Armenian History


Figure 1.--Here a child lies dieing of starvation in Yerevan during 1921-22 when the surviving Armenians attempted to establish an independent republic which the Red Army supressed and incorporated into the Soviet Union.

Armenia is one of the oldest countries in the world with a recorded history streaching back an estimated 3,500 years. The Armenian homeland is the Armenian plateau, central and eastern Anatolia and southwestern Caucasia--the highlands which once dominate the southern lowlands of Syria and Mesopotamia. Early Armenian history is associated primarily with the Hittites and the Urartians and the great civilizaions of Mesopotamia. Later Armenia history is associated with the Persian Empire. Armenia was never conquwered by Alexander, although of course Persia was. With Alexander's defeat of the Persian, Armenia, at least the upper classes were Hellenized. Armenia was briefly independent under king Tigran (Tigranes) the Great (about 90 BC). Armenia became the first state to establish Christianity as an official religion. The Eastern Empire known as the Byzantine Empire sought to control Armenia by underminining the authority of the native nobility and serious weakening Aemenia's social structure. Armenia was less able to resist waves of foreign invaders (Arabs, the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, various Turkmen tribes) which followed. These waves of foreign invaders grdually changed the ethnic makeup of the Armenian plain and the dillution of the Armenian presence. Finally the Ottomans after finally taking Constantinople (1453) turned eastward an added Armenia to their growing empire. The Islamic Ottomans were relatively tolerant to religious diversity, at least in comparison to contemporary Christian practices. The Ottomans created the Armenians as a millet, meaning a civil-religious minority governed by the Armenian Church within the overall authority of Empire. Although the Ottoman were an advanced civilization in the 15th century. The Ottomans expanded into the Balkans and for a time threatened Western Europe. Armenians and Turks for several centuries lived in relative harmony. Armenians became known as the "loyal millet". More than a million mostly Christian Armenians were murdered by Ottoman authorities during World War I. Clara Barton led the first Red Cross relief effort conducted outside the United States. The killings provoked wide-spread international contamination, but no country intervened to stop the killings. Another series of pogroms occurred in 1909. The Ottomans entered World war I on the side of the Central Power (Germany and Austria-Hungary) in late 1914. The wide-spread, organized genocide against the Armenians began in 1915. Accounts on the numbers of Armenians vary. The estimate of 1.0 million is often used,but some accounts are as high as 1.5 million. The modern Republic of Armenia was created out of the Soviet Union. Armenia has been involved in a war with Azerbejan over the desputed territory of Karabagh. The desplute resulted from the ethnic patch work quill of the Soviet Union.

Geography

The Armenian homeland is the Armenian plateau, central and eastern Anatolia and southwestern Caucasia--the highlands which once dominate the southern lowlands of Syria and Mesopotamia. The Soviet successor state of Armenia is today a fraction of historic Armenia. Armenia was located at a crossroads of the ancient world-- Asia Minor linked Europe with the Middle and Far East. Ancient Armenia set astide the Silk Road which connected Asia and the Middle Easr and Europe in the age before the European voyages of discovery and maritime trading routes. Trade routes crossed armenia from Russia, Eyrope, China, Persia, India, and Arabia. Trade, fertile valleys, and strtegic position over the rich Mosopotamian civilizations mean that ancient Armenia was not only crossed by merchants and traders, but by a series of conquering armies. At times Armenia was independemt and other times it was a province of great empires.

Pre-history

Legend attributes the founding of the armenian nation in the area of Lake Vanby Haig/Haik, a descendant of Noah. Asia Minor's original settlers were the various Aryan tribes of Armens and Hayasas (about 2800 BC). They eventually assimilated to forn the Urartu civilization (860-580 BC).

Ancient History

Early Armenian history is associated primarily with the Hittites and the Urartians and the great civilizaions of Mesopotamia. Armenia became a battleground of Assyrians, Medes, and Persians. Later Armenia history is associated with the Persian Empire. Armenia became a Persian satrapy (6th century BC). Armenia was never conquered by Alexander, although of course Persia was. With Alexander's defeat of the Persian, Armenia, at least the upper classes were Hellenized. The countrywa ruled by Seleucus I and then briefly independant (189-69 BC). It was ruled by King Tigran (Tigranes) the Great (about 90 BC). It fell to the Roman Legions (69 BC). It was Christinized during Roman rule, becoming the first Christian state. Armenia became an area of contention between the expanding Roman Empire and Persia, which divided between them (387 AD).

Early Christian Era

Armenia became the first state to establish Christianity as an official religion (301 AD). This was two decades before the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the state religion of thecRoman empire. A revived Persian Empire invaded Armenia (451 AD) and severly perecuted Armnian Chistians in an effort to stamp out Christianity. Armenia's small army was defeated at the Battle of Avarair. The conquest, however, proved so costly that the Persians decided to tolerate Armenian Christianity. The Eastern Empire known as the Byzantine Empire sought to control Armenia by underminining the authority of the native nobility and serious weakening Armenia's social structure. Armenia was less able to resist waves of foreign invaders (Arabs, the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, various Turkmen tribes) which followed. These waves of foreign invaders grdually changed the ethnic makeup of the Armenian plain and the dillution of the Armenian presence. Armenian nobel families (the Hetumids and the Rubenids), established an Armenian kingdom in Cilicia, in the southern part of Asia Minor bordering on the Mediterranean. The ruling Bagratids maijtained autonomy (885-1046). THeByzanines reconquered Armenia (1046). As a result of the Crusades, small Crusader states were established in what is now Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. The European Crusader knights carved out small kingdomes in the Holy Land (12th century). They found prosperous Armenian Christian communities thriving among the Muslims. Armenian clerics maintained the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and other Christian sites. The Armenians established close relations with the fellow Christian Crusader kingdoms. The Byzantines were driven out by the Seljuk Turks. The Turks pushed the Armenians west and they estabkished Little Armeniain Cilica. The Armenians managed to negotiate arrangements with the Mongols. Tamerlane occupied Greater Armenia (1386-94). The defeat of the Crusader kingdoms by Saladin and the converion of the Mongols to Islam, the Armenian kingdom was conquered in the 14th century. The last Armenian king, Lusignan, fled to Rome seeking help but failed. Armenia was overun by despoiling by Turkmen tribes, Tamerlane, and the Persian Safavids during the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire was one of the great European powers. In conqquered the Byzantines and took Constantinolple. They carved aiut a huge empire in the middle east and eatern Mediterranean. For a time they even threatened Vienna. By the 19th century the Ottoman were called the "Sick Man of Europe". The only reason that the Empire was not elminated and partitioned in the 19th century was that the Great Powers could not agree on how to partition it. The Crimean War was one of many efforts to prevent the Russians from giing too much from its assaults on the Ottomans. Nevertheless the Russians persisted in their efforts to attack the Ottomans. The Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) was one of continuing Russian actions which succeeding in destabiling the European power balance, contributing to the eventual outbreak of World War I.

The Armenians in the Ottoman Empire

The Ottomans after finally taking Constantinople (1453) turned eastward an added Armenia to their growing empire. The Islamic Ottomans were relatively tolerant to religious diversity, at least in comparison to contemporary Christian practices. The Ottomans created the Armenians as a millet, meaning a civil-religious minority governed by the Armenian Church within the overall authority of Empire. Although the Ottoman were an advanced civilization in the 15th century. The Ottomans expanded into the Balkans and for a time threatened Western Europe. Armenians and Turks for several centuries lived in relative harmony. Armenians became known as the "loyal millet". Although Armenians because they were Christians were not equal and, as a result, were subject to certain restrictions. They were generally acceptd as loyal subjects of the Empire. There was very little ethnic violence. In part because of Islam, the Ottomans never experienced the modernizing movements (Renaissance, Enligtenment, Reformation, or Industrial Revolution) which transformed European civilization. As a result, by the 18th century, the Ottoman Empire had become a backwater of Europe. As the Ottoman Empire declined, Imperial rule became increasingly oppresive. After the French Revolution, Western ideals of liberal constitutional government, individual rights, national self determination, began to influence the Armenians and other national groups within the Ottoman Empire. These groups became increasingly disturbed by autocratic, backward Ottiman rule. Most Christian minorities within the Ottoman Empire were located in the Balkans. Befinning with the Greeks, these groups assisted by Russia and European powers gradually achieved independence. The Armenians by the 1880s were increasingly isolated as the only important Christian minority left in the Empire. The only other Christian group of imprtnce were the Greek communities in western Anatolia. Growing Armenian nationalism increasingly separated thm from Turks about future political strucures. Armenians demanded increasing autonomy, even independence. Some Turks began to envision a new Pan-Turkic empire extending from Turkey into central Asia where there were also Turkish popultion. SEparating The Turks in Anatolia from the Turks in Central Asia were the Armenians in eastern Anatolia and the Caususes. Turkish nationalist began to see the increasingly nationlistic Chfristian Armnians as an impediment to their pan-Turkish empire.

The Russians

Ivan the Great liberated Russia from the Tartats and destroyed the Tartars kingdoms, extending Russian territory south toward the Black sea. Peter the Great began to extend Russian influence into the Caucasuses. They found support from the previously isolated Christians of Georgia and Caucasian Armenia. Catherine the Great extended the push southand in two Turkish wars seized control of the Black Sea and began the advance into the Ottoman controlled Balkans and Caucasia. The Russians succeeded in annexed Georgia and eastern Armenia. Eastern Armeniahad been claimed by Persia. THis area was lost to Russia (1828) Sultan Agha Mohammad, the founder of the Qajar dynasty, presided over a deteriorating Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was a failed state, but unlike Poland there was to be no partition. This was because the great powers were unable to agree on how to partition the Empire. The European powers, fearful of Russia, did not want to see Russia move further south. The Crimean War an attempt to bolser the Ottomans against Russia. . The fear of Russian expansion into the Ottoman Empire was the root cause of the Crimean War. The Russians again pushed south against the Ottomand in the Russo-Turkish War (1887-88). The Russians succeeded in reaching the approaches to Constantinople. They forced the Ottomans to sign the Treaty of San Stefano which include a guarntee of Armenian security in eastern Turkey. The Russian gains were unacceptable to the great Powers. Bismarck managed to avert war by an international congress at Berlin (1878). The resulting Treaty of Berlin restoted much of the lost territory to the Ottomans and eliminated Russian protection for the Armenians. Although the Treaty defused the immediate problem, many issues were left unsettled. When William II removed Bismarck, these were issues that less killed hands were unble to contain. Increasingly Armenians began to see the Russians as potential liberators. Armenians appealed to the Russians, fellow Christians, at San Stefano, for assistance. Europeans knew little about the Armenians, embededed as they were in the Ottoman Empire. Through the Russians, information about the Armenians began to reach the West.

The Young Turks

A coalition of mostly youthful and highly nationalistic dissidents organized in an effort to modernize Turkey. Many were college students and junior army officers. They succeeded in forcing Sultan Abdülhamid II to bring back the 1876 constitution and which mandated a legislature (1908). They deposed the Sultan (1909) and reorganized the government to begin an overall of Turkish society. Many Armenians seeing this as a progressive step initially supported the Young Turks. The progressive political reforms were never adopted. The movement was taken over by a triumvirate (Enver, Jemal and Talat) of extremits with highly nationalists views assumed dictatorial powers. Another series of pogroms occurred--the Cilician pogroms (1909). The triumvirate was the group which conceived the plan to completely eliminate the Armenian people as part of a step towards achieving a pan-Turkic state.

Emmigration

At the turn of the 21st century, an estumated 0.7 million Americans trace their roots to Armenian immigrants. Armenians were very commercially oriented and thus like Greeks and Jews spread throughout the Mediterranean world, especially within the Ottoman Empire. Eventually Armeniam traders established trading firms in Christian Europe as well. One repprt identified 60 Armenian trading firms in the city of Amsterdam (1660). Others describe Armenian colonies in virtually every corner of the globe, including Addis Ababa, Calcutta, Lisbon, and Singapore. One country in which Armenins did not settle in large numbers was the United States. Before the Civil War there were a handful of Armenians in America. This probably reflects the fact that Armenians livedin the Ottoman Empire. Most came to America to study and return to the Ottoman Empire. A few made substantial contributions. This began to change after the Civil War when lrge numbers of Europeans, including non-Protestant southern Europeans, began to emigrate to America (1870s). The Ottomans reacted to what they preceived as disloyalty with punative actions. Sultan Abdul Hamid II ordered massacres of Armenians (1894-96). As a result, substantial numbers of Armenians began to arrive two decades later (1890s).

World War I

The Ottoman Turks for centuries had been assulted by Tsarist Russia. Seeing the early stages of the War, the Germans achieved spectacular successes against the Russians. The Young Turks saw that with German assistance they could win back substantial territory from the Russians. The Youg Turks not only viewed the Christian Armenians as a disloyal group that were willing to support the Russians, but also as impediment to their dream of an etensive pan-Turkish state streaching into centrl Asia. After entering the War, the Young Turks used World War I as the NAZIs used World War II as a cover for genocide. The Young Turk Government decided to settle their Armenian problem. [Balakian]

Genocide (1915-22)

More than a million mostly Christian Armenians were murdered by Ottoman authorities during World War I. Clara Barton led the first Red Cross relief effort conducted outside the United States. The killings provoked wide-spread international contamination, but no country intervened to stop the killings. Another series of pogroms occurred in 1909. The Ottomans entered World War I on the side of the Central Power (Germany and Austria-Hungary) in late 1914. The wide-spread, organized genocide against the Armenians began in 1915. Accounts on the numbers of Armenians vary. The estimate of 1.0 million is often used,but some accounts are as high as 1.5 million. [Balakian] The Ottomans used World war I as the NAZIs used World War II as a cover for the killings. The Ottomans succeded in virtually eliminating the Armenian people from the Armenian plateau. The Turkish Government denied at the time and Turkish Governments even today continue to deny that the killings took place and were coordinated by Turkish authorities.

Diaspora

The Armenian people have experienced a diapora that has created Armenian communities in countries around the world. The diaspra is referred to as "spiurk".

Independent Republic (1918-20)

World War was a disaster for both Russia and the Ottoman Empires. Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdigate and then he and his family killed by the Bolshevicks (1918). Civil War between the Reds and Whites left Russia in turmoil. Ottoman armies were devestated by the Allies and Arab revolt. The allies pushed north from Egypt, seizing Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria as well as Iraq. Although the Armenian population within the Ottomon Empire (Anatolia) was destroyed, Armenians survived in the areas under Russian control in the Caususes. Here the Armenians organized an independent republic which survived for a brief 2 years. The Armenians hoped for food assistance from Europe and America as well as diplomatic support. After World War I and failed efforts during the Russian Civil War, however, there was little interest in involvements in the isolated Caucauses. Some Armenians survived the Turkish genocide in the northwest of Turkey which had been occupied by Russia during World war I. And the Tsarist Army withdrew and desintegrated, they feared death at the hands of the Turks. These Armenians declared independence (May 28, 1918). The German imposed Treaty of Brest-Litovsk made Russian Armenia independent under German auspices (1918). The Treaty of Sevres ending World War I included provisions for n independent Armenia including Turkish and Russian Armenia. As the Turks and Soviets recovered from the war, they began to pressue the fledgling Armenian Republic. The Armenians were attacked from the north by the Red Army and the west by the Turks. The Bolsheviks gaining the upperhand in the Russin CivilWar proclaimed Russian Armenia a Soviet Republic. Much of the former Ottoman Armenia now with the Armenians drived out or killed was restored to Turkey (1921). This createdthe modern borders. Knowing what fate awaitmed them at the hands of the Turks, the Armenians accepted Russian protection, ending their independent existence

Soviet Armenia (1920-91)

The Red army succeeded in establishing Soviet control overv most of the Armenian Republic. Turkey managed to seize areas in the soutern regoin. The Soviets converted Armenia into the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) (1936). It was the smallest of the 15 Soviet republics. It consisted of the the northeastern 10 percent of historic Armenia. (The remaining 90 percent in eastern Turkey has been ethnically clensed of Armenians as a result of the Turkish genocide.) The Red Army stopped the NAZI armies in World War II tn the northern Casucasus so they did notvreach Armenia. Stalin managed to convince some 0.2 million from the Armenian diaspora to return to Soviet Armenia after World war II. Quite a number were arrested by the NKVD. Armenia suffered the same political oppression and economic mismanagement experienced in other areas of the Soviet empire. The Siviets pursued policies of supressing both the Armenian Church and nationalist sentiment (beyond folk dancing and coloful costumes) so the Soviet republic waa hardly a national homeland.

Modern Armenia (1991- )

The modern Republic of Armenia was created out of the Soviet Union. Armenia for much of its history havevbeen a subjugated people without an independent natiin sate. This changed as the Soviet Union was beginning to dusolve. Armenians voted overwealming for independence (September 23, 1991,). The new Republic of Armenia had a population of 3.4 million people. The country today is one of the few former Soviet republics (including Russia) that is no headed by a former communist. Armenia has a free press and vigorous multi-party system. Thanks to the Soviet emphasis on education and an Armenian cultural afinity for education, the country is the most hifglyv educated in the region. Unlike the neighnoring Muslim countries, there is no resistance to educating girls. It is ethnically homogeneous, with 93 percent Armenians. Minorities include: Russians (7 percent), Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks, and Azeris. The capital of Yerevan has a huge statue of Mother Armenia, sword in hand, facing nearby Turkey. The country is recovering from a severe earthquake that destroyed several cities and killed an estimated 50,000 people (1988). Armenia has been involved in a war with Azerbejan over the desputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (1988). This was a problem ingerited from the Soviet Union. The desplute resulted in part as a result of the ethnic patch work quill of the Soviet Union and Christian/Moslem differences. President Gorbechov attempted to resolve the problem before the disolution of the Soviet Union. Moslem Azerbaijan is much larger than Armenia and with Turkish assistance has engineered a blockade. This resulted in severe shortages of food, fuel, and other supplies. Aemenia received support from the 4 million Armenians in the Fiaspora. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan which wanted to break away from Azerbaijan. The two countries agreed to a truce (1994). The problen has, however, not been resolved and there has been bo peace agreement. Disagreements within the Armenian Goverment resulted in the resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrossian (1998). Prime Minister Robert Kocharian replaced him.

Biographies

At this time we have only one personal account about an Arminian.

Vartan Gregorian

Sources

Balakian, Peter. The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and the American Response (Harper Collins: 2003), 475p.






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Created: January 2, 2004
Last updated: 8:48 AM 10/15/2012