Armenia is located in the hills around the Ararat Mountains. There is evidence of an early civilisation in Armenia going back to the Bronze Age and earlier, about 4000 BC. Archaeological investigations at the Areni-1 cave complex in 2010 and 2011 uncovered the world’s oldest known leather shoe, skirt, and wine-producing facility.
The Hittite Empire (at its peak), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1500–1200 BC) were among the bronze-era kingdoms that thrived in Greater Armenia. The Nairipeople (12th–9th century BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000–600 BC) established consecutive dominion over the Armenian Highland. Each of the aforementioned countries and tribes had a role in the Armenian people’s ethnogenesis. A huge cuneiform lapidary inscription discovered in Yerevan proved that King Argishti I built the present city of Armenia in the summer of 782 BC. Yerevan is the world’s oldest city, with the precise year of its founding recorded.
The earliest geographical entity known as Armenia by surrounding people was formed around the late 6th century BC under the Orontid Dynasty inside the Achaemenid Empire, as part of the latter’s borders. In 190 BC, King Artaxias I led the kingdom out of the Seleucid Empire’s sphere of influence, ushering in the reign of the Artaxiad dynasty. Tigranes the Great led Armenia to its apex between 95 and 66 BC, becoming the most powerful kingdom east of the Roman Republic.
During the reign of Tiridates I, the founder of the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, which was a branch of the eponymous Arsacid dynasty of Parthia, Armenia fell under the influence of the Persian Empire in the following centuries. Throughout its history, the kingdom of Armenia had periods of independence as well as autonomy subject to current empires. Because of its strategic location between two continents, it has been invaded by many peoples, including the Assyrians (under Ashurbanipal, the boundaries of the Assyrian Empire reached as far as Armenia and the Caucasus Mountains around 669–627 BC), Medes, Achaemenid Persians, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanid Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Ottomans
Religion in ancient Armenia was historically linked to a set of ideas that led to the development of Zoroastrianism in Persia. It was centered on Mihr (Avestan Mithra) worship and featured a pantheon of local Aryan gods such as Aramazd, Vahagn, Anahit, and Astghik. The country used the solar Hayk Armenian calendar, which had 12 months.
As early as AD 40, Christianity began to spread across the nation. In 301, King Tiridates III (238–314) made Christianity the state religion, ostensibly in defiance of the Sassanids, becoming the first officially Christian state, ten years before the Roman Empire granted Christianity official toleration under Galerius and 36 years before Constantine the Great was baptized. Prior to this, Armenia was mostly a Zoroastrian country throughout the later half of the Parthian era.
Following the collapse of the Armenian monarchy in 428, the majority of Armenia was absorbed into the Sassanid Empire as a marzpanate. Following an Armenian uprising in 451, Christian Armenians kept their religious freedom, while Armenia achieved independence.
Following the Marzpanate era (428–636), Armenia arose as the Emirate of Armenia, an independent principality within the Arabic Empire that reunified Armenian territories formerly seized by the Byzantine Empire. The Prince of Armenia controlled the principality, which was acknowledged by the Caliph and the Byzantine Emperor. It was part of the Arab administrative division/emirate Arminiyacreated, which encompassed portions of Georgia and Caucasian Albania, and was centered in the Armenian city of Dvin. The Principality of Armenia existed until 884, when it declared independence from the weakening Arab Empire under King Ashot IBagratuni.
The Bagratuni dynasty governed the resurrected Armenian kingdom from 1045 to 1045. Several areas of Bagratid Armenia split off as independent kingdoms and principalities over time, such as the Kingdom of Vaspurakan in the south ruled by the House of Artsruni, the Kingdom of Syunik in the east, and the Kingdom of Artsakh on the territory of modern Nagorno Karabakh, all while recognizing the supremacy of the Bagratid kings.
Bagratid Armenia was overrun by the Byzantine Empire in 1045. Soon after, the other Armenian kingdoms were conquered by the Byzantines. The Byzantine Empire lasted just a few years, as the Seljuk Turks destroyed the Byzantines and seized Armenia in the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, establishing the Seljuk Empire. To avoid death or slavery at the hands of those who murdered his relative, Gagik II, King of Ani, an Armenian called Roupen fled into the gorges of the Taurus Mountains and then into Tarsus of Cilicia with several of his compatriots. The Byzantine governor of the palace took them in and founded the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia on January 6, 1198, under King Leo I, a descendant of Prince Roupen.
Cilicia was a staunch supporter of the European Crusaders, and regarded itself as an Eastern bulwark of Christendom. The relocation of the seat of the Catholicos of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the spiritual head of the Armenian people, to Cilicia attests to the region’s importance in Armenian history and statehood.
The Seljuk Empire began to crumble quickly. Early in the 12th century, Armenian princes of the Zakarid noble line drove away the Seljuk Turks and founded Zakarid Armenia, a semi-independent Armenian principality in Northern and Eastern Armenia that remained under the patronage of the Georgian Kingdom. The aristocratic family of Orbelians shared power with the Zakarids in different areas of the nation, particularly in Syunik and Vayots Dzor, while the Armenian line of Hasan-Jalalians ruled Artsakh and Utik as the Kingdom of Artsakh.
Early Modern era
The Mongol Empire captured the Zakaryan Principality, as well as the rest of Armenia, in the 1230s. Mongolian invasions were quickly followed by those of other Central Asian tribes including the Kara Koyunlu, Timurid, and Ak Koyunlu, which lasted from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Armenia became weakened throughout time as a result of repeated invasions, each wreaking havoc on the nation.
The Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Empire split Armenia in the 16th century. Western and Eastern Armenia were both subject to Iranian Safavid authority beginning in the early 16th century. Because of the century-long Turco-Iranian geopolitical rivalry that lasted in Western Asia, major portions of the region were often battled over by the two rivaling empires. Eastern Armenia was ruled by the successive Iranian Safavid, Afsharid, and Qajar empires from the mid-16th century with the Peace of Amasya, and decisively from the first half of the 17th century with the Treaty of Zuhab until the first half of the 19th century, while Western Armenia remained under Ottoman rule.
Abbas I of Iran adopted a “scorched earth” strategy in the area beginning in 1604 to defend his northwestern border from any invading Ottoman troops, a program that included the forcible relocation of large numbers of Armenians outside of their homelands.
Following the Russo-Persian War (1804–1813) and the Russo-Persian War (1826–1828), respectively, Qajar Iran was obliged to irreversibly surrender Eastern Armenia to Imperial Russia in 1813 and 1828. (comprised of the khanates of Erivan and Karabakh) After centuries of Iranian domination, Eastern Armenia would now be ruled by Russia.
While Western Armenia remained under Ottoman control, Armenians were given some autonomy inside their own enclaves and coexisted with other communities in the empire (including the ruling Turks). Armenians, on the other hand, suffered widespread prejudice as Christians under a rigid Muslim social order. When they started to press for greater rights inside the Ottoman Empire, Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Hamid II responded by organizing state-sponsored massacres against Armenians between 1894 and 1896, resulting in an estimated 80,000 to 300,000 deaths. The Hamidian murders earned Hamid worldwide notoriety as the “Red Sultan” or “Bloody Sultan.”
During the 1890s, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, also known as Dashnaktsutyun, became active within the Ottoman Empire with the goal of uniting the empire’s various small groups advocating for reform and defending Armenian villages from massacres that were common in some of the empire’s Armenian-populated areas. Members of Dashnaktsutyun also established fedayi militias to protect Armenian people via armed resistance. The Dashnaks also worked for the overarching aim of establishing a “free, autonomous, and united” Armenia, but they sometimes abandoned this goal in favor of a more pragmatic strategy, such as supporting autonomy.
The Ottoman Empire started to crumble, and in 1908, the Young Turk Revolution toppled Sultan Hamid’s administration. The Adana massacre happened in the Ottoman Empire’s Adana Vilayet in April 1909, killing up to 20,000–30,000 Armenians. The Armenians of the empire believed that the Committee of Union and Progress would lift their second-class status. By establishing an inspector general over Armenian affairs, the Armenian reform package (1914) was offered as a remedy.
World War I and the Armenian Genocide
When World War I broke out, resulting in a clash between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire in the Caucasus and Persian Campaigns, the new administration in Istanbul started to view Armenians with mistrust and contempt. This was due to the Imperial Russian Army’s presence of Armenian volunteers. On April 24, 1915, Ottoman authorities imprisoned Armenian intellectuals, and with the Tehcir Law (29 May 1915), a significant percentage of Armenians residing in Anatolia died in what became known as the Armenian Genocide.
The genocide was carried out in two stages: the total slaughter of the able-bodied male population via murder and the forced labor of army conscripts, followed by the expulsion of women, children, the elderly, and the infirm in death marches leading to the Syrian desert. The deportees were driven ahead by military escorts, deprived of food and water, and subjected to robbery, rape, and slaughter on a regular basis. Local Armenian resistance emerged in the area in response to the Ottoman Empire’s actions. Armenians and the overwhelming majority of Western historians consider the events of 1915 to 1917 as state-sponsored mass murders, or genocide.
To this day, Turkish officials deny the massacre occurred. The Armenian Genocide is often regarded as one of the earliest contemporary genocides. According to Arnold J. Toynbee’s study, an estimated 600,000 Armenians perished during deportation from 1915 to 1916). This number, however, only covers the first year of the Genocide and does not include those who died or were murdered after the report was completed on May 24, 1916. According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the death toll was “more than a million.” The overall number of persons murdered has been generally estimated to be between one and one and a half million.
For almost 30 years, Armenia and the Armenian diaspora have campaigned for formal acknowledgement of the events as genocide. These events are historically remembered each year on April 24, also known as Armenian Martyr Day or the Armenian Genocide Day.
First Republic of Armenia
Despite the fact that the Russian Caucasus Army of Imperial forces led by Nikolai Yudenich and Armenians in volunteer units and Armenian militia led by Andranik Ozanian and Tovmas Nazarbekian succeeded in capturing most of Ottoman Armenia during World War I, their gains were lost with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. At the time, the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic was formed by Russian-controlled Eastern Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. This federation, on the other hand, only lasted from February to May 1918, when all three parties agreed to disband it. As a consequence, on May 28, the Dashnaktsutyun government of Eastern Armenia proclaimed independence as the First Republic of Armenia, led by Aram Manukian.
The First Republic’s brief existence was marred by war, territorial conflicts, and a massive inflow of refugees from Ottoman Armenia, bringing illness and hunger with them. Appalled by the Ottoman government’s conduct, the Entente Powers attempted to assist the newly formed Armenian state via relief money and other kinds of assistance.
After the war, the winning nations attempted to split the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sèvres, signed on 10 August 1920 in Sèvres between the Allied and Associated Powers and the Ottoman Empire, pledged to preserve the existence of the Armenian republic and to connect the former lands of Ottoman Armenia to it. Ottoman Armenia was also known as “Wilsonian Armenia” because the new boundaries of Armenia were to be established by United States President Woodrow Wilson. Furthermore, on 5 August 1920, Mihran Damadian of the Armenian National Union, the de facto Armenian government in Cilicia, proclaimed Cilicia’s independence as an Armenian autonomous republic under French protection.
There was even talk of declaring Armenia a mission under the protection of the United States. The Turkish National Movement, however, opposed the pact, and it never went into force. The pact was used by the movement to proclaim itself the legitimate government of Turkey, replacing the monarchy headquartered in Istanbul with a republic centered in Ankara.
From the east, Turkish nationalist troops attacked the nascent Armenian republic in 1920. Turkish troops led by Kazm Karabekir seized Armenian lands acquired by Russia in the aftermath of the 1877–1878 Russo-Turkish War and occupied Alexandropol (present-day Gyumri). The bloody war was eventually put to an end on December 2, 1920, with the Treaty of Alexandropol. The pact required Armenia to disarm the majority of its armed forces, surrender all former Ottoman land given to it by the Accord of Sèvres, and relinquish all “Wilsonian Armenia” granted to it by the Sèvres treaty. On the same day, the Soviet Eleventh Army, led by Grigoriy Ordzhonikidze, invaded Armenia at Karavansarai (modern-day Ijevan). By the 4th of December, Ordzhonikidze’s troops had invaded Yerevan, and the Armenian republic had crumbled.
Following the collapse of the republic, the February Uprising in 1921 resulted in the creation of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia on April 26, 1921, by Armenian troops headed by Garegin Nzhdeh, who fought off both Soviet and Turkish incursions in the Zangezur area in southern Armenia. The revolt ended on 13 July, when the Red Army seized control of the area after Soviet negotiations to incorporate the Syunik Province into Armenia’s boundaries.
Armenia was seized by Bolshevist Russia and integrated into the Soviet Union as part of the Transcaucasian SFSR (TSFSR) on March 4, 1922, along with Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Treaty of Alexandropol was replaced by the Turkish-Soviet Treaty of Kars as a result of this annexation. In exchange for authority over the towns of Kars, Ardahan, and Idr, all of which were part of Russian Armenia, Turkey enabled the Soviet Union to take control of Adjara with the coastal city of Batumi.
The TSFSR existed from 1922 until 1936, when it was split into three distinct organizations (Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, and Georgian SSR). Under Soviet control, Armenians experienced a period of relative stability. They got medicine, food, and other supplies from Moscow, and communist government proved to be a balm in comparison to the tumultuous last years of the Ottoman Empire. The church was in a terrible position as a result of Soviet control. Following the death of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin seized power, ushering in a new age of dread and horror for Armenians.
During World War II, Armenia was not the site of any engagements. During the war, an estimated 500,000 Armenians (almost a third of the population) participated in the military, and 175,000 died.
When Stalin died in 1953 and Nikita Khruschev became the Soviet Union’s new leader, fears subsided. Soon after, living in Soviet Armenia started to improve rapidly. The church, which had suffered severely under Stalin, was resurrected when Catholicos Vazgen I took office in 1955. A monument to the Armenian Genocide victims was erected on the Tsitsernakaberd hill overlooking the Hrazdan valley in Yerevan in 1967. This happened after widespread protests on the sad event’s fiftieth anniversary in 1965.
During the Gorbachev period of the 1980s, with the Glasnost and Perestroika reforms, Armenians started to seek greater environmental care for their nation, protesting the pollution caused by Soviet-built industries. Tensions also arose between Soviet Azerbaijan and its autonomous district of Nagorno-Karabakh, a majority-Armenian area split from Armenia by Stalin in 1923. In 1970, there were about 484,000 Armenians living in Azerbaijan. Karabakh Armenians sought union with Soviet Armenia. Peaceful demonstrations in Yerevan in support of Armenians in Karabakh were greeted by anti-Armenian pogroms in the Azerbaijani city of Sumgait. Armenia’s difficulties were exacerbated by a catastrophic earthquake with a moment magnitude of 7.2 in 1988.
The failure of Gorbachev to solve any of Armenia’s issues caused disappointment among Armenians and fueled a rising desire for independence. The New Armenian Army (NAA) was formed in May 1990 as a separate defense force from the Soviet Red Army. When Armenians chose to celebrate the founding of the 1918 First Republic of Armenia, clashes erupted between the NAA and Soviet Internal Security Forces (MVD) soldiers stationed in Yerevan. Five Armenians were murdered in a firefight with the MVD at the train station as a consequence of the unrest. According to witnesses, the MVD used excessive force and encouraged the conflict.
Further clashes between Armenian militias and Soviet forces erupted in Sovetashen, near the city, killing approximately 26 persons, mainly Armenians. The Armenian pogrom in Baku in January 1990 caused almost all of the 200,000 Armenians in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku to escape to Armenia. Armenia proclaimed its sovereignty over its territory on August 23, 1990. Armenia, along with the Baltic republics, Georgia, and Moldova, boycotted a national referendum on the preservation of the Soviet Union in a reformed form on March 17, 1991.
Restoration of independence
Following the failed August coup in Moscow, Armenia proclaimed its independence on September 21, 1991. On 16 October 1991, Levon Ter-Petrosyan was chosen as the first President of the newly independent Republic of Armenia by popular vote. He rose to notoriety as the leader of the Karabakh movement, which sought to unite the Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh. The Soviet Union ceased to exist on December 26, 1991, and Armenia’s independence was acknowledged.
Ter-Petrosyan led Armenia through the Nagorno-Karabakh War with neighboring Azerbaijan with Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan. The first post-Soviet years were plagued by economic problems, which began early in the Karabakh war when the Azerbaijani Popular Front persuaded the Azerbaijan SSR to impose a railway and air embargo on Armenia. This severely devastated Armenia’s economy, since rail travel carried 85 percent of its freight and products. Turkey joined the blockade of Armenia in favor of Azerbaijan in 1993.
In 1994, a Russian-brokered cease-fire brought the Karabakh conflict to a conclusion. The Karabakh Armenian troops won the conflict, capturing 16 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory, including Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia and Azerbaijan have conducted peace negotiations since then, sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Karabakh’s status has yet to be established. Both nations’ economy have suffered as a result of the lack of a comprehensive settlement, and Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan remain blocked. By the time Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to a cease-fire in 1994, an estimated 30,000 people had been murdered and more than a million had been displaced.
Armenia has many challenges as it enters the twenty-first century. It has completely shifted to a market economy. According to one research, it is the 41st most “economically free” country in the world as of 2014. Armenia’s commerce has increased as a result of its relationships with Europe, the Middle East, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Gas, oil, and other commodities are delivered through two critical routes: Iran and Georgia. Armenia has friendly ties with both nations.