Mt. Ararat (Photo: Bedo Eghiayan)

Some 4.5 million Armenians live in Europe and other parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, North America and Russia.  There is also an independent Republic of Armenia since 1991 where around 2.5 million Armenians live in this mountainous corner of historic Armenia.

Historic Armenia (Photo: Sevan Minassian)

Ancient carved stone eternity symbol

The land of ancient Armenia is one of mountains and plains, a land bridge between east and west.  Many travelers have crossed that land but also competing empires have battled there over the centuries. Armenians were torn between them but remained on their land, becoming a minority people as one empire after another settled there, dividing the people between east and west.

Armenians have been around for a long time — over 3,000 years!  Of course, during that time any people would change quite a bit — Armenians don’t still make their tools by banging on stones and iron.  However, experts tell us that the Armenian spoken today has its roots in the area of eastern Anatolia (now in Turkey) in ancient times.




Armenians call themselves HYE

Shakeh Major Tchilingirian, Dancer and Orthoptist.

Persian and Greek writers mentioned Armenians as early as 518 BCE. Armenians then and now call their people HYE and the country HAYASTAN.  Outsiders use the words Armina, Ermeni and other variations.  The names of the mythical heroes, Haig and Aram, are still very popular today.  Aram is mentioned as a grandson of Noah in Genesis.

In the early 4th century, under King Trdat, Armenia became the first kingdom in the world to convert to Christianity.  A priest, Mesrop Mashtots, created the Armenian alphabet around 400 CE so that the Bible could be translated into Armenian.

A Golden Age began in the reign of King Ashot Bagratuni in 885 CE when a corner of Armenia became independent.  Great works of art, architecture and literature were created.  Ani, a city said to have 1001 churches was the capital.  When this kingdom fell, some of its rulers fled south to Cilicia where another Armenian kingdom began. 

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire ruled western Armenia from around 1300 until the early 20th century.  While most Armenians worked on the land, many became successful traders, merchants and skilled crafts workers.  They became especially well-known for creating and selling beautiful rugs.  Some took important roles in the government.  With improvements in education, others became teachers and doctors.

Most Armenians in the Ottoman Empire lived in small towns and villages where their families had lived for centuries.  Others moved to the larger cities to follow a trade or take other work. Many lived in the capital, Constantinople, (now Istanbul) or Smyrna (now Izmir). both very sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities.

Arshaluys and Loutfig Yeghiayan, Adana, 1906

For centuries the different religious and ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire lived and worked together.  By the end of the 19th century, however, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and its leaders wanted a country where everyone believed and acted the same way.  Between 1895 and 1910 there were terrible massacres of the Armenians in certain towns.  However, most Armenians continued to hope that life would improve and they could stay on the lands of their ancestors, in the place that they loved.

Sadly, in 1915 the new government began forcing Armenians on long marches into the deserts of Syria.  In the process, towns and villages were destroyed and well over half the Armenian population was killed or died of starvation and disease on the marches.  This became known as the first Genocide of the twentieth century.

Genocide is a terrible word that means that one group of people tries to rid the world of another group of people.  The Ottoman government tried but did not succeed and Armenian survivors began families and new homes in communities in many countries.

Those who escaped were often helped by their Turkish, Kurdish or Arab friends and neighbors.  They fled and built new lives in other places.  Some stayed in the Middle East but others went much further away.  Very few were left around their original homes in what then became the Republic of Turkey.  Because of the genocide, Armenians were uprooted from the towns, villages and lands of their ancestors and lost their way of life.

Every April 24 Armenians remember 1915 and honor those who died.  They also remember the brave survivors who worked so hard to create new lives and communities around the world.