The history in detail

Before the Indo-European Armenian people group settled in the region of today’s Armenia in around the 7th century BC, there was already a Greater Kingdom of Urartu which was descended from the churritic (also known as Horite or Hurrite) tribes. The people groups intermarried and from 550 BC were conquered by the Medes, and then by the Persian Achaemenid Empire.

Even the Armenian region, like most of the Persian kingdom, was conquered by Alexander the Great on his successful campaign in 336BC. Following his death the region fell under the rule of Seleucus, one of the so-called “rival” successors to Alexander the Great and became part of the Seleucid Kingdom which, at the height of its expansion, included the Persian Eastern Region, the remainder of the Near East and the whole of the Caucasus.

From 188 BC an independent Armenian Kingdom existed under Governor Artaxerxes. It extended across the approximate area of today’s Armenia. Under the Artaxid Tigranes (95-55BC) the Kingdom stretched for a short time from the Mediterranean in the south west to the Caspian Sea in the east. However, Tigranes had to concede defeat to the Romans. Up until the third century AD the Armenian region was an object of dispute between the Romans and Persians, before the Sasanides (Persians)were able, for the most part, to prevail.

Following a brief expulsion of the Sasanides, in 301AD Christianity was declared the state religion under the Armenian leader Tiridates III, and it remained so despite being under foreign rule for the following centuries. In 387AD the Romans and Sasanides divided up the Armenian Kingdom between them.

From the 7th Century AD the region came under the rule of the Islamic Arabs. In 885 AD the Armenian Duke Aschot I (also known as Duke Aschot the Great – founder of the Bagratid Dynasty) founded the independent Armenian Kingdom, which was recognised by both the Caliph of Baghdad and by the Byzantine Emperor. During its greatest expansion the Kingdom included today’s Georgia, the west coast of the Caspian Sea and part of Asia Minor. In the first half of the 11th century AD the Kingdom was again subjected to the re-strengthened Byzantines before the Islamic Seljuk army expelled the Byzantines in 1071 AD. Many Armenians fled, and a small Armenian Kingdom was founded in Cilicia which existed into the 14th century and whose leader was able to guard a certain degree of independence from foreign powers. The Mongols followed the Seljuks in the 13th century AD and for a short time the Armenian region belonged to the extensive Mongolian Kingdom of Timur-Leng (1370-1405 AD). From the 15th century onwards Armenian was an object of dispute between the Persian Safavids and the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

At the end of the 18th century AD the Russian Empire also reclaimed the Armenian region from the Persians. The western and southern parts of Armenia remained within the Ottoman Empire. During the 19th century AD the ruling Russian policy of ‘russianising’ the Armenians intensified, and brought the closure of churches and schools as well as the banning of the Armenian language. In the Ottoman-occupied part (Turkey had to give up parts of Turkish-Armenia to Russia at the end of the Russian-Turkish War in 1878) Christian Armenians were persecuted and murdered: in 1915 this persecution culminated in the first genocide of the 20th century. There was a systematic plan to eliminate the Armenians, the “cancerous ulcer” in the holy body of the Ottoman Empire.

During the First World War in 1916 almost the whole region of Transcaucasia and parts of East Anatolia were temporarily occupied by Russian troops. In 1918 the Russian part of Armenia declared its independence, but was once again occupied by Russian troops in 1920 and in 1922 it was officially annexed to the Union of the Socialist Soviet Republic, the Soviet Union and joined with today’s Georgia and Azerbaijan to become the “Transcaucasian Socialist Federation of the Soviet Republic”. The western part (Turkish Armenia) became part of the newly established Turkey in 1923.

Uprisings of Christian Armenians were bloodily suppressed in both parts of the former Armenia. In the Soviet part it led to a rigorous sovietisation of society, to which belonged, among other things, the prohibition of private property, the introduction of a centrally-directed planned economy, the introduction of a Soviet school system and the closure of almost all churches. Dissenters and those who opposed this were persecuted and became victims of the political clean-up operations of the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Despite the Soviet oppression, the Armenian church held up well in the Communist era.

In 1936 Armenia, as well as Georgia and Azerbaijan, became an independent Soviet Republic. In so doing the historically Armenian region of Nagorno-Karabakh (Armenian: Arzach) in the east of the country fell to Muslim Azerbaijan, as did the region Nakhchivan (Armenian: Naxiçvan). The country’s industry expanded, particularly during the years under Communist rule and many Russians were moved in while many Armenians were moved out to other Soviet Republics. Still today around 1.5 million Armenians live in the successor states of the Soviet Union.

In the 1980s the Armenian Independence Movement rose up against the communist state leadership. In the region of Nagorno-Karabakh there was an escalation of the tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. When the predominantly Armenian-inhabited region declared its independence from Azerbaijan, war broke out between the two countries. In the same year a cataclysmic earthquake in the Caucasus claimed over 50 000 lives and resulted in heavy devastation of the Armenian territory, particularly in the industrial centres of the country.

The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh couldn’t even be settled through Russian intervention. The opposing countries Armenia and Azerbaijan both declared their separation from the USSR in 1991, as the approaching dissolution of the Eastern bloc through the policies of Perestroika and Glasnost was on the horizon. As a result, the Russian troops had to pull back from the contested region and Lewon Ter-Petrosyan was elected State President of Armenia. In December 1991 the country was connected to the “Commonwealth of Independent States” (CIS), which was founded from eleven former Soviet Republics and declared itself separate from the USSR. The entire Armenian people group supported the Armenian volunteers who in civil life were doctors, teachers, students and workers, as the news and pictures of the Armenian civilians from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan immediately evoked memories of the genocide. Never again should the unarmed Armenian people be massacred. It was only after independence during the war, that the Armenians assembled their own troops and fought for freedom and independence on the side of the Karabakh Armenians.
Azerbaijan imposed an economic embargo against Armenia, which Turkey also joined. Because of this the country got into supply difficulties, as it depended on energy and food deliveries from abroad. A state of emergency was declared. The Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh freed a third of Azerbaijan in 1993. In 1994 a cease-fire was mediated by Russia and the UN, yet even until now there has been no declaration of the peoples’ rights status under International Law for the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Peace talks have been officially in process since the end of 1998, but a solution for the conflict is not yet in sight.

In January 2001 both Armenia and Azerbaijan were accepted into the Council of Europe.