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Background on the Armenian People
Present day Armenians are a mixture of two ancient people: indigenous people, who melded with the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Urartu between the tenth and seventh centuries BC, and the Indo-Europeans who entered the region at the end of the eighth century BC. Between ninety-five and fifty-five BC the short-lived Armenian Empire of Tigran the Great stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Seas. In 301AD, Armenia became the first nation to officially embrace Christianity. In 387AD, the Romans and Persians divided Armenia for the first time. In 405AD, the Armenian alphabet of thirty-six letters (later thirty-eight) was invented to enable the new converts to reproduce the Bible in their own language.

The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was established at the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the southern edge of Asia Minor during the time of the Crusades. This Kingdom flourished from 1080 to 1375 AD, but was overrun by Mamluk Arabs, and later by Mongols from Central Asia.

During the second half of the second millennium AD, Ottoman Turkey, Persia and Russia ruled historic Armenia. By the end of the nineteenth century, approximately four fifths of Armenia lay in Ottoman Turkey, one fifth in the Russian Empire, and a small fraction in Persia (Iran). The last days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire were a time of great persecution of the Armenian people, who had been living in semi-autonomous communities but were always heavily taxed by the central government. Between 1894 and 1896, Sultan Abdul Hamid II, instituted genocidal pogroms massacring approximately 200,000 Armenians. Between 1915 and 1923, a second and more targeted genocide of Armenians took place at the hands of the Young Turks. A program of Turkish nationalism, under the cover of World War I, targeted the Armenian minority as a threat to their nation building efforts. Of the approximately 2.1 million Armenians in Turkey, 1.5 million were exterminated and the rest were deported to the deserts of Syria. The "death marches" were closely monitored by the complicit German government of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Turkey's ally at the time. Survivors of the genocide immigrated to various countries, including the United States, Russia and France. (Between 40,000 and 65,000 Armenians remain in Turkey today, most in Istanbul.)

An independent Armenian Republic was established in a section of Russian Armenia in 1918, lasting only two years. By 1920 it had become a part of the Soviet Union and remained such until independence was declared in 1991. Today, Armenia, borders Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan to the east and Iran to the south. It is a small, landlocked democracy of 2 million, determined in its effort to rise from centuries of occupation and subjugation. Approximately 7 million Armenians are scattered throughout the world, 1 million of which reside in the United States.

Edwin Nazarian
History Consultant
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