What Should I Know About Armenia?

Brendan McGuigan

Armenia is a small country in Eurasia. It covers 11,500 square miles (29,800 sq. km), making it a bit smaller than the state of Maryland. It shares borders with Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey.

Armenia has monasteries throughout the countryside.
Armenia has monasteries throughout the countryside.

It was first settled in roughly the 6th millennium BCE. In the 9th century BCE the first major kingdom, the Kingdom of Urartu, was formed, lasting until being conquered by the Medes in the beginning of the 6th century BCE. The region was then ruled by the Orontids, both independently and as a region of the greater Persian Empire.

Two of Jesus' disciples introduced Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century.
Two of Jesus' disciples introduced Christianity to Armenia in the 1st century.

Alexander the Great conquered Armenia during his expansion, and in the beginning of the 2nd century BCE the region was reconstituted as a Hellenic State. This kingdom expanded out, eventually conquering parts of Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, forming an Armenian empire.

In the 1st century Christianity was introduced to the area by Batholomew and Thaddeus, two of Jesus’ disciples. By the beginning of the 4th century Armenia had declared itself a Christian nation, making it the first nation to do so. From the 1st century on, it switched between being independent, being controlled by the Romans, and being controlled by the Parthians. This would last for centuries, with the Sassanid Persians briefly taking control in the 3rd century. In the late 4th century the contry was split in two, with half going to Persia, and the other half going to the Byzantine Empire.

In the 6th century Byzantium began conquering Persian Armenia, and by the early 7th century the country was united again. Only a few decades later the Arab Caliphate invaded, seizing much of Armenia, and leaving small parts to Byzantium. At the end of the 9th century it was again recognized as sovereign, primarily to form a buffer between the Caliphate and the Byzantine Empire. This lasted until the end of the 11th century, when the Seljuk Turks claimed the territory as their own. During the subsequent centuries of Islamic Turk rule, the kingdom of Armenia continued to exist as a small state, the Kingdom of Cilicia, which held considerable sway throughout Europe until being wiped out by the Egyptian Mamelukes in the late 14th century.

For the next few centuries, Armenia passed between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire, much as it earlier had passed between the Romans and the Parthians. The state became largely fragmented at this time, and in the early 19th century the Russians took control of the Persian sections of the country.

During World War I the Ottoman Empire, citing concerns that people in Ottoman-controlled Armenia would ally with Imperial Russia, carried out a systematic genocide that eventually resulted in the deaths of more than 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. Following the collapse of both the Ottoman and Russian Empires after the war, Armenia declared independence as a democratic republic. This was short lived, however, with the new Soviets taking power in most of the country, and Turkey taking power in some small parts. The two powers fought over the region, eventually carving up the territory in a treaty in 1921.

It remained a part of the Soviet Union until its fall in 1991, at which point it declared independence. After a few initial years of difficulty, it has begun to rebuild its economy and develop substantially.

Although a small country, Armenia offers a lot of amazing sites for visitors. The Holy See of Echmiadzin is one of the nation’s most astounding locations, with more than 1700 years of holy relics all housed there, bearing to testament to the country's incredibly long history of Christianity. Monasteries also dot the countryside, with the Tatvet Monastery being perhaps the most impressive, built in the 9th century as an impenetrable fortress to protect holy relics against invaders.

Flights arrive regularly in Yerevan from most European hubs, as well as from Russia and major Middle Eastern cities. The borders to both Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed, and crossing them is both dangerous and difficult. Overland travel can be found from Iran and Georgia, but it is still rather rough.

Armenia declared its independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Armenia declared its independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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