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Ethnic groups in Armenia include Armenians (98%), Kurds, Russians, Greeks, and others. More than 90% of the population is nominally affiliated with the Armenian Apostolic Church, which is considered to be the national church of Armenia. Languages are Armenian (96%), Russian, and others.

The Armenians are an ancient people who speak an Indo-European language and have traditionally inhabited the border regions common to modern Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. They call themselves hai (from the name of Hayk, a legendary hero) and their country Haiastan. Their neighbors to the north, the Georgians, call them somekhi, but most of the rest of the world follows the usage of the ancient Greeks and refers to them as Armenians, a term derived according to legend from the Armen tribe. Thus the Russian word is armianin, and the Turkish is ermeni.

Armenia first emerged around 800 BC as part of the Kingdom of Urartu or Van, which flourished in the Caucasus and eastern Asia Minor until 600 BC. After the destruction of the Seleucid Empire, the first Armenian state was founded in 190 BC. At its zenith, from 95 to 65 BC, Armenia extended its rule over the entire Caucasus and the area that is now eastern Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon. For a time, Armenia was the strongest state in the Roman East. It became part of the Roman Empire in 64 BC and adopted a Western political, philosophical, and religious orientation.

In 301 AD, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, establishing a church that still exists independently of both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches. During its later political eclipses, Armenia depended on the church to preserve and protect its unique identity. From around 1100 to 1350, the focus of Armenian nationalism moved south, as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, which had close ties to European Crusader states, flourished in southeastern Asia Minor until it was conquered by Muslim states.

Armenian civilization had its beginnings in the sixth century BC. In the centuries following, the Armenians withstood invasions and nomadic migrations, creating a unique culture that blended Iranian social and political structures with Hellenic -- and later Christian -- literary traditions. For two millennia, independent Armenian states existed sporadically in the region between the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, until the last medieval state was destroyed in the fourteenth century.

The extent of country designated by the name Armenia is not defined by any permanent natural boundaries. In the course of its history we find its limits exposed to constant changes. When taken in the widest sense of the expression, Armenia may be said to embrace the country from lake Urmia ind the junction of the rivers Kur and Araxes in the east, to the upper course of the Kizil Irmak or Halys in the west; ind from the upper course of the rivers Chorok and Kur in the north, to the Taurus mountains in the direction of Bir, Mardin, and Nisibis, in the south. This extent is given to Armenia in the outline of a map prefixed to Avdall's Iransation of Michael Chamich's History of Armenia.

The Armenia of Herodotus bordered on the west in Cilicia, from which country it was separated by the Euphrates; towards the N. it included the sources of the Euphrates towards the S. and E. its limits are not distinctly defined; probably Mount Masius separated it from Mesopotamia, and Mount Ararat from the country of the Saspires, who occupied the valley traversed by the Araxes. The Armenia of Strabo is limited on the S. by Mesopotamia and the Taurus ; on the E. by Great Media md Alropalene ; on the N. by the Iberes and Albani, and by he Parachoathras and Caucasus mountains; on the W. by the Tibareni, the Paryadres and Skydises mountains, as Lesser Armenia, and to the country on the Euphrates which separates Armenia from Cappadocia and Dommagene. Abulfeda and other oriental geographers not only extend he limits of Armenia considerably to the N., so as to include Tfitlis and part of Georgia, but also comprehend Cilicia and part of Cappadocia under the appellation of Belad-al-tmen.

Between the 4th and 19th centuries, Armenia was conquered and ruled by, among others, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. For a brief period from 1918 to 1920, it became an independent republic. In late 1920, local communists came to power following an invasion of Armenia by the Soviet Red Army, and in 1922, Armenia became part of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1936, it became the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.

A landlocked country in modern times, Armenia was the smallest Soviet republic from 1920 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Armenia declared its independence from the Soviet Union on September 21, 1991. The future of an independent Armenia is clouded by limited natural resources and the prospect that the military struggle to unite the Armenians of Azerbaijan's Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region with the Republic of Armenia will be a long one.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:33:21 ZULU