Armenia and Armenians

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Armenia is a landlocked, mountainous plateau that rises to an average of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914 to 2,134 meters) above sea level. It extends to the Anatolian plateau in the west, the Iranian plateau in the southwest, the plains of the South Caucasus in the north, and the Karadagh Mountains and the Moghan Steppe in the south and southeast. The Armenian highlands stretch roughly between longitudes 37° and 48.5° east, and 38° and 41° north latitudes, with a total area of some 150,000 square miles (388,500 square kilometers). In present-day terms, historic Armenia comprises most of eastern Turkey, the northeastern corner of Iran, parts of the Azerbaijan and Georgian Republics, as well as the entire territory of the Armenian Republic.

geology, geography, and climate

The Kur (Kura) and Arax (Araxes) Rivers separate the Armenian highlands in the east from the lowlands that adjoin the Caspian Sea. The Pontus Mountains, which connect to the Lesser Caucasus mountain chain, separate Armenia from the Black Sea and Georgia and form the region's northern boundary. The Taurus Mountains, which join the upper Zagros Mountains and the Iranian Plateau, form the southern boundary of Armenia and separate it from Syria, Kurdistan, and Iran. The western boundary of Armenia has generally been between the western Euphrates River and the northern stretch of the Anti-Taurus Mountains. Armenians also established communities east of the Kur as far as the Caspian Sea, and states west of the Euphrates as far as Cilicia on the Mediterranean Sea.

Lying on the Anatolian fault, the Armenian plateau is subject to seismic tremors. Major earthquakes have been recorded there since the ninth century, some of which have destroyed entire cities. The most recent earthquake in the region, occurring on December 7, 1988, killed some 25,000 people and leveled numerous communities.

Some fifty million years ago, the geological structure of Armenia underwent many changes, creating great mountains and high, now-inactive, volcanic peaks throughout the plateau. The larger peaks of Mount Ararat (16,946 feet; 5,279 meters), Mount Sipan (14,540 feet; 4,432 meters), and Mount Aragats (13,410 feet; 4,087 meters), and the smaller peaks of Mount Ararat (12,839 feet; 3,913 meters), and Mount Bingol (10,770 feet; 3,283 meters), from which the Arax and the Euphrates Rivers originate, are some examples. Tufa, limestone, basalt, quartz, and obsidian form the main composition of the terrain. The mountains also contain abundant deposits of mineral ores, including copper, iron, zinc, lead, silver, and gold. There are also large deposits of salt, borax, and obsidian, as well as volcanic tufa stone, which is used for construction.

Armenia's mountains give rise to numerous rivers, practically all unnavigable, which have created deep gorges, ravines, and waterfalls. The longest is the Arax River, which starts in the mountains of western Armenia, joins the Kur River, then empties into the Caspian Sea. The Arax flows through the plain of Ararat, which is the site of the major Armenian cities. Another important river is the Euphrates, which splits into western and eastern branches. Both branches flow westward, then turn south toward Mesopotamia. The Euphrates was the ancient boundary dividing what became Lesser and Greater Armenia. The Kur and the Tigris and their tributaries flow briefly through Armenia. Two other rivers, the Akhurian, a tributary of the Arax, and the Hrazdan, which flows from Lake Sevan, provide water to an otherwise parched and rocky landscape devoid of forests.

A number of lakes are situated in the Armenian highlands, the deepest and most important of which is Lake Van in present-day Turkey. Van's waters are charged with borax, and hence undrinkable. Lake Sevan is the highest in elevation, lying some 6,300 feet (1,917 meters) above sea level. It is found in the present-day Armenian Republic.

Armenia lies in the temperate zone and has a variety of climates. In general, winters are long and can be severe, while summers are usually short and very hot. Some of the plains, because of their lower altitudes, are better suited for agriculture, and have fostered population centers throughout the centuries. The variety of temperatures has enabled the land to support a great diversity of flora and fauna common to western Asia and Transcaucasia. The generally dry Armenian climate has necessitated artificial irrigation throughout history. The soil, which is volcanic, is quite fertile and, with sufficient water, is capable of intensive farming. Farming is prevalent in the lower altitudes, while sheep and goat herding dominates the highlands.

Although Armenians have been known as artisans and merchants, the majority of Armenians, until modern times, were engaged primarily in agriculture. In addition to cereal crops, Armenia grew vegetables, various oil seeds, and especially fruit. Armenian fruit has been famous from ancient times, with the pomegranate and apricot, referred to by the Romans as the Armenian plum, being the most renowned.

the earliest armenians

According to legend, the Armenians are the descendants of Japeth, a son of Noah, who settled in the Ararat valley. This legend places the Armenians in a prominent position within the Biblical tradition. In this tradition, the Armenians, as the descendants of Noah (the "second Adam") are like the Jews, chosen and blessed by God. Greek historians, writing centuries after the appearance of the Armenians in their homeland, have left other explanations

of the origins of the Armenian people. Two of the most quoted versions are provided by Herodotus, the fifth century b.c.e. historian, and Strabo, the geographer and historian writing at the end of the first century b.c.e. According to Herodotus, the Armenians had originally lived in Thrace, from where they crossed into Phrygia, in Asia Minor. They first settled in Phrygia, and then gradually moved west of the Euphrates River to what became Armenia. Their language resembled that of the Phrygians, while their names and dress was close to the Medes.

According to Strabo, the Armenians came from two directions: one group from the west, or Phrygia; and the other from the south, or the Zagros region. In other words, according to the ancient Greeks, the Armenians were not the original inhabitants of the region. They appear to have arrived sometime between the Phrygian migration to Asia Minor that followed the collapse of the Hittite Empire in the thirteenth century b.c.e., and the Cimmerian invasion of the Kingdom of Urartu (existed ca. 900590 b.c.e.) in the eighth century b.c.e. In 782 b.c.e., the Urartian king, Argishti I, built the fortress-city of Erebuni (present-day Erevan, capital of Armenia). The decline of Urartu enabled the Armenians to establish themselves as the primary occupants of the region. Xenophon, who passed through Armenia in 401 b.c.e., recorded that, by his time, the Armenians had absorbed most of the local inhabitants.

the linguistic evidence

Modem archeological finds in the Caucasus and Anatolia have presented sketchy and incomplete evidence of the possible origins of the Armenians. Until the 1980s, scholars unanimously agreed that the Armenians were an Indo-European group who either came into the area with the proto-Iranians from the Aral Sea region, or arrived from the Balkans with the Phrygians after the fall of the Hittites. Some scholars maintain that Hay or Hai (pronounced high ), the Armenian word for "Armenian," is derived from Hai-yos (Hattian). Hence, it is argued, the Armenians adopted the name of that empire as their own during their migration over Hittite lands. Others maintain that the Armeno-Phrygians crossed into Asia Minor, took the name Muskhi, and concentrated in the Arme-Shupria region east of the Euphrates River, where non-Indo-European words became part of their vocabulary. They stayed in the region until the Cimmero-Scythian invasions altered the power structure. The Armenians then managed to consolidate their rule over Urartu and, in time, assimilated most of its original inhabitants to form the Armenian nation. According to this theory, the names designating Armenia and Armenians derive from the Perso-Greek: Arme-Shupria.

More recent scholarship offers yet another possibilitythat the Armenians were not later immigrants, but were among the original inhabitants of the region. Although this notion gained some credibility since the mid-1980s, there remain a number of unresolved questions: What was the spoken language of the early Armenians? Are the Armenians members of a non-Indo-European, Caucasian-speaking group who later adopted an Indo-European dialect, or are they, as many believe, one of the native Indo-European speaking groups? A number of linguists maintain that the Armenians, whom they identify with the Hayasa, together with the Hurrians, Kassites, and others, were indigenous Anatolian or Caucasian people who lived in the region until the arrival of the Indo-Europeans. The Armenians adopted some of the vocabulary of these Indo-European arrivals. This theory explains why Armenian is a unique branch of the Indo-European language tree and may well explain the origin of the word Hayastan ("Armenia" in the Armenian language). As evidence, these scholars point to Hurrian suffixes, the absence of gender, and other linguistic data. Archeologists add that the images of Armenians on a number of sixth-century Persian monuments depict physical features similar to those of other people of the Caucasus.

Other scholars, also relying on linguistic evidence, believe that Indo-European languages may have originated in the Caucasus and that the Armenians, as a result of pressure from large empires such as the Hittite and Assyrian, merged with neighboring tribes and adopted some of the Semitic and Kartvelian vocabulary and legends. They eventually formed a federation called Nairi, which became part of the united state of Urartu. The decline and fall of Urartu enabled the Armenian component to achieve predominance and, by the sixth century b.c.e., establish a separate entity, which the Greeks and Persians, the new major powers of the ancient world, called Armenia.

Further linguistic and archeological studies may one day explain the exact origins of the Indo-Europeans and that of the Armenian people. As of the early twenty-first century, Western historians maintain that Armenians arrived from Thrace and Phrygia, while academics from Armenia argue in favor of the more nationalistic explanation; that is, Armenians are the native inhabitants of historic Armenia.

centuries of conquerors

Located between East and West, Armenians from the very beginning were frequently subject to invasions and conquest. The Armenians adopted features of other civilizations, but managed to maintain their own unique culture. Following the demise of Urartu, Armenia was controlled by the Medes, and soon after became part of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. The word Armenia is first mentioned as Armina on the Behistun Rock, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, which was inscribed by Darius I in about 520 b.c.e. Armenia formed one of the Persian satrapies governed by the Ervandids (Orontids). Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia enabled the Ervandids to become autonomous and to resist the Seleucids. The Roman defeat of the Seleucids in 190 b.c.e. encouraged Artahses, a general of the Ervandids, to take over the land and establish the first Armenian dynasty, the Artashesid (Artaxiad). in 189 b.c.e.

The Artashesids faced Rome to the west and Parthia to the east. During the first century b.c.e., when both powers were otherwise engaged, Armenia, with the help of Pontus, managed to extend its territory and for a short time, under Tigranes the Great, had an empire stretching from the Caspian to the Mediterranean. By the first century of the common era, however, the first Armenian dynasty came to an end, and Armenia fell under successive Roman and Parthian rule. The struggle between Rome and Parthia to install their own government in Armenia was finally settled by the peace of Rhandeia, in 64 c.e. The brother of the Persian king became king of Armenia, but had to travel to Rome and receive his crown from Nero. Originally Parthian, the Arshakids (Arsacids) became a distinctly Armenian dynasty. During their four-century rule, Armenia became the first state to adopt Christianity and developed its own, unique alphabet.

The accession of the Sasanids in Persia posed new problems for Armenia. The Sasanids sought a revival of the first Persian Empire. They eradicated Hellenism and established Zoroastrianism as a state religion. The Sasanids not only attacked Armenia, but also fought Rome. By 387, the two powers partitioned Armenia. Four decades later, the second Armenian dynasty came to an end. Another partition occurred between Persia and the eastern Roman Byzantine empire (Byzantium) in 591. Armenia was ruled by local magnates who answered to Persian or Byzantine governors. Despite all this, Armenians not only maintained their national character, but also produced major historical and religious works and translations. Their church separated itself from Rome and Constantinople and assumed a national character under its supreme patriarch, the catholicos.

The advent of Islam and the arrival of the Arabs had a major impact on Armenia. The Arabs soon accepted a new Armenian dynasty, the Bagratids, who ruled parts of Armenia from 885 to 1045. Cities, trade, and architecture revived, and a branch of the Bagratids established the Georgian Bagratid house, which ruled parts of Georgia until the nineteenth century. The Bagratids, the last Armenian kingdom in historic Armenia, finally succumbed to the Byzantines, who under the Macedonian dynasty had experienced a revival and incorporated Armenia into their empire. By destroying the Armenian buffer zone, however, the Byzantines had to face the Seljuk Turks. In 1071, the Turks defeated the Byzantines in the battle of Manzikert and entered Armenia.

The Turkish invasion differed in one significant respect from all other previous invasions of Armenia: The Turkish nomads remained in Armenia and settled on the land. During the next four centuries, the Seljuk and the Ottoman Turks started the Turkification of Anatolia. The Armenians and Greeks slowly lost their dominance and became a minority. Emigration, war, and forced conversions depleted the Anatolian and Transcaucasian Christian population. Mountainous Karabagh, Siunik (Zangezur), Zeitun, and Sasun peoples, and a few other pockets of settlement were the only regions where an Armenian nobility and military leaders kept a semblance of autonomy. The rest of the Armenian population, mostly peasants, lived under Turkish or Kurdish rule. A number of Armenian military leaders who had left for Byzantium settled in Cilicia. The arrival of the Crusaders enabled these Armenians to establish a kingdom in 1199. This kingdom became a center of east-west trade and, thanks to the Mongol campaigns against the Muslims, lasted until 1375, when the Egyptian Mamluks overrun the region. From then until 1918, historic Armenia was first divided between the Persians and Ottomans, and then between the Ottomans and Russians. Although Armenian diasporas were established in western Europe, South Asia, and Africa, the largest and most influential communities rose in the major cities of the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian empires.

armenians in turkey and russia

Following the Russian conquest of Transcaucasia, the Armenians in Russia adopted Western ideas and began their national and political revival. Soon after, the Armenians in Turkey also began a cultural renaissance. Armenians in Baku and Tiflis (Tbilisi) wielded economic power, and Armenians in Moscow and St. Petersburg associated with government officials. Armenian political parties emerged in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Beginning as reformist groups in Van (Turkey), the Armenians soon began to copy the programs of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and the Russian Populists (Narodniks ), the Hnchakian Social Democratic Party, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun ).

Armenian political activities angered both the Russians and the Turks. The Russians issued a decree in 1903 which confiscated the property of the Armenian Church. They arrested and executed some leaders and began a general Russification program. The Armenian armed response and the 1905 revolution abrogated the decree. Meanwhile, the Turkish sultan Abdul-Hamid II ordered Armenian massacres from 1895 to 1896. Armenian hopes were raised when, in 1908, the Young Turks overthrew the sultan and promised a state where all citizens would be equal. Unfortunately, the Young Turks became increasingly nationalistic. Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism, combined with chauvinism and social Darwinism, eroded the Armeno-Turkish cooperation. The defeat of the Turkish army in the winter campaign of 1914 and 1915 gave them the excuse to rid Turkish Armenia of its Armenian population. Some 1.5 million Armenians perished in the first genocide of the twentieth century. The small number of survivors, mostly women and children, managed to reach Syria or Russia.

The Russian revolution and civil war initially established a Transcaucasian Federated Republic in 1918. On May 26 of that year, however, Georgia, under German protection, pulled out of the federation. Azerbaijan, under Turkish protection, followed the next day. On May 28, Armenia was forced to declare its independence. The small, backward, and mountainous territory of Yerevan Gubernya housed the new nation. Yerevan, with a population of thirty thousand, was one-tenth the size of Tiflis or Baku. It had no administrative, economic, or political structure. The affluent Armenians all lived outside the borders of the new republic. A government composed of Dashnak party members controlled the new state.

Armenia was immediately attacked by Turkey, but resisted long enough for World War I to end. The republic also had border disputes over historic Armenian enclaves that had ended up as parts of Georgian and Azerbaijani republics. Despite a blockade, terrible economic and public health problems, and starvation, the Armenians hoped that the Allied promises for the restoration of historic Armenia would be carried out. The Allies, however, had their own agenda, embodied in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Armenia was forgotten in the peace conferences that divided parts of the Ottoman Empire between the French and the British. Although the United States, led by President Woodrow Wilson, tried its best to help Armenia, the American mandate did not materialize. Armenia was invaded by both republican Turkey, under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk), and by the Bolsheviks. In December 1920, it became a Soviet state.

armenia under the soviets

Bolshevik rule began harshly for Armenia. Armenian political leaders were either arrested or fled to Iran. Not only did Karabagh and Ganja remain part of Azerbaijan, but Nakhichevan, which had always been part of Persian and Russian Armenia, together with the adjoining district of Sharur, was handed over to Azerbaijan as well. The Armenian regions of Akhalkalaki remained part of Georgia. Armenian regions of Kars and Ardahan, captured by Russia in 1878, were returned to Turkey. As a final slap, Mt. Ararat, which had never been part of Turkish Armenia, was given to Turkey. Armenia thus became the junior member of the Soviet Transcaucasian Federation.

The history of Soviet Armenia paralleled that of the Soviet Union. Armenians experienced the harshness of war communism, and breathed a sigh of relief during the years of New Economic Policy (NEP). Mountainous Karabakh, with its predominantly Armenian population, was accorded autonomy within Azerbaijan. Nakhichevan, separated from Azerbaijan by Zangezur, remained part of the constituent republic of Azerbaijan, but as an autonomous republic.

The task of the Armenian communists was to build a new Armenia that would attract immigrants from Tiflis, Baku, and Russia and thus compete with the large Armenian diaspora. Modernization meant urbanization. The small, dusty town of Yerevan was transformed into a large city that, by 1990, had more than one million inhabitants. Armenia, which had had primarily an agricultural economy, was transformed into an industrial region. Antireligious propaganda was strong, and women were encouraged to break the male domination of society. Ancient traditions were ignored and the new order praised. The idea of korenizatsiia (indigenization) enabled Armenian communists to defend Armenian national aspirations within the communist mold. Like their counterparts in other national republics, Armenian leaders were purged by Josef Stalin and Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria between 1936 and 1938. Beria installed his protege, Grigor Arutiunov, who ruled Armenia until 1953.

The so-called Thaw begun under Nikita Khrushchev (19531964) benefited Armenia. Anastas Mikoyan came to Armenia to rehabilitate a number of Armenian authors and to signal the end of the Stalin era. After 1956, therefore, Armenians built new cadre of national leaders and were empowered to run their local ministries. For the next thirty-five years, Armenia was ruled by only four heads of state. Armenian industrial output surpassed that of Georgia and Azerbaijan. Seventy percent of Armenians lived in urban centers, and more than 80 percent had a secondary education or higher, making them one of the best educated groups in the USSR, along with the Jews and ethnic Russians.

Armenians vastly outnumbered all other ethnic groups living in their republic, comprising 98 percent of the population. Ironically, however, Armenians also had the largest numbers living outside their republic. More than 1.5 million lived in the other Soviet republics, and more than 2.5 million had participated in the diaspora. After the Jews, Armenians were the most dispersed people in the USSR. A million lived in Georgia and Azerbaijan alone.

The two decades of the Leonid Brezhnev era were years of benign neglect that enabled the Armenian elite to become more independent and nationalistic in character. Removed from the governing elite, Armenian dissident factions emerged to demand major changes. They even managed to remove the Armenian Communist chief, Anton Kochinian, on charges of corruption, and replaced him with a new leader, Karen Demirjian. Ironically, much of the dissent was not directed against the Russians, but against the Turks and the Azeris. Russia was viewed as a traditional friend, the one power that could redress the wrongs of the past and reinstate Armenia's lost lands. Since Armenian nationalism did not threaten the USSR, the Armenians were permitted, within reason, to flourish. The fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian genocide (1965) was commemorated in Armenia and a monument to the victims was erected. The status of Karabakh was openly discussed. Armenian protests shelved the idea, proposed during the 1978 revision of the Constitution of the USSR, of making Russian the official language of all republics.

Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika had a major impact on Armenia. Russia anticipated problems in the Ukraine and the Baltic states, but no one predicted the great eruption of Armenian nationalism, primarily over Karabakh. On February 28, 1988, the Karabakh Soviet passed a resolution for the transference of Karabakh to Armenia. Gigantic peaceful demonstrations followed in Yerevan. The Azeris reacted by carrying out pogroms against the Armenians in Azerbaijan. Gorbachev's inaction soured Russo-Armenian relations, and dissident leaders, known as the Karabakh Committee, gained credibility with the public.

In May 1988, Demirjian was replaced by Suren Harutiunian, who promised to take the Karabakh issue to the Supreme Soviet. Moscow rejected the transfer, and a crackdown began in Karabakh and Yerevan. The terrible earthquake of December 7, 1988, Moscow's inept handling of the crisis, and Azeri attacks upon Karabakh resulted in something extraordinary. Armenians, the most pro-Russian of all ethnic groups, demanded independence. Harutiunian resigned, and after declaring its intent to separate from the USSR, the Armenian National Movement, under the leadership of Levon Ter-Petrossian, a member of the Karabakh Committee, assumed power in Armenia. On September 21, 1991, the Armenian parliament unanimously declared a sovereign state outside the Soviet Union and two days later, on September 23, Armenia declared its independence.

independent, post-soviet armenia

On October 16, 1991, barely a month after independence, Armenians went to the polls. Levon Ter-Petrossian, representing the Armenian National Movement (ANM), won 83 percent of the vote. Neither the Dashnaks nor the Communists could accept their defeat and, ironically, they found common cause against Levon Ter-Petrossian's government.

Receiving a clear mandate did not mean that the government of Levon Ter-Petrossian would be free from internal or external pressures. The major internal problem was the virtual blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan, exacerbated by the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and the earthquake zone. Other domestic issues involved the implementation of free-market reforms, the establishment of democratic governmental structures, and the privatization of land. The external concerns involved future relations with Russia, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran. The immediate concern, however, was the conflict with Azerbaijan over mountainous Karabakh and the political uncertainties in Georgia, which contained 400,000 Armenians.

Ter-Petrossian attempted to assure Turkey that Armenia had no territorial claims against it and that it desired neighborly diplomatic and economic relations. Rather than espousing an ideologically dogmatic and biased outlook, Armenia was to have a pragmatic and flexible foreign policy. In the long run, however, Armenian efforts to establish political and economic relations with Turkey did not materialize. The Turks not only maintained their blockade of Armenia, but also insisted that the issue of Karabakh had to be resolved before anything else could be discussed. The Azeri blockade had resulted in food and fuel shortages and, since 1989, had virtually halted supplies for earthquake reconstruction. The closing down of the Medzamor Nuclear Energy Plant in 1989 meant that Armenian citizens, including the many refugees, would have to face many difficult winters.

The presidential election of 1996 was marred by accusations of fraud. A broad coalition supported Vazgen Manoukian, the candidate of the National Democratic Union, but the election results gave Ter-Petrossian a victory with 51 percent of the vote. The opposition accused the ruling party of massive frauds in the counting of the ballots. Foreign observers cited some irregularities, but concluded that these did not significantly affect the outcome. Continued rallies, riots, and some shootings resulted in arrests and the ban on all public gatherings for a short time. By early 1998, a major split over Karabakh had occurred between Levon Ter-Petrossian and members of his own cabinet. Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, Defense Minister Vazgen Sargisian, and the Interior and National Security Minister Serge Sargisian joined forces against the president, who was forced to resign. Kocharian succeeded him.

The parliamentary elections of May 1999 reshaped the balance of power. The Unity Coalition, led by Vazgen Sargisian, and the People's Party of Armenia, led by Karen Demirjian, won the elections and left Kocharian without any control over the parliamentary majority. Sargisian became prime minister, and Demirjian became the speaker of Parliament. They removed Serge Sargisian, a Karabakhi and Kocharian's closest ally, from his post of minister of the interior. Karen Demirjian, meanwhile, became the speaker of Parliament. But on October 27, five assassins entered the building of the National Assembly of Armenia and killed Sargisian and Demirjian, as well as two deputy speakers, two ministers, and four deputies. With the government in the hands of Kocharian, the economy at a standstill, and the Karabakh conflict unresolved, Armenians by the tens of thousands voted with their feet and emigrated from the country.

See also: armenian apostolic church; azerbaijan and azeris; caucasus; dashnaktsutiun; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; nagorno-karabakh; ter-petrossian, levon


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Armenia and Armenians

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