Sunday 7 July 2019

Historical Armenia, a very brief introduction


Armenia, CIA World Factbook
Few nations have histories as ancient, complex and laced with tragedy as Armenia. Modern Armenia is a small land-locked  mountainous democratic republic in the Lesser Caucasus, a land of breath taking scenery and old churches and monasteries.
 Unfortunately it a poor country and while the volcanic soil is rich, there are few lowlands and lots of surface stones making farming difficult in many places. Furthermore, the Caucasus Mountains shelters it from rain. It has to import most of its resources and has a negative trade balance. Many of the roads are very rough.

Post Soviet Economic Collapse
The economy collapsed shortly after independence (21 September 1991) as it struggled to emerge in the Post Soviet Era. This wasn’t helped by a massive earthquake in 1988 and the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh which led Azerbaijan to impose a blockade (closing a vital natural gas pipeline to Armenia).  It forced Armenia to re-open its (dated) Soviet Era nuclear power plant in a country prone to earthquakes. 
Turkey also closed the border in support of Azerbaijan, meaning Armenia became a landlocked country with no diplomatic relations with two out of its four neighbours, relying on Iran and Georgia for trade. Georgia had declared independence in the same year but was going through a bitter civil war until nearly 1995, adding to Armenia’s economic difficulties.
Armenian Diaspora 
The population of Armenia is three million and, by some estimates, up to eight million Armenians live overseas, with 1.5 million in the former Soviet Union and about 1 million in the United States.

Some of Armenia’s claims to fame:
Capital Yerevan (Serouj Ourishian, Wiki)
1. Mount Ararat, accepted by most to be the one referred to in the Bible. In their founding myth, mighty Hayk, a great, great, grandson of Noah returned to the mountain to establish his people but was pursued by a giant and the giant's army, both of which he vanquished.
2. Two of Jesus apostles, Thaddaeus and Bartholomew, were said to have preached Christianity to the Armenians beginning after 40 AD. They established the Armenian Apostolic Church, making it amongst the oldest Christian churches in the world. 
The Armenian Church rejected the Council of Chalcedon's view on the 'Trinity' (rather believing Jesus had one nature) so the Armenian Church is separate to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. 
It is part of the  Oriental Orthodox communion.
3. Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the first patriarch of the church, was martyred in a pit for refusing an order by the King Tiridates III to lay a wreath at the foot of a statue of the Goddess Anahit during important celebrations . After surviving in the pit for 14 years and miraculously curing the King he was allowed to convert the rest of Armenia to Christianity in 301, making Armenia the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion.
4. The invention of the Armenian Alphabet in alphabet in 405 AD was a major landmark in Armenian culture. Previously Greek and Farsi (Persian) were used as the written languages.
5. A journey into darkness, the Armenian Genocide from the start of WW 1 to the defeat of the Ottomans and establishment of the Turkish Republic (1920).

A very brief outline of Armenian History

In the Neolithic and early Bronze Ages, Armenia was part of the Neolithic and Bronze Age ‘Early Transcaucasian Cultures’ that extended well beyond the southern Caucus: the Shulaveri-Shomu culture 6000 BC — 4000 BC and then the  Kura–Araxes culture 4000 BC - 2000 BC. 
This makes the Caucasus region one of the oldest civilised regions in the world. The success, the rapid and relatively wide spread of the Kura-Araxes culture is a puzzle to archaeologists, some of whom refer to it as the Kura-Araxes ‘phenomenon'.

Extent of the Kura Araxes cultural tradition,  

Mitchell Rothman here

There is a gap in our understanding of what was happening in Armenia throughout the rest of the Bronze Age. There are a few possible references from the Akkadians, Hittites and Assyrians but these are imprecise and based on vague geography and etymology (similar sounding names) .
Just before the Bronze Age collapse of 1200 to 1150 BC, the Assyrians mention conquering the ‘Nairi tribes’ (of Armenia).

The first Armenian Kingdom (Iron Age)
In  860–843 BC King Aramu united the Armenian tribes against Assyrian incursions, forming the Kingdom of Van (or 'Urartu' after the original name of Mount Ararat). 
The new Armenian Kingdom (9th–6th centuries BC) spoke ‘Urartu’, a non-Indo-European language which is now extinct. The Kingdom briefly became powerful until declining due to repeated Cimmerian and Assyrian raids, finally turning to Assyria for protection and being absorbed, and then destroyed by the Persians (590 BC) after the Persians conquered the Kingdom's Assyrian overlords (612 BC).
Wiki, Armenia and vassals 69 BC, note 'greater Armenia'
The rest of the political history of the Armenians was one of occupation with periods of independence and sometimes greatness. It was often bitterly fought over, changing hands multiple times. For long periods Armenia was divided between Persia and whoever had control of Anatolia (the first time was in 387 AD between the Sassanid Persians and what was to become the Byzantines).

Eastern and Western Armenia 
The long standing and crucial division of Armenia was in 1555 AD between Persia and the Ottoman Empire resulted in a ‘Western Armenia’ which was larger and richer and encompassed the iconic Mount Ararat and the smaller, eastern, Persian side. 
(Persian) Eastern Armenia became occupied by Tsarist Russia (1828) and (after a lot of struggle back and forwards) formed the borders of modern day Republic of Armenia (On 21 September 1991) after the collapse of the Soviet system. 

Western Armenia is now gone forever, as I will explain.

The Ottomans had been progressively losing their European territories to former Christian subjects who obtained their independence and then often violently removed Muslims from
Wiki, Armenians at the start of the Ottoman Empire
 their borders. 
I will discuss this and the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918) in my next blog, but the attitude towards the large Christian heartland of Western Armenia inside what would become the bounds of modern day Turkey changed. 
They were no longer seen with tolerance, even affection. Now they were viewed with fear and loathing. Armenian attitudes began to change. Some were caught up in the  sweeping tide of nationalism, some remained loyal and others reacted to the increasing persecution.
 Russia, Armenia's main ally, WW1 and a Russian Revolution in the middle of it
From the start of WW1 the Ottomans did disastrously. By Sept 17 the Russians (often led by Armenia Generals) occupied a large part of North East Anatolia including much of Ottoman 'Western Armenia'. The Russians already governed Eastern Armenia, now they set up a provisional government  to administer Western Armenia. On the Prussian front, Russia had some initial successes but followed by massive losses, chaotic leadership and worker opposition back home, leading to the abdication of the Tsar and a brief transitional democratic government (February revolution). 
In the same year, the far left Bolsheviks seized power (October 1917) and imposed one party state. 
The Russian civil war raged from 1917–1922/1923. 

Yerevanci, Russian incursion into Anatolia

The ascendant Bolsheviks, still involved in a civil war, were now desperate for peace with Germany's allies. They wanted Turkey as a buffer and an ally against what had once been their European allies (or at least the allies of Tsarist Russia). 
As soon as December 5, 1917, they signed a (Russian/Ottoman) armistice  and in March 1918 concluded a treaty that arranged for withdrawal of their armies, giving Wester Armenia to the new Republic of Turkey and the disarming of the Armenians.

 The Armenians (and Georgians), were closer allies to the White Russians, and they didn't agree. After deteriorating relations, the Armenian Genocide had begun inside Turkey at the start of WW1 (and continued until the overthrow of the last Sultan and the establishment of Ataturk's Republic in 1923). 

 As the Russians were withdrawing, Armenia (and Georgia) declared independence in May 1918 and Armenian volunteers hurried forward to try to hold Armenian land. Without Russian support, the Ottomans were able to drive them back and enter Eastern Armenia as well. The Armenians were only saved by the Armistice signed between the Ottomans and the rest of the Allies (Oct. 30, 1918).   
The Allies, in  the peace Treaty of Sèvres, wanted to dismember the remaining Ottoman Empire and carve up Anatolia, including rewarding Armenia
Initial division, rejected by Kemal Atatürk
by giving them Western Armenia.

The Turkish National Movement under Kemal Atatürk rebelled against the partition of Turkey. They drove the Armenians and others from their territory and proclaimed the Republic of Turkey, ending the Ottoman era.

The Soviets and changing allegiances 
The allies, fearing an alliance of the Soviets and the Germans, supplied arms to a loose coalition against the Bolsheviks (called the 'White Army') and even fought against the Red Army to prevent its spread.

Lenin began supporting the new Republic of Turkey with arms and money.
The Armenians were forced to seek an Armistice with the new Republic of Turkey, conceding the loss of Western Armenia.
Even before they had a chance to sign the Turkish/ Armenian Armistice, Soviets entered Eastern Armenia on 29 November 1920. The last battle for Western (Turkish) Armenia, and the short-lived Armenian independence were both over.
After the genocide, only few Armenians remained in their ancestral lands in old 'Western Armenia' Eastern Turkey. 
From 2 million (or more) Armenians in Turkey in 1914 there was 50,000 to 70,000 remaining in 2005, mostly in Istanbul. Many churches and monasteries were destroyed.  All the Eastern Armenians can do now is stare across the border at what was once the very heart of their homeland.

Nagorno-Karabakh, once part of Armenia.
The Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh was a historical region of Armenia dating back to the 1st century BC (when it took it from a region called 'Caucasian Albania'). 
It became part of Persian Armenia but had considerable autonomy and the Persian appointed governors were often Armenian.
From the Arab conquest (mid 7th century) through to the Russian conquest (1822) Nagorno-Karabakh was self governed by various Armenian meliks (princes) with Arabian, Turkish and Iranian overlords and also had periods of relative independence.
At the time of the Russian conquest it was part of the territory of a local Azeri overlord (Ibrahim Khalil Khan) who had been forced to acknowledge Iranian  supremacy. So it was Armenian province with an Azeri (middle-man) overlord. 
It became an autonomous region of the Russian Empire, ruled by Russians.

The Azeris and Azerbaijan
The Azeris are mainly ancestral Caucasians and Persians who absorbed Turkish culture from a long period of occupation and now speak a Turkish language, but follow the Iranian form of (Shi'ite) Islam. 
They are sometimes referred to as Turks. 
They form a large minority in Iran (in an adjacent region, also called Azerbaijan) and often ally with Turkey.

With the (far left) Bolshevik coup of October 17 (the October Revolution), the countries of the Southern Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared themselves democratic Republics (May 1918).

The Republic of Azerbaijan claimed Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous region within its borders (continuing the historically more  'recent' Azeri dominance over the mainly Armenian region). This was while the Armenian Republic was busy trying to survive against the Ottomans.

 Azerbaijan, Russia's only source of oil at that time.
Russia at the time was seriously short of oil, dating back to well before WW1. Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea was their only source back then. Baku had a lot of temporary foreign workers, especially Russian. There was already great tension between the Christian Armenians (traditionally favoured by the Christian Russians) on one side and the Muslim Azeris on the other.

Civil war broke out in Baku in March 1918 when the Russian Soviets wanted to disarm the Azeris. 

It quickly spilt over into the Armenian-Azeri conflict. In the first fighting in Baku (here)  there was civilian slaughter, mainly of Azeris. 
The Ottoman army no longer had to face Russia in the East and entered Baku in September of that year (1918)  and slaughtered 10,000–20,000 Armenians in retaliation.
Azeri victims in Baku,  Azerbaijan State Archive

Finally they (with some German support) entered Eastern Armenia in the dying days of WW1. The Armenians were saved from a disadvantageous treaty with the Ottomans when the remaining Allies and Ottomans signed an armistice (30 October 1918).

After the Oct Armistice Azerbaijan no longer had Ottoman protection and the battle-hardened Armenians weren't fighting the Ottomans. They had some Russian equipment.
They began to advance again on their Eastern border, until the British military command asked them to withdraw (Jan 19). There were assurances that their claim to Nagorno-Karabakh would be sorted out in the Paris Peace Conference. 
It wasn't, not that they didn't do rather well out of the now defunct peace treaty which gave them Western Armenia.

Khosrov Sultanov
The Azerbaijans appointed Khosrov Sultanov, a local land owner and an ardent opponent to the Armenians, as Governor of Nagorno-Karabakh . 

He had no intention of letting the Armenians have his home and began plans resolve his own 'Armenian question' by extreme means. 

There was protests, violent clashes, murders (mostly, but not only, of Armenians) and a bungled Armenian rebellion. Sultanov declared a Jihad (March 22–26 1920) in the then capital Shusha (here), ethnically cleansing it of Armenians.

The fighting continued off and on till Nov 1920 with a big incursion by the Armenians into the region. 
 Meanwhile, the new Republican of Turkey was again pushing Armenia out of Western Armenia, which now had fewer and fewer Armenians. As they did it, there were reported instances of mass rape, murder and violence against the Armenian populace Kars and Alexandropol.(here see 8)[8] .
The new Republican Turkey eventually threatened to invade Eastern Armenia if they didn't sue for peace and give up all claims over Western Armenia. The new peace treaty was signed, but the Soviets had already entered Eastern Armenia three days before this. The small Armenian Republic had likely been hoping for a White Army victory in Russia, but this was not to be and the Red Army quickly conquered the independent democratic republic which now became part of the Soviet union. 

The conflict was over, and Western Armenia had been 'cleansed' of Armenians
Terrified Armenians fleeing Turkish forces at Kars
Lenin was courting Atatürk on one hand and was desperate for Azerbaijan's oil on the other. 
The contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh was returned to Azerbaijan (as an autonomous region) along with most (but not quite all) of Armenia's gains in the east. 
Shusha, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, had been cleansed of Armenians.
The brief (first) Republic of Armenia had lost to Turkey, and then been conquered by the Soviets.

Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the final days of the Soviet Era.
Fast forward to the final days of the Soviet Era. The  Soviet Union was officially dissolved on 26 December 1991, granting self-governing independence to the Republics.
In the 'lead up' to this, the Armenian and Azeri conflict over the disputed region re-awakened. 

The parliament of 'the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast' in Azerbaijan voted to unify the region with Armenia (20 February 1988). 
Karabakh Armenians began demonstrating in the new Nagorno-Karabakh capital, Stepanakert, and there were demonstrations in the capital of Armenia, Yervan.

This was not supported by the Supreme Soviet (perhaps because of oil, perhaps a desire not to reawaken a bitter local conflict) so when the Armenian and Azerbaijan republics were formed in 1991 the contested region remained with Azerbaijan. The population at that time was 76 percent Armenian and 23 percent Azeri, and clashes were becoming more violent. On 10 December 1991, in a referendum boycotted by local Azeris, approved the creation of an independent state.

It's hard to know when the war exactly started as it followed a period of escalations but by late winter of 1992 there was full scale fighting, the Armenian Republic joining (again) with Russian equipment. By the 1994 cease fire the Armenians were in full control of most of the enclave (now an autonomous republic, but with troops from the Armenia Republic) and another 9% of Azerbaijan's territory between the enclave and the Armenian border. 
Shusha, the previous capital, which had previously been 'cleansed' of Armenians had became an Azeri stronghold and was (for a time) almost destroyed, the Azeri population fled. 

Both sides claim atrocities.
There had been pogroms against the Armenians (early) and massacres of civilians by Armenians later in the conflict (mostly when Azeri fighters, and armed defenders, were mixed in with their own villagers). 

The worst was the Khojaly Massacre. Azeri authorities claim the dead in this massacre included 613 civilians, including 106 women and 63 children.
These events triggered an exodus of Azeris and Armenians from each others territories.
Armenia and Azerbaijan are technically  still at war, with a negotiated cease fire, and there are still border incidents. Armenia is now in de facto control of 14% of the territory that Azerbaijan claimed in its formation in 1991. Internationally Armenia is seen as the aggressor and there are demands that it withdraw.
Post note, I will discuss the latest conflict later.

  Armenian History and Nationalism.

Armenian nationalists sometimes emphasise the role of Armenia in history (and their connection to it) to the point of distortion. Most of the supportive literature (I'm told) is dated and in Russian.
Some see it as the cradle of all civilisation in the Biblical story, since Noah's Ark landed on Mountain Ararat.
They claim a direct descent from the Urartians and maybe even Caucasian cultures in the region. The longer the presence of the Armenians, the stronger their identity and greater their claim to the land. 

Genetics support this connection but the language and culture is not an unbroken continuity. A puzzle is when the precursor the modern Indo-European Armenian language arrived, and where it came from.

By the 2nd century BC,Indo-European Armenian was the only Armenian spoken . It is neither closer to the Anatolian or 'Persian' variants, adding to the puzzle of where it came from.
Linguists have suggested that it was present in the general region much earlier and it was already spoken in parts of the Urartu Kingdom. This is highly plausible but there is no direct evidence of this.

A recently DNA study (here) of 8000 year old Armenian remains suggest that the Caucasus region contributed maybe half the genetic material to proto-Indo-Europeans (Yamnaya Culture, 3300–2600 BC), the other half came from Siberian hunter gatherers.

There is an Armenian hypothesis (Armenia was the source of the Indo-European language and culture). This is quite a stretch. 

Armenia and travel (recommended) to read more here

Next Month : The Fall of Ottoman Turkey and the Background to the Armenian Genocide  here

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