Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in at least 1 million Armenian deaths. The eastern area of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920.
Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper.
Armenia is a mountainous, landlocked country, on the southeastern edge of Europe, and at the gateway to the Middle East, and all of Asia. The valuable geographical position for potential trade between continents became a curse of sorts. Over the centuries it was invaded and controlled by various empires, including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman.
The local economy still suffers from the long-term ramifications of war, an Azerbaijan fuel blockade, and a very severe 1988 earthquake that destroyed much of its infrastructure, and killed over 55,000 of its citizens.Still, the country continues to make improvements in the 21st century, and as of 2009 became the 31st most economically free nation in the world.
Between 1915 and 1918 the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Muslim Turks, carried out a policy to eliminate its Christian Armenian minority. This genocide was preceded by a series of massacres in 1894-1896 and in 1909, and was followed by another series of massacres beginning in 1920. By 1922 Armenians had been eradicated from their historic homeland.
By the expulsion of the Armenians from those areas of the Ottoman Empire that eventually came to constitute the modern state of Turkey, the reconfiguration of Armenia took a paradoxical course. Whereas the genocide resulted in the death of Armenian society in the former Ottoman Empire, the flight of many Armenians across the border into Russian territory resulted in compressing part of the surviving Armenian population into the smaller section of historic Armenia ruled by the Russians. Out of that region was created the present country of Armenia, the smallest of the republics of the USSR.
Armenians voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September 1991 referendum, followed by a presidential election in October 1991 that gave 83% of the vote to Levon Ter-Petrossian. Ter-Petrossian had been elected head of government in 1990, when the Armenian National Movement defeated the Communist Party. Ter-Petrossian was re-elected in 1996 in a disputed election.
Following the October 27, 1999 assassination in Parliament of Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchian, and six other officials, a period of political instability ensued during which an opposition headed by elements of the former Armenian National Movement government attempted unsuccessfully to force Kocharian to resign. Riding out the unrest, Kocharian was later reelected in March 2003 in a contentious election that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the U.S. Government deemed to have fallen short of international standards.
In presidential elections held in February 2008, Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian was declared winner in the first round with 52.9% of the vote. But thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest the poll, which they say was rigged.
In A.D. 301, Armenia became the first Christian nation; today it is almost surrounded by Islamic nations. During World War I the Ottoman Turks brutally forced out Armenians, causing a diaspora to foreign havens.
In 2009, he signed signed a historic deal to re-establish diplomatic ties with Turkey, but the pact broke down when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted it depended on Armenia resolving its dispute with Azerbaijan first.