Armenians are an ancient people who trace their roots back to the early part of the first millennium B.C. For long periods, Armenia was an independent nation, located primarily in the eastern regions of present-day Turkey. The greatest Armenian king, Tigran II, who ruled from 95 to 55 B.C., governed a realm that extended from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. But Tigran was overwhelmed by the Romans and, in the ensuing centuries, Armenia became a coveted territory for the Persians, the Byzantines, the Seljuk Turks, the Mongols, and more recently, the Ottomans.
In 301 A.D., Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, establishing a church in the 6th century that still exists independently of both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. During its later political eclipses, Armenia depended on the church to preserve and protect its unique identity, including the alphabet we use today. In 405 A.D., Mesrob Mashtots invented the thirty-six letters of the Armenian alphabet (two more letters were added in the 12th century).
Present-day Armenia comprises only one-tenth of the nation’s historic territory. In 1915, under the cover of World War I, the Ottoman Turkish government annihilated 80% of the Armenian population, erasing a large portion of its 3,000-year old culture. This action has become known as the first genocide of the 20th century.
Armenia enjoyed brief self-rule from 1918 to 1920. But in 1920, an agreement between Kemal Ataturk and Lenin resulted in the cession of the fledgling republic to the Bolsheviks. The current Republic of Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union on September 21, 1991.
Throughout the 1990s, Armenians in the Caucasus faced new threats to their Homeland. They were at war with Azerbaijan over Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh until a 1994 ceasefire. Turkey and Azerbaijan imposed an economic blockade and caused an energy crisis. Yet Armenians persevered, continuing to build a democratic society with help from its diaspora. Just now, Armenia’s economy is reaching pre-Soviet collapse GDP levels.
About 3 million Armenians live in Armenia and some 1.5 million more reside in other parts of the former Soviet Union. Another 4 million are scattered around the world, with the largest communities in the United States, Canada, France, Iran, Argentina, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Australia.