Armenian History (in brief)
Ancient and premodern Armenia

The Armenians, an Indo-European people, first appear in history shortly after the end of the 7th century BC. Driving some of the ancient population to the east of Mount Ararat, where they were known to the Greeks as Alarodioi (“Araratians”; i.e., Urartians), the invaders imposed their leadership over regions which, although suffering much from Scythian and Cimmerian depredations, must still have retained elements of a high degree of civilization (e.g., walled towns, irrigation works, and arable fields) upon which the less advanced newcomers might build.

The Hayk, as the Armenians name themselves (the term Armenian is probably the result of an Iranian or Greek confusion of them with the Aramaeans), were not able to achieve the power and independence of their predecessors and were first rapidly incorporated by Cyaxares into the Median empire and then annexed with Media by Cyrus II the Great to form part of the Achaemenian Empire of Persia (c. 550 BC). The country is mentioned as Armina and Armaniya in the Bisitun inscription of Darius I the Great (ruled 522–486 BC) and, according to the 5th-century Greek historian Herodotus, formed part of the 13th satrapy (province) of Persia, the Alarodioi forming part of the 18th. Xenophon's Anabasis, recounting the adventures of Greek mercenaries in Persia, describes the local government about 400 BC as being in the hands of village headmen, part of whose tribute to the Persian king consisted of horses. Armenia continued to be governed by Persian or native satraps until its absorption into the Macedonian empire of Alexander the Great (331) and its successor, the Seleucid empire (301).

The Artaxiads

After the defeat of the Seleucid king Antiochus the Great by Rome at the Battle of Magnesia (winter 190–189 BC), his two Armenian satraps, Artashes (Artaxias) and Zareh (Zariadres), established themselves, with Roman consent, as kings of Greater Armenia and Sophene, respectively, thus becoming the creators of an independent Armenia. Artashes built his capital Artashat (Artaxata) on the Aras River near modern Yerevan. The Greek geographer Strabo names the capital of Sophene as Carcathiocerta. An attempt to end the division of Armenia into an eastern and a western part was made about 165 BC when the Artaxiad ruler sought to suppress his rival, but it was left to his descendant Tigranes II the Great (95–55 BC) to establish, by his conquest of Sophene, a unity that was to last almost 500 years.

Under Tigranes, Armenia ascended to a pinnacle of power unique in its history and became, albeit briefly, the strongest state in the Roman east. Extensive territories were taken from the kingdom of Parthia in Iran, which was compelled to sign a treaty of alliance. Iberia (Georgia), Albania, and Atropatene had already accepted Tigranes' suzerainty when the Syrians, tired of anarchy, offered him their crown (83 BC). Tigranes penetrated as far south as Ptolemais (modern 'Akko, Israel).

Although Armenian culture at the time of Tigranes was Iranian, as it had been and as it was fundamentally to remain for many centuries, Hellenic scholars and actors found a welcome at the Armenian court. The Armenian empire lasted until Tigranes became involved in the struggle between his father-in-law, Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Rome. The Roman general Lucius Licinius Lucullus captured Tigranocerta, Tigranes' new capital, in 69 BC. He failed to reach Artashat, but in 66 the legions of Pompey, aided by one of Tigranes' sons, succeeded, compelling the king to renounce Syria and other conquests in the south and to become an ally of Rome. Armenia became a buffer state, and often a battlefield, between Rome and Parthia. Maneuvering between larger neighbours, the Armenians gained a reputation for deviousness; the Roman historian Tacitus called them an ambigua gens (“ambiguous people”).

Modern Armenia


Armenia and Europe
At the beginning of the 19th century the Russians advanced into the Caucasus. In 1813 the Persians were obliged to acknowledge Russia's authority over Georgia, northern Azerbaijan, and Karabakh, and in 1828 they ceded Yerevan and Nakhichevan. Contact with liberal thought in Russia and western Europe was a factor in the Armenian cultural renaissance of the 19th century. In Turkey, the Armenians benefited with the rest of the population from the measures of reform known as the Tanzimat, and in 1863 a special Armenian constitution was recognized by the Ottoman government. But social progress in Turkey was slow, and the Armenians in Anatolia were subject to many abuses. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, in which Russian Armenians had taken part, Russia insisted in the Treaty of San Stefano that reforms be carried out among the sultan's Armenian subjects and that their protection against the Kurds be guaranteed or Russia would continue to occupy Turkish Armenia. This demand was softened at the Congress of Berlin, but the "Armenian Question" remained a factor in international politics, with Great Britain taking on the role of Turkey's protector until the end of the century.

The socialist Hënchak ("Bell") party was founded in 1887 and the more nationalist Dashnaktsutyun ("Confederacy") party, whose members were commonly called Dashnaks, in 1890, and in the face of increasing Armenian demands for much-needed reforms both the Turkish and Russian governments grew more repressive. In 1895, after Abdülhamid II had felt compelled to promise Britain, France, and Russia that he would carry out reforms, large-scale systematic massacres took place in the provinces. In 1896, following the desperate occupation of the Ottoman Bank by 26 young Dashnaks, more massacres broke out in the capital. In Russia both Tsar Alexander III and his son Nicholas II closed hundreds of Armenian schools, libraries, and newspaper offices, and in 1903 Nicholas confiscated the property of the Armenian church.

The greatest single disaster in the history of the Armenians came with the outbreak of World War I. In 1915 the Young Turk government resolved to deport the whole Armenian population of about 1,750,000 to Syria and Mesopotamia. It regarded the Turkish Armenians-despite pledges of loyalty by many-as a dangerous foreign element bent on conspiring with the pro-Christian tsarist enemy to upset the Ottoman campaign in the east. In what would later be known as the "first genocide" of the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Armenians were driven from their homes, massacred, or marched until they died. The death toll of Armenians in Turkey has been estimated at between 600,000 and 1,500,000 in the years from 1915 to 1923. (See Researcher's Note: Armenian massacres.) Tens of thousands emigrated to Russia, Lebanon, Syria, France, and the United States, and the western part of the historical homeland of the Armenian people was emptied of Armenians.

The Republic of Armenia

In 1916 the Turkish Armenian regions fell to the Russian army, but in March 1918 Russia was forced by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to cede all of Turkish Armenia and part of Russian Armenia to Turkey, though some Armenians continued to hold out against the advancing Turks. On April 22, 1918, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan formed the Transcaucasian Federal Republic, but their basic diversity soon caused them to split into separate republics; Armenia declared independence on May 28. Although short-lived, this Armenian republic was the first independent Armenian state since the Middle Ages. On June 4, Armenia was forced to sign the Treaty of Batum with Turkey, acknowledging the pre-1878 Russo-Turkish frontier along the Arpa and Aras rivers as its boundary, but after the Allied victory the Armenians reoccupied Alexandropol (now Gyumri) and Kars. A short war with Georgia ensued for the possession of Borchalu and Akhalk'alak'i, and with Azerbaijan for the Karabakh region; despite temporary military success, these regions were destined to remain outside Armenia. On Jan. 15, 1920, the Allies recognized the de facto existence of the three Transcaucasian republics. President Woodrow Wilson hoped to persuade the United States to accept a mandate for an independent Armenia, but the Senate refused the responsibility (June 1, 1920). On August 10, Armenia, now recognized de jure, signed the Treaty of Sèvres, by which Turkey recognized Armenia as a free and independent state. On November 22, Wilson, as instructed, announced projected boundaries that ceded to Armenia most of the vilayets of Erzurum, Trabzon, Van, and Bitlis. Already in the summer of 1919, however, the Turkish government of Ankara, under Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk), had repudiated Constantinople's treaties with Armenia. In September 1920 the Turks had attacked, seizing Kars and Alexandropol by November 7; by the Treaty of Alexandropol on Dec. 2, 1920, Armenia renounced all pre-1914 Turkish territories and Kars and Ardahan, recognized that there were no Armenian minorities in Turkey, and accepted that the region of Nakhichevan should form an autonomous Turkish state.

That same day a new Armenian government at Yerevan, a coalition of communists and Dashnaks, proclaimed Armenia a Soviet republic. The Dashnaks were soon driven from the government, provoking an abortive revolt in February 1921. In March 1922 Armenia joined Georgia and Azerbaijan to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which joined the U.S.S.R. on Dec. 30, 1922. Nakhichevan, a largely Muslim region, was awarded to Soviet Azerbaijan, as was Nagorno-Karabakh, an overwhelmingly Armenian district. In 1936 Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan became separate union republics of the Soviet Union.

The 71 years of Soviet rule in Armenia were a period of relative security from hostile neighbours, of great economic development, and of cultural and educational achievements. But full expression of Armenian national aspirations was impossible under the imposed Soviet regime. Particularly harsh were the years of Stalin's rule (1928-53), during which state terror was used to suppress the political and intellectual elite in the republic, to crush peasant resistance to the collectivization of agriculture, and to destroy the influence of the church.

Independence
With the rise of the reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Armenians organized a massive nationalist movement focused on recovering Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia. This movement grew into a popular democratic organization, the Armenian National Movement (ANM). In the 1990 elections the ANM won a majority in parliament, declaring Armenian sovereignty on Aug. 23, 1990, and independence on Sept. 23, 1991. Meanwhile, the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh was intensifying. Ethnic violence between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in the enclave, which had begun in 1988, escalated into war; Karabakh Armenian forces, supported by Armenia, subsequently established control of Nagorno-Karabakh and occupied territory connecting the enclave with Armenia.

By the mid-1990s thousands of Armenians had been killed. A blockade imposed by Azerbaijan in 1989 devastated the Armenian economy; the resulting severe decline in living conditions led hundreds of thousands of Armenians to emigrate.

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