane Sandy in NY
Other major events that have occurred during the 2010s include the rise of new political movements across the world, such as the conservative Tea Party movement in the US and the liberal Occupy movement. There was also unusually severe weather over the summer of 2012, and over half the country experienced record drought. Hurricane Sandy caused massive damage to coastal areas of New York and New Jersey in late October. The ongoing debate over the issue of rights for the LGBT community, most notably that of same-sex marriage, began to shift in favor of same-sex couples, and has been reflected in dozens of polls released in the early part of the decade, President Obama becoming the first president to openly support same-sex marriage, and the 2013 Supreme Court decisions in the cases of United States v. Windsor and Perry v. Hollingsworth. As of June 2013, debates continue over the ongoing sequestration, as well as tax reform, same-sex marriage, immigration reform, gun control, and US foreign policy in the Middle East. 

A composite satellite image of the contiguous United States
Geography, Climate, and Environment:

The land area of the contiguous United States is 2,959,064 square miles (7,663,941 km2). Alaska, separated from the contiguous United States by Canada, is the largest state at 663,268 square miles (1,717,856 km2). Hawaii, occupying an archipelago in the central Pacific, southwest of North America, is 10,931 square miles (28,311 km2) in area. 

The United States is the world's third or fourth largest nation by total area (land and water), ranking behind Russia and Canada and just above or below China. The ranking varies depending on how two territories disputed by China and India are counted and how the total size of the United States is measured: calculations range from 3,676,486 square miles (9,522,055 km2) to 3,717,813 square miles (9,629,091 km2) to 3,794,101 square miles (9,826,676 km2). Measured by only land area, the United States is third in size behind Russia and China, just ahead of Canada. 

Mississippi River near Harper's Ferry, Iowa
The coastal plain of the Atlantic seaboard gives way further inland to deciduous forests and the rolling hills of the Piedmont. The Appalachian Mountains divide the eastern seaboard from the Great Lakes and the grasslands of the Midwest. The Mississippi–Missouri River, the world's fourth longest river system, runs mainly north–south through the heart of the country. The flat, fertile prairie of the Great Plains stretches to the west, interrupted by a highland region in the southeast. The Rocky Mountains, at the western edge of the Great Plains, extend north to south across the country, reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m) in Colorado. Farther west are the rocky Great Basin and deserts such as the Chihuahua and Mojave. 

The Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges run close to the Pacific coast, both ranges reaching altitudes higher than 14,000 feet (4,300 m). The lowest and highest points in the continental United States are in the state of California, and only about 80 miles (130 km) apart. At 20,320 feet (6,194 m), Alaska's Mount McKinley is the tallest peak in the country and in North America. Active volcanoes are common throughout Alaska's Alexander and Aleutian Islands, and Hawaii consists of volcanic islands. The supervolcano underlying Yellowstone National Park in the Rockies is the continent's largest volcanic feature. 

Wide natural beach near Sabine Pass- Gulf of Mexico
The United States, with its large size and geographic variety, includes most climate types. To the east of the 100th meridian, the climate ranges from humid continental in the north to humid subtropical in the south. The southern tip of Florida is tropical, as is Hawaii. The Great Plains west of the 100th meridian are semi-arid. Much of the Western mountains are alpine. The climate is arid in the Great Basin, desert in the Southwest, Mediterranean in coastal California, and oceanic in coastal Oregon and Washington and southern Alaska. Most of Alaska is subarctic or polar. Extreme weather is not uncommon—the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico are prone to hurricanes, and most of the world's tornadoes occur within the country, mainly in the Midwest's Tornado Alley. 

The U.S. ecology is considered "mega diverse": about 17,000 species of vascular plants occur in the contiguous United States and Alaska, and over 1,800 species of flowering plants are found in Hawaii, few of which occur on the mainland. The United States is home to more than 400 mammal, 750 bird, and 500 reptile and amphibian species. About 91,000 insect species have been described. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park
There are 58 national parks and hundreds of other federally managed parks, forests, and wilderness areas. Altogether, the government owns 28.8% of the country's land area. Most of this is protected, though some is leased for oil and gas drilling, mining, logging, or cattle ranching; 2.4% is used for military purposes. 

Environmental Issues 

Environmental issues have been on the national agenda since 1970. Environmental controversies include debates on oil and nuclear energy, dealing with air and water pollution, the economic costs of protecting wildlife, logging and deforestation, and international responses to global warming. Many federal and state agencies are involved. The most prominent is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created by presidential order in 1970. The idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands since 1964, with the Wilderness Act. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is intended to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 

American Census headquarters in Suitland, Maryland


The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the country's population now to be 317,518,000, including an approximate 11.2 million illegal immigrants. The U.S. population almost quadrupled during the 20th century, from about 76 million in 1900. The third most populous nation in the world, after China and India, the United States is the only major industrialized nation in which large population increases are projected. 

A chart of the top reported ancestries in the USA
With a birth rate of 13 per 1,000, 35% below the world average, its population growth rate is positive at 0.9%, significantly higher than those of many developed nations. In fiscal year 2012, over one million immigrants (most of whom entered through family reunification) were granted legal residence. Mexico has been the leading source of new residents since the 1965 Immigration Act. China, India, and the Philippines have been in the top four sending countries every year. Nine million Americans identify as homosexual, bisexual or transgender, making up less than four percent of the population. A 2010 survey found that seven percent of men and eight percent of women identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. 

The United States has a very diverse population—31 ancestry groups have more than one million members. White Americans are the largest racial group; German Americans, Irish Americans, and English Americans constitute three of the country's four largest ancestry groups. Black Americans are the nation's largest racial minority and third largest ancestry group. Asian Americans are the country's second largest racial minority; the three largest Asian American ethnic groups are Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, and Indian Americans. 

Inupiaq man of Alaska Native
In 2010, the U.S. population included an estimated 5.2 million people with some American Indian or Alaska Native ancestry (2.9 million exclusively of such ancestry) and 1.2 million with some native Hawaiian or Pacific island ancestry (0.5 million exclusively). The census counted more than 19 million people of "Some Other Race" who were "unable to identify with any" of its five official race categories in 2010. 

The population growth of Hispanic and Latino Americans (the terms are officially interchangeable) is a major demographic trend. 

The 50.5 million Americans of Hispanic descent are identified as sharing a distinct "ethnicity" by the Census Bureau; 64% of Hispanic Americans are of Mexican descent. Between 2000 and 2010, the country's Hispanic population increased 43% while the non-Hispanic population rose just 4.9%. Much of this growth is from immigration; in 2007, 12.6% of the U.S. population was foreign-born, with 54% of that figure born in Latin America. 

Montage of Los Angeles
Fertility is also a factor; in 2010 the average Hispanic (of any race) woman gave birth to 2.35 children in her lifetime, compared to 1.97 for non-Hispanic black women and 1.79 for non-Hispanic white women (both below the replacement rate of 2.1). Minorities (as defined by the Census Bureau as all those beside non-Hispanic, non-multiracial whites) constituted 36.3% of the population in 2010, and over 50% of children under age one, and are projected to constitute the majority by 2042. This contradicts the report by the National Vital Statistics Reports, based on the U.S. census data, which concludes that, 54% (2,162,406 out of 3,999,386 in 2010) of births were non-Hispanic white. 

About 82% of Americans live in urban areas (including suburbs); about half of those reside in cities with populations over 50,000. In 2008, 273 incorporated places had populations over 100,000, nine cities had more than one million residents, and four global cities had over two million (New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston). 

Dallas City- the Montage
There are 52 metropolitan areas with populations greater than one million. Of the 50 fastest-growing metro areas, 47 are in the West or South. The metro areas of Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Phoenix all grew by more than a million people between 2000 and 2008. 


English (American English) is the de facto national language. Although there is no official language at the federal level, some laws—such as U.S. naturalization requirements—standardize English. In 2010, about 230 million, or 80% of the population aged five years and older, spoke only English at home. 

Spanish, spoken by 12% of the population at home, is the second most common language and the most widely taught second language. Some Americans advocate making English the country's official language, as it is in at least 28 states. 

Languages Spoken by more than million in the US
Both Hawaiian and English are official languages in Hawaii, by state law. While neither has an official language, New Mexico has laws providing for the use of both English and Spanish, as Louisiana does for English and French. Other states, such as California, mandate the publication of Spanish versions of certain government documents including court forms. Many jurisdictions with large numbers of non-English speakers produce government materials, especially voting information, in the most commonly spoken languages in those jurisdictions. 

Several insular territories grant official recognition to their native languages, along with English: Samoan and Chamorro are recognized by American Samoa and Guam, respectively; Carolinian and Chamorro are recognized by the Northern Mariana Islands; Spanish is an official language of Puerto Rico and is more widely spoken than English there. 

Religious Affiliation in the United States of America

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion and forbids Congress from passing laws respecting its establishment. Christianity is by far the most common religion practiced in the U.S., but other religions are followed, too. In a 2013 survey, 56% of Americans said that religion played a "very important role in their lives", a far higher figure than that of any other wealthy nation. In a 2009 Gallup poll 42% of Americans said that they attended church weekly or almost weekly; the figures ranged from a low of 23% in Vermont to a high of 63% in Mississippi. 

Islam is 3rd largest religion in US
According to a 2012 survey, 73% of adults identified themselves as Christian, down from 86.4% in 1990. Protestant denominations accounted for 48%, while Roman Catholicism, at 22%, was the largest individual denomination. The total reporting non-Christian religions in 2012 was 6%, up from 4% in 2007. Other religions include Judaism (1.7%), Buddhism (0.7%), Islam (0.6%), Hinduism (0.4%), and Unitarian Universalism (0.3%). The survey also reported that 19.6% of Americans described themselves as agnostic, atheist, or simply having no religion, up from 8.2% in 1990. There are also Baha'i, Sikh, Jain, Shinto, Confucian, Taoist, Druid, Native American, Wiccan, humanist and deist communities. 

Protestantism is the largest group of religions in the United States, with Baptists being the largest Protestant sect, and the Southern Baptist Convention being the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. Roman Catholicism in the U.S. has its origin in the Spanish and French colonization of the Americas, and later grew due to Irish, Italian, Polish, German and Hispanic immigration. Rhode Island is the only state where the majority of the population is Catholic. Lutheranism in the U.S. has its origin in immigration from Northern Europe. North and South Dakota are the only states in which a plurality of the population is Lutheran. Utah is the only state where Mormonism is the religion of the majority of the population. Mormonism is also relatively common in parts of Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. 

Religion plays least important role in New England
The Bible Belt is an informal term for a region in the Southern United States in which socially conservative evangelical Protestantism is a significant part of the culture and Christian church attendance across the denominations is generally higher than the nation's average. By contrast, religion plays the least important role in New England and in the Western United States. 

As with other Western countries, the U.S. is becoming less religious. Irreligion is growing rapidly among Americans under 30. Polls show that overall American confidence in organized religion is declining and that younger Americans in particular are becoming increasingly irreligious. 

US is the highest in teenage pregnancy among OECD nations
Family Structure 

In 2007, 58% of Americans age 18 and over were married, 6% were widowed, 10% were divorced, and 25% had never been married. Women now work mostly outside the home and receive a majority of bachelor's degrees. 

The U.S. teenage pregnancy rate, 79.8 per 1,000 women, is the highest among OECD nations. Between 2007 and 2010, the highest teenage birth rate was in Mississippi, and the lowest in New Hampshire. Abortion is legal throughout the U.S., owing to Roe v. Wade, a 1973 landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court. While the abortion rate is falling, the abortion ratio of 241 per 1,000 live births and abortion rate of 15 per 1,000 women aged 15–44 remain higher than those of most Western nations. In 2011, the average age at first birth was 25.6 and 40.7% of births were to unmarried women. The total fertility rate (TFR) was estimated for 2013 at 2.06 births per woman. 

Same-sex marriage ceremony in San Francisco
Adoption in the United States is common and relatively easy from a legal point of view (compared to other Western countries). In 2001, with over 127,000 adoptions, the U.S. accounted for nearly half of the total number of adoptions worldwide. 

Same-sex marriage is legally performed in 16 U.S. states, 8 tribal jurisdictions, and the District of Columbia. Same-sex marriages were performed in Utah but the United States Supreme Court issued a stay and same-sex marriages are not currently performed in the state while the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver considers the case. Oregon recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Ohio recognizes out-of-state marriages for death certificate purposes only. Illinois has legalized same-sex marriage but it has not yet gone into effect. Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Illinois but only for same-sex couples in which at least one of them is terminally ill. 

Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states. 

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