Armenia is the geographical region where the Armenian people were shaped as a nation and lived over centuries to present day, thus creating a vast and rich heritage of unique history and culture. Greek historians named Armenia as such about 3,000 years ago. The year 1993 was the 4100th anniversary of the Armenian statehood. According to the history of Armenians by Movses Khorenatsi, the legendary archer Haik defeated the army of the Assyrian king Belus and established the first Armenian kingdom in 2107 BC. The Armenian princedoms became united and powerful in 1824 BC thus giving birth to the geographical and political entity of Armenia.
The first signs of Armenia can be traced in Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions dating back to III millennium BC and the Hittites testify to the existence of a country called Hayasa, which is believed to be the cradle of Armenians. According to Assyria-Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions (13-7 cc. BC) Armenia was also called Nairi (country of rivers) which consisted of kingdoms consisting of over 60 tribes. According to the Bible, Armenia was called the Ararat kingdom.
Archeological excavations have revealed a unique and highly developed civilization in the kingdom of Urartu (Ararat). A proof of that civilization is the town-fortress of Erebouni founded in 782 BC on the territory of Armenia’s present capital city of Yerevan. The Armenian kingdom again emerged in the region after the fall of the Urartu kingdom. Armenians are descendants of a branch of Indo-Europeans. According to Strabo, a Greek geographer and historian, the people living in the Armenian Highland spoke one language: Armenian.
As international trade became more active in the Hellenistic period, Armenia began trading with neighboring and faraway countries and serving as a transit route for those countries. The Hellenic influence was notable also in the social and economical spheres. Greek became the literary, commercial and legal medium of communication in the entire region. Many Armenian towns were founded during this period. The country’s ancient capital Artashat (founded in 166 BC) was situated on the main road that bridged the Black Sea ports with India and Central Asia. Plutarch calls Artashat the Armenian Cartagena and mentions that Euripides’s “Bacchae” was performed in Artashat in 53 BC. The first century BC is known as Armenia’s Golden Age with its flourishing towns, art and literature.
Being on the crossroads of East and West, Armenia has always played the role of a connecting bridge in the region. One of the famous Silk Roads crossed Armenia. This favorable geographic position adversely affected Armenia, making it an apple of discord between competing powers. As a consequence, the Armenian people suffered from innumerable tribulations. However, they became stronger in spirit and acquired such traits of national character as bravery and perseverance. They also succeeded through hard work and creative effort in giving birth to magnificent masterpieces of art.
The most difficult period for Armenia was the first century AD. The destructive policies of successive Parthian rulers lead the country to decline. Beginning from the second half of the first century Rome exerted its influence on Armenia, which threatened the neighboring Parthian state. During this period the Armenian Arshakouni dynasty was founded and ruled until IV c.
After a long struggle against Rome, the Armenian king Trdat I was crowned by Nero in 66 AD and Armenia experienced a revival period. Many fortresses and towns were founded or rebuilt, and a notable advance was made both in art and science. One of the newly emerged cities was Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin) which later became the cradle of Christianity in Armenia. In 301, Armenia adopted Christianity thus becoming the first country in the world to proclaim it as a state religion (note that Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire in 313 by the Edict of Milan.
The history of Christianity in Armenia refers to the time when Noah’s Ark landed on Mt. Ararat. It continued through the times when Christ’s Apostles St. Thaddeus and Bartholomew preached in Armenia around 100 AD and during the era of Illumination with St. Gregory. Grigor Partev (later to be known as Saint Gregory) being of Parthian origin and raised in Caesarea, converted to Christianity to atone his father’s sins. In attempting to establish Christianity in Armenia, Grigor was tortured and imprisoned by King Trdat, a fervent pagan. He spent twelve years in an underground cell at Khor Virap, when the king finally, sick with madness, released him on the request of his sister. In 301 AD, Grigor, renamed as St. Gregory the Illuminator, is said to have cured Trdat of his madness, who in turn converted the country’s religion to Christianity. The Roman Empire did not follow it until 380 AD, making Armenia the first country to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The Holy event of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia was celebrated in 2001 AD.
The invention of the Armenian alphabet in 405 by Mesrop Mashtots is also a landmark in the millennial history of the Armenian people. In 449 there was a rebellion to free the country from foreign rule. This movement divided the country between Byzantine and the Sassanid Persians. In 451, with great heroism and heavy losses, Armenian troops won a victory over a 220,000 strong Persian army in the battle of Avarair. Later, the Armenians succeeded in further weakening the Persian state through guerilla warfare. In the VII century, Sassanid Persia collapsed under the invasions of the Arabs. This time Armenia fell under the yoke of the Arab Caliphate. A lengthy national liberation movement ended with the victory of Armenians and in 859 Ashot Bagratouni of the Bagratouni dynasty was recognized Prince of Princes and in 885 he was granted the title of Armenian King by the Caliph.
From mid-IX century a notable rise was marked in the country’s economic, spiritual, cultural and political life. The Fortress of Ani, founded in the V century, became the nation’s capital in 961 and became known as the town of “thousand and one churches”. In the XI c. the Armenian kingdom weakened as a result of internal instability and the influence of exterior forces. The Seljuk Turks which had already appeared on the historical scene in the XI century invaded Northern Armenia in 1064. While Armenia lost sovereignty, another Armenian kingdom, Cilicia, rose on the southern costs of the Mediterranean and lasted about 300 years (1080-1375). Armenians first set foot in Cilicia in 95 BC and over time they spread on the Mediterranean coast. The Armenian princedom of Cilicia grew so rapidly and became so powerful that in 1198 it was recognized as a sovereign kingdom by Byzantium. During 300 years of existence the Cilician kingdom seldom enjoyed peaceful days. Starting from the 20s of the XIV c. the Armenians of Cilicia struggled for their independence against Egyptian Mamelukes and the Sultanate of Iconia. Yet the Cilician kingdom left a rich cultural heritage of architecture, literature and manuscripts. After the fall of the Tatar Empire, the invasions into Armenia continued. The troops of Lenk Timur (Tamerlane, 1386) and Persian Shah Abbas the Great (1604) invaded Armenia devastating the country. After a long struggle in 1639 Western Armenia succumbed to Turkey and Eastern Armenia to Persian Empire. This predicament lasted until the 20s of the XIX century.
Armenian-Russian relations evolved from the XII c. In mid-XIV century, Armenians began migrating to Crimea. Beginning from the XVII century, Armenia’s relations with Russia helped liberate the country from Turkish and Persian dominance. In 1804 war broke out between Russia and Persia, and in 1813 a number of historically Armenian districts were annexed to Russia by the Gyulistan accord. In 1828 the Turkmenchay agreement finally united Eastern Armenia and the Western Armenian district of Kars to Russia. This was one of the consequences of the Russian-Turkish war 1877-1878.
At the end of the XIX century the Ottoman government of Turkey began a premeditated extermination of its Armenian population which culminated in 1915 in the massacre of more than 1.5 million people. This became known as the first Genocide of the 20th century. Genocide survivors were scattered all over the world and part of them found refuge in Eastern Armenia.
On May 28, 1918, Armenia declared its independence. In 1920 Armenia became a Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1991 Armenia regained independence and has been flourishing as an independent state with a democratic form of government.
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