Armenians are direct descendants of Noah, survivor of the Biblical flood. According to Genesis, …the boat came to rest on a mountain in the Ararat range. Ararat, located in the heart of Armenia, was a Holy Mountain for the peoples of the ancient world. Many ancient scriptures placed the Biblical Garden of Eden in the Land of Armenia also called the Land of Ararat.
The oldest myths reflect the wars of ancient Armenians against the neighboring Assyrians. Hayk, considered the patriarch of the Armenian people, led his army to defeat the Assyrian giant Baeleus. By approximately 2100 BC, a prototype of the first Armenian state was founded. Even now, Armenians call themselves Hye (pronounced high), and their country – Hayk or Hayastan, in honor of Hayk. The Hittite scripts also mention a Hayasa country. Meanwhile, the Assyrian cuneiform writings designate Armenia as Urartu (Arartu), which means Ararat.
The Old Testament also associates Armenia with the Mount Ararat (the Kingdom of Ararat).
In ancient times, Armenia was equally associated with the rivers Tigris, Euphrates, Araks and Kura. That is why the neighboring Assyrians also called Armenia, Nairi, standing for Country of Rivers.
From 9-7 BC on the territory of Armenia was one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world, the Urartian, or Van Kingdom. The first cities with systemized layouts and landscape terra-forming features started to emerge (Erebuni, Teyshebaini, Tushpa, Argishtikhinili, etc.).
History attributes the building of Van, one of the most ancient Armenian cities at the shore of the salt lake of the same name, to the legendary Semiramis. Another ancient Armenian city is Yerevan, capital of today’s Republic of Armenia. Its foundation dates from 782 BC, which is reported in a cuneiform writing of King Argiste.
Under King Tigranes II the Great, from 95 to 55 B.C. Armenia thrived, ascendeing to a pinnacle of power unique in its history and became the strongest state in Asia Minor. During this period, the empire of Tigran II stretched from the Caspian Sea in the East to the Mediterranean Sea in West, and from Mesopotamia in the South to the river Kura in North
The Armenian king Trdat III in 301 AD declared Christianity the state religion of Armenia, thus making Armenia the first Christian nation in the world, with Gregory the Illuminator as the first head (Catholicos) of the Armenian Apostolic Church. During the rule of the Bagratuni dynasty Armenia reached its peak in political, social and cultural development. The capital of Armenia of that period, Ani, was a magnificent city, known as “a city of one thousand and one churches.”
Before the fall of the Bagratuni kingdom a number of Armenian princes managed to escape from Armenia and found refuge in Cilicia, a region at the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, where Armenians were the majority of population. In 1080 their leader, prince Ruben, founded in Cilicia a new kingdom, which became known as Cilician Armenia, or Armenia Minor (Little Armenia). The last Armenian king of Cilicia, Levon VI Lousinian, emigrated to France, in the late 14th century, where his grave still can be seen in the St. Denis Cathedral of Paris. The title “King of Armenia” passed to the kings of Cyprus, thence to the Venetians, and was later claimed by the house of Savoy.
After the fall of the Cilician Armenia, in the late 14th centruy, the historical Armenian homeland, or Greater Armenia, was subject to various Muslim warlords, and eventually was divided between the Ottoman Empire (Western Armenia) and Persia (Eastern Armenia). Several Armenian principalities managed to preserve their independence or autonomy. Being for centuries at the edge of physical annihilation, Armenians nevertheless managed to preserve and develop their national, religious and cultural identity. Apart from architecture, Armenians successfully manifested themselves in literature, painting, sculpture and music. Armenians were the 10th nation in the world to put their language in print.
In 1828 the Russian Empire captured Eastern Armenia from Persia. Contact with liberal thought in Russia and Western Europe was a factor in the Armenian cultural renaissance of the 19th century. In the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians initially benefited with the rest of the population from the measures of reform known as the Tanzimat, and in 1863 a special Armenian constitution was recognized by the Ottoman government. These liberties were however unknown outside Constantinople, and the condition of Armenians in Anatolia was unbearable. A so-called “Armenia Question” emerged in the relations between the Ottoman Empire – “the sick man of Europe” – and European superpowers. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, in which Eastern Armenians had taken part, Russia insisted in the Treaty of San Stefano that reforms be carried out among the sultan’s Armenian subjects and that their protection against the Kurds be guaranteed. This demand was softened at the Congress of Berlin, but the “Armenian Question” remained a factor in international politics, with Great Britain taking on the role of Turkey’s protector until the end of the century.
During the reign of sultan Abdul hamid Armenian massacres became a common phenomenon. In 1895, after Abdul hamid had felt compelled to promise Britain, France, and Russia that he would carry out reforms, large-scale systematic massacres took place in the Armenian provinces. In 1896 more massacres broke out in the capital and in Cilicia.
After coming to power in Constantinople, the Young Turks made the policy of “No Armenians – no Armenian Question” their main priority. Taking advantage of the favourable political conditions created by the World War I, they began the “final resolution of the Armenian question” on April 24th, 1915, by executing hundreds of Armenian intellectuals in Constantinople without trial. In Armenian provinces of Eastern Anatolia all Armenian males aged 15-62 have been conscripted, disarmed and executed. Defenseless Armenian women, children and the elderly were deported to the Syrian desert, Der-el-Zor; most of them were brutally murdered on the way by Turkish soldiers or Kurdish nomads, or died of starvation and exhaustion. More than one and half million Armenians, i.e. 80% of the Armenian population of Western Armenia, perished in this first Genocide of the twentieth century. Several hundred thousand survivors of the Genocide found refuge in neighboring counties, laying the foundation of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora. By the year 1923 Western Armenia was completely de-Armenized, and successfully incorporated into the newly formed Turkish Republic.
Parts of historical Armenia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire after the collapse of these two empires in the wake of the First World War (1918-1920). Soon after, the nation was conquered by the Red Army and became a Soviet Republic.
The 71 years of Soviet rule in Armenia were a period of relative security, of great economic development, and of cultural and educational achievements. But during the same period the government of Soviet Azerbaijan was conducting a systematic policy of removing the Armenians from Nakhidjevan, which today has no Armenian population whatsoever. The same policy was less effective in Nagorno-Karabakh, where Armenians remained the overwhelming majority. In February 1988 a peaceful, democratic movement for the reunification with Armenia began in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the regional Assembly of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region adopted a resolution seeking transfer of Karabakh from Azerbaijan to Armenia, as a realization of the right of the peoples under alien domination to self-determination. The Azeri side responded by Armenian massacres in the Azeri cities of Sumgait, Kirovabad and Baku, transforming the peaceful movement into a violent conflict, and lately committing an act of military aggression against the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh. The newly proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh managed to defeat the invading Azeri forces and to create a security zone around its territory and a humanitarian corridor to Armenia. The negotiations on the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh are being conducted within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, through so-called Minsk Group, co-chaired by USA, Russian Federation and France.
Armenia restored its full independence on September 21, 1991, and became a member of the United Nations on March 2, 1992. On January 25, 2001, Armenia also became a member of the Council of Europe.