Armenia first emerged into history around 800 BC as part of the Kingdom
of Urartu or Van, which flourished in the Caucasus and eastern Asia Minor
until 600 BC. After the destruction of the Seleucid Empire, the first Armenian
state was founded in 190 BC. At its zenith, from 95 to 65 BC, Armenia extended
its rule over the entire Caucasus and the area that is now eastern Turkey,
Syria, and Lebanon. For a time, Armenia was the strongest state in the
Roman East. It became part of the Roman Empire in 64 BC and adopted a Western
political, philosophical, and religious orientation.
In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as
a state religion, establishing a church that still exists independently
of both the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. During its later
political eclipses, Armenia depended on the church to preserve and protect
its unique identity. From around 1100 to 1350, the focus of Armenian nationalism
moved south, as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which had close ties to
European Crusader states, flourished in southeastern Asia Minor until conquered
by Muslim states.
Between the 4th and 19th centuries, Armenia was conquered and ruled
by, among others, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. For
a brief period from 1918 to 1920, it was an independent republic. In late
1920, the communists came to power following an invasion of Armenia by
the Red Army, and in 1922, Armenia became part of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet
Socialist Republic. In 1936, it became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union on September 21,
Armenians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September 1991
referendum, followed by a presidential election in October 1991 that gave
83% of the vote to Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian had been elected
head of government in 1990, when the Armenian National Movement defeated
the Communist Party. Ter-Petrossian was re-elected in 1996. Following public
demonstrations against Ter-Petrossian's policies on Nagorno-Karabakh, the
President resigned in January 1998 and was replaced by Prime Minister Robert
Kocharian, who was elected President in March 1998. Following the October
27, 1999 assassination in Parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian,
Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials, a period
of political instability ensued during which an opposition headed by elements
of the former Armenian National Movement government attempted unsuccessfully
to force Kocharian to resign. Kocharian was successful in riding out the
unrest. Kocharian was reelected in March 2003 in a contentious election
that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and
the U.S. Government deemed to fall short of international standards.
In 1988, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian
enclave within Azerbaijan, voted to secede and join Armenia. This eventually
developed into a full-scale armed conflict. Armenian support for the separatists
led to an economic embargo by Azerbaijan, which has crippled Armenia's
foreign trade and restricted its imports of food and fuel, three-quarters
of which transited Azerbaijan under Soviet rule.
Peace talks in early 1993 were disrupted by the seizure of Azerbaijan's
Kelbajar district by Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian forces and the forced evacuation
of thousands of ethnic Azeris. Turkey in protest then followed with an
embargo of its own against Armenia. A cease-fire was declared between Azeri
and Armenian/Nagorno-Karabakh forces in 1994 and has been maintained by
both sides since then in spite of occasional shooting along the line of
contact between the two. All Armenian governments have thus far resisted
domestic pressure to recognize the self-proclaimed independence of the
"Nagorno-Karabakh Republic," while at the same time announcing they would
not accept any peace accords that returned the enclave to Azerbaijani rule.
Some 750,000 ethnic Azeris who fled during the Karabakhi offensives still
live as internally displaced persons in Azerbaijan, while roughly 400,000
ethnic Armenians who fled Azerbaijan since 1988 remain refugees, although
around 35,000 have accepted Armenian citizenship since 1998.
Negotiations to peacefully resolve the conflict have been ongoing since
1992 under the aegis of the Minsk Group of the OSCE. The Minsk Group is
currently co-chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia and comprises Armenia,
Azerbaijan, Turkey, the U.S., several western European nations, and representatives
of the Armenian and Azeri communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. The talks have
focused on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the return of refugees, the
lifting of blockades, the withdrawal from occupied territories, and the
status of the Lachin corridor, which connects Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia.
Karabakhi Armenians, supported by the Republic of Armenia, now hold
about 15% of Azerbaijan and have refused to withdraw from occupied territories
until an agreement on the status of Nagorno-Karabakh is reached. Armenia
and Azerbaijan continue to observe the cease-fire which has been in effect
since May 1994, and in late 1995 both also agreed to OSCE field representatives
being based in Tbilisi, Georgia, to monitor the cease-fire and facilitate
the peace process.