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The Ancient Period

Early Christianity

Armenian Empire


The Middle Ages

The Armenians, an ancient civilisation whose history is long, complex, and in many ways epic and heroic. The descendants of Aram the Brave and Haik the forefather and establisher of the first Armenian kingdom in third millennium BC. A nation who had Kings, Royal dynasties and a widespread Armenian empire in the first century BC. under King Tigran II the Great.

Armenians are the first nation to adopt Christianity as the official religion of their state (301 A.D.). Throughout the centuries they have been persecuted and harassed by neighbouring countries and empires, but through all the turbulence and foreign domination, however, Armenians created a rich and a colourful culture, their own alphabet and a socioeconomic structure that has allowed them to preserve their distinct way of life.

The Ancient Period

Greater Armenia

Armenia has been populated since prehistoric times, and has been proposed as the site of the Biblical Garden of Eden. Armenia lies in the highlands surrounding the Biblical mountains of Ararat, upon which Noah's Ark came to rest after the flood. (Gen. 8:4). Armenic Sumerian records written ca. 2,700 BC, tell us the story of the Great Flood and the rebirth of Life [the Tree of Life or the Garden [Partez - Paradise - the main motif in the Armenian-Hurrian Mitanni and Araratian reliefs] of Eden located in Armenia - the Land of Four Rivers. Archeologists continue to uncover evidence that Armenia and the Armenian Highlands was the earliest site of human civilization. The earliest record identified with Armenians is from Armenic Sumerian inscriptions around 2700 BC, in which the Armenians are referred to as the sons of Haya, after the regional god of the Armenian Highlands. Another early record identified with Armenians, is from an inscription which mentions Armani together with Ibla, as territories conquered by Naram-Sin (2300 BC) identified with an Akkadian colony in the Diarbekr region. To this day the Assyrians refer to Armenians by this form Armani. Another mention by Thutmose III of Egypt, mentions the people of Ermenen in 1446 BC, and says in their land "heaven rests upon its four pillars" (Thutmose was the first Pharoah to cross the Euphrates to reach the Armenian Highlands).[2] To this day Kurds and Turks refer to Armenians by Ermeni. From 10,000 BC to 1000 BC, Indo-European tools and trinkets of copper, bronze and iron were commonly produced in Armenia and traded in neighbouring lands where those metals were less abundant. Several Armenian states speaking the Indo-European language flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including Aratta (Haik Nahabed's time), mentioned in Armenic Sumerian records (3rd millennium BC), the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (Aram Nahabed's time) and Hayasa-Azzi (15th - 12th cc BC), and in the Iron Age the Nairi (12th - 9th cc BC) and the Kingdom of Ararat (Ara the Beautiful's time) (9th - 6th cc BC). Each of the aformentioned Armenian tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people. Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by king Argishti I.

Indo-European (Aryan) migrations pointing off the starting point: Armenia.

Scholars V.V.Ivanov and Tamaz Gamreklide place the Indo-European (Aryan) homeland in Armenian Highland, postulating the Armenian language as an in situated development of a 3rd millennium BC Proto-Indo-European language. The first major state in the region was the kingdom of Aratta. The word Armani - an early form of Armen-Armin [Armen or Arman denotes the national affiliation, as with many cultures standing for the particular nation thus, the God AR being the primary deity in the Indo-European pantheon - thus AR MAN denotes -- Men of Ar or Children of Ar, again initially AR standing for ARAREL-ARARICH [hence Ar-Ar-At the Place of ARAR] -- Create-Creator, also Sun, Light, Life and Love.

The modern Armenian name for the country was Hayk, or Hayastan. Haya, combined with the suffix '-stan' (land). Hayk was one of the great Armenian leaders after whom the The Land of Hayk was named. Hayk is also used in place of Orion, in the Armenian translation of the Bible. He is said to have settled at the foot of Mount Ararat, traveled to assist in building the Tower of Babel, and, after his return, defeated the Babylonian king Bel (believed by some researchers to be Nimrod) in 2492 BC near the mountains of Lake Van, in the southwestern part of historic Armenia (present-day eastern Turkey). One of Hayk's most famous scions, Aram, considerably extended the borders of his country, transforming it into a powerful state of Mitanni (Nahrin from Armenian Nar, Nareh, Narin-eh). Since then, Greeks and Persian began to call the country Armenia, i.e. the country of Aram. Nairi (Nahrin), meaning "land of rivers", used to be an ancient name for Armenia and Armenians, used by Assyrians and Egyptians.

Greek historians first mentioned the Armenians in the mid-fifth century B.C. Ruled for many centuries by the Persians, Armenia became a buffer state between the Greeks and Romans to the west and the Persians and Arabs of the Middle East. It reached its greatest size and influence under King Tigran II, also known as Tigranes or Tigran the Great (r. 95-55 B.C.). During his reign, Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean Sea northeast to the Mtkvari River (called the Kura in Azerbaijan) in present-day Georgia (see fig. 5). Tigran and his son, Artavazd II, made Armenia a center of Hellenic culture during their reigns.

By 30 B.C., Rome conquered the Armenian Empire, and for the next 200 years Armenia often was a pawn of the Romans in campaigns against their Central Asian enemies, the Parthians. However, a new dynasty, the Arsacids, took power in Armenia in 53 A.D. under the Parthian king, Tiridates I, who defeated Roman forces in 62 A.D. Rome's Emperor Nero then conciliated the Parthians by personally crowning Tiridates king of Armenia. For much of its subsequent history, Armenia was not united under a single sovereign but was usually divided between empires and among local Armenian rulers.

Early Christianity

Mesrop Mashtots statue in Oshakan Village

After contact with centers of early Christianity at Antioch and Edessa, Armenia accepted Christianity as its state religion in 301 A.D. (the traditional date - the actual date may have been as late as 314 A.D.), following miracles said to have been performed by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, son of a Parthian nobleman. Thus Armenians claim that Tiridates III (238-314 A.D.) was the first ruler to officially Christianize his people, his conversion predating the conventional date (312 A.D.) of Constantine the Great's personal acceptance of Christianity on behalf of the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire).

Early in the fifth century A.D., Saint Mesrop, also known as Mashtots, devised an alphabet for the Armenian Language, and religious and historical works began to appear as part of the effort to consolidate the influence of Christianity. For the next two centuries, political unrest paralleled the exceptional development of literary and religious life that became known as the first golden age of Armenia. In several administrative forms, Armenia remained part of the Byzantine Empire until the mid-seventh century. In 653 A.D., the empire, finding the region difficult to govern, ceded Armenia to the Arabs. In 806 A.D., the Arabs established the noble Bagratid family as governors, and later kings, of a semiautonomous Armenian state.

Armenian Empire

The Empire of King Tigran Mets. (c) 2005,

From 87 to 85, Tigran's Army victoriously entered Armenian Mesopotamia [Northern Mesopotamia], the province of Korduk', Migdonia and Adiabenē, which were previously under the control of the Parthians. The kingdoms of Osroyenē and Atrpatakan [Atropatene] also pledged their loyalty and support to Tigran the Great. In 85, the Parthians officially recognized him as the supreme ruler of the East. Tigran took the haled title of King of Kings, from the Parthian monarch, and honorably held it to the end of his life.

In 83, after a bloody strife for the throne of Syria, governed by the Seleucids, the Syrians decided to choose Tigran as the protector of their kingdom and offered him the crown of Syria. Tigran was crowned the same year with the support of the local aristocracy. Tigran conducted an "open" policy of free trade within the Hellenistic metropolitan polis' [cities] of the vast Armenian Empire, granting autonomy to those important cities, who could mint their own currency and were judged according to the local laws and customs. The Syrian mints also issued coins depicting the Emperor, King of Kings Tigran the Great. According to Justin, Tigran reigned for eighteen years on the Syrian throne.

During this period, the Armenian forces advanced and conquered the kingdoms of Commagene [mostly Armenian in its demographic composition] and Cilicia [also containing a sizable Armenian community]. Once in Syria, Tigran was confronted with another foe, Queen Alexandra, ruler of Palestine. Josephus noted "She [Queen Alexandra] was a sagacious woman…she increased the army the one half, and procured a great body of foreign troops, till her own nation became not only very powerful at home, but terrible also to foreign potentates." [Wars, I.v.3; Antiq. XIII.xvi.4].

The Armenian troops quickly advanced and took the city of Acre [Ptolemais] in Phoenicia. Tigran's Army successfully besieged the onetime seat of the Seleucid capital -- Seleucia-on-Tigris. Josephus in his Antiquities wrote that Queen Alexandra "presented Tigranes, with many valuable gifts, and also ambassadors…" The Queen pledged her loyalty by offering all of Phoenicia to the King of Kings.

After the successive campaigns on the eastern sea shore of the Mediterranean Sea, and conquests in Syria, Phoenicia and Palestine, the Armenian warriors gained a reputation and respect not only throughout the Near East, but the Roman domain as well. The famous Greek historian Strabo wrote: "They fight on foot and on horseback, both in light and heavy armor. The horses are also protected with armor. They use javelins and bows and wear breastplates, shields, and coverings'; [XI.xiv.12] And..."They have a passion for riding and take good care of their horses..."

While Plutarch wrote that the Armenian archers could kill from 200 meters with their deadly accurate arrows. The Romans admired and respected the bravery and the warrior spirit of the Armenian Cavalry -- the hardcore of Tigran's Army. The Roman historian Sallustius Crispus wrote that the Armenian [Ayrudzi - lit. horsemen] Cavalry was "remarkable by the beauty of their horses and armor" Horses in Armenia, since ancient times were considered as the most important part and pride of the warrior. It was the horse and the wagons [as well as the iron weaponry], that made possible the vast migrations of Indo-European peoples from Armenia (Aratta).


Indo-European (Aryan) family tree

By Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov Scientific American, March 1990, P.110 This inference is supported by what is known about the portion of the Indo-European community that remained after the Anatolian family had broken away. From that community came the languages that persisted into written history. The first to branch off was the Greek-Armenian-Indo-lranian language community. It must have begun to do so in the fourth millennium B.C. because by the middle of the third millennium B.C. the community was already dividing into two groups, namely, the Indo-lranian and the Greek-Armenian. Tablets in the Hattusas archives show that by the middle of the second millennium B.C. the Indo-lranian group had given rise to a language spoken in the Mitanni kingdom on the southeast frontier of Anatolia that was already different from ancient Indian (commonly called Sanskrit) and ancient Iranian. Cretan Mycenaean texts from the same eras as Mitanni, deciphered in the early 1950's by the British scholars Michael G. F. Ventris and John Chadwick, fumed out to be in a previously unknown dialect of Greek. All these languages had gone their separate ways from Armenian.

The Middle Ages

Particularly under Bagratid kings Ashot I (also known as Ashot the Great or Ashot V, r. 862-890 A.D.) and Ashot III (r. A.D. 952-977), a flourishing of art and literature accompanied a second golden age of Armenian history. The relative prosperity of other kingdoms in the region enabled the Armenians to develop their culture while remaining segmented among jurisdictions of varying degrees of autonomy granted by the Arabs. Then, after eleventh-century invasions from the west by the Byzantine Greeks and from the east by the Seljuk Turks, the independent kingdoms in Armenia proper collapsed, and a new Armenian state, the kingdom of Lesser Armenia, formed in Cilicia along the northeasternmost shore of the Mediterranean Sea. As an ally of the kingdoms set up by the European armies of the Crusades, Cilician Armenia fought against the rising Muslim threat on behalf of the Christian nations of Europe until internal rebellions and court intrigue brought its downfall, at the hands of the Central Asian Mamluk Turks in 1375. Cilician Armenia left notable monuments of art, literature, theology, and jurisprudence. It also served as the door through which Armenians began emigrating to points west, notably Cyprus, Marseilles, Cairo, Venice, and even Holland.

The Mamluks controlled Cilician Armenia until the Ottoman Turks conquered the region in the sixteenth century. Meanwhile, the Ottoman Turks and the Persians divided Caucasian Armenia to the northeast between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The Persians dominated the area of modern Armenia, around Lake Sevan and the city of Erevan. From the fifteenth century until the early twentieth century, most Armenians were ruled by the Ottoman Turks through the millet (see Glossary) system, which recognized the ecclesiastical authority of the Armenian Apostolic Church over the Armenian people.

Between Russia and Turkey

Beginning in the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire played a growing role in determining the fate of the Armenians, although those in Anatolia remained under Turkish control, with tragic consequences that would endure well into the twentieth century.

Russian Influence Expands

In the eighteenth century, Transcaucasia (the region including the Greater Caucasus mountain range as well as the lands to the south and west) became the object of a military-political struggle among three empires: Ottoman Turkey, tsarist Russia, and Safavid Persia. In 1828 Russia defeated Persia and annexed the area around Erevan, bringing thousands of Armenians into the Russian Empire. In the next half-century, three related processes began to intensify the political and national consciousness of the ethnic and religious communities of the Caucasus region: the imposition of tsarist rule; the rise of a market and capitalist economy; and the emergence of secular national intelligentsias. Tsarism brought Armenians from Russia and from the former Persian provinces under a single legal order. The tsarist system also brought relative peace and security by fostering commerce and industry, the growth of towns, and the building of railroads, thus gradually ending the isolation of many villages.

In the mid-nineteenth century, a major movement toward centralization and reform, called the Tanzimat, swept through the Ottoman Empire, whose authority had been eroded by corruption and delegation of control to local fiefdoms. Armenian subjects benefited somewhat from these reforms; for instance, in 1863 a special Armenian constitution was granted. When the reform movement was ended in the 1870s by reactionary factions, however, Ottoman policy toward subject nationalities became less tolerant, and the situation of the Armenians in the empire began to deteriorate rapidly.