An eternal crossroads of cultures and empires, the region's history is a fascinatingly complicated jigsaw of kingdoms and khanates, republics and principalities, emirates and satrapies, that have blossomed and wilted over the centuries.
The History of Armenia
Beneath any facade of independence, such entities were often pawns in the grand imperial games of Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, Russians and others. What is known is that the 1. Archaeologists have also found year-old evidence of viniculture in Georgia, apparently corroborating what Georgians have claimed all along — that they made the world's first wine.
Greeks, Persians and Romans brought the classical pagan faiths and philosophies to the South Caucasus in the years before Christianity took hold, helping to create rich local cultures. Armenia ended up as a buffer between the Romans and the Persians, who fought long wars for control of the region.
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Christian apostles were already visiting the South Caucasus in the decades after the death of Jesus. As the Christian Byzantine Empire expanded eastward from Constantinople, western Armenia and western Georgia fell under its sway, while their eastern areas came under Persian control. After the death of the Prophet Mohammed in , Arabs carried Islam well beyond the Arabian peninsula, taking over the South Caucasus by In the 9th century the Arabs recognised a local prince of the Bagratid family, Ashot I, as king of Armenia.
By the 11th century, another Bagratid branch controlled most of Georgia.
Nomadic Turkic herders arriving from Central Asia from about the 9th century were probably the ancestors of modern Azerbaijanis. The whole region was floored by the next great wave from the east, the Mongols, who invaded in the s. They were followed in the late 14th century by another ruthless Asian conqueror, Timur Tamerlane. Shirvan, a long-lasting Muslim principality in what is today Azerbaijan, managed to retain some autonomy for several centuries under rulers known as 'Shirvanshahs' prospering from trade on a Caucasian branch of the pan-Asian Silk Route.
Meanwhile to the west, the Ottoman Turks had taken Constantinople and swept away the Byzantine Empire in In Persia, the Safavids collapsed in to be replaced by Nader Shah, a ruthless, stunningly successful but short-lived conqueror. After his assassination in , a relative power vacuum allowed the flourishing of Bagratid kingdoms in eastern Georgia, and of a patchwork of autonomous Muslim khanates in Azerbaijan. For some of that time, the kingdom of Armenia was an independent entity: At the beginning of the 4th century A.
But for the most part, control of the region shifted from one empire to another.
During the 15th century, Armenia was absorbed into the mighty Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman rulers, like most of their subjects, were Muslim. Christians had to pay higher taxes than Muslims, for example, and they had very few political and legal rights.
Armenian History - The history of Armenia through the centuries.
In spite of these obstacles, the Armenian community thrived under Ottoman rule. They tended to be better educated and wealthier than their Turkish neighbors, who in turn grew to resent their success. This resentment was compounded by suspicions that the Christian Armenians would be more loyal to Christian governments that of the Russians, for example, who shared an unstable border with Turkey than they were to the Ottoman caliphate.
These suspicions grew more acute as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. In response to large scale protests by Armenians, Turkish military officials, soldiers and ordinary men sacked Armenian villages and cities and massacred their citizens. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians were murdered. In , a new government came to power in Turkey. According to this way of thinking, non-Turks — and especially Christian non-Turks — were a grave threat to the new state.
At the same time, Ottoman religious authorities declared a holy war against all Christians except their allies. Military leaders began to argue that the Armenians were traitors: If they thought they could win independence if the Allies were victorious, this argument went, the Armenians would be eager to fight for the enemy. As the war intensified, Armenians organized volunteer battalions to help the Russian army fight against the Turks in the Caucasus region. On April 24, , the Armenian genocide began.
A Brief History of Armenia's Flag
That day, the Turkish government arrested and executed several hundred Armenian intellectuals. After that, ordinary Armenians were turned out of their homes and sent on death marches through the Mesopotamian desert without food or water. Frequently, the marchers were stripped naked and forced to walk under the scorching sun until they dropped dead. People who stopped to rest were shot.
These killing squads were often made up of murderers and other ex-convicts. Thousands of Armenians were killed and their villages burned.
Two years later, another revolt broke out when Armenian rebels seized the Ottoman bank in Istanbul. More than 50, Armenians were killed by mobs apparently co-ordinated by government troops. Those death tolls were dwarfed by the killings during the first world war, when Armenians from the Caucasus formed volunteer battalions to help the Russian army against the Turks. Early in , these battalions organised the recruitment of Turkish Armenians from behind Turkish lines.
The Young Turk government reacted by ordering the deportation of the Armenian population to Syria and Palestine. About 1 million died from starvation or were killed by Arab or Kurdish tribes along the route.