The Åland Islands (pronounced somewhat like "oh-land", Ahvenanmaa
in Finnish, Landskapet Åland
in Swedish) is an autonomous region of Finland
consisting of an archipelago (a main island plus about 6,500 smaller islands and skerries) with roughly 28,700 inhabitants. Åland has been by law fully demilitarized since the end of the Crimean War 1854, as reflected in its motto ("Islands of Peace"). Both the Finnish and Swedish names derive from old Germanic ahwa-land
, meaning "water-land".
Although the islands officially belong to Finland, Swedish is the sole official language. During the early 20th century, the vast majority of the population considered themselves Swedish, but over the course of a century an increasing number of Ålanders have come to feel more comfortable with being a part of the eastern country for a variety of reasons. Ålanders are exempt from conscription, but many serve as volunteers.
The majority of Åland's economy revolves around shipping, trade, agriculture (especially potatoes) and tourism, unsurprising for an archipelago right between Sweden and Finland. At one point, Åland actually had the largest fleet of windjammer sailing ships in the world, and they have always produced excellent sailors.
The flag of Åland
Åland has a Nordic Cross flag, like all countries in the region (a layout introduced by
the Danish Dannebrog
), specifically the Swedish flag defaced with a red cross evoking the coat of arms of Finland. Åland's coat of arms is Azure, a hart passant Or
(a golden red deer on a blue field), the result of a mixup with the similar coat of arms of the similar-sounding Swedish island of Öland. Interestingly, deer are
native to both Åland and Öland.