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Armenia, History

The modern republic of Armenia covers only the northeastern portion of an area historically inhabited by Armenians, whose ancestors settled in the area of Mount Ararat, in present-day Turkey, in the late 3000s bc. In the early 1st century bc Armenian king Tigranes the Great formed an empire—the most extensive Armenian realm in history—that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and included parts of Georgia and Syria. Tigranes’ empire came under the control of the Roman Empire before the end of the 1st century, however, and Armenia became a buffer zone—and often a battleground—in Rome’s campaigns against the Parthians, who ruled over Persia (present-day Iran).

In the 1st century ad a Parthian-Roman treaty installed the Parthian Arsacid dynasty as rulers of Armenia. The treaty required the dynasty to act in allegiance with Rome. In Persia, the Arsacid dynasty fell to the Sassanids in the early 3rd century. The Sassanids initially seized Armenia, but the Roman Empire wrested control of Armenia later that century and then restored the Arsacids to power, crowning Tiridates III as Armenian king. Tiridates converted to Christianity in the early 4th century and established a state church. His conversion predated that of Constantine the Great of the Byzantine Empire (the eastern portion of the Roman Empire), making Armenia the first state to officially adopt Christianity.

The Byzantine and Persian empires divided Armenia in the late 4th century, with Persia taking the larger eastern section, but in the early 7th century all of Armenia came under Byzantine rule. In 653 the Byzantine Empire ceded Armenia to the Arabs, who had already conquered Persia. Armenia was granted virtual autonomy under Arab suzerainty. In 806 the Arabs installed a noble Armenian family, the Bagratuni (Bagratid) line, as governors of Armenia. In 885, one of this line, Ashot I, became the sovereign of an independent Armenian kingdom, and several additional small independent Armenian kingdoms subsequently arose. This period of Armenian independence ended with the conquests of a resurgent Byzantine Empire under Basil II, who ruled from 976 until 1025. Byzantine control was short-lived, however, as invasions of the Seljuk Turks brought most of Armenia under Turkish control by 1071.

In the 13th century Armenia fell to the Mongols, who continued to rule until the early 15th century. The Ottoman Empire conquered most of Armenia in the 16th century, although Iran (formerly Persia) continued to hold some Armenian lands. During the next several centuries, these two powers vied for control over Armenia.

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