Armenia is a land of mysticism that will at once capture your imagination, evoking past centuries while awakening your senses to the present. It has a rich and colorful history, interwoven with legends and lore such as the landing of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat and Marco Polo’s voyages along the Silk Road. Armenians are an ancient people with a strong sense of cultural identity. They have preserved their unique culture throughout the centuries, keeping Old World traditions alive by integrating them into a modern way of life, so that the two compliment and enrich each other.
Armenia offers something new for every explorer. From the Hellenistic Temple of Garni and the rock-carved Monastery of Geghard to ancient cave dwellings, mountain churches, fortresses and thousands of unique khachkars (stone crosses); Armenia’s fascinating history is etched into its very landscape.
Armenians are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Caucasus, having inhabited the Armenian plateau for thousands of years. The country is not known to its locals as Armenia, but as Hayastan, a name derived from Hayk, the supreme god of Armenia during pagan times, and –stan, a suffix derived from the Persian istan, or land – in essence, “The Land of Hayk.” The Persians were the first to call the region Armenia, around 2,600 years ago. The Greeks started referring to the region by its Persian name, and eventually, the rest of the European nations came to know the country as Armenia. The nation’s biblical name is the Ararat or Urartian Kingdom, in Hebrew. The Urartians, ancestors of modern Armenians, were a highly advanced civilization for their time.
In the 2nd century BC, Armenia underwent a renaissance, transforming into a major Hellenistic center. There was a sudden surge in art and literature, and Artashat, the capital, became an important cultural hub in the region. Situated on the nascent Great Silk Road, Armenia was both a major center for commerce and a target for attacks from rival nations.
Armenia was able to maintain its sovereignty, even with the growing power of the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. It became a tributary state, with its own sovereign rulers. In 66 AD, Roman Emperor Nero crowned Trdat I (known as Tiridates I, in the west) as King of the Arsacid or Arshakuni Dynasty (King of Armenia). This was followed by a period of peace and cultural development.
Located at the crossroads of East and West, Armenia has always been an apple of discord, highly sought after by its powerful neighboring empires. However, over the centuries, the nation has stubbornly withheld the constant threat of invasion and cultural assimilation from the Roman, Persian and Byzantine empires, and Arab caliphates.
Despite several military and political defeats throughout its history, Armenia has always maintained a strong national identity and unique culture. The invention of the Armenian alphabet in the 5th century played a crucial role in maintaining Armenian cultural unity despite political division and foreign rule. Between the 11th and the 13th centuries, Armenia resisted attacks from the Seljuk Turks and the Tatar Mongols, until finally, in the 16th century, it was divided between the Ottoman Empire and Persia. In 1828, part of the country that was under Persian rule was taken over by the Russian Empire.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Turks began executing massacres in Armenian towns and villages found within the Ottoman Empire. This process of ethnic cleansing reached its pinnacle between 1915 and 1918, when the Ottoman Turks conducted the mass deportation and massacre of 1.5 million Armenians, attempting to systematically annihilate the nation. Those who survived the Armenian Genocide fled wherever they could find refuge. Most of them settled in the Middle East, Europe and North America, expanding upon the extant diasporan Armenian communities throughout the world.
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, Armenia was declared an independent republic but two years later fell under the attack of the Russian Bolsheviks, becoming part of the Soviet Union in 1922.
In 1991, after seventy years of Soviet Rule, Armenia regained its independence and has since been growing and developing as an independent democratic republic. Today, approximately three million people live in Armenia, over 95% of whom are ethnic Armenians. Other ethnic groups include Russians, Yezidis, Kurds, Greeks and Assyrians. Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, is home to about half the population.