Premodern Armenia [Annie Mosher]

The origins of Armenia predate even the foundation of Rome. Independent Armenian kingdoms have risen and fallen, but most of Armenian history is a story of domination by larger powers, by Persian shahs, Arab caliphs, Roman emperors, Ottoman emperors, and Russian tsars. Over the centuries, the Armenian people have been spread far and wide, but never lost their national identity. Rooted in land, language, and religion, this identity developed across Europe and the Near East into modern Armenian nationalism.

The Armenian origin myth can be traced back to Noah, through his descendant Hayk; thus, the Armenian name for Armenia is “Hayastan” and for its people is “Hay.” Several other claims were made during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the Armenians had resided on the Armenian Plateau since the dawn of time and that they, not the Israelites, had been God’s chosen people. Historically, the Armenian people emerged under the Kingdom of Uratu during the ninth century BC, where the blending of Hurrian, Hittite, Aramaic, and Assyrian influences shaped the first Armenian culture. In 782 BC, King Argishti I founded the fortress town of Erebuni, the later Erevan, the modern capital of Armenia. The Kingdom of Uratu collapsed in 590 BC, its territory seized by the Median Empire. This created an opportunity for the first independent Armenian kingdom as the Ervanduni Dynasty came to power. The Ervandunis ruled Armenia for the Median Empire, but in 550 BC the efforts of rebellious vassals (including the Ervandunis) led to the Empire’s collapse. By this point, Armenian identity was firmly connected to the Armenian Plateau, stretching from Eastern Anatolia into Transcaucasia, and encompassing Mt. Ararat, Lake Van, and both the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. The positioning of historic Armenia at the cradle of civilizations contributed to ideas about the biblical roots of the Armenian people. Though successive Armenian kingdoms andrepublics would occupy different or smaller parcels of land, the Armenian Plateau has remained a key part of Armenian identity. Independence from the Median Empire was short-lived, as Cyrus II of Persia conquered Armenia in 546 BC. Several rebellions broke out against his rule, but Armenians were still trusted enough to serve in the Persian Army. During the 330s BC, thousands of Armenians fought against Alexander the Great. In 331 BC, he conquered Persia, allowing room for the first independent Armenian kingdom. The Ervandunis quickly consolidated their power and established Armenia’s independence even as General Seleucus inherited nominal control over Persia and Armenia at Alexander’s death in 323 BC. However, not all of the Armenian clans (nakharars) were satisfied with Ervanduni rule. Antiochus III took advantage of these tensions by inciting the Artashesians to rebellion in the 200s BC. With his victory, Artashes I became king of Greater Armenia, now a Persian vassal state. At this time, the Romans became major players in the Near East. In 188 BC, they forced the Persians out of Asia Minor, confirmed Artashes’ sovereignty over Greater Armenia and granted Lesser Armenia to his associate Zareh. Artashes I tried several times to unite Armenian forces, but he was forced to fight his Mesopotamian wars alone. In the 110s BC, Persia rose to power again under the Parthian Dynasty, whose army defeated both Atavazd I and his successor Tigran I. Once again, Armenia found itself caught between two great empires, the Romans and the Parthians. Tigran II “The Great” maintained Armenia’s independence during this period through the conquest of Lesser Armenia and other Persian territories. He was only defeated when his sons betrayed him at the Battle of Tigrankert in 69 BC, after which he was forced to withdraw from Mesopotamia and Syria, and, shortly afterward, to become a Roman vassal. Tigran’s son Artavazd II continued close ties with Rome, lending military support to General Marcus Licinius Crassus in his campaign against Persia. Being caught between two empires was a very difficult situation and Artavazd also found himself allied with Persia against Crassus for a time. In 36 BC, he even formed a secret alliance with Marc Antony, but that was destroyed after Antony attacked Artashat and brought Artavazd back to Egypt as a hostage. The Parthians and Romans fought over the Armenian throne until Augustus appointed Tigran III (Artavazd’s grandson) as King of Armenia in 20 BC. His reign marked the decline of the Artashinian Dynasty, leaving Armenia to be ruled by Rome for the remainder of the first century AD. Despite the empty throne, Parthia and Rome continued fighting for Armenia until 64 AD, when the Rhandeia Compromise established joint Roman-Parthian suzerainty. Emperor Nero crowned Trdat I, brother of Vologeses I of Parthia, King of Armenia, establishing the Arshakuni Dynasty. The Arshakunis retained control of Armenia even after the Sasanians ended Parthian control of Persia in 216 AD. Once again, Armenia became the frontier between the Roman Empire and a new Persian Empire. After fifty years of battle, the two powers partitioned Armenia in 278 AD, granting Rome control of Western Armenia and the Sasanians control over Eastern Armenia. Throughout the war between Rome and Persia, the Arshakunis ruled in both Western and Eastern Armenia. In 389 AD, the Arshakuni Dynasty ended in the West when Byzantium refused to replace Arshak III with a new Armenian king after his death. The Sasanians ended the dynasty permanently when they removed Artashes from the Eastern Armenian throne in 428 AD. Deprived of its monarchy, Eastern Armenia was ruled by a marzipan (viceroy) until Sasanian Empire collapsed in 637 AD.

During this period of extended Roman and Persian domination, Armenian identity risked being assimilated into the mixture of cultures defined by these two empires. The Arshakuni monarchs thus took steps to preserve and distinguish their people’s identity. Greater Armenia was smaller than historical Armenia had been, but it occupied much of the same territory, making land a continued marker of Armenian identity. Furthermore, in 301 AD, Trdat the Great cast off Persian Zoroastrianism and created the autocephalous Armenian Church, making Armenia the first country to establish Christianity as the state religion. According to legend, Trdat converted after a miraculous recovery from a near-fatal illness, but. more likely, he was persuaded by the Assyrian priests who had been spreading the religion in the South. Vramshupah also contributed to the preservation of Armenian identity almost a hundred years later. He commissioned the clergyman Mesrop Mashtots to develop a written alphabet for the Armenian language. The creation of a distinct writing system inspired a movement to translate texts, especially religious ones, into Armenian, and increased the use of the language in general. By the time they were conquered by Arabs for the first time, Armenians had established a distinct national identity, defined by a unique faith and language, as well as a strong connection to their homeland.

Arabs first invaded Armenia in 640 AD, shortly after Theodore Rshtuni had reunited Byzantine and Persian Armenia. The Ummayad Caliphate formally annexed Armenia in 701 AD, following fifty years of fighting against the clans. After another fifty years, Armenia was ruled by the Abbasid Caliphate from 750 AD. The clans continued to rebel during this period until Ashort Msaker received the title “Prince of Armenia” in 806 AD. His son was the “Prince of Princes” and his grandson was crowned King Ashot I by both the Caliph and Emperor Basil I in 884 AD, launching the Bagratuni Dynasty. Monarchy did not guarantee Armenia safety as the territory was invaded in 898 AD by Muhammad Afshin, resulting in a financially oppressive treaty. Five years later Yusuf ibn Abu Saj Devdad invaded Armenia and required Ashot I to pay tribute and acknowledge Yusuf’s superiority. The lands seized by Yusuf were not regained until the 920s, during the reign of Ashot II. In 982 AD, the Persian emir Abul Haijan besieged Ani, the new capital of Armenia. The Byzantine Empire did not give up control of Armenia, either. In 1019, Basil II demanded the cities of Ani and Kars, but when peace was negotiated in 1021 Cathilicos Petros I Getadardz granted the crown and royal domain of Armenia to the Byzantine Empire following the death of Ashot IV. However, when Ashot IV died in 1041, Gagik II ascended the throne, breaking the peace with the Byzantine Empire. He was imprisoned (and later killed) in Cilicia, and Petros I Getadardz surrendered both Ani and the treasures of the Armenian Church to the Byzantine Army. Twenty years later the Seljuk Turks succeeded Byzantium’s control of Armenia, capturing Ani in 1064 and Kars in 1065. Their crushing defeat of the Byzantine Army at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 marked the beginning of a new era in the Near East. Byzantium would never again wield the same amount of power and their weakness would bring the first crusaders to the Holy Land.

In 1098 the first crusader state was established at Edessa, introducing a new player to the conflicts waged on Armenian territory. As the Byzantine Empire weakened, Armenian power began to emerge in Cilicia, which was conquered by Ruben in his rebellions against Constantinople during the 1080s. Sixty years later, Raymond of Saint Gilles tried to extend Antioch’s power into Cilicia, holding Prince Levon as collateral for his territorial demands. Levon was also captured by the Byzantines two years later as they moved to reclaim Cilicia. Levon’s son, Toros, escaped captivity and organized Armenian Cilicia against the Byzantine Empire. He defeated Andronicus Comnenus at the Battle of Mamistra in 1152 and allied with Reynald of Chatillon to defeat Byzantine forces in Cilicia and Cyprus. Toros’ brother, Mleh, continued his campaign against Byzantine with victories at Adana, Mamistra, and Taurus, but he was assassinated in 1175. Meanwhile, Salah al-Din had replaced the last Fatimid Caliph in Egypt with the Ayyubid Caliphate, expanding his power into the Near East and conquering most of the crusader states. In 1194, Levon negotiated the crusader Bohemund III’s removal from Armenian territories. Four years later he was crowned the first king of Armenian Cilicia, accepting crowns from both the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III Angelus and the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. In 1204, the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, ending Byzantine influence in the Near East. Armenia now found itself completely surrounded by Muslim Empires, with the exception of the crusader stronghold at Constantinople.

Over the course of the thirteenth century Armenian Cilicia was invaded five times, first by the Seljuk Turks and later by the Mamluks, who had succeeding the Ayyubid Caliphate in Egypt. Desperate for an ally, Hetum I began negotiations with the Mongols in 1247, which resulted in the Qaraqorum Treaty of 1254 between Hetum I and Great Kahn Mongke. The Mongols had proved themselves a formidable ally after their defeat of the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Kose Dagh in 1243. Unfortunately for Hetum I, Mongke’s death in 1259 significantly weakened Mongol presence in the Near East. Armenian Cilicia participated in the last crusader efforts to liberate parts of the Near East from Muslim power, but none of these ventures ended successfully. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, Levon IV begged Europe, but no help came. The last Mongol power in the Near East ended in 1336 and the Mamluks finally overran Armenian Cilicia in 1375, ending the last independent Armenian kingdom. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire seized Constantinople, ending any powerful Christian presence in the region.

Despite the centralizing power of the Bagratuni Dynasty and Armenian Cilicia during this period of Arab domination, many Armenians left their homeland in favor of less contested lands. To the East, a strong Armenian community was established in India, while many other Armenians settled in cities across Europe. A large part of this Armenian population became merchants. Regardless where they settled, these Armenians brought with them their religion and their language. Some assimilated into their new surroundings by joining the Catholic Church. Among those Armenians who remained in the Near East, some had converted to Islam. Already by the fifteenth century, multiple Armenian communities existed outside of the Near East.

For the next two hundred years, Armenia passed between the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Persian Empire. In 1590, Shah Abbas gave Eastern Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia to Sultan Murad III. In 1639, Shah Safi I granted Iraq and the Armenian Plateau to Sultan Murad IV as part of the Treaty of Zuhab. With no Armenian power structure in place, the Church assumed control and it was through them that the Ottomans maintained control over Armenia. In 1547, Cathilicos Stephanos asked the papacy and Holy Roman Emperor Charles II to free Armenia from Muslim domination, but this and all such later requests were met with silence. In 1660, Armenian merchants gave Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich the heavily decorated Almazi Throne in return for a silk monopoly. From this point until the early twentieth century, Armenia became the borderland where the Russian, Ottoman, and Persian empires would battle for dominance. Peter the Great’s invasion of Transcaucasia led to the 1724 partition, under which Armenia fell under Ottoman control. Russia fought the first in a series of Russo-Turkish Wars from 1768-74 (others would follow in 1787-92, 1806-12, 1828-29, and 1877-78). Persia reclaimed Eastern Armenia and Tiflis in 1796, but Paul I announced Georgia’s annexation by Russia in 1800, and Alexander I incorporated Georgia and Northern Armenia into the Russian Empire in 1801. This contributed to the Russo-Persian War from 1804-13, in which Armenians predominantly fought alongside the Russians. Under the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, Persia surrendered everything north of the Arax and Kars rivers to the Russian Empire. The second Russo-Persian War (1826-28) established Russian control over all of Eastern Armenia. Following the fourth Russo-Turkish War (1828-29), Russia created the Armenian Oblast’, to which many Armenians emigrated, rather than remaining in the parts of Armenia still ruled by the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1839, Sultan Abdul Mejd declared equality within the Ottoman Empire, making it a much easier place for Armenians and other minorities to live. This was followed in 1847 by the creation of an Armenian Spiritual Council and Supreme Council and the ratification of the Armenian National Constitution in1863. Unfortunately, this progress was halted in 1878 when Sultan Abdul-Hamid suspended the 1876 Ottoman Constitution and began to discourage the multi-ethnic community his predecessor had tried to create. 1894-96 saw massacres of Armenians in Sasun, Trebizond, Urfa, Erzerum, Diarbekir, Arabkir, Kharpet, and Kayseri. These attacks were halted temporarily in 1909, when the Young Turk movement reinstated the Ottoman Constitution and forced Abdul-Hamid to abdicate. The military regime established in the Ottoman Empire in 1913 were the harshest overlords the Armenian people had ever faced. In Russian Armenia, Nicholas II attempted to control the population through the church. In 1903, he confiscated church property, but returned it two years later. Armenians were not exempt from the revolutionary ideas sweeping Europe, and Armenian revolutionary movements had joined in the first Russian Revolution of 1905. Following the Revolution, Armenian revolutionaries continued to be persecuted within Russia.

After domination by a multitude of empires, Armenian communities both in the homeland and abroad had managed to retain their identities, as defined by territory, religion, and language. This cohesive Armenian identity provided fertile ground for the seed of nationalism growing in Europe. The creation of the first Armenian press in 1771 allowed for the printing of numerous nationalist newspapers and books, both in Armenian and in translation. Armenian nationalism emerged in many of the Armenian enclaves in Europe and the Near East, developing into revolutionary movements. Many of these differed in their specific message, but all shared the Armenian cultural narrative. A people scattered across two continents, separated for hundreds of years, possessed a cultural identity so strong that it easily rose to the challenge of nineteenth century nationalism.

Armenia in the Twentieth Century [Laura Tourtellotte]

Much of Armenia’s history has been defined by its interactions with the great powers which exerted influences over the Southern Caucasus. At a crossroads for commercial and cultural trade between the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian Empires, Armenia’s location contributed to its long history of rule and occupation by foreign powers. As a country whose main cultural identification is linked with its Christianity but which was in close proximity with the Ottoman and Persian Empires, two large Muslim states, Armenia developed a cultural identity based on martyrdom, betrayal, sacrifice, and foreign rule.

Contrary to a widespread belief in the primordialism of national identity, current ethnic tensions within the Caucasus can be traced back to the 19th century. At the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire, a long-time occupier of these regions, launched pogroms against the indigenous Armenian populations, who, abetted by the Russian Empire, resisted Ottoman influence by forming village militia groups (fedayin). To counteract these unruly indigenous populations, the Ottoman Empire reacted by “resettling,” “relocating,” and “exterminating” Armenians, as well as other Christian groups. This resulted in the escalation of hostilities on both sides, which in 1915 broke out into what is commonly known in present-day Armenia and in the West as the “Armenian genocide,” although modern Turkish authorities contest this label. Whether or not the Ottoman Empire’s actions constituted genocide is debatable, as there was no single written directive of intent regarding Ottoman policy toward the Armenians. What is evident, however, is that the imprisonment and execution of Armenian clerics and intellectuals coupled with mass deportations and death caused the “wholesale cultural and demographic transformation of eastern Anatolia” (King, 158). Furthermore, this conflict polarized indigenous groups along religious and ethnic lines, divisions that still resonate today in the cultural mistrust Armenians feel toward Turkey. “Before the genocide,” notes historian Charles King, “it was possible to be an Armenian and an Ottoman. Afterward it was impossible to be both an Armenian and a Turk” (159). Armenia’s first period of independence from 1918-1920 further influenced the formation of Armenian national identity. This brief period had a large impact on the self-images and future politics of the Caucasian states: “Not only did they [the independent states] represent the first instance of modern statehood for the south Caucasus . . . but they also created rivalries over territory and identity that would return to haunt the new, post-Soviet countries some seventy years later” (King, 161).

After World War I, Armenia seized the opportunity to declare its independence as a socialist republic with borders that corresponded with the former Russian imperial guberniia (provinces) of Yerevan and district of Kars, but expanded to claim Nakhichevan. The cessation of hostilities in World War I, however, and the peace talks between the Allied powers, Russia, and the former Ottoman Empire effectively sealed the possibility of independent states in the Caucasus. When Allied troops pulled out of the region, its dreams of independence were quashed. Armenia also lost half of its lands – those corresponding to Western Armenia, which were reclaimed by Turkey.

Confronted by the reality of a “choice between two occupiers,” either Turkey or Russia, Armenia acceded to Bolshevik rule in December 1920 (King, 172). Thus, foreign rule of Armenia continued into the Soviet era. Interestingly, historian Ronald Suny has drawn an interesting parallel between the formation of Armenia and another reconstructed nation: “The story of Soviet Armenia parallels in interesting ways the formation of the state of Israel: a part of the ancient ‘homeland’ was reconstituted as a nation state to which dispersed Armenians could return under the protection of a great power” (Suny, 885). Ideology clearly played a strong role in shaping the language of conquest as well as the construction of a nation. While in reality the Soviet Union’s incorporation of the Caucasus into its borders was a reassertion of the Russian Empire’s former borders, it was framed in terms of a “‘voluntary’ union of the workers of the south Caucasus and their brothers north of the mountains” (King, 186).

The formal establishment of Soviet Armenia in 1922 was not the end of Armenia’s border conflicts. Indeed, the “Soviet strategy of creating buffer zones between the Russian heartland and foreign neighbors” (King, 187) led to the occasionally strange geographical demarcations between countries in the formation of the South Caucasus, and aggravated relations among these states. In most of the new republics of the Caucasus, these tensions were found within the administrative units that the Soviet Union imposed upon them, which called into question the integrity of these nationalities, a key factor in national identity formation. Armenia, as the smallest republic, did not experience this subdivision. Its cultural identity was perhaps more threatened by the loss to the Ottoman Empire of what Armenia saw as culturally important sites: “historically significant sites – from the old royal city of Ani to Mount Ararat, the central symbol of Armenian identity – were now across the border in Turkey” (King, 188). Armenia’s largest conflict arose, however, from another territory it was not awarded, namely, Nagorno-Karabakh. This conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan was to cause problems not only in the 1920s, but also in the 1980s and after Soviet rule.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a mountainous region located between Armenia and Azerbaijan over which these two countries have had innumerable bloody battles from 1988-1994. Geographically and administratively part of Azerbaijan, it was culturally and ethnically closer to Armenia. Indeed, upon the declaration of Nagorno-Karabakh as an autonomous region in 1923, the oblast’ had a population of 131,500 people, 94.4 percent Armenians and 5.6 percent Azeris” (Yamskov, 644). Even the territory’s own inhabitants were unsure of their place within the republics of the South Caucasus. In 1919,

In Karabakh, the Armenian community was split . . . There were those – primarily Dashnaks and villagers – who wanted unification with Armenia, and those – mainly Bolsheviks, merchants, and professionals – . . . [who] admitted that the district was economically with eastern Transcaucasia and sought accommodation with the Azerbaijani government (De Waal, 128).

Initially, the Bolsheviks “decided to award all disputed territory to Armenia, apparently as a reward for its conversion to Bolshevism” (De Waal, 129). Later, however, in 1921 when there was a nationalist uprising, the Soviets looked to renege on their previous deal so as to weaken what they perceived as an upsurge of “bourgeois nationalism.” Conveniently, in allotting the region to Azerbaijan, the Soviet Empire continued its imperial precedent of conquer through the tactics of “divide and rule.” The decision as to whom Nagorno-Karabakh should belong was so complicated that the Committee on the Caucasus (KavBuro) narrowly passed attaching Nagorno-Karabakh to Soviet Armenia, which they reversed a day later, awarding it regional autonomy within the Azerbaijani SSR (De Waal, 129-130). This abrupt about-face was perhaps due to Joseph Stalin’s influence, who oversaw KavBuro at this time.

Nakhichevan has had a less bloody history, but is an integral part of the Armenian-Azeri conflict that currently engulfs the region. Initially claimed by independent Armenia, Nakhichevan was designated as an exclave of Azerbaijan, despite its Armenian population following Soviet occupation. The strip of Armenia between Azerbaijan and her exclave was to be a deterrent for possible Turkish invasion. The result was a significant decrease in Armenian population in the region, another example to heighten hostilities concerning Nagorno-Karabakh.

The confusing and contradictory actions of the Soviet Union regarding nationality policy in the Caucasus speaks to a larger pattern of behavior. According to Stalin, nationalism was a necessary precursor to the rise of class consciousness, and should thus be encouraged. “In the Caucasus, as in other parts of the Soviet Union, these ideas contributed to the creation of a vast system of political institutions that ended up embracing rather than abjuring a certain brand of nationalism” (King, 186). The convolutions of what constituted “good” nationalism varied according to the times, however, and what one day was party line was later taken to be reactionary Trotskyism. Nationalism in various contortions remained a constant thread throughout Soviet history, with new indigenized elites replacing the old, “false” thinkers in line with the revision of party policies. Indeed, such purges of the communist elites cemented Stalinist ideology in the Caucasus by making way for a new generation of local elites loyal to Lavrenty Beria and Joseph Stalin, both of whom hailed from the Caucasus (King, 194). After Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev denounced the former party leader’s actions and arrested Beria. In so doing, party officials appointed by these leaders were discredited and ousted from office. This change was followed by a stable period of Soviet rule by members of the local elite, such as Karen Demirchian, who, as the Communist Party’s First Secretary in Armenia, ruled for a relatively quiet tenure of 14 years (King, 198-200).

In the face of the crumbling of Soviet ideology as a motivating force in the late period of Soviet rule, in many republics nationalism was called upon to fill in the gap. Life was structured by everyday corruption and shortages of basic goods in Armenia, as well as the rest of the Soviet Union. Reliance on social networks was tantamount to survival. Most importantly, however, was the growing belief in a stronger identity than the “Soviet Man” – that of national identity. Indeed, as King remarks, “nationalism provided the basic vocabulary through which political opposition could be expressed”(214). In response to the worsening conditions and the erosion of old belief systems, opposition began to take the form of nationalistic rhetoric. Dissident voices, whose “motivating ideologies were largely derived from the desire for national flourishing against what was perceived to be an antinational, Russian-dominated state” began to make their presence heard in public demonstrations commemorating the Armenian genocide (King, 209). Along with revitalizing old wrongs as a part of asserting one’s national identity, the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh once again emerged as an area of contention.

Tensions were far from resolved after the 1923 decision to award Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous status within the Azerbaijani SSR, and this region exploded onto the scene in 1988 as a major conflict. Within the Gorbachev era of increased freedoms, “questions about the past and future of the Nagorno-Karabakh territory became a natural focal point of discontent” (King, 213). Old grievances between Azerbaijan and Armenia which had been simmering for 60 years found expression in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. As the Armenians rightly pointed out, “since 1921, Nagorny Karabakh [sic] had been an island of territory dominated by Armenians inside the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan (De Waal, 10). This came to a head in 1988 when, under the influence of Gorbachev’s perestroika and glasnost’, the peoples of the predominantly autonomous region Nagorny Karabakh stated their desire to redraw Soviet borders to include Nagorny Karabakh in Armenia. “With the political openings offered by Gorbachev, the autonomous political movements that emerged in the Soviet Union quickly became the vehicles of national expression in non-Russian republics” (Suny, 876).

Not only was unification a means of gathering “the peoples” of Armenia within a common homeland, but Armenia’s relatively high standard of living compared to that of Azerbaijan was very attractive to the mainly Armenian residents of Nagorny-Karabakh:. “the most fundamental cause underlying the conflict is the significant lag in the standard of living or quality of life in Azerbaijan” (Yamskov, 640). The residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, seeing the still greater prosperity in Armenia, wished to secede, while Azerbaijan wished to use Nagorno-Karabakh’s wealth to boost the economies of Azerbaijan’s poorer territories (Yamskov, 642). Here, the desires of Nagorno-Karabakh to join its more prosperous neighbors echoes the concern of the Baltic States during the same period: achieving prosperity meant leaving behind a country that burdened one’s economy by forcing it to support less wealthy areas.

Since Nagorno-Karabakh’s 1988 declaration of its intention to rejoin Armenia, a bloody conflict has been waged over this territory, which has lasted beyond Soviet rule. In 1994 a cease-fire in the region was agreed upon, but fighting continues to today. Note that the Nagorno-Karabakh is primarily an issue of competing nationalisms. The Armenians embraced the constructed idea that ‘the Armenian people’ must be united with their ‘homeland’, as it had been of old. They saw the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh as one of national survival. Furthermore, Armenia’s determination to absorb Nagorno-Karabakh was only solidified by Azeri resistance in the form of pogroms of its native Armenian population. The Azeris likewise viewed Nagorno-Karabakh in terms of national integrity: while Armenians saw unification as a return of what was rightfully theirs, Azeris saw it as a treacherous defection by an unruly minority group. To Azerbaijan, the Armenians were fomenting nationalist identity at the expense of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity (King, 213).

The “nationality question,” then, was paramount in the formation of a free Armenian state in 1991 as well as its existence under Soviet rule. “The post-Soviet states present a veritable laboratory of modern national identity formation” (Suny, 866). Armenia, a country of peoples with ancient roots in the area, especially draws upon these 20th century ideas of nations as constructed entities and upon the importance of national integrity in its current form as an independent republic. “The national history is one of continuity, antiquity or origins, heroism and past greatness, martyrdom and sacrifice, victimization and overcoming trauma . . . [A]n interpretation of history with a proper trajectory is implied” (Suny, 870). Armenia’s intellectuals have had a strong role in constructing a ‘proper’ trajectory in history. It views this final achievement of independence as one long due in Armenia’s struggle to overcome and endure occupation, deprivation, and war over the centuries.


Works cited:

  •  Thomas De Waal, Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan through Peace and War (New York:New York University Press, 2003).
  • Charles King, The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Razmik Panossian, The Armenians (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006).
  • Simon Payaslian, The History of Armenia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  • Ronald Grigor Suny, “Constructing Primordialism: Old Histories for New Nations,” Journal of Modern History 73, no. 4 (2001), 862-896.
  • A.N. Yamskov, “Ethnic Conflict in the Transcaucasus: the Case of Nagorno-Karabakh,” Theory and Society 20, no. 5 Special Issue on Ethnic Conflict in the Soviet Union (1991), 631-660.