Armenia: A Land of Century-Long and Rich History
Armenians are one of the ancient nations in Western Asia, formed within the territory of Armenian Highland encompassing a large area between Anti-Taurus and eastern slopes of Artsakh Mountain (Karabagh Highland), i.e. between the mountains of Armenian Taurus and East-Pontic, Trialet and Mosk. Armenian plateau occupies approximately 360 thousands sq km. In the center of the Upland stands Biblical Mount Ararat (Masis, 5165). Mount Aragats (4090 meters) is the highest peak of the current Armenian Republic. The climate here is severely continental – with harsh winters and stuffy summers. The flora and fauna of Armenian Highland are rich.
Armenian Highland was firstly inhabited as soon as at the Stone Age (Paleolithic era). Due to its rich mineral resources Armenia very soon became not only a large metallurgical center but also copper, bronze, gold and silver exporter. At the age of rapid development of bronze industry and iron adoption (at the turn of II-I millenniums BC) class relations and tribal unions were formed among the tribes of the Armenian tableland. These processes created preconditions for state emergence.
Hayasa-Azzi, Isuva, Alishe, Uruatri, Dayaeni, Diauekhi, the little centers of statehood emergence, which are known from Hittie, Assyrian and other sources were the first tribal unions living in the Armenian Plateau.
The process of formation of Armenian nation mostly dated to the II-I millenniums BC. This circumstance makes it almost impossible to clearly and thoroughly illustrate all the details of its origin. There is no doubt that the process took place in the Armenian plateau through the gradual merger of different tribes into Armenian. Some researchers highlight the leading role of Hayasa tribal union in this process, most probably it served as the origin for the denomination of Armenian nation – “hay”
According to historians, the ancient Armenian united state was Ayrarat Kingdom of Haykyans. In the IX century BC Ayrarat kingdom suffered several defeats in the fight against strengthening Assyrians and became weaker. Another tribal union became mighty enough to gradually acquire political supremacy. The Assyrians called this new kingdom Urartu after the name of the Ayrarat Kingdom. However, in the inscriptions of local kings it was called Biaynali or Biayneli and Shureli, which corresponds to the now accepted name - Kingdom of Van.
In the XIII-IX centuries BC the Kingdom of Van significantly expanded its borders becoming one of the most powerful states in Western Asia under Menuas, Argistis and Sardur II. During this period economy, crafts, urban life and culture rapidly developed and well-known Urartean cuneiform was created.
However, new reinforcement of Assyria and its victorious wars against the Kingdom of Van, invasion of Cimmerian and Scythian tribes, formation of the Median kingdom led to the fall of the kingdom of Van at the beginning of the VI century BC (the last decades of the VII century BC are also possible).
According to recent studies, a Scythian leader Partatu or Paruir (according to Armenian sources) had been proclaimed as a king of Armenia by the end of the VII century BC. A number of principalities were formed on the ruins of the Kingdom of Van. The kingdom of Paruir (Scythian name Partatuna) was distinguished among them but it was not destined to exist for a long time.
The country was united into one kingdom only under Eruandid royal dynasty in the face of king Aramani, erroneously referred to as Aram by the father of Armenian historiography Moses Khorenatsi. Using the political vacuum created as a result of the struggle between Assyria from the one side and the Chaldeans of Babylonia and Median Kingdom from the other, the Armenian king extended the borders of his state.
Armenian Eruandid kings continued to rule in Armenia, sometimes combining the office of the Persian satraps or being under their domination.
After the defeat of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great at the battle of Gaugamela, Armenia regained its independence (the capital was Ervandashat). On one of the Greek inscriptions of that era that was found in Armavir is written: ''A beautiful country of Armenia!''.
After the decisive defeat of the Seleucid army at Magnesia (190 BC) Greater Armenia (Mets Hayk) and Tsopk regained their independence. The founder of the Artashesids dynasty Artaxias I (189-160 BC), as a result of several successful wars, expanded the boundaries of Greater Armenia, making it a strong state. Artsakh, Syunik and Utik constituted the integral parts of Artashes’ kingdom. Thus, he succeeded in merging the borders of Greater Armenia (except Tsopk).
Under Tigranes the Great (Tigranes II - 95-55 BC) the kingdom of Greater Armenia became a powerful empire of Western Asia, reaching the zenith of its political power. Basically completing the unification of the Armenian lands, including Tsopk, Tigran II expanded the boundaries of Greater Armenia, as a result of victorious conquest wars, and relying on alliance with Kingdom of Pontus. He annexed Atropatene, Seleucid Syria, Kommagenu, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, etc.
In the first years of his reign Tigranes concluded military-political alliance with the king of Pontius Mithridates for supporting and backing each other, as well as for a joint struggle against Rome in the East. The supremacy of the Armenian king was recognized not only by Judah, Nabataea, Iberian and Caucasian Albanian kingdoms, but also by the Parthian state. Tigranes II became allies with the Arabic and other Central Asian tribes of the Persian Gulf.
Under Artashesids the Hellenic cultural influence increased in Armenia. Architecture, literature, poetry, historiography, and theater experienced an unprecedented progress.
Nevertheless, the expansion of Rome put an end to the power of Greater Armenia, reaching to its zenith. Discomfiting Mithridates, the closest ally of Tigranes, the Roman general Lucullus invaded Armenia in spring, 69 BC, but could not force Armenia to finally knee. According to the decision of the Roman Senate, Pompey substituted Lucullus in 66 BC and once again attacked Armenia, moving toward the capital Artashat. Tigranes was forced to offer peace to Pompey.
According to the Armenian-Roman Artashat treaty of 66 BC Armenian kingdom lost much of the conquered lands, but continued to remain a strong country in the region. Further Artavazdes II and Artaxias II attempted to restore its former power. Artavazdes was a statesman who got brilliant Hellenic education at the Armenian royal court. He staged performances, wrote speeches and dramas. Artavazdes’ skillful policy of maneuvering between belligerent Rome and Parthia constituted a reliable guarantee of independence and national security. In 34 BC Artavazdes was captured by Roman general Antony, who invaded Armenia and taken to Egypt with his family, where a victory parade was organized with participation of Queen Cleopatra.
In the second half of the 1st century AD thanks to a successful battle of the Armenian-Parthian allied forces against Rome, Tiridates I took the throne of the kingdom of Greater Armenia. After the defeat of the Romans at the battle of Randi (62 AD), Trdat I went to Rome, was crowned by Emperor Nero and returned to Armenia (65-66 AD). Trdat used the money given by Nero in compensation for the destruction of Artashat by the Romans, to restore the capital and to build the Sun Temple of Garni. Arshakids’ dynasty (a cadet branch of Parthian Arshakids) was established in Greater Armenia.
The enthronement of Tiridates I (66-88) gave start to the dominion of the cadet branch of Arshakids in Greater Armenia (Mets Hayk). In the 3rd and 4th centuries, as a result of socio-economic changes, the kingdom of Greater Armenia gradually turned into a feudal monarchy.
At the end of the 3rd century and at the beginning of the 4th century Christian communities had already formed in nearly the entire territory of the kingdom. According to tradition, the first preachers of Christianity in Armenia were St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew apostles. In 301, under Tiridates III (286-330) Armenia became the first country that proclaimed Christianity as a state religion. St. Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated the first patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Hard struggle against Roman and Sassanid Persia weakened Armenian kingdom, which was later divided between the two above mentioned states. Thus in 428, the Armenian kingdom was dissolved by the Persian court and turned into Мarzpanate (province).
Perfectly acknowledging the whole danger of the current situation for both the country and the people, under the patronage of the king Bahram Shapur and patriarch of Armenia Isaac Partev, Mesrop Mashtots invented Armenian alphabet in 405, which became a powerful weapon for preserving the Armenian national identity. Invention of the Armenian alphabet ushered in a new era in Armenian culture, science and literature. Translations and independent literary heritage created in Mesrop’s alphabet was so rich and complete that the 5th century became the "Golden Age" in the history of Armenian culture.
In 450-451 for the sake of the fatherland and the Christian faith under the leadership of Vardan Mamikonyan a revolt was raised against the Persian political, economic and religious pressures. The result was the decisive battle of Avarayr.
Due to the subsequent rebellion (481-484), led by Vahan Mamikonyan, Nvarsak agreement was signed. Armenian provinces Utik and Artsakh formed a kingdom (before the first half of the VI century) established by Vachagan the Pious who came from Haykazun-Sisakyan-Aranshahiks Dynasty. Thereby, Armenian kingdom was restored in the Eastern-Armenian territories. The domination of Vachagan the Pious was also spread on a part of the left bank of the Kura River. According to Armenian historian Moses Kalankatuatsi (7th century), Vachagan the Pious was a great Armenian statesman and devoted follower of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Inspired by the idea of strengthening the Armenian kingdom, he created "Canonical Constitution," accepted by the bishops, priests, nobles and elders in Artsakh statutory assembly as a written constitution of the Armenian kingdom.
In the middle of the 7th century Arab forces invaded Armenia. At the beginning of the 8th century Armenia was already completely dominated by Arabs. The struggle of the people against Arab domination outgrew into the national-liberation war for the restoration of independence (uprisings of 703, 744-775, 850-855) and completed with the restoration of the Armenian kingdom, led by Ashot I Bagratid.
People’s struggle against the Arab invaders is reflected in the epic poem "David of Sassoon," which, with its catchy heroic characters, is one of the most valuable written monuments of Armenian people of Middle Ages.
With the restoration of independence, Armenia entered into a period of developed feudalism. Extensive development was recorded in the spheres of urban life and city building, crafts and trade, cross-stone (khachkar) art, currency circulation, etc. Local economic and trade centers emerged, which led to the formation of vassal kingdoms that admitted the hegemony of kings of Bagratids (Parisos, Vaspurakan, Kars, Tashir-Dzoraget and Syunik). Another branch of Bagratids settled in neighboring Georgia, which, coming into power in the 9th century, established a royal dynasty of Georgian Bagratids. Since the end of the 10th century the process of economic and political reunification of the Armenian small feudal state- entities into a single monarchy under the auspices of Ani Bagratids launched. Ani - the capital of Bagratids kingdom - became a huge economic, public and cultural center.
In the middle of the 11th century, as a result of attacks of the Byzantine Empire, the Kingom of Bagratids fell. Finally, after the defeat of the Byzantines by the Seljuk Turks in the decisive battle of Manazkert in 1071, Armenia was conquered by Seljuk Turks.
Starting from the end of the 11th century the domination of Seljuks started to decline. The remnants of the Armenian nobility, that survived attacks of invaders, led Armenian liberation movement. Being united and supported by Georgia, within a decade northeastern Armenia was liberated from Seljuks’ Domination. Its territory involved a number of historic regions, including the whole territory of Ayrarat, Artsakh аnd Syunik as well as part of Utik and Gugark.
The liberated lands in the Georgian kingdom were ruled by the Zakarid dynasty and their vassals, simultaneously enjoying wide autonomy. Zakareh and Ivaneh brothers and other Armenian princes had high positions in the Georgian court. Liberated Armenian lands recovered their economy very soon and played an important role in further development of Armenian culture, crafts and science.
Because of the deportation policy of the Byzantine Empire and devastating invasions of Seljuk Turks, lots of Armenians were forced to leave the country. Part of them settled in Cilicia, constituting the majority of its population by the end of the 11th century.
In the northeastern part of Cilicia, in the Mountainous Cilicia, Rubenids principality emerged in 1080, which later absorbed the whole Cilicia and a number of adjacent regions. In 1198 the Armenian Prince Levon II Rubenid received the imperial crown from the German Emperor and was solemnly crowned in the city of Tarsus. Armenian kingdom of Cilicia had close trade relations with Venice and Genovian republics, France, Spain, Germany and other countries. Levon II was collaborating with the Kaiser Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, who led the third Crucaders’ campaign and King of England Richard the Lionheart. Lots of Knights Templar, Teutonic knights and Hospitallers served at Cilician kings of Armenian nationality and received extensive estates in various parts of the kingdom. Further several Armenian royal dynasties successively ruled in Cilicia.
Under the blows of the Ikonian Sultanate and Mamluk State of Egypt, in the absence of assistance from Christian Europe, Armenian state of Cilicia fell in 1375, however, many Armenian principalities continued their existence in impenetrable mountainous areas.
And only during the years of the Armenian Genocide in Zeytun autonomy of Ottoman Empire practically stopped to exist on the territory of Turkey.
In 30-40s of the 13th century Armenia, together with other Transcaucasia countries were conquered by Tatar and Mongols. In the middle of the 14th century Armenia and South Caucasus had become an apple of discord between the Hulamin Mongol State and Golden Horde. Further, at the end of the 14th and at the beginning of the 15th centuries those counties were devastated by a disruptive campaign of the Golden Horde Khan Totkhamish and Timur (Tamerlan). The country had hardly recovered from the shocking campaigns of Timur when it was conquered by nomadic Turkmen tribes Kara Goyunlu and Aq Qoyunlu successively.
Armenian feudal clans were largely destroyed in the 14-15th centuries. Their lands were seized by the Tatarian-Turkmen and Kurdish chieftains. The economy experienced a period of stagnation. The emigration of the 14-15th centuries caused the formation of Armenian colonies in the Crimea and Poland (on the territory of nowadays Russia and Ukraine) as well as in Transylvania, etc.
Armenia again became the political and spiritual center of the country. In 1441 the throne of Catholicos of all Armenians was moved to Echmiadzin from city Sis - the former capital of Cilicia, and is there so far. In the 15-17th centuries, as a result of devastating Ottoman-Persian wars Armenia was twice divided between the Ottoman Empire and the Safavids’ Persia according to Amasia (1555) and Qasr-e Shirin (1639) treaties.
The forceful relocation of more than 300 thousand Armenians (from Ararat valley and southern parts of Armenia) to Persia by Shah Abbas at the beginning of the 17th had disastrous consequences for the Armenian people and historical Armenian lands.
Brutal political, social, national and religious oppressions led to a massive liberation movement of the Armenian people in that period.
In the 16-18th centuries Armenian socio-political figures explained the liberation of Armenia by the help of Western European countries such as the Republic of Venice, France and Germany, yet, gradually, Armenians started to gravitate toward the Russian state for that purpose. In the 16-18th centuries Israel Ori (1656-1711) was an outstanding actor in the national liberation movement. At the outset of his activity on behalf of the Armenian princes Israel Ori appealed to the European rulers asking assistance for the liberation of Armenia. Having received no real support, Ori moved to Russia in 1701 and presented the plan of the liberation of Armenia to Tsar Peter the Great.
In 1722-1730 a strong national-liberation movement broke out in Syunik (led by David Bek) and Artsakh (led by Catholicos of Gandzasar Esaiah Hasan-Jalalyan and Avan Yuzbashi).
In the second half of the 18th century Armenian colonies in India and Russia became the idoeological centers of the national liberation movement. The Armenian “Circle of Madras” (S. Shahamiryan, M. Baghramian, H. Emin, etc.) and other leaders of the Armenian colony in Russia (A. Lazarian, A. Argutyan and others) put forward two projects of creating the Armenian state under Russian patronage.
Despite the difficult conditions of that period Armenian culture and literature experienced a significant development. Particularly, Mkhitarian Congregation (of Armenian Catholics) was established in Venice (in 1717) and subsiquently in Vienna, which played an invaluable role in preserving the Armenian identity and Armenianology as well as in the development of cultural, literary and scientific potential of the Armenian people.
In 1512 the first Armenian printed book "Urbatagirk" was published in Venice and in 1792 the first periodical "Azdarar" was issued in Madras. In 1616 a book "The Psalm about David” was published in Lvov. In 1666 the first Armenian printed book - Holy Bible - consisting of 1464 pages, was brought out. In the middle of the 18th century "Dictionary of Haikazian (Armeian) Language" was published in Venice and at the end of the same century the famous "History of Armenia" by M. Chamchyan came out in many volumes.
If by the end of the 18th century separate plans to rebuild the Armenian state were considered, then at the beginning of the 19th century Russia started the conquering of South Caucasus, including Eastern Armenia.
In 1801 Eastern-Georgian kingdom was finally dissolved and united with the Russian Empire (Armenian-populated Lori district included). Later, by “Turkmenchay” agreement (1828) and “Adrianopole Treaty” (1829) the accession of the Transcaucasia was mostly completed. In 1828 “Armenian Marz” (Region) was temporarily formed on the territories of the former Yerevan and Nakhichevan Khanates (Iranian provinces) which later became the basis of the rebuilt Armenian statehood.
As a result of the unification with the Russian Empire the restoration of national identity and development of capitalist relations in Armenia were accelerated. Armenian bourgeoisie, gaining a leading role in the Transcaucasia, began its activities in such commercial, industrial and cultural centers as Baku, Tbilisi, Batumi, Shushi, etc. A copper-mining industry was developing in Alaverdi and Kapan; brandy and wine, cotton and leather production was developing in the Ararat valley. In 1870 the agrarian reform was carried out which accelerated the involvement of Armenia in All-Russian market.
Since the beginning of the 19th century Armenia was divided between the Ottoman and Russian empires. The western and eastern parts of historical Armenia, populated with Armenians, are conditionally called Western Armenia and Eastern Armenia. The name Western Armenia was put into circulation as early as in the 4-5th centuries when the kingdom of Greater Armenia was divided between Persia and the Roman Empire. Western Armenia fell under the domination of Ottoman Turkey in 1555 under the Treaty of Amasia signed with Persia, and Eastern Armenia became Russia’s territory in 1826-28, according to the treaty of Turkmenchay signed as a result of the Russo-Persian war.
From an ethnic perspective, the Ottoman Empire was a composite of over 60 nationalities and tribes with different cultural and religious affiliations as well as with different levels of social, economic, political, and cultural development. The strengthening of the economic situation of the Christian nations, the awakening of national consciousness and the increased pressure of the European Powers made the policy of universal islamization by Sultan's authorities almost impossible.
The emergence of the Armenia Question was initially conditioned by the loss of the Armenian statehood and later (in the middle of the 19th century) by the sharp deterioration of Armenians’ situation in the Ottoman Empire and the awakening of the national identity. It became the integral part of so-called Eastern Question and played an important role in the international relations, in the Middle East policy of the major powers.
Actually, the Armenian issue was addressed upon in the 1878 Russo-Turkish Treaty. As a result of Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78, the regions of Kars and Batumi were united with Russia. According to the 16th article of San Stefano Agreement and the 61st article of Berlin treaty, the Ottoman Empire undertook to implement reforms in Western Armenia and ensure the security of Armenian population. However, those solutions were remained a dead letter that led to the new rebellions in Sasoun, Vaspourakan and other places. The Armenian Questions became the subject of discussions of European diplomacy.
For the first time in modern history Armenia and Armenians were mentioned in an important international pact. However, neither Russian, nor European diplomacy intended to fight for the autonomy of Western Armenia, as it happened in the case of the Balkan peoples. Russia merely undertook the role of the protector of the Western Armenians and the role of the supervisor of the implementation of the reforms in the conquered territories with large Armenian indigenous population.
Realizing the importance of Armenian Question for the foreign policies of major powers, the government of Abdul Hamid II decided to eliminate the issue and increased the persecution of the Armenian population of the Empire, via inciting Muslim fundamentalism, spreading anti-Armenian propaganda, permanent robberies and murders, lawless and willful acts of local authorities, forced islamization of Armenians and stricter censorship, as well as via irregular Kurdish tribes cavalry. As a result of such a policy, in the late 80th - early 90th of the 19th century Armenian national liberation movement entered into a new phase. Armenian political parties emerged the liberation struggle, i.e. rebel movements strengthened in Western Armenia.
In 1895-1896 the Ottoman government organized the mass destruction of Armenians in Western Armenia, as a result more than 300 thousand Armenians were perished and tens of thousands were forcibly islamized.
The Armenian issue attracted the attention of European diplomacy also at the end of the 19th century and in 1912-1914. According to the Russian-Turkish agreement of January 1914 two provinces (Northern and Southern parts) were to be formed on the territory of Western Armenia which would have to be governed by two foreign (European) Governors.
Taking advantage of the situation created as a result of the First World War, the Turkish ruling circles of that time tried to implement their long-standing idea of creating a "Great Turan" by unification of Muslim nations in the Middle East, Caucasus, Russia, and Central Asia. Armenian people, living in Eastern and Western parts of their historic homeland, were hindrance on the way of achieving this goal. The war provided the Turkish government with a perfect opportunity for fulfilling their genocidal program and, at the same time, for justifying and concealing their horrible crimes under the concept of “Act of war”.
In February 1915 the War Minister of the “Young Turks” government Enver Pasha ordered to exterminate the Armenian soldiers serving in the Turkish army. On April 24 and subsequent days in Kostandnupolis (Istanbul) some 800 representatives of the Armenian intellectuals such as writers, doctors, scholars, journalists and clerics, including Armenian members of the Turkish Parliament, were arrested and deported far in Anatolia. Some of them died on the way, the rest were executed immediately upon arrival at the place of exile.
On May 24 the governments of Great Britain, France and Russia issued a joint Statement. This Statement can be considered to be the first international document condemning the Armenian Genocide. It qualified the atrocities against Armenians as a new type of crime against "humanity and civilization," the personal responsibility for which lies with all members of Turkish Sublime Porte, as well as with local authorities.
From May to June the mass deportation and massacre of the Armenian population of Western Armenia (villayats of Van, Erzurum, Bitlis, Kharberd, Sebastia, and Diyarbakir), Cilicia, Western Anatolia and other localities began. Armenians, being deported from their permanent and historical places of residence, were grouped in caravans and sent to Mesopotamia and Syrian Desert, where special camps were set up for them. The Armenians were being killed both in their places of residence, and on the way to exile – in deserts. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians died as a result of starvation, diseases and epidemics. About one and half a million Armenians were slaughtered as a result of that monstrous program. Western Armenia was deprived of its native population.
In 1917 after the February Revolution Russian Provisional Government dissolved the Viceroyalty of Caucasus and established the Transcaucasian Special Committee. During that period of time steps were undertaken for the Armenian refugees to return back to Western Armenia. By the end of 1917 the number of refugees was about 390 thousand. In September 1917 the Armenian National Committee was formed in Tbilisi, where the representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Party of Dashnaktsutiun had priority.
In December the Yerznka Ceasefire was signed between the newly established Transcaucasian Committee and Ottoman Army. In its turn the Soviet Government announced a Decree on Turkish Armenia, recognizing the right of Armenians from Western Armenia to the Self Determination, including even the creation of an independent state. However, Turkish troops restarted military actions, disrupting the Reconciliation Regime. Despite heroic resistance, the Armenian irregular troops and volunteer detachments began retreating to the borders of Eastern Armenia.
According to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918), under the pressure of Germany the Soviet Russia agreed to return to the borders of the former Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878. As a result of that retrograde not only Western Armenia, but the regions of Kars, Ardahan and Batumi became parts of Ottoman Empire as well.
As a consequence of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the peace negotiations that had been conducting with Ottoman Empire in Trapizon since March 1918 by the authorities of the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic (former Commissariat and then Sejm) were deadlocked and suspended. Invading Eastern Armenia, Turkish troops occupied the Province of Kars, cities of Kars and Alexandrapol (Gyumri) and moved towards Yerevan and Gharakilisa (nowadays Vanadzor). On their way Turks were demolishing Armenian towns and villages, slaughtering population. The situation was fatal: Eastern Armenia was under the threat of genocide then.
Day by day growing danger united Armenians and Armenian troops along with militias and led by General Moses Silikyan, Colonels Daniel Bek-Pirumov, Drastamat Kanayan and others made a decisive counterattack to the Turkish conquerors near Sardarapat that were moving forward Yerevan, then after - near Gharakilisa and Bash-Aparan.
During those days of Heroic Battles of May 1918, the discrepancies within the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic composed of three main nationalities of the South Caucasus, were deepening.
On March 26, 1918 the Transcaucasian Sejm (Parliament) was dissolved leading to the dissolution of Transcaucasian Republic. In those conditions, on May 28, 1918 the Armenian National Council declared itself as the only and supreme authority of Armenian provinces. The Republic of Armenia was established. After the defeat of Ottoman Empire in the World War I and according to the Peace Treaty of Mudros (October 30, 1918), Turkish Troops hastily quited the Territory of Eastern Armenia.
The power of the First Republic was applied to the following areas: major part of former Kars Region, the Province of Erevan, western parts of Province of Elizavetpol and southern parts of the Province of Tbilisi. Kharabakh was neither included in the territory of the Republic nor subjected to Musavat Azerbaijan, it was governed by the Congresses of the National Council of local Armenians.
In April, 1920 during a regular Congress the people of Nagorno-Karabakh made a decision on unification with the Republic of Armenia.
On August 10, 1920 the victorious states of the World War I, including Armenia, signed a peace agreement with defeated Turkey in the city of Sevres (France). It was Avetis Aharonyan, the head of the Armenian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, who signed the agreement on behalf of the Republic of Armenia. The section “Armenia” in the Treaty of Sevres included Articles 88-93.
By this treaty Sultan Turkish Government recognized Armenia as a free and independent state. Armenia and Turkey agreed to provide America with an opportunity to decide the demarcation line between the two states in Erzrum, Van and Bitlis provinces as well as to accept the offers concerning the access of Armenia to the Black Sea and the disarmament of all Ottoman territories, adjacent to above-mentioned boundary.
The nationalist government of Turkey, headed by Mustafa Kemal, who assumed the authority, did not accept the Treaty of Sevres. In 1920 the Soviet Government, seeking to direct the Kemalist movement in Turkey against the Entente, provided Turkey with palpable military and financial aid which was used against Greece in the West and against Armenia in the East. At the end of September, 1920 Turkish army started attacking. Conquering more and more lands, the Government of Ankara was aimed at depriving Armenians of an opportunity to recreate its own state. Turkish troops occupied the Region of Kars, Surmalu and Alexandrapol.
The Soviet government pursued a deliberate policy of Sovietization of the Transcaucasian republics, with an aim to restore the borders of the Russian Empire.
The 11th Red army occupied the main territories of Nagorno-Karabakh, Zangezur and Nakhichevan, after the Sovietization of Azerbaijan (April 1920). Further in August 1920 an agreement was signed between the representatives of Armenia and Russia. Via this agreement Soviet Russia forced Armenia to recognize those territories as disputed, provided that their further fate would be determined as a result of an expression of population will, i.e. the referendum.
On November 29, 1920 a small detachments of the Red Army and the Armenian Bolsheviks entered Ijevan (Northeastern Armenia) from the Azerbaijani side and declared Armenia a Soviet Republic. According to November 20 decision of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan headed by Narimanov, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Zangezur were no longer considered to be disputed territories but integral parts of the Soviet Armenia.
On December 2 Armenian government agreed upon the Sovietization of Armenia and relinquished its power in favor of the Bolshevik Revolutionary Committee. On the same day in Alexandrapol, quite inexplicably, the representatives of the relinquished Armenian government signed a peace agreement with Turkey and considered the war ended, thus conceding almost half of their territory. Later the Soviet authorities never recognized the conditions of Alexandrapol treaty.
On March 16, 1921 a Treaty on Friendship and Fraternity between Russia and Turkey was signed in Moscow. According to its first article, the Soviet Russian government agreed not to recognize any international treaty related to Turkey, which was not ratified by the Great National Assembly. This provision was directed primarily against the Peace Treaty of Sevres, which Turkey at any cost tried to declare null and void.
Finally, the new border was recognized according to the Treaty of Kars (October 3, 1921) that was signed between Turkey and the Transcaucasian states and is in force up to date. As for the international conference of Lausanne held in 1922-23, it ended up with the signing of several documents, the most important of which is probably the Lausanne Peace Treaty, according to which the current Turkish borders were established, replacing the Treaty of Sevres.
According to the same Moscow Treaty, Nakhichevan became an autonomous territory under the patronage of Azerbaijan, and under the decision of the Caucasian Bureau of the RCWP from July 5, 1921 Nagorno-Karabakh was declared an autonomous region within the territory of Azerbaijan.
Soviet Armenia was not a sovereign state, but it played a very important role in the preservation of the Armenian statehood and development of the national identity. Despite the wide-spread repressions, particularly those of 1937 and 1948-49, Armenia made great progress in its economic, industrial, scientific and cultural life. Soviet Armenia became a leading industrial-agrarian country; it was a land of universal literacy, highly developed education and science, culture, literature and art. The system of higher education was successfully developing in Yerevan State University, founded as early as in 1919, and in other specialized universities. In 1943 the Academy of Sciences was established. The Armenian people took an active participation in the Second World War. About 440,000 Armenian soldiers and officers fought in the ranks of Soviet Army. There was also a significant number of Diaspora Armenians fighting on allies’ side and in the ranks of the Resistance of the European states. The Armenian National 89th Division took part in the battle for Berlin.
In subsequent years of World War II a large number of Diaspora Armenians returned to their homeland - Soviet Armenia. During the 1960s and 80's the national issues such as the Armenian Genocide, Diaspora, unification of Nagorno Karabakh with Armenia, Nakhichevan, etc. were repeatedly raised by intellectuals and the public, as well as by the republic's leadership. The first multi-thousand demonstrations in the Soviet reality were taking place in Yerevan.
In March of 1985, changes occurred within the Soviet political leadership. Following years of stagnation, younger and more progressive figures came to power. As a part of these political changes, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and later became the first president of the USSR. Due to the USSR’s vast need for radical changes, Gorbachev declared that reforms are required to overcome the crisis in the Soviet Union. As a result of the depression experienced by the Soviet society, the ideological bankruptcy of the Communist Party, the variety of unsolved issues and especially national problems forced different national groups within the Soviet Union to react.
Subsequently, the implementation of the Soviet Perestroika policy resulted in the establishment of the various national liberation movements of the time. Armenians of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) were the first to react; they never accepted the annexation of their historical territories by Azerbaijan, and resented the anti-Armenian policy pursued by Azerbaijan during the Soviet era.
On the February 20th, 1988 the extraordinary session of the Council of the Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Oblast /NKAO/ adopted a historic decision, based on the constitution of the USSR. The Council made an appeal to the Azerbaijani SSR, to the Armenian SSR and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR to withdraw the Oblast from Azerbaijan and transfer it to Armenia. Consequently, a new wave of mass demonstrations broke out in both Armenia and the Diaspora, as a sign of solidarity with the Armenians of Artsakh. Thousand of people participated in the various rallies organized in Yerevan, other parts of Armenia, as well as in Nagorno Karabkh. However, from the outset, the political leadership of the USSR adopted a negative stance toward the Karabakh Movement. They consider it to be provocative, extremist, a demand of a group of nationalists. Nonetheless, at the same time, prominent political activists and intellectuals of the various Soviet republics provided moral support to Armenia and Artsakh.
Subsequently, between the 27th and 29th of February 1988, in response to the aforementioned peaceful rallies and demonstrations which took place in Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, the massacres and mass murders of the Armenian population were organized in the industrial city of Sumgait (not far from Azerbaijan’s capital Baku). As a result of Azeri brutality a few dozens of Armenians perished and over 200 were severely injured. Subsequently, these developments forced the 18 thousand Armenian population of Sumgait to migrate from the city. According to various credible sources, it was the local Azeri authorities, who perpetrated the massacres of Sumgait. In the meantime, the central Soviet authority delayed the intervention and deployed troops in the city only after three days.
Moreover, when the intervention process began, the soviet troops faced many difficulties in restraining the Azeri killers and in rescuing the Armenian population out from the city. Even after the Sumgait massacres, the Central authority of the USSR continued to label the Nagorno-Karabakh problem as a social-economic issue rather than a political one.
Anyway, the Movement was expanding. Along with the rallies and demonstrations, mass strikes commenced in both Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. The Armenians demanded from the USSR government to justly solve the Karabakh issue, while providing a firm and conclusive political and legal response to the Sumgait atrocities. Thus, in May 1988, the “Armenian Committee of the Karabakh Movement” was established in Yerevan.
Subsequently, in response to the pleadings of the Council of NKAO, the General Council of the Armenian Soviet Social Republic agreed on the unification of the NKAO with Armenia on June 15th, 1988. Following this verdict, appeals were made to the Supreme Council of the USSR in regards to the USSR’s support on this matter. The representatives of Armenia, NKAO and Azerbaijan were present at the session of the Supreme Council of the USSR which was held on the 18th of July. However, the latter rejected the proposals made by the Armenian Supreme Council and the Council of NKAO. From the outset of the Karabakh Movement, massacres and pillages were perpetrated in Azerbaijani regions resided by Armenians: Azerbaijani authorities were consistently committing ethnic cleansings.
Thus, from the outset of the Karabakh Movement, the Azerbaijani authorities approved the massacre, annihilation and ethnic cleansing of the Armenians who were root residents of the various regions of Azerbaijan. For example, by subjecting Armenians to pillage and brutality, the Azeris forcibly drove them out of Kirovabad, Shamkhor, Khanlar cities, Dashkesan, Mingechaur and other regions. The subsequent wave of deportations started in January, 1990, in capital, when within a week’s time, hundreds of Armenians were killed in Baku, and over 200 thousand people were forced to leave the city, leaving behind indescribable huge wealth.
On December 1st 1989 the Supreme Council of Armenian SSR and the National Council of NKAO declared their reunification. As a result the persecution and violence against Armenians became more severe in the Azerbaijani SSR. An economic blockade was imposed against both the Republic of Armenia and NKAO; the supply of natural gas, economic, industrial and other necessary goods were banned from being sent to Armenia. On December 7th, 1988, the severe situation in Armenia worsened as a result of the catastrophic earthquake, which struck the Northern and North-Eastern regions of the country. In the span of a few minutes entire villages and parts of cities were wiped out. More than 25 thousand of people perished and nearly 500 thousand remained without shelter.
On the 23rd of August, 1990 the first session of the newly elected Supreme Council of Armenia adopted a declaration regarding the “Independence of Armenia”, thus commencing the process of independence. At this point the period of third republic of the Armenian history started. Moreover, the Declaration affirmed the fact that the laws of the republic took precedent over the laws of the USSR. Subsequently, the tricolored flag (red, blue and orange) of the first Armenian Republic was restored as the official flag of the Armenian state, while the blazon of the first republic was reinstated as the official blazon of the Republic of Armenia. The Declaration also prescribed respect of human rights, freedom of conscience, religion, political parties, assemblies and speech. Finally, the rights of the Armenian Apostolic church were restored. Availing themselves of the support of Moscow, Azerbaijani government continued the massacres and deportations in Armenian-populated regions.
On the other hand, while receiving support and backing from Moscow, the Azerbaijani soviet government continued the deportation of Armenians. In the first half of 1991, the Azerbaijani OMON (Special Militia and terror squads) received support from the Soviet army and launched a full-scale war against the Armenian population in the sub-regions of Shahoumian and Getashen, as well as in the NKAO. This offensive was based on the premeditated “Koltso” (“Ring”) operation of forced deportation. During this operation, the Azerbaijanis destroyed various Armenian villages, which prompted the beginning of the Karabakh-Azerbaijan war of 1991. It is in this period of time when the Armenian population formed a united national front, consisted from underground Committees for Self-Defense and numerous headquarters for the self-defense forces across the various regions of the NKAO.
Proceeding from the provisions of 1990 August 23 Armenian Declaration of Independence, the National Assembly decided to hold a referendum on September 21, 1991, to leave the USSR and declaring independence. Based on the results of the referendum, the Supreme Council declared Armenia an independent state. The centuries-long dream of the Armenian nation to reinstate independence came true.
On October 16, nationwide presidential elections were held in Armenia, as a result of which, Levon Ter-Petrosyan was elected as the first president of the republic. On December 8, 1991, in Belovezhskaya Puscha (near Minsk) the leaders of the three Slavic states (Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) signed an agreement on seizing the existence of the USSR. Simultaneously the sides declared the creation of a new entity of international cooperation, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS.) The Republic of Armenia was he first among the former Soviet republics to respond to the Minsk agreement welcoming the creation of CIS and expressed its willingness to join the organization. On December 21 of the same year 11 independent states (former soviet republics) signed an agreement in Alma-Ata about the creation of CIS. This marked the final collapse of the USSR and the independence of the Soviet Republics. Shortly after declaring independence the Republic of Armenia received universal international recognition.
Thus began the process of state-building of the Armenian Republic. One of the most important events of the state-political and public life of the Republic was the adoption of the RA Constitution that took place on July 5, 1995. It contributed to and greatly strengthened the legal bases of transition from a totalitarian system to a democratic state.
In the context of the war unleashed by Azerbaijan, the security of the population of Nagorno Karabakh became a priority alongside the issue of preserving the independence of the Armenian nation-state, whose guarantee could only be the creation of an efficient military. In the period of 1992-1993 with the unification of Yerkrapah Voluntary Detachments and army conscripts the Armenian National Army was created. On January 28, 1992, the Government adopted the historical decision on RA Ministry of Defense. The regular military units were formed generally based on the Soviet Army. Hundreds of Armenian officers, that have served in various branches of the Soviet Army, returned to Armenia. Special attention was paid given to the combat readiness and improvement.
Another important event contributing to the raising of public and political activism were the presidential elections that took place on September 22, 1996. These elections were held amid active political struggle. For the second time, Levon Ter-Petrosyan was elected as the president of the republic. The alienation between the authorities and public following the 1996 elections as well as the internal political crisis led to the resignation of the president in 1998. In March of the same year the main struggle during the snap presidential elections was between Robert Kocharyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia and Karen Demirchyan, the former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia who had recently returned to the political arena. Robert Kocharyan was elected the President of the Republic.
The Unity alliance became the victor in the March 30, 1999 parliamentary elections, that took place amid quite active political struggle. Karen Demirchyan was elected the president of the National Assembly, while Vazgen Sargsyan was appointed as the Prime Minister. The domestic political situation worsened unprecedentedly with October 27, 1999 terrorist act, as a result of which were murdered the Prime Minister, the President of the National Assembly, NA Deputy Presidents and deputies. It was a heavy and unexpected blow to the (Armenian) statehood and democracy. Nevertheless, the political leadership was able to gradually stabilize the situation.
The fourth presidential elections of Armenia were held of February 19, 2003. Robert Kocharyan was reelected. The next parliamentary elections took place on May 25, 2003, as a result of which not one party received an absolute majority and form a government on its own and, thus, for the first time in the history of the Third Republic, three parties that had received the most votes, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA,) the Orinats Yerkir (OEK,) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (AFD,) formed a political coalition and jointly formed a cabinet. Andranik Margaryan, the Chairman of the Board of the Republican Party of who had already been holding that office since 2000, was elected a Prime Minister.
On November 27, 2005, the new reformed version of the RA Constitution. On May 12, 2007 took place amid a climate of high political activity the parliamentary elections of the fourth convocation of the National Assembly, where, according to the system of proportional representation, the Republican Party of Armenia received the majority of votes, followed by the “Prosperous Armenia” and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. As a result of the elections, with the assistance of the RA President, an agreement of creating a political coalition was signed between the parties. Those three parties formed the new government of the Republic of Armenia. Serzh Sargsyan was appointed a Prime Minister.
The fifth presidential elections of the Republic of Armenia took place on February 19, 2008. Serzh Sargsyan was elected as the President of the Republic of Armenia. The results of the presidential elections were challenged by the leader of the fundamental faction of the opposition, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. On February 20, the opposition initiated rallies that developed into clashes between the opposition and the law enforcement on March 1-2.
Initiated by the newly-elected president with the purpose of enstating reforms in the republic and ensuring an atmosphere of solidarity in the society the four parties with the most votes in the RA National Assembly signed a new agreement of political coalition, assuming responsibility for the future activities of the government. Tigran Sargsyan was appointed as the Prime Minister. Later, on April 22, 2009, the ARF quit the coalition.
The parliamentary elections of the fifth convocation of the National Assembly took place on May 6, 2012, resulting in RPA receiving 44% of the votes according to the system of proportional representation. RPA and OEK form a new coalition assuming the the responsibility of the political, economic and social development of the Republic of Armenia. Tigran Sargsyan was appointed the Prime Minister.
On February 18, 2013, Serzh Sargsyan is reelected as a result of presidential elections. Starting April 13, 2014, Hovik Abrahamyan leads the Government of the Republic of Armenia. In April of the Same year, OEK quits the coalition joining the opposition.
On December 6, 2015, a new reformed version of the Constitution is adopted through a referendum, according to which the Republic of Armenia underwent a transition to a parliamentary form of government.
Starting September 13, 2016, Karen Karapetryan assumed the office of the head of the RA government, holding that position until April 17, 2018.
According to the new Constitution, on March 2, 2018, the National Assembly elected Armen Sarkissian, the former ambassador of the Republic of Armenia to Great Britain as the President of the Republic of Armenia. Armen Sarkissian assumed the presidency on April 9, 2018.
According to the new Constitution, the next election of the RA Prime Minister were held by the National Assembly, as a result of which, on April 17, 2018, Serzh Sargsyan was elected the Prime Minister. However, as a result of an opposition movement that had started in April, that government survived only seven days, becoming the shortest government in the history of Armenia.
On May 8, 2018, the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia elected Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of “Yelq” (Exit) parliamentary bloc, as the Prime Minister.
Special thanks to
Dr. Babken Harutyunyan, PhD in Historical Studies, Columnist-member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia
Dr. Eduard Danielyan, PhD in Historical Studies, Head of the Department of Ancient History of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia
Marine Mesropyan, professor of the History Department of Yerevan State University.
On September 2, 1991 the joint session of both Nagorno Karabakh regional and Shahoumian district councils of parliamentarians declared the independence of Nagorno- Karabakh Republic within the borders of former Nagorno Karabakh Autonomous Region and Shoumian. The declaration of independence of the Nagorno Karabakh Republic (NKR) was adopted. Thus, the right determined by then enacted legislation- the law of the Soviet Union from April 3, 1990 on the order of withdrawal of Union republics from the USSR- was implemented. It provided national autonomies with a right to freely determine their legal status, in the case of withdrawal of Union republic from the USSR. On December 10, 1991 only a few days before the official collapse of the Soviet Union, a referendum took place in Nagorno Karabakh according to which the vast majority of native population voted in favor of full independence from Azerbaijan.
This was followed by parliamentary elections where the Parliament of the NKR was elected, which in its turn formed the first government. The government of independent NKR took over its commitments under the conditions of total blockage and subsequent military aggression of Azerbaijan. Making use of the 4th USSR Army ammunitions and weapons deployed on its territory, Azerbaijan unleashed a full-scale military action against Nagorno Karabakh. The warfare continued with changing success from the fall of 1991 to May 1994 when with the mediation of the Russian Federation, Kyrgyzystan and the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh Republic signed the cease-fire agreement in Bishkek which is in force up to date. As a result of war, unleashed by Azerbaijan the people of Nagorno Karabakh confirmed its natural right to live freely.
Starting from September 2007 Bako Sahakian is the elected president of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Constitution of NKR is in force since 2006.
In 1992 with the aim of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict the Minks Conference of the CSCE was established. Within the frameworks of the latter negotiation process is going on up to date by the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairmanship, which is to gain a final resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and determine its final status.