University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
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CHGS

  • Historic Armenia

    Historic Armenia

    Historic Armenia

    The Armenians first appear in the historical record in the ancient Greek epic The Illiad as allies of Troy from the East. They first emerged as a political power following the collapse of the Urartian Empire about 650 B.C. For the next 1,500 years Armenia's fortunes varied as a vassal state, as a powerful empire, and as an independent or client kingdom. Despite these changes, the Armenians kept their language, their culture, and, after 301 A.D., their distinct Christian identity.

    The years from 1100-1500A.D. were the darkest in Armenian history until the 20th century. Successive waves of Turkish peoples - Seljuks, Turkomans, Tartars and Mongols - devastated Armenia and forced great numbers of Armenians to flee west to Anatolia and the Balkans, north to Poland and the Crimea, and southeast to Persia, India and China. Ironically, it was another wave of Turkic invaders, the Ottomans, who finally brought stability to the area, conquering Constantinople in 1453 and the Armenian lands in 1514.

    loyal millets Following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II divided Ottoman society into millets, separate and virtually autonomous religious communities answerable to the government. The millet system reinforced the position of the Armenian Church as the leader of the Armenian community, and minimized intermarriage and assimilation. The Armenians and other rayah (herds, infidels) were reduced to second class citizens without rights, viewed with contempt and constantly exposed to attacks by Muslim mobs. They were also subject to the devshirme, a unique Ottoman tax in which male children of the Christian subjects were forcibly taken to be raised as Muslim slave-soldiers, the Janissaries.

    Despite periods of harsh treatment, the Ottoman government was relatively tolerant towards the Armenians as long as they maintained their subservient status. The adaptability of the Armenians under the status quo and their exceptional productivity and talents earned the Armenians the title of Milled Sadika ("the Loyal Millet"). They were valued citizens who contributed to Ottoman society in a wide range of areas. This traditional relationship lasted for over three centuries.

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