Armenian History

Armenian History

Armenia (Armenian: Hayastan) is the only country remaining from 3,000 year old maps of Anatolia. It became the world's first Christian country more than 1,700 years ago in 301 AD, and has a large Diaspora all over the world. As a former Soviet republic lying in the Caucasus region, straddling Asia and Europe, Armenia has an ancient and rich culture. Armenia is very easy to experience, thanks to very hospitable people.

ancient Roman map

Ancient Roman Map Engraved On A Wall Near Colosseum

The legendary founder of Armenia was Hayk, a chieftain who called on his kinsmen to unite into a single nation, thus forming Armenia. Ararat was the mountain around which was centered Urartu and subsequent kingdoms, and is still considered sacred by the Armenians.

The original Armenian name for the country was Hayq, later Hayastan, translated as the land of Hayk, and consisting of the name Haik and the Iranian suffix '-stan' (land). According to legend, Haik was a great-great-grandson of Noah (son of Togarmah, who was a son of Gomer, a son of Noah's son, Yafet), and according to tradition, a forefather of all Armenians. Mount Ararat, a sacred mountain for the Armenian people, rising in the center of the Armenian Highland as its highest peak, is traditionally considered the landing place of Noah's Ark.

First time Arminiya as the name of country and Armina as the name of the nation is mentioned in a cuneiform inscription of Persian king Dareh 1 (522-486 B.C.) and in the 5th century B.C. Armenia for the first time appear on a Babylonian World Map.

Landlocked, Armenia is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest. Five percent of the country's surface area consists of Lake Sevan (Sevana Lich), the largest lake in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range. The many mountains and mountain valleys create a great number of micro climates, with scenery changing from arid to lush forest at the top of a mountain ridge.

On a trip to Armenia, you will frequently be reminded that Armenia was the world's first officially Christian country. You will have a hard time forgetting this as a tourist, since countless monasteries are among Armenia's premier tourist attractions. Fortunately for those who might otherwise suffer monastery fatigue, many of these monasteries are built in places of incredible natural beauty, making the sites of monasteries like Tatev, Noravank, Haghartsin, Haghpat and Geghard well worth a visit even without the impressive, millennia old monasteries found there.

Armenian history extends for over 3,000 years. Armenians have historically inhabited the "Armenian Highlands", a vast section of mountains and valleys across eastern Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus. Armenian vassal states, principalities, kingdoms and empires would rise and fall in different parts of this highland during history. They were only unified once, just before the time of Christ in the empire of Tigran the Great, stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea. Much of the history was spent under the domination of the great powers of the region. The western parts of Armenia were for long periods under Byzantine or Ottoman Turkish rule, while the eastern parts were under Persian or Russian rule. These empires often fought their wars on Armenian territory, using Armenian soldiers. It was a rough neighborhood, but Armenians managed to hold on to their language and church, and prosper whenever given a chance. Being located on the silk road, Armenians built a network of merchant communities and ties extending from eastern Asia to Venice. Eventually, with the onslaught of nationalism, Armenians paid a heavy price for their religion and their envy-inducing wealth.

Armenian Genocide (1915)

After a number of protests by Western powers over their poor treatment of Armenians, Ottoman Turkey decided they did not want Armenians in Anatolia any longer, seeing the risk of foreign intervention or an independent nation rising in the middle of Anatolia. Their decision to kill and deport the entire Armenian population created the huge Armenian Diaspora community that exists all over the world today, and since that time has locked Turks and Armenians in conflict as one seeks to deny the crimes for which the other demands international recognition. To this day, Turkey refuses to establish diplomatic relations with its neighbor over this, and the Karabakh Conflict.

Soviet Armenia (1922-1991)

In many ways, the Soviet period was a golden one for Armenians. The price they paid for it was extraordinarily high, with arbitrary borders being drawn between Armenia and Azerbaijan (setting the stage for future conflict), with hundreds of thousands dying in WWII, defending Russia and with countless Armenians lost to the GULAG and KGB. Economically however, the country boomed, and culturally, within the strict limits, there were heavily subsidized cultural education and activities. Those who did not toe the government line, however, were often victims of car crashes or worse. Yerevan mushroomed from a dusty garrison town of 20,000 to a metropolis of 1 million.

soviet armenia

A statue of Communist leader Vladimir Lenin in a square in Yerevan

Karabakh Conflict 

In the early 1990s, the Armenians in Karabakh fought for independence from Azerbaijan with support from Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. The war was won militarily, but with no diplomatic solution reached. A ceasefire has been held since 1994, with minor exceptions. The Armenian/Karabakh borders with Azerbaijan are closed. Turkey has also closed its land border with Armenia in support of their Azeri-Turk kinsmen.

Independent Armenia (1991-today)

Armenia declared its sovereignty from the Soviet Union on August 23, 1990. In the wake of the August Coup, a referendum was held on the question of secession. Following an overwhelming vote in favor, full independence was declared on September 21, 1991. However, widespread recognition did not occur until the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.

Armenia faced many challenges during its first years as a sovereign state. Several Armenian organizations from around the world quickly arrived to offer aid and to participate in the country's early years. From Canada, a group of young students and volunteers under theCYMA - Canadian Youth Mission to Armenia banner arrived in Ararat Region and became the first youth organization to contribute to the newly independent Republic.

Following the Armenian victory in the Nagorno-Karabakh war, both Azerbaijan and Turkey closed their borders and imposed a blockade which they retain to this day, though in October 2009 Turkey and Armenia signed a treaty to normalize relations. These events severely affected the economy of the fledgling republic, and closed off its main routes to Europe.

Distribution of Armenians in the Caucasus

Distribution of Armenians in the Caucasus