|One of the
world's oldest civilization, Armenia once included Mount Ararat, which
biblical tradition identifies as the mountain that Noah's ark rested on
after the flood. It was the first country in the world to officially
embrace Christianity as its religion (c. 300).
In the 6th century b.c.e., Armenians
settled in the kingdom of Urarty (the Assyrian name for Ararat), which
was in decline. Under Tigrane the Great (fl. 95-55 c.c.e.) the Armenian
empire reached its height and became one of the most powerful in Asia,
stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Seas. Throughout most
of its long history, however, Armenia has been invaded by a succession
of empires. Under constant threat of domination by foreign forces,
Armenians became both cosmopolitan as well as fierce protectors of their
culture and tradition.
Over the centuries Armenia was conquered by Greeks, Romans, Persians,
Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and Russian. From the 17th
century through World War I major portions of Armenia were controlled by
their most brutal invader, the Ottoman Turks, under whom they
experienced discrimination, religious persecution, heavy taxation, and
armed attacks. In response to Armenian nationalist stirrings, the Turks
massacred thousands of Armenians in 1894 and 1896. The most horrific
massacre took place in April 1915 during World War I, when the Turks
ordered the deportation of the Armenian population to the deserts of
Syria and Mesopotamia. According to the majority of historians, between
600,000 and 1.5 million Armenians were murdered or died of starvation.
The Armenian massacre is considered the first genocide in the 20th
century. Turkey denies that a genocide took place, and claims that a
much smaller number died in a civil war.
After the Turkey defeat in World War I,
the independent Republic of Armenia was established on May 28, 1918, but
survived only until Nov. 29, 1920, when it was annexed by the Soviet
Army. On March 12, 1922, the Soviets joined Georgia, Armenia, and
Azerbaijan to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic, which
became part of the USSR. In 1936, after reorganization, Armenia became a
separate constituent republic of the USSR.
An Armenian Diaspora has existed
throughout the nation's history, and Armenian emigration has been
particularly heavy since independence from the Soviet Union. An
estimated 60% of the total eight million Armenians worldwide live
outside the country, with one million each in the U.S. and Russia.
Significant Armenian communities are located in Georgia, France, Iran,
Lebanon, Syria, Argentina, and Canada.