Armenia has an ancient cultural heritage – traces of the earliest settlements date back to the Paleolithic Age. It is considered to be one of the oldest countries on earth but has seldom gained national independence. The Kingdom of Urartu (Van) flourished in the eighth century BC. Under the leadership of Tigranes the Great, Armenia experienced its greatest territorial expansion in the first century BC. Armenia was the first Christian state in history. The adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 301AD and the development of its own alphabet at the beginning of the fifth century AD typify the most important characteristics of Armenia’s national cultural heritage. Armenia was divided up between the Byzantine and Sasanian Empires in 387AD, and then conquered by the Arabs in the 7th – 9th centuries AD. Armenia once again experienced national unity only under the Bagratid Dynasty 885-1045 AD) before being overpowered by the Seljuks, Mongols, Persians and Ottoman Empires in a colourful history. In the 19th century AD the area known today as the Republic of Armenia came under the rule of the Russian Empire. Armenians living there during the Ottoman Rule were victims of systematic genocide. In 1918 the First Republic of Armenia was established, which then became part of the Soviet Union in 1922. It was only after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 that today’s Republic of Armenia succeeded in becoming an independent state.