The Armenians trace their history to sixth century B.C. Throughout history Armenia has been a battlefield for many invaders, contending empires, and a bridge for many cultures and civilizations. During the past 2,700 years, Armenia was conquered by the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Byzantium, the Arabs, Seljuqs, Mongols, Tatars, the Ottoman Empire, Safavid Persia, and the Russian Empire.
Armenian kingdoms, principalities and even a short-lived empire (95-55 B.C.) managed to survive and thrive for some 1,700 years. Under various kings and princes, the Armenians developed a sophisticated culture, an original architecture and their own national alphabet. In the year 2001, the Armenians will celebrate the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as their religion. The Seljuq conquest of the last Armenian kingdom in the 11th century marked the beginning of an exodus of the Armenians from historical Armenia resulting in the advent of an Armenian Diaspora. As a result of this migration, an Armenian kingdom was established on the shores of the Mediterranean, in Cilicia. This kingdom, often an ally to the West during the period of the Crusades, absorbed Frankish culture. The kingdom fell in 1375, ending the independence of the Armenian Statehood.
From 1507 until 1829, historical Armenia was divided between the Ottoman and Persian Empires. After 1829, historical Armenia was divided amongst three empires - Ottoman, Persian, and Russian. From the 18th century on, the Armenians within the three empires clamored for economic and social reform, and political and cultural autonomy. The literary, artistic, religious and educational renaissance of the Armenians during the 19th century within both the Ottoman and the Russian Empires led to the formation of Armenian political parties and their energetic intervention for reforms, equality and cultural autonomy. The 1905 Russian revolution and the Young Turk revolution in 1908 raised the hopes of the Armenians for reform, and an opportunity to build a homeland in historical Armenia. These hopes were dashed as the Ottoman and the Russian Empires fought each other during World War I. The war brought the greatest calamity for its Armenians. Some 1,750,000 Armenians were deported into Syria and Mesopotamia by the Ottoman authorities. Subject to famine, disease and systematic massacres, most of them perished. This “ethnic cleansing” of the Armenians from their historical homeland led Raphael Lemkin, the father of the Genocide Treaty, to coin the new term of “genocide” in the 1930’s in order to describe this historical plight of the Assyrians and the Armenians as subjects of the first genocide of the 20th century.
In the aftermath of World War I, the Armenians formed a small independent republic. It lasted two years. Notwithstanding U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s recommendations through the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) to recreate an Armenia within the realm of its historical lands, it was vanquished by Turkey and was forcibly incorporated within the Soviet domain in 1920. It became one of the 16 Soviet republics constituting the Soviet Union. During the Soviet period the Armenian culture and economy flourished. However, Armenians suffered enormous losses during World War II and were subjected to periodic deportations ordered by Stalin’s regime. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Armenia reemerged as an independent republic, ethnically homogenous, though landlocked, and without energy. Because of the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, Armenia has been the subject of an economic blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan for the past three years. Today there are six million Armenians all over the world - three million in Armenia and the rest in Diaspora. There are an estimated one million Armenians in the U.S.A.
Professor of History, Brown University