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HISTORY

 

Literary evidence on the diluvian antiquity of Armenia is supported by numerous artifacts on its territory from all the periods of the Stone Age (1,5 million years ago-III millennium B.C.). A great number of Paleolithic tools and human bones were found on Mt. Artin, in the caves of Azokh (Artsakh) and Hrazdan. The Bronze Age is represented by the urban culture of Shengavit, Metsamor, Mokhrablur etc.

 

Japhet, the third son of Noah,  is reported to be the forefather of Hayk who settled in the land called, since then, ‘Hayk’ or ‘Hayastan’ by his Armenian off-springs. The names of Hayk, Armenia and Ararat are believed to be identical with those of historical states of Hayasa (15-13th centuries B.C.), Arme (12-7th centuries B.C.) and Urartu (9-6th centuries B.C.) – the cradles of Armenian civilization. In the 6th century B.C. the Armenian Kingdom of Orontids was founded. A reference to the word ‘Armenia’ is contained in the Behistun inscription of the Achaemenid King Darius (521 B.C.), as well as on the oldest map of the world by Hecataeus of Miletus (540-480 B.C.).

 

The Armenian Kingdom was brought to its greatest power by the royal dynasty of Artaxiads. Artaxias the First (c.189-160 B.C.) unified all the Armenian territories and founded the capital Artaxata (Artashat) which, according to Strabo and Plutarch, was built to a design by the brilliant general Hannibal who had sought refuge in the Armenian court. Artaxata, called ‘Carthage in Armenia’ by Greeks, was a center of Hellenistic civilization. The Silk Road from China to Rome passed through the Armenian capital. Coins minted by local and foreign kings have been discovered during excavations in Artaxata. The tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were performed at its famous amphitheatre. Tigran the Great (95-55 B.C.), the scion of Artaxias, achieved a series of military victories over the Parthians and other nations, creating a mighty state which contained a large area of the Middle East. Atropatene, northern Mesopotamia, Cilicia and Syria were added to the Kingdom of Armenia (83 B.C.). Tigran was called ‘most powerful king of Asia’ by Cicero. Artaxiads were followed by the dynasty of Arsacids (66-428 A.D.).

 

Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as the state religion as early as 301 A.D. The new religion was spread throughout Armenia by the King Trdat III and Gregory the Illuminator who jointly destroyed the pagan temples and altars, and built churches and chapels instead.  The most important event in the development of Armenian culture was the invention of the alphabet by Mesrop Mashtots at the beginning of the 5th century. The Bible and other ecclesiastical and scientific works, as well as belles-lettres, were translated from Greek and Syrian into Armenian. The father of Armenian historiography, Movses Khorenatsi, wrote a vast history of his country from Adam to his time. Other historians of the Golden Age (5th c.) – Agathangeghos, Koriwn, Pawstos Buzand, Yeghishe, Ghazar Parpetsi – describe in great detail  the conversion to Christianity, the life of Mashtots, the wars fought against Persia and the persecutions suffered by the Armenians for religious reasons. Valuable treatises of philosophy, theology, grammar and rhetoric, such as Eznik Koghbatsi’s ‘Refutation of the Sects’, Davit Anhaght’s analyses on Aristotle’s and Porphry’s works, appeared as well. The 7th century author Anania Shirakatsi compiled a ‘Geography’ accompanied by an atlas of fifteen maps, including the entire known world. The idea of spherical shape of the Earth was supported by Shirakatsi. He also created a book on mathematics.        

 

After the extinction of the national state (428 A.D.) a number of Armenian Princes played an important role in the Byzantine Empire. Medieval historians and modern scholars recognize fourteen Byzantine emperors, eight empresses and seventeen generals of Armenian origin. In the 7th century A.D. Armenia, previously under Byzantine and Persian domination, was invaded by the Arabs.

 

The Kingdom of Armenia was restored by Prince Ashot of Bagratid dynasty (885-890). The capital then was Ani, said to be the city of four gates, a hundred palaces and a thousand churches. The Armenian Renaissance (9-12th c.) flourished long before the European one. This was the period when the greatest masterpiece of the Armenian poetry - Grigor Narekatsi’s (951-1003) immortal ‘Book of Lament’, Grigor Magistros’s (990-1058), Hovhannes Sarkavag’s (c.1045-1129) and Nersses Shnorhali’s (1100-1173) epic poems, the  ‘Armenian Code’ by Mekhitar Gosh (1120-1213), histories by Thovma Artsrouni (9-10th centuries), Hovhannes Draskhanakerttsi (c. 845-925), Ukhtanes (10th c.), Stepanos Taronetsi (10-11th centuries), Aristakes Lastiverttsi (11th c.), Matteos Urhayetsi (11-12th centuries), were created. The founder of Armenian medieval medicine was Mekhitar Heratsi (12-13th centuries) with his ‘Consolation of Fevers’. Schools and universities were founded in Ani, Ayrivank (Geghard), Nor Getik (Goshavank), Sanahin, Haghbat, Gladzor, Tatev.    

 

Early in the 11th century Armenia was plundered by Seljuks and for the next 150 years was partially or fully under their rule. In the beginning of the 13th century Armenian-Georgian armies led by Zakarid generals liberated the northern Armenia, but soon it fell under the domination of Mongols.  At the end of the 11th century Armenian exiles, led by the Roubenid dynasty, established a new state on the coast of the Mediterranean, in Cilicia, which had survived up to the 14th century. The important role played by the Cilician Armenians in the Crusades was expressed in the following words of Pope Gregory XIII: ‘When the Christian Princes and armies marched to liberate the Holy Land, no nation and no people were more ready and more zealous than the Armenians in giving help in men and counsel. With all their energy, with bravery and loyalty they helped Christians in this Holy War’.

 

The 15-16th centuries are famous for the beginnings of the Armenian Print. A sample of the Armenian alphabet was printed in Breidenbach’s Travel Book in Mainz 1486 when only 18 years had passed since the death of Johann Gutenberg – the German inventor of movable type. The first printed Armenian book was published by Hakob Meghapart in Venice 1512.

 

Modern history reduced the Armenian people to submission under the Turkish, Persian and Russian empires. The independence of the Armenian nation was restored through heroic struggle after the First World War. The first republic was proclaimed on 28 May 1918. Two years later Armenia became part of the Soviet Union.

The Armenian culture and science flourished in the 20th century. Hovhannes Adamian was one of those who invented color television. The existence of the third element of cosmic rays was proved by Alikhanian brothers. In 1943 the National Academy of Sciences was founded in Yerevan. The observatories of Byurakan and Aragats were constructed by the efforts of V.Hambardzoumian and P.Herouni respectively. 

 

Since 21 September 1991, when the republic reestablished its independence, Armenia has emerged into a new exciting chapter of its epic history. The first President was Levon Ter-Petrossyan. The Constitution was adopted through a national referendum on 5 July 1995.

Now the President of the Republic of Armenia is Serzh Sargsyan.

 

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