After the defeat of the Seleucid king Antiochus
the Great by Rome at the Battle of Magnesia (winter 190189
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 (9555
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).
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.
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.