Ancient W Asian nation, synonymous with the kingdom of Van c. 1270 to 850 b.c. It was situated in the mountainous territory around Mt Ararat, SW of the Caspian Sea and SE of the Black Sea, and it included the sources of the Euphrates River and the lakes of Sevan and Van. Legend tells of a descendant of Noah, named Haig or Haik, who founded the original kingdom. Historians propose, however, that the Armenians crossed the Euphrates in the eighth century b.c., entered Asia Minor and invaded the state called Urartu by the Assyrians. Skilled from early times in crafts and metallurgy, they had formed a definable nation by the sixth century b.c. but were soon invaded and subjugated by Media.
A provincial governorship of the Persian Empire from the late sixth to the fourth centuries b.c., Armenia was conquered by Alexand er the Great in 330 b.c., and a short time later became part of the domain of the Seleucid Empire under one of Alexand er’s successors, Seleucus I. Although Armenia then gained independence for a while, it remained divided into greater and little Armenia until its two parts were united by Tigranes (95–55 b.c.). He established his capital at Artaxata and was the most powerful ruler in a vast region until his defeat by Rome, under Lucullus in 69 b.c. and Pompey in 67 b.c. The country was then allied to Rome. It became the first nation in the world to formally adopt Christianity as a religion, in a.d. 303. Its people endured persecution as Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries, as well as numerous changes in government in bitter wars lasting until the mid-seventh century between Rome and the Sassanid dynasty of Persia. Following a period under Muslim caliphates, struggle and tumult again ruled as the Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuk Turks, Khazars, and Mongols fought one another for control of the region.
From the ninth to 11th centuries Armenia was independent under the leadership of the native Bagratid dynasty. Conquered again by the Byzantine Empire in 1046, it was soon retaken by the Seljuk Turks following their victory over the Byzantines at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071. Its repeated subjugation prompted a segment of the Armenian population to found the kingdom of Little Armenia in Cilicia in 1080, which was sustained until the Mamluk invasion of 1375. Following devastation of the country by Mongolian hordes in the mid-13th century, many Armenians fled to the W under the leadership of Prince Reuben. During 1386–94 Tamerlane swept over Greater Armenia, murdering thousand s in his path. When he died in 1405, the Ottoman Turks moved in, and by the 16th century all of Armenia was under the Ottoman Empire. Although they were often harassed for their Christian beliefs, the Armenians did thrive economically under the Turks. Enclaves of Armenian financiers and merchants developed in all the important Ottoman cities. The economic flowering continued despite political alterations in which a portion of eastern Armenia was ceded to Persia in 1620. Russia occupied Georgia in 1802.
As in so many regions, the 19th century brought a rise of nationalist sentiment among the widely dispersed Armenian peoples. It proved impossible to revive the nation, however. Religious persecution continued under the decadent Ottoman Empire despite pressures by Western Europe to carry out reforms. The treaty of Berlin in 1878 formalized the call for reform, but it was largely ignored by Turkey. In 1878 the Armenian nation was further splintered when Russia acquired a portion of the country under the Treaty of San Stefano. Turkish massacres of Armenians occurred from 1893–94 on and continued through World War I, including the tragic massacre at Musa Dagi. Armenian suffering increased during World War I when Armenians generally supported Russia in the intensified hostility between that country and Turkey.
Following Turkey’s defeat, the Treaty of Brest- Litovsk in 1918 between Germany and the Soviet Union moved to make Russian Armenia an independent republic under German supervision. In 1920 the Treaty of Sèvres called for an independent Greater Armenia that would include both the Turkish and Russian regions, but later that year the Soviets moved into Russian Armenia and made it a separate Soviet republic, the Armenian SSR.