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History of Armenia

Ancient History

Armenia is one of the oldest nations in the world. The historical homeland is the Armenian Highland, which together with neighboring territories of Asia Minor and the Iranian Plateau is considered to be the cradle of Indo-European nations.

Armenian tradition has preserved several legends concerning the origin of the Armenian nation.

The most important of these tells of Hayk, bisbisnipote of Noah, whose Ark ran aground on Mount Ararat after the Flood.  In honor of this tradition, the Armenians call it their country Hayastan. The historian of the 5th century, Movses Khorenatsi, also relates at some length the valiant deeds of Aram whose fame extended far beyond the limits of his country. Consequently, the neighboring nations called the people Armens or Armenians.

The Armenian "Hayasa" country is mentioned in Hittite sources from the second millennium B.C., which were found during archeological excavations in the capital of the Hittite state. Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions from the 1st millennium B.C. mention the Urartu kingdom, a federation of Armenian tribes, which extended throughout the Armenian Highland. The Urartu or "Ararat" kingdom was a highly civilized state, which left behind a rich cultural heritage. One of the many strongholds built during the Urartu kingdom includes Erebuni Fortress (782 B.C.), located within Yerevan and from which the today's capital city gets its name. After Urartu came another Armenian kingdom established by the Ervanduni Dynasty. This kingdom was eventually subdued by Achaemenian Iran. As a result of invasions of Alexander the Great in the IV century B.C. Armenia became part of the Hellenic world.

In 189 B.C. an independent Armenian state - Greater Armenia (Armenia Major)- was formed and ruled by the Artashesian dynasty. Greater Armenia reached its culmination of power during the reign of Tigran the Great in the 1st century B.C. The vast Armenian empire of this period extended from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea and from the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, comprising a territory of 316 thousand sq. km. divided into 15 provinces. It was the third largest state of the Near East, after the Roman Empire and Parthia. Tigran the Great's reign was a time of intensive construction of cities, of development of trade and arts. According to Greek geographer and historian Strabonis (1st century B.C.) all the people who lived in Armenian Highland spoke one language. The Armenian capital of that time, Artashat, was compared to Carthagen by great ancient author Plutharkos. He wrote about the beauty and glory of the city, which was located on the Silk Road, and served as a trade-bridge between the East and West. The Kingdom of the Greater Armenia survived for 600 years.

The first centuries after Christ were wrought with ceaseless wars between Roman Empire and powerful Parthian empire. The battlefield between these two empires was Armenia, which as a result became divided into two parts - East and West - by the 4th century.

One of the most crucial events in Armenian history was the conversion to Christianity. By adopting the new religion, Armenia established a distinct Christian character of its own and, at times, became identified with the Western world. King Tiridates III (Trdat), having been converted by Gregory the Illuminator, proclaimed Christianity as the religion of the state in 301 A.D. Thus, Armenia became the first nation to embrace Christianity officially. This was 12 years before the Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan which declared tolerance of Christians in the Roman Empire. Gregory the Illuminator, later canonized, was elected Catholicos of the new Armenian national Church, the first in a long line of such clergy to be elected supreme head of the Armenian Church.

After a hundred years Armenians celebrated another major event in their history: in 405 the Armenian alphabet was created. This alphabet is credited with fortifying Armenian language and culture and consequently saving Armenians from assimilation during the centuries of invasion and domination to come. Mesrop Mashtots, a scholar and clergyman, shaped the thirty six (three characters were added later) letters that distinguished Armenia, linguistically and liturgically, from the powers surrounding it. The alphabet representing the many distinct consonants of Armenian has remained unchanged for 1600 years.


Middle Ages

Initially Armenia remained divided between Byzantium and Iran. Later, Armenia came under the rule of the Arab Empire. After numerous rebellions against Arab rule the Armenian Bagratid family succeeded in obtaining a degree of autonomy during the VIII century and in 885 Ashot Bagratuni was granted the title of King of Armenia, acknowledged as such by both the Arab Khalifat and Byzantium. The most prosperous period of Bagratid kingdom was in X-XI centuries.

The invasion of Seljuk Turks and the new division of Armenia between Byzantium and Iran after the weakening of the Arab Khalifat resulted in Armenia's renewed subjugation. The destruction of the country was completed by the Tatar-Mongolian invasions of the XIII century. Armenian noble families that had fled to the shores of Mediterranean Sea succeeded in establishing an independent Armenian state in the XI century called Cilicia. In the XII century Levan of the Rubinian dynasty came to the throne of Cilician Kingdom, which existed till the XIV century. The Armenian nation had a chance to develop its culture and science in a relatively peaceful environment. The Cilician Kingdom served as an outpost during the Crusades until Egyptian Mameluks destroyed it.


Modern History

With the emergence of the Ottoman Turks on the historical scene came the destruction of the Byzantine Empire and the occupation of its whole territory and thus began the darkest days of Armenian history. From the XV to the XVII centuries Armenian territory was an area of continual wars between the Ottoman Empire and Iran, which divided Armenia for themselves in 1639. Turkish and Iranian domination hindered cultural development. Only in a few mountainous regions such as Sunik and Artsakh the Armenians were successful in maintaining semi-independent principalities (melikutyunner), where Armenian rulers (meliks) governed.

In 1828, as a result of the Russian-Persian war, Eastern Armenia, along with Erivan Fortress, was annexed to Russia, while the Armenians in Western Armenia, who were under Turkish rule, were under constant threat of physical annihilation. The Turkish anti-Armenian policy reached its culmination during the 1st World War. From 1915 to 1916 the Turkish government committed Genocide of the Armenian population in Turkey. More than 1.5 million Armenians were annihilated and more exiled. The great majority of historic Armenia was deprived of its native population.

In Eastern Armenia, in May of 1918, an independent Armenian Republic was formed which existed for 2.5 years. The first Armenian Republic could not resist against threatening attacks of Turkish armies and Bolshevik Russia to invade Armenia and was converted into a Soviet Republic in 1920. Although Armenia experienced all the cruelties of Stalin's regime and continued Bolshevik dictatorship, still industrialization and social progress were made. From 1941 to 1945 Armenians fought against fascism together with other Soviet nations. More than 600,000 Armenians fought in WWII and approximately 200,000 war participants never returned from the front lines. Armenians fought not only in the Soviet army, but also as part of armed forces of allied countries and in partisan armies. Armenia also had its national divisions, which were recognized for their courage. The 89th Armenian division progressed all the way to Berlin, took part in Berlin battles and the Armenian soldiers danced their victory dance under the walls of Reichstag. The Soviet Army had about 60 Armenian generals. 108 Armenians were granted the highest award of the Soviet Union, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, for heroism and courage. In spite of difficulties caused by the war, the country continued to grove economically.

The post-war period offered new spheres of economic development such as military engineering, radio-electronics, machine and automobile industry. The industrial potential of Armenia was based on the chemical and machine industry, food industry, metallurgy and the production of construction materials. A considerable part of military electronic production of the Soviet Union was centralized in Armenia. Science was highly developed in the country and more than 22,000 scientists worked in more than 130 research institutions.

In 1988, in Mountainous Karabakh (the Artsakh province of historical Armenia which was forcefully unified to Soviet Azerbaijan in 1921 as a result of Stalin's policy) and in Armenia there began the first and most powerful democratic movement in the former Soviet Union. The movement demanded Karabakh's reunification to Armenia. The Karabakh movement was an unprecedented one not only for the Soviet Union but also for the whole totalitarian socialist system. It had a major role in implementing democratic amendments in the country and eventually led to reestablishment of Armenia's independence and the de facto unification with Mountainous Karabakh,

On September 21, 1991 by means of referendum, Armenia proclaimed its independence and at the end of the same year Armenia entered the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a configuration of former Soviet Republics.

From the beginning of independence the Armenian government followed a policy of establishing friendly relations with all countries and especially with neighboring ones. In 1991 the independent Republic of Armenia was acknowledged by the USA, Russia, Canada and other countries. In 1992 Armenia became a member of UN.

Armenia has undergone a remarkable development since independence, despite the blockade of the borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, and since then it has been known as "the Tiger of the Caucasus" with a double digits growing rate. 

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