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A Short History of Armenia

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Armenia formally referred to as the Republic of Armenia in an independent country in the South Caucasus area of Eurasia. It is situated in Western Asia, on the Armenian Highland. Turkey borders Armenia to the west, Azerbaijan and the de facto Independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the east, Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan and Iran to the south, and Georgia to the north. The name Armenia was given to the nation by the neighbouring countries, and it traditionally originated from Armenak or Aram who is believed to the ancestor of all Armenians.

The history of Armenia is very wide and some of the key eras will be discussed in brief below.

Bronze Age

Ancient leather shoes found in a cave in Armenia, SourceThis culture was first found on the Ararat plain between the period of 4000 – 2200 BC. A number of nations flourished in the region of Greater Armenia during this period, for instance, the Hittite Empire, Mitanni which was located in South-Western historical Armenia, the Hayasa-Azzi, and the Nairi. All these tribes and nations took part in the ethno-genesis of the Armenian people. Yerevan, the current capital city of Armenia, dates all the way back to the 8th century BC, with the establishment of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by King Argisti I at the extreme western region of the Ararat plain.

Iron Age

The Kingdom of Urartu thrived between the 9th century BC and 585 BC in the Armenian Highland. The kingdom was founded by Aramé who brought together all the territories of the Armenian Highland. The kingdom established its governance over all of Vaspurakan and Taron.

Between 834-828 BC Urartu kingdom became a very h2 and coordinated nation and it enforced taxes to the surrounding tribes. Tushpa, present-day Van was Urartu’s capital city. The kingdom’s borders were also extended by seizing what would later be referred to as Tigranocerta territory and by reaching Urmia.

Under Menuas leadership (810-785 BC), Urartu was able to extend its territory towards the north, since it spread towards the Araratian fields. Argishtis I of Urartu seized Latakia from the Hittites. He also conquered Byblos and Phoenicia and built the Erebuni Fortress found in present-day Yerevan.

In 714 BC, the Assyrians led by Sargon II defeated King Rusa I at Lake Urmia and demolished the holy Urartian temple at Musasir. At the same time, the Cimmerians assailed Urartu from the north-west area and defeated the remaining Urartian armies. Between 669-627 BC the borders of the Assyrian Empire extended to as far as Armenia and the Caucasus Mountains. Assyria was, however, attacked in 612 BC by the Medes who took over Van, the Urartian capital, towards 585 BC. This effectively led to the end of Urartu sovereignty.

Orontid Dynasty

After the collapse of Urartu, the Satrapy of Armenia was governed by the Orontid Dynasty, which ruled the country in 585-190 BC. During this period, Armenia was a satrapy of the Persian Empire, and after its dissolution, it became a sovereign kingdom.

Artaxiad dynasty

A Hellenistic Armenian nation was established in 190 BC after the Seleucid Empire was destroyed. The new nation was governed by Artaxias who founded the Artaxiad dynasty.  During this period, a western section of the kingdom separated as a different nation under Zariadris and it came to be known as Lesser Armenia. The main kingdom was referred to as Greater Armenia.

Greater Armenia expanded its territories by conquering lands belonging to the Medes, Iberians and Syrians. Between 95 to 66 BC, the kingdom expanded its governance over sections of the Caucasus and the region that is currently eastern and central Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Iran, thus creating the second Armenian Empire. For some time, Armenia was among the most powerful countries east of Rome. The country, however, faced the Roman Republic in battles, and it lost in 66 BC but was able to retain its independence. It was in 1 AD when Armenia came under full Roman governance until the creation of the Armenian Arsacid dynasty.

Arsacid dynasty

Norovank, a 13th-century Armenian monastery, SourceThis dynasty was a branch of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthia and it was founded by Tiridates I. During this era, Armenia experienced periods of independence and autonomy subject to contemporary empires. The dynasty, however, lost control of the country for several years when the Roman Province of Armenia was created and became incorporated into the Roman Empire. It was during this era that Armenia adopted Christianity as the country’s religion.

In 428, the dynasty was completely destroyed by the Sassanid Persians and the region was converted to a full province within Persia and was known as Persian Armenia.

The Middle Ages

Between 428-636, Armenia was under Marzpanate rule. After this period, the country surfaced as the Emirate of Armenia, an independent principality in the Arabic Empire and it reunited Armenian territories that had been seized by the Byzantine Empire. The territory was governed by the Prince of Armenia and was acknowledged by the Byzantine Emperor and the Caliph. This principality lasted until 884 when the country regained its sovereignty.

The new kingdom under the Bagratuni dynasty lasted until 1045 when the Byzantine Empire seized the territory and other Armenian nations as well. This rule was short-lived because in 1071 Seljuk Turks defeated Byzantines and seized Armenia at the Battle of Manzikert, thus creating the Seljuk Empire.

In the 12th century, the Seljuk Empire began to collapse and the Armenian princes of the Zakarid family drove them out and created a semi-autonomous Armenian territory in Eastern and Northern Armenia, referred to as Zakarid Armenia and it lasted under the support of the Georgian Kingdom.

Early Modern Era

In the 1230s, the Mongol Empire seized Armenia and its invasion was soon followed by invasions from other Central tribes, for instance, the Ak Koyunlu, Timurid, and Kara Koyunlu. These invasions continued until the 15th century bringing about a lot of destruction, and with time, Armenia became weak.

In the 16th century, the Safavid and Ottoman Empires divided Armenia. At the same time, both Eastern and Western Armenia came under Iranian Safavid governance. From mid 16th century with the Peace of Amasya, and from the first half of the 17th century with the Treaty of Zuhab up to the first half of the 19th century, Eastern Armenia was governed by the Iranian Safavid, Afsharid and Qajar Empires, and Western Armenia remained under the governance of the Ottoman Empire.

World War I and the Armenian Genocide

The Garni Temple, built around 77 AD, SourceIn 1915, the Ottoman Empire carried out the Armenian Genocide. This was preceded by massacres in the years 1894 to1896 and 1909. With WW1going on in 1915, the Turks claimed that the Christian Armenians were allies with Russia, thus treated them and the whole Armenian population as enemies within the empire. The Turks led mass killings of the locals between 1915-1923 and it is estimated that more than one million Armenians lost their lives during the period.

These events are currently celebrated every year on 24th April, on the Armenian Christian martyr day.

First Republic of Armenia

After WW1, the Armenian militia led by Tovmas Zazarbekian and Andranik Ozonian managed to gain control over most of Ottoman Armenia but their success was lost in the Bolshevik Revolution on 1917. At this time, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russian-governed Eastern Armenia tried to join together in the Transcaucasian Democratic Republic but this union only lasted from February to May 1918 after a unanimous decision to dissolve it. The Dashnaktsutyun government of Eastern Armenia proclaimed its sovereignty on 28 May as the First Republic of Armenia under the governance of Aram Manukian. This independence was, however, short-lived due to territorial conflicts, war, and an influx of refugees from Ottoman Armenia.

After the republic fell, the February Uprising soon took place in 1921, and this led to the formation of the Republic of Mountainous Armenia which fought off both Turkish and Soviet invasions in the Zangezur area of southern Armenia.

Soviet Armenia

Armenia along with Azerbaijan and Georgia were annexed by Bolshevist Russia. Armenia was, therefore, integrated into the Soviet Union as a section of the Transcaucasian SFSR (TSFSR) on 4 March 1922. Under Soviet rule, Armenians were able to enjoy stability and they received food, medicine and other supplies from Moscow.

Armenia was under Soviet rule until 23 August 1990 when Armenia proclaimed its independence on its territory. On 17 March 1991, Armenia, together with Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states boycotted a countrywide referendum in which 78% of the voters voted for the retention of the Soviet Union in a reformed nature.

Restoration of independence

Armenia formally decreed its sovereignty on 21 September 1991 after the failed August coup in Moscow. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was popularly selected as the first President of the newly sovereign Republic of Armenia on 16 October 1991. He ruled alongside Vazgen Sargsyan, the Defence Minister, through the Nagorno-Karabakh War with Azerbaijan. The war ended in 1994 after a cease-fire brokered by Russia was put in place. The war was a success to Armenian forces who managed to seize 16% of Azerbaijan’s globally known territory including Nagorno-Karabakh itself. Since then Azerbaijan and Armenia have held peace talks, arbitrated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The status of Karabakh is yet to be decided. Due to lack of a complete resolution on this issue, the economies of both countries have been hurt and still continue to hurt. Armenian borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey still remain closed.

As the country enters the 21st century, it is faced with many hardships. Armenia has had to switch to a market economy. Its relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States, The Middle East, and Europe have enabled the country to increase trade. Armenia also maintains friendly relations with both Iran and Georgia since these are the two important routes via which oil, gas, and other supplies come through.

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