Armenians, a non-Muslim minority that traditionally lived in northwestern Iran adjacent to the historic Armenian homeland located in were eastern Turkey and Soviet Armenia (and subsequently the independant state of Armenia), speak an Indo-European language that is distantly related to Persian. There were an estimated 300,000 Armenians in the country at the time of the Revolution in 1979. There was considerable emigration of Armenians from Iran since, although in 1986 the Armenian population was still estimated to be 250,000.
Armenian forms its own independent branch of the Indo-European family. It has no close living relatives. It is thought to be most closely related to Greek. It is estimated that Armenian is spoken by about 6 million people worldwide (Ethnologue). It is the official language of Armenia where it is spoken by some 3.5 million people. It was used in Armenia in the schools and in the media. However, nearly half of Armenian speakers today live outside of Armenia. Armenians call their country Hayastan and their language Hayaren.
The term Armenian is used to refer to three different languages: Classical Armenian (a fifth-century classical form of the language, maintained by the Armenian church), Eastern Armenian spoken in present-day Armenia, Iran and India, and Western Armenian, which was spoken by Armenians in Anatolia, Turkey, prior to the Armenian Genocide in Turkey in 1915-1916.
The Armenian diaspora resulted from several historical events. During World War I, Armenians in Turkey suffered from ethnic cleansing and genocide (1915-1916). From 1918 to 1920, those who resisted the Turks attempted to create an independent Armenian Republic, built around lands traditionally belonging the Armenia that were for a time independant following the demise of the Imperial Russian state. Their bid for independance failed. Historic Armenia was then divided among the USSR, Turkey, and Iran. This resulted in mass emigration of Armenians to different parts of the world.
The Armenian alphabet was invented by the missionary Mesrop Mashtots circa 400 CE. Originally it consisted of thirty-six letters (six vowels and thirty consonants), to which two letters were added in the 12th century. It shows the influence of Greek and Persian writing. From the early 1920s on, Eastern Armenian was affected by two sets of Soviet-promoted orthographic reforms.
In the past there were many Armenian villages, especially in the Esfahan area, where several thousand Armenian families had been forcibly resettled in the early seventeenth century during the reign of the Safavid ruler, Shah Abbas. By the 1970s, the Armenians were predominantly urban. Approximately half lived in Tehran, and there were sizable communities in Esfahan, Tabriz, and other cities. The Armenians tended to be relatively well educated and maintained their own schools and Armenian-language newspapers.
Most Armenians were Gregorian Christians, although there were some Roman Catholic and Protestant Armenians as a result of European and American missionary work in Iran during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Armenian Orthodox Church was divided between those who give their allegiance to the patriarch based at Echmiadzin, near Yerevan in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, and those who supported his rival, the patriarch of Cicile at Antilyas, near Beirut in Lebanon.
Since 1949 a majority of Armenian Gregorians had followed the patriarch of Cicile. Clergy from Soviet Armenia were at one time active among the Iranian Armenians and had some success in exploiting their sense of community with their coreligionists in the Soviet Union. Several thousand Armenians emigrated from Iran to Soviet Armenia during World War II, and, except for occasional interruptions by one government or another, such emigration continued after the conflict. There had also been steady emigration of Iranian Armenians from Iran to the United States.
By 2008 non-Turkic groups such as Armenians, Assyrians, and Georgians made up less than a percent combined of the total Iranian population. Two seats remained reserved for Armenians, as an officially recognized minority group in the Iranian parliament or Majlis.
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