The Armenian history is filled with violence, domination by empires, and a far-flung diaspora as a result of both, shaping the modern national and international identity of its people.
What makes millions of people share certain traits or beliefs? History is what fleshes it out for us and makes it clear. I’ve been reading a lot about the Armenian people recently, and the revelations of their history have been very interesting – and educational. I feel like I know my Armenian friends a little bit better – and also why I have so many Armenian friends living so far from their homeland.
The Silk Road
Armenians have lived in the area near modern-day Turkey, between the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas, for thousands of years. They were ideally placed, in fact, along the trade route between Europe and “the East” that became known as the Silk Road due to both the wealth that travelled along its route and one of the dominant products being hauled along it, and were very prosperous and rich in their oldest history.
Still, they were tribal and disunited, as were most people in those days. The Armenian people were united into a single nation just once prior to the modern age: In the very end of the first century BCE, under the rule of King Tigran the Great. The unification did not last long, and eventually the Armenian people fell under the shadows of first the Byzantine Empire and later the Ottoman Empires.
The Armenians did not fare well under the Ottoman Empire. As Christians in a Muslim country, they were always treated as second-class citizens. While they enjoyed certain protections, they were also frequently harassed and the victims of prejudice and official oppression. In the early 20th century many Western nations began to officially object to the treatment of the Armenian people.
The Ottoman Empire, by then very weak and disorganised, decided that this meant the Western powers might intervene militarily, and their solution was to forcibly evict the entire Armenian population. Millions were driven out of the country, and many were killed in what is now known as the Armenian Genocide. This is why the Armenian diaspora is so large – so many Armenians fled their homeland for their lives during this period.
Today Armenia is one of several post-Soviet republics establishing itself as an independent nation for the first time in thousands of years, with the enthusiastic support and affection of its far-flung refugees. Its history of domination and violent oppression has had the ironic effect of making the expatriate Armenians fiercely proud of their heritage, guaranteeing that the Armenian way of life continues, no matter where they have settled.