The region and former kingdom of Asia Minor that was Greater Armenia lay east of the Euphrates River; Little, or Lesser, Armenia was west of the river. Armenia is generally understood to have included NE Turkey, the area covered by the modern republic of Armenia (the eastern part of ancient Armenia), and parts of Iranian Azerbaijan.
According to tradition, the kingdom was founded in the region of Lake Van by Haig, or Haik, a descendant of Noah. Modern scholars, however, believe that the Armenians crossed the Euphrates and came into Asia Minor in the 8th cent. B.C. Invading the Khaldian state called Urartu by the Assyrians, they intermarried with the indigenous peoples there and formed a homogeneous nation by the 6th cent. B.C. This state was a Persian satrapy from the late 6th cent. B.C. to the late 4th cent. B.C.
Conquered (330 B.C.) by Alexander the Great, it became after his death part of the Syrian kingdom of Seleucus I and his descendants. After the Roman victory over the Seleucids at Magnesia in 190 B.C., the Armenians declared (189 B.C.) their independence under a native dynasty, the Artashesids. The imperialistic ambitions of King Tigranes led to war with Rome; defeated Armenia became tributary to the republic after the campaigns of Lucullus (69 B.C.) and Pompey (67 B.C.). The Romans distinguished between Greater Armenia and Lesser Armenia, respectively east and west of the Euphrates. Tiridates, a Parthian prince, was confirmed as king of Armenia by Nero in A.D. 66. Christianity was introduced early; Armenia is reckoned the oldest Christian state.
In the 3d cent. A.D., Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanid, came to power in Persia and overran Armenia. The persecution of Christians created innumerable martyrs and kindled nationalism among the Armenians, particularly after the partition (387) of the kingdom between Persia and Rome. Attempts at independence were short-lived, as Armenia was the constant prey of Persians, Byzantines, White Huns, Khazars, and Arabs. From 886 to 1046 the kingdom enjoyed autonomy under native rulers, the Bagratids; it was then reconquered by the Byzantines, who promptly lost it to the Seljuk Turks following the Byzantine defeat at the battle of Manzikert in 1071.
With the Mongol invasion of the mid-11th cent., a number of Armenians, led by Prince Reuben, were pushed westward. In 1080 they established in Cilicia the kingdom of Little Armenia, which lasted until its conquest by the Mamluks in 1375. Shortly afterward (1386–94) the Mongol conqueror Timur seized Greater Armenia and massacred a large part of the population. After Timur's death (1405) the Ottoman Turks, whom Timur had defeated in 1402, invaded Armenia and by the 16th cent. held all of it. Under Ottoman rule the Armenians, although often persecuted and always discriminated against because of their religion, nevertheless acquired a vital economic role. Constantinople and all other large cities of the Ottoman Empire had colonies of Armenian merchants and financiers. Eastern Armenia was chronically disputed between Turkey and Persia.
Russia acquired Armenia from Persia in 1828 and made it into a province. The Congress of Berlin (1878; see Berlin, Congress of) also assigned the Kars, Ardahan, and Batumi districts to Russia, which restored Kars and Ardahan to Turkey in 1921. The Armenian people, whose 19th-century population in the Ottoman Empire was approximately two million, underwent one of the worst trials in their history between 1894 and 1915. Their attempted extermination was put into action under Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II and was sporadically but regularly resumed. At the beginning of the genocide of 1915 the Armenians were accused of aiding the Russian invaders during World War I. Subsequently, more than 600,000 Armenians were killed by Turkish soldiers or died of starvation during their forced deportation to Syria and Mesopotamia. The Armenians rose in revolt at Van, which they held until relieved by Russian troops.
After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Russian Armenia joined Azerbaijan and Georgia to form the anti-Bolshevik Transcaucasian Federation, which, however, was dissolved in 1918. That same year the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between Soviet Russia and Germany made Russian Armenia an independent republic under German auspices. It was superseded by the Treaty of Sèvres (see Sèvres, Treaty of; 1920), which created an independent Greater Armenia, comprising both the Turkish and the Soviet Russian parts.
In the same year, however, the Communists gained control of Russian Armenia and proclaimed it a Soviet republic. In 1921 a Russo-Turkish Treaty established those countries' common boundary, thus ending Armenian independence. From 1922 to 1936, Armenia was combined with Azerbaijan and Georgia to form the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, after which it became a separate constituent republic of the USSR. Until the late 20th cent. its fortunes remained tied to those of the Soviet Union.
A devastating earthquake struck Armenia in 1988, killing thousands of people and destroying most of the republic's infrastructure. Armenia had been relatively stable as a republic of the Soviet Union, but the dissolution of the USSR allowed nationalism and historical conflicts to rekindle. In mid-1988, fighting broke out between ethnic Armenians and Azeris in the Armenian-dominated Nagorno-Karabakh region of neighboring Azerbaijan, leading to Armenian demands that Azerbaijan cede the region to Armenia. Armenia declared itself independent of the USSR in Aug., 1991, and Levon Ter-Petrossian was elected as first president of the republic. Armenia then joined the Commonwealth of Independent States. Since the breakup of the USSR, Armenia has had close relations with Russia.
Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh led to war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 1992, with heavy casualties. A blockade of Armenia by Azerbaijan, the country through which most of Armenia's supply routes run, caused economic hardship. By early 1994, Armenian forces had gained control of the enclave and adjoining Azerbaijani territory to the region's south and west. A cease-fire negotiated with Russian mediation in May, 1994, has generally been observed by both sides, but a final resolution to the conflict was not achieved and border clashes have occurred at times. Ongoing attempts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh situation have proved difficult, and Armenia's economy has been hurt by Turkish and Azerbaijaini blockades, making the nation somewhat dependent on Russia.
In 1995 voters approved a new constitution that strengthened the president's powers; that year Armenia signed an agreement with Russia that granted Russia a 25-year lease on the military base at Kumayri. Ter-Petrossian was reelected in 1996 but resigned in 1998, and Robert Kocharian was elected president. In Oct., 1999, terrorists stormed the parliament in an apparent coup attempt, killing the prime minister and other officials before being apprehended.
Kocharian was reelected in Mar., 2003, after a runoff election that foreign election observers said was marked by widespread fraud. Inspired by the demonstrations in Georgia that led to a change in government there, Armenian opposition leaders called for united protests against Kocharian in Apr., 2004. Accusing the opposition of attempting to destabilize the country, the government responded with arrests and legal actions against them, as well as the use of thugs to break up opposition rallies. Large demonstrations (April–June) failed, however, to martial sufficient pressure against the president. Opposition parties continued to boycott parliament, albeit on a selective basis after Sept., 2005. A referendum in Nov., 2005, that was boycotted by the opposition approved constitutional amendments that diminished the president's powers and expanded civil rights, but European observers and the opposition both questioned the reported results, saying there was ballot fraud.
A prosecutor-general's investigation of government privatizations in 2001–4 criticized many for involving noncompetitive, arbitrary sales that cost the country revenue, but despite the release of the report in Apr., 2006, the practice continued. Tensions between Georgia and Russia in 2006 adversely affected some Armenian businesses when Russia closed its transport links with Georgia, which are also used for Armenian trade with Russia. Parliamentary elections in May, 2007, resulted in a majority for the parties aligned with the president; a three-party legislative coalition was established the following month. Despite opposition claims of electoral fraud, European observers called the balloting as an improvement over the 2003 elections.
In the Feb., 2008, presidential election, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan defeated former president Ter-Petrossian, but Ter-Petrossian denounced the result as rigged. European observers initially said that the elections generally followed democratic standards, but a second assessment three weeks later documented significant failings in the election. The election led to opposition protests in the capital, deadly clashes between security forces and demonstrators on Mar. 1–2, arrests of Ter-Petrossian supporters, and a three-week state of emergency in March.
In Sept., 2008, there was a warming in relations with Turkey when Turkish President Abdullah Gül visited Armenia; in Apr., 2009, the two nations agreed in principle to normalize relations, and protocols calling for normalizing relations were signed in Oct., 2009. The protocols, however, were not ratified by either nation. Turkish legislators resisted approving them without progress toward a settlement in Armenia's conflict with Azerbaijan, and Armenia suspended its ratification process in 2010.
Meanwhile, the parliament approved (June, 2009) a limited amnesty affecting many who were convicted as a result of the events of Mar., 2008. In Aug., 2010, the lease on Russia's military base at Kumayri was extended until 2044. The May, 2012, parliamentary elections resulted in a win for the president's Republican party, which secured a majority; international observers again noted problems with campaign violations and interference by poltical parties.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: CIS and Baltic Political Geography