Åland Islands

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Åland Islands

(ä`lənd, ô`–) or

Ahvenanmaa Islands

(ä`vĕnänmä'), Swed. Ålandsöerna (ō`läntsû`̇rnä), archipelago (1996 pop. 25,257), 581 sq mi (1,505 sq km), in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland, at the entrance of the Gulf of Bothnia. Politically, it constitutes the Åland province of Finland. The archipelago consists of about 7,000 islands, but fewer than 100 are inhabited. The climate is mild. The chief town and provincial capital is MariehamnMariehamn
or Maarianhamina
, city (1996 pop. 10,399), capital of Åland prov., SW Finland, on Åland island. It is an active trade center and a popular summer resort. It was founded in 1861 by Czar Alexander II.
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, a port on Åland, the largest of the islands. Shipping, fishing, forestry, farming, and tourism are the chief occupations. Swedish is the main language. The islands, colonized by Swedes, are of strategic importance. With Finland, they were ceded by Sweden to Russia in 1809. In the Crimean War the Russian fortifications were destroyed (1854), and remilitarization was forbidden by the Treaty of Paris (1856). At the end of World War I, the islanders sought to join Sweden. The League of Nations in 1921, however, recognized Finland's sovereignty, but guaranteed the autonomous status of the islands and confirmed their demilitarization. After the Finnish-Russian WarFinnish-Russian War,
1939–40, war between Finland and the Soviet Union. After World War II broke out in Sept., 1939, the USSR, never on cordial terms with Finland, took advantage of its nonaggression pact (Aug.
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 (1939–40) Finland and the Soviet Union signed a demilitarization agreement that was renewed after World War II. Under pressure from the Soviet Union, Finland's parliament renounced the League guarantee of autonomy in 1951 but at the same time accorded the islanders additional rights of self-government.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Åland Islands


(in Finnish, Ahvenanmaa), an archipelago in the southern part of the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea. The archipelago, which belongs to Finland, has an area of 1,481 sq km and a population of 22,000 (1968); it extends about 130 km from north to south. It consists of 6,500 islands (the biggest is Åland, 640 sq km), of which about 150 are inhabited. The soil is mainly granite and gneiss. The surface is hilly, with morainal deposits in some places. The highest altitude is 132 m. The climate is temperate and cool. The average temperature is -4°C in January and 15°C in July; precipitation is 550 mm a year. The islands are covered with pine and deciduous forests with underbrush. The population is engaged in fishing, dairy animal husbandry, and farming. Maarianhamina (Mariehamn) is the chief city and port.

Until 1809 the Åland Islands, as well as the rest of Finland, belonged to Sweden. After the Russian-Swedish War of 1808–09, the Treaty of Fredrikshamn of 1809 transferred the islands to Russia. When Finland proclaimed its independence in December 1917, the ownership and the status of the islands gave rise to a diplomatic struggle between Sweden and Finland, which was complicated by the interference of the Western powers. On June 24, 1921, the Council of the League of Nations recognized Finland’s sovereignty over the Aland Islands. On Oct. 20,. 1921, representatives of Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Finland, France, Sweden, and Estonia signed the Geneva convention on the demilitarization and neutralization of the Åland Islands, which became effective on Apr. 6, 1922. The Geneva convention was adopted without the participation of Soviet Russia and even against it, since it virtually placed the Åland Islands, which are located near the entrance to the Gulf of Finland, under the control of the imperialist powers, then conducting an armed intervention against the Soviet state. On Nov. 13, 1921, the government of the RSFSR sent an express note to the signatories of the 1921 convention, declaring this convention “absolutely nonexistent for Russia.”

On the eve of World War II, Finland broke the 1921 convention and built military fortifications on the Åland Islands. After the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939–40, the USSR and Finland signed an agreement on Oct. 11, 1940, that bound Finland to demilitarize the Åland Islands. This agreement was broken during Finland’s participation in the war of fascist Germany against the USSR (1941–44) and restored in accordance with article 9 of the truce agreement between the USSR and Great Britain on the one hand and Finland on the other hand (signed Sept. 19, 1944). According to article 5 of the 1947 peace treaty with Finland, the Åland Islands must remain demilitarized.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.