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Historical Overview

Modern Armenia comprises only a small portion of ancient Armenia, one of the world's oldest centres of civilization. At its height, Armenia extended from the south-central Black Sea coast to the Caspian Sea and from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Urmia in present-day Iran. Ancient Armenia was subjected to constant foreign incursions. Between the 4th and 19th centuries, Armenia was conquered and ruled by, among others, Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks. Armenia finally lost its autonomy in the 14th century. The centuries-long rule of Ottoman and Persian conquerors imperiled the very existence of the Armenian people. Eastern Armenia was annexed by Russia during the 19th century; western Armenia remained under Turkish rule, and in 1894-96 and 1915 Turkey perpetrated systematic massacres and forced deportations of Armenians.

Armenia gained independence from the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire after the collapse of these two empires in the wake of the First World War. The Democratic Republic of Armenia (DRA) was established in Erevan on May 28, 1918 and a new page was opened in the history of the Armenians nation. This Armenian republic was the first independent Armenian state since the Middle Ages. It was full of hope and expectations, but unfortunately, it was short lived. In 1920, the establishment of the Soviet Republic of Armenia erased two years of accomplishments. On November 29, the Soviet 11th Army invaded Armenia at Karavansarai (present-day Ijevan) and by November 29, 1920, the Soviet 11th Army marched into Yerevan. On December 1, 1920 as the news about the Sovietization of Armenia reached Azerbaijan, Narimanov, the chief of the Revolutionary Committee of Azerbaijan, surprisingly declared about the cessation of the Azerbaijan's claims to the Armenian territories and proclaimed Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Zanguezour, integral parts of Armenia. However, just a day later, the Narimanov's decree appeared in a slightly different wording: Nakhichevan and Zanguezour were recognized parts of Armenia, whereas Karabakh was given the right of self-determination. Nonetheless, the strange alliance between the Turks and the Russian Bolsheviks played a fatal role in the final determination of borders. In March of 1921, Turkey and Russia signed a mysterious Treaty of Moscow to tear Nakhichevan away from Armenia and to attach it to the Soviet Azerbaijan. In summer of 1921, the Caucasian Office of the Communist Party of Bolsheviks held a number of sessions to solve the Karabakh problem. On July 4, the plenary session issued a decree confirming the belonging of Karabakh to Armenia. However, on the next day, Stalin convened an extraordinary session to transfer Karabakh to Azerbaijan. The Treaty of Kars signed in October of 1921 completed the carve-up of Armenia. As a result of the Soviet and Turkish manipulations, the territory of the Soviet Republic of Armenia was reduced to 30,000 square km. Armenia was even deprived of Mount Ararat, its main symbol. Armenian and Azeri scholars have speculated that the decision was an application by Russia of the principle of "divide and rule". This can be seen, for example, by the odd placement of the Nakhichevan exclave, which is separated by Armenia but is a part of Azerbaijan. Others have also postulated that the decision was a goodwill gesture by the Soviet government to help maintain "good relations with Atatürk's Turkey."

The transition to communism was difficult for Armenia, as for most of the other republics in the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities placed Armenians under strict surveillance. There was almost no freedom of speech, even less so under Joseph Stalin. Any individual who was suspected of using or introducing nationalist rhetoric or elements in their works were labeled traitors or propagandists, and were sent to Siberia during Stalinist rule. Even Zabel Yessayan, a writer who was fortunate enough to escape from ethnic cleansing during the Armenian Genocide, was quickly exiled to Siberia after repatriating to Armenia from France.

During the years of Soviet atheism, the Church lived through one of the darkest stages of her history. Armenian Bolsheviks carried out completely anti-church policies. They persecuted the church at every opportunity, knowing that it was a powerful and authoritative institution that was followed and listened to by the whole nation. The closing and demolition of churches, persecutions and assassinations of clergymen, exile, and use of physical force was the strategy of the government. The primary task of Bolsheviks was to ensure communist education for the people and to educate them in atheistic ideology. In 1920, in a decision by the Soviet Armenia government, the church was prohibited from being in charge of or involved in the public schools. In 1922, all the properties and grounds belonging to the Monastery of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin were confiscated from the Church and nationalized, becoming state property. While the anti-church and anti-religious policies was carried out from the very first days of establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia, the persecutions and the religious intolerance increased at the end of 1920s and the beginning of 1930s. In those years of general collectivization the governors of the regions used different methods of force and persecution to separate the people from the mother church. The church was proclaimed as anti-revolutionary and an anti-Soviet element, a public enemy that was subjected to terrorism and violence. At the beginning of the 1930s' the process of destroying the churches started in Armenia. Roughly 800 churches were closed during those years and converted to collective farm storehouses, clubs and garages. The persecution, confinement, exile and annihilation of Armenian clergy and intelligentsia grew to enormous extents. The main accusations made were: being a secret member of the alliance, conducting anti-soviet preaching, carrying out acts of espionage on behalf of foreign states, carrying out acts of "terrorism", being an "enemy of the nation", and similar characterizations. Complaints went unanswered. The clergymen had to give up their spiritual mission under threat of death. Many clergymen were imprisoned and shot. The most horrific of the violence was a murder of His Holiness Khoren I, Catholicos of All Armenians. In 1938, on the night of April 5, agents of the Soviet State Security killed His Holiness by strangulation, while he was in his bedroom in the Old Pontifical Residence. The murder of the Catholicos was something unparalleled in the history of the Armenian Church. The devoted and faithful Catholicos Khoren I was opposed to the Soviet Government and its decisions to seize the treasures of the Church, and it cost him his life.

From 1922 to 1936, Armenia formed part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, consisting of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The new Constitution of the USSR adopted in 1936 dissolved the Transcaucasian Republic. Armenia became one of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics. Like the other Republics, Armenia was governed by the Central Committee of the Republican Communist Party. The 1st Secretaries of the Party were appointed from Moscow. Within the republic, as throughout the Soviet Union, representative government had ceased to have any reality. A one-party state ruled by men with loyalty to the central Communist leadership in Moscow had been established in Armenia. As the Russian Politburo fell year by year under the influence of one man, Joseph Stalin, so in Armenia those Communists who could prove their loyalty to Stalin came to power and those who could not were removed. In 1927 the independent Marxist ("Spetsifist"), Davit Ananun, a brilliant social critic and political analyst, was thrown out of his job as part of a campaign against "counterrevolutionary nationalists". Other former Dashnaks and Mensheviks were also purged from institutions and party calls. One hundred twenty members of the Trotskyist opposition were arrested in April 1927, and in the turmoil of these purges, First Secretary Hovhannisian was dismissed for underestimating the dangers of deviant Marxists. These purges, part of the Stalinist consolidation of power, ended the period of relative intellectual tolerance in Armenian and Soviet political circles.

In the 30s, not only clergymen and political leaders, also ordinary Armenians suffered from a large-scale campaign of political terror launched by Joseph Stalin. Under Stalin's command, the Communist Party of Armenia used police terror to strengthen its political hold on the population and suppress all expressions of nationalism. The purges touched virtually every Armenian family. Tens of thousands of innocent Armenians were executed and deported, among them Thousands of writers, artists, scientists and political leaders. Additionally, in 1944, roughly 200,000 Hamshenis (Sunni Muslim Armenians who live near the Black Sea costal regions of Russia, Georgia and Turkey) were deported from Georgia to areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Further deportations of Armenians from the coastal occurred in 1948, when 58,000 nationalist Armenian Dashnaks and Greeks were forced to move to Kazakhstan.

Though The Nazis never reached the South Caucasus, intending to capture the oil fields in Azerbaijan, Armenia was spared the devastation and destruction that wrought most of the western Soviet Union during the World War II. Armenia contributed over 300-500,000 men to the war effort. Additionally, there were a total of 60 generals among other senior officers who served in the Soviet armed forces during the war. Nearly 175,000 Armenian soldiers gave their lives in defending the country. As with many Soviet soldiers who surrendered to German forces during fighting, Armenians were punished by Stalin and sent to work at labor camps located in Siberia.

In 1946, many patriotic Armenians from the foreign Armenian colonies decided to repatriate to their historical homeland to contribute the post-war restoration. However, in years1948-1949, Stalin launched a new campaign of terror, and thousands of those repatriated Armenians were illegally arrested and forcibly deported to Siberia and Altay. 
From the beginning of the 60s, Armenians began to emigrate from the Soviet Union on a large-scale. The Soviet leaders considered the Armenians, together with the Jews and the Germans as "unreliable elements" of the Soviet system.

After Stalin's death, Nikita Khruschev emerged as the country's new leader. The Kremlin soon began a process allowing for greater expression of national feeling. Khruschev's De-Stalinization process also eased fears for many Soviet residents. Additionally, he also put more resources into the production of consumer goods and housing. Almost immediately, Armenia began a rapid cultural and economic rebirth. Also, to a limited degree, some religious freedom was granted to Armenia when Catholicos Vazgen I assumed the duties of his office in 1955.

On April 24, 1965, tens of thousands of Armenians flooded the streets of Yerevan to remind the world of the horrors that their parents and grandparents endured during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. This was the first public demonstration of such high numbers in the USSR, which defended national interests rather than collective ones.Soviet troops entered the city and attempted to restore order. To prevent this from happening again, the Kremlin agreed to have a memorial built in honor of those who perished during the atrocities.

After Leonid Brezhnev assumed power in 1964, much of Khruschev's reforms were reversed. The Brezhnev era entered into a new state of stagnation and saw a decline in both the qualities and quantities of products in the Soviet Union. Armenia was severely affected by these policies as demonstrated several years later in the 1988 Leninakan Earthquake. New homes being built during the 1970s largely had materials such as cement and concrete being diverted for other uses. Bribery and a lack of oversight saw the completion of poorly built and weakly supported apartment buildings. As the earthquake hit in 1988, the houses and apartments that collapsed the most effortlessly were the ones built during the Brezhnev years. It was said that the older the date of the dwellings, the better they withstood the quake.Local housing infrastructure (particularly schools and hospitals) resulted in about 25,000 lost lives. Around 514 000 people became homeless. The harsh situation caused by the earthquake and subsequent events made many residents of Armenia leave and settle in North America, Western Europe or Australia.

On March 17, 1991, Armenia, along with the Baltics, Georgia and Moldova boycotted a union-wide referendum in which 78 % of all voters voted for the retention of the Soviet Union in a reformed form. Finally, on September 21, 1991, the state of Armenia was fully recognized and re-established. This did not make life of Armenians any easier. Soon Armenia was involved in a war over the province of Nagorno-Karabakh which had been an autonomous region in neighbouring Azerbaijan but with a population over 75% Armenian. It should be mentioned again that the area of Nagorno-Karabakh was promised to Armenia by the Bolsheviks in 1920, but Stalin granted it to Azerbaijan for his own political purposes. The Armenians held to their position that the region must become part of Armenia, and radical Azerbaijanis called for abolition of Karabakh autonomy. The Nagorno-Karabakh war took place between February 1988 and May 1994 in the Karabakh mountains separating Armenia and Azerbaijan. By the end of 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nagorno-Karabakh war had become an increasingly violent and brutal conflict. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia made claims of ethnic cleansing during the war and, in terms of lives and property, the war was the most destructive ethnic conflict to follow the break-up of the Soviet Union. More than 30,000 people were killed in the fighting from 1992 to 1994. As many as 230,000 Armenians from Azerbaijan and 800,000 Azeris from Armenia and Karabakh have been displaced as a result of the conflict. The Communist legacy continued to bring catastrophes even after the collapse of the Evil Empire.