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.
There was an economic collapse 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 closed the border in support of Azerbaijan, meaning Armenia became a landlocked country with no diplomatic relations with two of its four neighbours, relying on Iran and Georgia for trade. Georgia declared independence in the same year but was going through a bitter civil war until nearly 1995, adding to Armenia’s economic difficulties.
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.
Armenia’s claims to fame include:
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 his army, whom he slayed.
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. It rejected the Council of Chalcedon (believing Jesus had one nature, rather than accepting the trinity) making it 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 in the dying stages of the Ottoman Empire.

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 made it amongst some 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 ‘phenomena.

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). In  860–843 BC King Aramu united them against Assyrian incursions, forming the first Armenian (Iron Age) Kingdom: 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, now extinct. It briefly became powerful until declining due to Cimmerian and Assyrian raids, finally turning to Assyria for protection and being absorbed, and then destroyed, by the Median (first ‘Persian’) Empire ( 590 BC) after the fall of Assyria.
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 who ever had control of Anatolia, the first time in 387 AD between the Sassanid Persians and what was to become the Byzantines. 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 the larger, richer side, encompassing the iconic Mount Ararat, ending up in what is modern day Turkey. The smaller, eastern, Persian side, eventually became occupied by the Russians (1828) and after some to-ing and fro-ing formed the borders of modern day Republic of Armenia (On 21 September 1991) after the collapse of the Soviet system.
The situation of large Christian minority in the heartland of Anatolia became a serious issue for the Ottomans leading up to WW1. They had been progressively losing territory to former Christian subjects who obtained their independence and then
Wiki, Armenians at the start of the Ottoman Empire
 often violently removed Muslims from their borders. There was the Armenian Genocide (1914-1918) which I will discuss in my next blog.
From the start of WW1  the Ottomans did disastrously on their Western front. By Sept 17 the Russians occupied a large part of North East Anatolia including much of Ottoman 'Western Armenia'.

Yerevanci, Russian incursion into Anatolia

But the Russian Revolution had reached their army which began disintegrating.  The Russian civil war raged from 1917–1922/1923. The ascendant Bolsheviks, in the middle of a civil war, were now desperate for peace. They wanted Turkey as a buffer and an ally against the remaining European allies. On December 5, 1917, they signed an armistice with the Ottomans and withdrew their armies.
As they were withdrawing, Armenian volunteers were hurry to the front. In a peace treaty the Bolsheviks agreed to give up all their gains back to the Ottomans. The Armenians (and now Georgians) still held this territory but without Russian support, the Ottomans were able to drive them back and entered 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 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. Lenin by this stage was supporting the new Republic of Turkey with arms and money in a departure from Czarist Russian policy.
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 this Armistice, Soviets entered Eastern Armenia on 29 November 1920; the Battle for Western (Turkish) Armenia, and the short-lived Armenian independence were both over.
Few Armenians remained in their ancestral lands in Eastern Turkey. From 2 million in 1914 there was 50,000 to 70,000 remaining in Turkey in 2005, mostly in Istanbul. Many churches and monasteries were destroyed.  All they can do now is stare across the border at what was once the heart of their homelands.

Prelude to the border dispute with Azerbaijan.
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'). Persian Armenia had considerable autonomy but was ruled by governors, 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 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 overlord. It became an autonomous region of the Russian Empire, ruled by Russians.
The Russian Revolution began in Feb 17 but wasn't a quick or orderly thing. The countries of the Southern Caucasus: Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia declared themselves democratic Republics in May 1918.
The Armenians continued fighting the Ottomans, at first in what had been Turkish Armenia but they had lost coherent Russian support. The Georgians turned to Germany until it lost WW1, and Azerbaijan allied with the Ottomans.
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. The Republic of Azerbaijan claimed Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous region within its borders when it formed in May 18, continuing more the 'recent' historical Azeri dominance over the mainly Armenian region.
Russia, meanwhile was seriously short of oil, dating back to before WW1 and Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea was their only source. Baku had a lot of temporary foreign workers, especially from Russia.
There was already great tension between the Christian Armenians (traditionally favoured by the Christian Russians) and the Muslim Azeris.
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 which lasted till 1920–22. In the first fighting in Baku (here)  there was civilian slaughter, mainly of Azeris. The Ottoman army entered Baku in September of that year (1918)  and slaughtered
Azeri victims in Baku,  Azerbaijan State Archive
10,000–20,000 Armenians in retaliation.
The new Republic of Armenia was too busy being progressively forced out of Turkish (Western) Armenia by the Ottomans to successfully regain Nagorno-Karabakh and adjacent ancestral lands. Finally the Ottomans (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 signed the Ottoman armistice (30 October 1918).
After the Oct Armistice with the Ottomans, Azerbaijan no longer had Ottoman protection and the Armenians began to advance again, until the British military command asked them to withdraw (Jan 19). There were assurances that their claim would be sorted out in the Paris Peace Conference. It wasn't, not that they didn't do rather well out of the initial peace treaty.
The Azerbaijans then appointed Khosrov Sultanov, a local land owner and an ardent opponent to the Armenians, as Governor. He had no intention of letting the Armenians have his home and began his own plans to defeat them.There was protestations violent clashes, murders (mostly, but not only of Armenians), Sultanov's demands, a bungled revolt against him leading him to declare a Jihad (March 22–26 1920) in the then capital Shusha (here), cleansing it of Armenians.
The fighting continued off and on till Nov 1920 with a big incursion by the Armenians when a Soviet army entered Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Republican 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] .
 Republican Turkey threatened to invade Eastern Armenia if it 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, and quickly conquered the independent republic. The conflict was over.
Terrified Armenians fleeing Turkish forces at Kars
 Western Armenia had been cleansed of Armenians with the few remaining fleeing east. Turkey had regained Western Armenia which had been in their hands for centuries.
Lenin was courting Atatürk on one hand and was desperate for Azerbaijan's oil on the other. The contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh was nominally returned to Azerbaijan (as an autonomous region) along with most (but not quite all) of Armenia's gains in the east. Shusha, the capital, had been cleansed of Armenians.
The brief (first) Republic of Armenia had lost to Turkey and then been conquered by Soviet Russia.
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 their 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 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, Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh 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 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 become an Azeri stronghold was (for a time) depopulated and virtually destroyed.
There had been pogroms against the Armenians (early) and massacres of civilians by Armenians (mostly when Azeri fighters and 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.

  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 greater the claim to their land. The genetics support the 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.
Indo-European Armenian was the only Armenian spoken by the 2nd century BC. 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 by a brilliant Jewish-American geneticist,  Dr Davis Reich, show that the Caucasus region contributed maybe half the genetic material to proto-Indo-European Yamnaya Culture (3300–2600 BC) in the Steppes just north of the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
This had already been shown by others, some of whom suggested a merging to two hunter gatherer groups 25,000 years ago, one from the general region of Siberia, and one from the Caucasus.
Dr Reich also said that the Anatolian Indo-Euopeans had not been shown to have a Siberian genetic connection. 
I haven't read his book and can't comment on the genetic studies, so may not fully understand his views. If I understand him, he seems to contend this confirms the Armenian hypothesis (Armenia was the source of the Indo-European language and culture). If so, this is quite a stretch. It would ignore geography and archeology and make the common mistake of confusing language and culture with genes. The former two were invisible in Armenia until very late.

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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