Armenia is situated in a strategically important region, at the crossroads of the Great Silk Road, the major trade route that linked the East and the West. Because of its geographical position, many empires have sought to control the region.
The country is formerly known as Hayq or Hayastan (“Land of Haik”), and Armenians claim descent from Haik, the great-great-grandson of Noah. There are several accounts of how Armenia got its name. Some claim that the modern name may have been given to the country by its neighbors. According to this story, it is derived from the name of the strongest tribe in the history of Armenia, the Armens, who may have gotten their name from Armenak or Aram, a descendant of Haik and a powerful leader of Hayastan, also said to be the father of all Armenians.
Still other accounts suggest that the name Armenia was derived from Nairi, the Assyrian name for the people of the Armenian Plateau. The word meant “land of rivers,” but it referred to the people as well as the region, which was home to some 60 different tribes, several small kingdoms, and about 100 cities, according to contemporary Assyrians. Nairi was also the name used by Greek historians around 1000 B.C.E., the first recorded inscription with the name, the Behistun Inscription in Iran, dates from around 400 B.C.E.
The earliest information about the area comprising the states of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan indicates that it was ruled over by the Shulaveri-Shomu (early inhabitants of the Caucasus region) around 6000–4000. Farming and animal husbandry were their main occupations. According to recorded history, around 800–600 B.C.E., the Indo-European group called Armenians moved into what was then the ancient kingdom of Urartu or Van (present-day Turkey), which ruled over the Caucasus region, and the two groups merged. Later Armenia was made part of the Seleucid Empire, one of the political states formed after the death of Alexander the Great, and it was governed by the Seleucid Dynasty from 323 B.C.E.–60 C.E. The Seleucid Empire was destroyed, however, due to internal conflicts between different dynasties within the empire over the right to rule the kingdom.
In 190 B.C.E. while the Seleucid Empire was in decline, the first Armenian state was formed. It covered a large expanse of land including the Caucasus Mountains, and part of modern-day Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon. Armenia soon became one of the most powerful states in the region. At about the same time the Roman Empire was expanding its territories. Around the year 66 powerful Roman forces invaded Armenia, and it eventually became part of the Roman Empire. In a bid to rule over the Caucasus, Persia fought a series of wars with the ruling Romans. As a result Armenia fell into the hands of the Sassanid Persians (the ruling dynasty of Persia), and, although western Armenia remained part of the Roman Empire, eastern Armenia was ruled by the Persians. In 301 Armenia became the first nation in history to adopt Christianity as the state religion.
Between the 4th and the 18th centuries various invaders—the Persians, Arabs, Mongols, and Turks—ruled the region. In the early 19th century the Russians annexed the region along the Yerevan and Lake Sevan, which was part of the ancient Persian Empire and an area that was part of modern-day Turkey. This triggered Russian-Turkish Wars in the 1870s, which led to the indiscriminate killing of Armenians in Turkey.
The situation for Armenians worsened after Russia and Turkey fought on opposite sides during World War I. Turkey concluded that the Armenians were supportive of Russian forces, and this sparked a systematic killing of the Armenian people in those territories under Turkey’s control. On April 20, 1915, the Armenians of Van revolted against the Muslim rule of the Turks, killed local Muslims, and established control over the region. On April 24, 1915, they handed the control of Van to Russian forces. This triggered another series of atrocities against Armenians by the Turkish government that became known as the “Armenian genocide.” As many as 1.5 million Armenians may have been killed.
In 1917 Ottoman Armenia (eastern Armenia) was returned to the Turks when Russia suffered a defeat during World War I. The local Armenians quickly formed an independent state, the Transcaucasian Federation, that was independent of Russia.
However, conflicts within the ruling factions resulted in the split of eastern Armenia into the states of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. In 1922 after the establishment of the Soviet Union, the three territories were reunited by the invasion of the Red Army (the army of the former Soviet Union) and the Transcaucasian Federation of the Soviet Socialist Republic was formed.
In 1936 the USSR dissolved the Transcaucasian Federation of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the regions of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan became individual republics of the Soviet Union. There were ongoing border and religious disputes between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but the Soviets controlled the situation and prevented its escalation into a war between Christian Armenia and Muslim Azerbaijan. In 1988 the ethnic tensions between the two republics led to war after the NagornoKarabakh region of Azerbaijan, which was largely inhabited by Armenian Christians, voted to unify with Armenia. Nagorno-Karabakh had untapped oil reserves worth billions of dollars, which made Azerbaijan even more unwilling to part with its territory. Historically Nagorno-Karabakh had been part of the Armenian state, but, as the result of borders defined by the Soviet Union under Stalin, it was made part of Azerbaijan. Armenia, whose 10-percent industrial capacity was destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1988, was more than willing to reintegrate Nagorno-Karabakh as an Armenian state.
The dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh sparked the mass killing of Armenians and Azerbaijanis on both sides of the border, and the Azerbaijan Popular Front (PF), then an opposition political party with its own militia, unleashed a reign of terror in the region. The mass killings came to a temporary halt after Soviet military intervention, but the fighting resumed in 1990. During the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Armenians in Azerbaijan and Armenia passed a referendum calling for independence from Soviet rule, and on September 21, 1991, the independent state of Armenia came into existence.
Levon Ter-Petrossian (b. 1945), a prominent Armenian leader, was sworn in as the first president of Armenia in 1991. He continued the war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and eventually defeated the Azerbaijan forces. By May 1994 the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia had declared a ceasefire. By this time Armenia had established its control over the Nagorno-Karabakh region and some other parts of Azerbaijan as well. The war took a heavy toll on the Armenian economy, which worsened after Turkey and Iran imposed economic sanctions as a consequence of the ethnic war. In 1998 Levon Ter-Petrossian resigned as president, accepting responsibility for the economic and political problems of Armenia. Fresh elections were held in March 1998, and Robert Kocharian (b. 1954) was elected president of Armenia. He was reelected at the end of his five-year term in 2003, though his reelection was marred by allegations of election fraud.

Armenia is located in the southern Caucasus between the Black and Caspian Seas in southwestern Asia. It is a landlocked country, with Georgia to the north, Azerbaijan along its eastern border, Turkey along its western border, and Iran and a small enclave of Azerbaijan to the south.
The Lesser Caucasus mountainous range Maly Kavkaz, which extends through the northern parts of Armenia, moves southeast and passes through Lake Sevan and Azerbaijan and eventually crosses the Armenian-Azerbaijan border to Iran. The Armenian Plateau lies in the southwestern part near the Aras River, which forms Armenia’s border with Iran and Turkey. The plateau has a number of small mountain ranges and extinct volcanoes. Mount Aragats, the highest mountain in Armenia (13,419 feet), lies along the Armenian Plateau.
Lake Sevan, with the Debed and Aras Rivers, and a tributary of the Aras River the Razdan are the main sources of water in Armenia.
Armenia has a highland continental climate characterized by hot summers (June to September) and extremely cold winters. During summer, the temperature ranges from 71°F to 96°F. However, in winter, temperatures vary from 14°F to 23°F. A rainy season lasts from spring into early summer, with a second rainy season in October and November.

Under Soviet rule Armenia was a major exporter of machinery, tools, textiles, and manufactured goods to other Soviet republics. However, postindependence Armenia’s economy was shattered by the war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. In addition, the devastating earthquake that killed more than 25,000 Armenians in 1988 also destroyed 10 percent of the country’s industrial capacity.
Huge investments are required for the development and upgrading of infrastructure facilities. Since 1994 the government of Armenia has taken significant steps in the form of growth reforms and economic liberalization programs, which are backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The economy is gaining stability, but Armenia continues to depend on foreign investment and international aid. Agriculture remains the primary occupation of Armenians. The main crops include potatoes, vegetables, berries, grapes, tobacco, figs, cotton, olives, and sugar beets. Armenia also has small mineral deposits (including bauxite, copper, and gold). In 2003 Armenia became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Armenia has a diverse cultural heritage that reflects its geographical location and tumultuous history. The country has contributed to many of the arts, but it is perhaps best known for its music and dance, especially its liturgical and folk music. Although the country has often been conquered, the roots of its music can be traced to pre-Christian Armenia. Ancient friezes on the walls of buildings show singers with various musical instruments, and the country used to have traveling musicians who entertained royal audiences.
Mesrop Mashtotz (c.361/62–440) and the Parthian Sahak I (388–439) may be the first Armenian composers. In addition to creating the Armenian alphabet, they composed the first monophonic liturgical songs—chants, composed in one of eight modes, in which several notes are sung on the same syllable—used in the Armenian Church. In the Middle Ages 1,200 hymns called sharakans (or sharagans) were composed. Even though they are still regularly sung in the divine liturgy, sharakans were probably not written after the 13th century.
Early church music was composed using khaz, invented in the ninth century, an Armenian musical notation that permitted variation within a set modal structure. Eventually the system became so complicated that even church musicians were unable to interpret it, and the system was revised early in the 19th century by Hambardzoum Limondjian (1768–1839). Musicologists at the Armenian Academy of Sciences in Yerevan are trying to decipher khaz with the help of computers.
Legends of Armenia’s pre-Christian past were probably known to fifth-century writers in some form, either as ballads or in written form; these became the folk music of Armenia. Wandering minstrels, called gusans or ashughs, preserved these ancient stories in their songs, passing them down from one generation to the next. The kamancha, a stringed instrument played with a bow, was certainly one of the instruments played by the gusans. Other popular instruments include the kanon, a type of hammer dulcimer; the davul, a hand drum with two heads; oud (a type of lute); tar (a lute with a short neck); and the zurna (also shawm), a woodwind instrument and the predecessor of the oboe. These instruments are familiar among the peoples of this region and are still used, although with different names, in the folk music of Turkey, Iran, and Azerbaijan, for example.
Dance, like music, is an integral part of a culture, and Armenians enjoy dancing. Armenian dances are usually classified by region; the Armenian word for “dance” is bar. A traditional Armenian dance from the northern region of Speetak, called Jo Jon or Zhora Bar, is a line dance performed only by the men. They stand in an open circle, with their hands at shoulder level, and interlock their little fingers. Their dance steps are small and restrained, while their bodies maintain an erect relaxed stance. The leader (bar bashi), whoever is standing at the right end, often waves a white handkerchief. Other popular Armenian dances include the Tamzara and Ghosh bilezik, line dances from western Erzerum (now in Turkey), where the Armenian kings had their summer residence; and the Laz, a fisherman’s dance from the Black Sea region, in which the movements of the dancers imitate the fish’s movements as it is pulled out of the water. Kurdish influences are strong in several dances from Van, the ancient home of the Armenians (now in Turkey), including the Papouri, Khumkhuma, Tenn, and Halay, all line dances performed with tightly linked arms. These dances are called bahd (“wall”) or pert (“fortress”) dances.

Lamb is a staple in the Armenian diet, and a special dish called kashlama, made with boiled lamb and potatoes, is one of the country’s specialties. Some other favorite Armenian dishes include soujoukh (spicy dried sausage), kebabs, and salamorah tourshi (pickled green peppers stuffed with chopped vegetables). Basterma, dried slices of beef soaked in spicy chaman, may be for the adventurous. Chaman is named for its main ingredient, fenugreek (a cloverlike Eurasian plant), but the mixture also contains ground red pepper, minced garlic, ground black pepper, ground allspice, ground cumin, and worm water (made from worm castings).
A traditional Armenian meal consists of rice, lamb, yogurt, eggplant, and a sweet dish called paklava or baklava, which is made with thin pastry. For making baklava, pastry is rolled into long, thin sheets of reddish-brown color. These are then rolled into cylindrical shapes and served with nuts such as walnuts. Armenians eat bread with most of their meals, and two traditional favorites are lavash and matkanash. Lavash is used, like many Middle Eastern flatbreads, as a wrap for cheese or meat with onions, greens, and peppers, but especially for the Armenian version of barbecue.
Armenians also include lots of vegetables in their diet such as cauliflower, celery, tomatoes, onions, and carrots. Dishes made from chickpeas, yogurt, beans, and eggplant are very popular as well. A local brandy called konyak and coffee are the preferred beverages, but Armenians have been brewing beer since they arrived in Urartu.

Armenian marriages are solemnized in church. Many Armenian couples get married on Tiarnnaraj (Terndez) and incorporate the observances of the festival into their wedding ceremony. On the wedding day, the bride wears a red silk gown and a headpiece made of cardboard that has been shaped into wings and decorated with feathers. The wedding ceremony is presided over by a priest who sanctifies the marriage in the presence of the couple’s families. Traditionally two white doves, symbolizing love and happiness, are released during the marriage ceremony.
After the ceremony the bride and groom attend a reception given by their families. At the site of the reception the bridesmaids and the friends of the groom hold flowers aloft to make an arch. The bride and groom enter the reception by walking under the arch. During the reception guests throw coins on the wedding couple to bless them with prosperity.
Mom bar, the candle dance (so-called because it is performed with lit candles), is the last dance of the wedding ceremony. It originated in Maroon, a village near Lake Sevan in Armenia. At the end of the dance the candles are extinguished, indicating to the guests that the festivities are over, and it is time to go home.

Armenians bury their dead. Friends and family members take part in the funeral procession. A day after the burial a remembrance ceremony is held, and they all gather again to share their memories and celebrate the deceased’s life. Thereafter, every year on the anniversary of the person’s death, it is customary for Armenian families to visit the graves of deceased family members.