Armenia

Facts at a Glance

  • Population: 2,989,091
  • Demographics (Source: “Armenia,” The World Fact Book September 2023):
  • Ethnic groups:
    • Armenian 98.1%
    • Yezidi (Kurd) 1.2%
    • Other 0.7% (2011 est.)
  • Languages:
    • Armenian (official) 97.9%
    • Kurdish (spoken by Yezidi minority) 1%
    • Other 
    • Russian is widely spoken (2011 est.)
  • Religions:
    • Armenian Apostolic 92.6%
    • Evangelical 1%
    • Other 2.4%
    • None 1.1%
    • Unspecified 2.9% (2011 est.)
  • Capital: YEREVAN, 1.089 million (2021)
  • Read More CIA World Fact Book

Armenia is known as the Cradle of Christianity and is the oldest Christian nation, dating back to 301 A.D. when Gregory the Illuminator Christianized the Kingdom of Armenia. Tradition holds that the Armenian Orthodox Church is the earliest Apostolic Church, whose roots date back to the first century C.E. when the Apostles Bartholomew and Thadeus first introduced Christianity to Armenians. 

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, is the principal cathedral of the Armenian Church and is heralded as the oldest Christian church and monastery in the world. Dating back to the fourth century and situated in the Republic of Armenia, its name translates to “where the only begotten descended,” echoing the vision experienced by Gregory the Illuminator. In this vision, the Son of God manifests as a radiant figure encircled by angels, marking the location of the cathedral with a strike of a golden hammer, symbolizing the birth of the new Christian nation. Holy Etchmiadzin is not only a historical monument but also the residence of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, embodying the spiritual heart of the Armenian Apostolic Church and its followers around the globe. It is often referred to as the “Catholicate of All Armenians,” signifying its pivotal role as the seat of the chief bishop and spiritual guide for Armenians worldwide.  

What motivates Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) to focus on Armenia, located in the South Caucasus? The historical context offers clarity: from the 15th to the mid-19th centuries, Armenia was encompassed by the Turkish Ottoman Empire, which spanned much of the Middle East. Presently, Armenian minorities are found across various Middle Eastern nations, such as Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. The roots of the Armenian community in the holy lands stretch back to a time before the birth of Jesus Christ, highlighting a deep historical connection. Furthermore, there was a period when Armenia and Palestine shared governance under the same empire, underscoring the intertwined histories that justify CMEP’s involvement in the region. 

The Armenian Orthodox Church collaborates closely with Churches for Middle East Peace, with His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian playing a significant role on the CMEP Board of Directors on behalf of the Armenian Church in America (Eastern) since January 2000, exemplified the deep-rooted engagement and leadership of the Armenian Church in ecumenical and regional affairs. 

The Armenian Quarter, occupying the southeast segment of Jerusalem’s walled Old City, represents one-sixth of its total area, a boundary established during the Ottoman era, and is over 1600 years old. 

This quarter not only houses the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, but through the Armenian Church’s influence, it also controls parts of every Christian holy site in the vicinity. 

Armenia is part of the South Caucasus, which includes the post-Soviet states of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Collectively, these countries are known as the Caucasian States. Together, they comprise roughly 72,000 square miles nestled in the Caucasus Mountain range between the Black Sea on their east and the Caspian Sea. Armenia is a predominantly Christian state, while Azerbaijan is 96% Muslim, 65% Shi’a and 36% Sunni. Georgia identifies as a Christian country; official membership is with the Georgian Orthodox Church and is 83.41% Christian. All three states declared themselves democratic republics in 1918, although that period lasted only a few years. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the three nations reclaimed their independence. Learn more. 

A brief history of the last century reveals the grim atrocities Armenians endured within the context of ethnically motivated conflicts and border wars. The 1915 Armenian Genocide refers to the mass killings of Armenians in villages along the Russian border and the deportation of Armenians from their homes in Anatolia to Syrian desert concentration camps by Ottoman troops following the Ottoman Parliament’s legislation authorizing mass deportations of Armenian civilians. Local Kurds and Circassians also carried out mass murders against Armenians. Unfortunately, many survivors who reached the camps reportedly died of starvation. An estimated 600,000 to 1,000,000 Armenians were murdered between 1915 and 1916. “The events of 1915-1916 were witnessed by a number of foreign journalists, missionaries, diplomats, and military officers who sent reports home about death marches and killing fields” (Britannica.com). Learn more. 

From 1918 to 1920, The First Republic of Armenia thrived. But in 1920, the Turkish army attacked Armenia with the goal of depriving Armenia of the ability to recreate a state. In 1920, Armenia was forced to recognize its territories of Nagorno-Karabakh, Nakhichevan, and Zangezu as parts of the Soviet Union (USSR). Subsequently, Armenia relinquished its power to the Bolsheviks and signed a peace agreement with Turkey. In 1921, Nagorno-Karabakh was declared an autonomous region within Azerbaijan. 

1990s After the brief coup d’état of August 19, 1991, temporarily removing Mikhail Gorbachev, the Republics of the Soviet Union began to declare independence. Azerbaijan declared independence in August of 1991, and Armenia followed, declaring independence from the Soviet Union in September of 1991. The international community recognized Armenia’s independence in 1992, bringing their conflict to a new “interstate” level. Both newly formed states kept their old borders, leaving Nagorno-Karabakh, a community of 100,000 ethnic Armenian inhabitants, internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic” declared independence on September 2, 1991, as an autonomous region seceding from the newly independent states, legal under Soviet law, three days after Azerbaijan had declared independence” although never formally internationally recognized. 

Armenia has a long history of conflict and ethnic and cultural genocide. Today, Armenian Christians continue to fear that their faith is under threat. The ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which began in the 1990s with the fall of the Soviet Union and the redistribution of land to form contemporary states, including Azerbaijan, threatens the sustainability of the Christian community residing in Nagorno-Karabakh.

2020 War
Azerbaijan reclaimed parts of Nagorno Karabakh in 2020 after six weeks of fighting, which was named the 2020 War. Thousands of ethnic Armenians lost their lives in the 2020 War, and over 90,000 were displaced. Since then, Russian peacekeeping troops have monitored the border between the Nagorno-Karabakh region and Azerbaijan. 

April 2021 
The United States did not publicly acknowledge the Armenian Genocide until April 24, 2021, Armenian Remembrance Day, when President Biden recognized the 1915 mass killings, deportations, and extermination of more than a million Armenians in Turkey, calling it genocide. “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today.” The White House. 

September 2021
Tensions continued to escalate, and the second major war in the region occurred in 2021, known as the 44-day or Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Since then, Azerbaijan has controlled substantial parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Russian peacekeeping forces protect the 120,000 ethnic Armenians living in the region.

September 2022
Two days of war broke out again in September 2022 along the Armenian border. Violence centered in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Azerbaijan reclaiming parts of the area and resulting in 202 Armenian casualties.

December 2022 Blockade “Soft Genocide”     
Tensions escalated when Azerbaijan began blocking the Lachin Corridor in December 2022, limiting food and medicine from reaching Nagorno-Karabakh and causing malnutrition and starvation among the residents. Armenians refer to the blockade as a “soft genocide.” Cultural genocide in the past and present has also been reported with the loss of Christian monuments, churches, cemeteries, and artifacts on the Azeri side of the newly 2020 drawn borders, repeating patterns of vandalism and destruction of churches and cemeteries in Turkey and Armenia. Ancient churches in danger of destruction of cultural and religious heritage include Etchmiadzin Cathedral, known as the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the first cathedral built in Armenia, and often considered the oldest cathedral in the world. Armenian Christians fear when even newer borders are eminently drawn; it will result in even greater losses for Christianity of ancient relics dating to the fourth century A.D.  

2023 Azeri Strikes result in 120,00 ethnic Armenians fleeing their homes in Nagorno-Karabakh 
Ethnic and cultural atrocities and displacement reported against Nagorno-Karabakh ethnic Armenians during the nine-month blockade are reminiscent of the historic ethnic Armenian genocide of 2015. On September 19, 2023, Azerbaijani troops attacked the Artsakh region with rockets, artillery, and drones, resulting in 300 casualties. 120,000 residents,, left their homes in the course of a week, becoming refugees, displaced, and disposed of their homes and properties within a number of days fearing violence and death at the hands of Azerbaijani troops. 

Learn more about Nagorno-Karabakh. 

Letter from Christians to President Biden November 13, 2023
In a letter addressed to President Biden on November 9, 2023, Churches for Middle East Peace and thirty American Christian leaders called on President Biden and his administration to support an immediate comprehensive ceasefire, de-escalation, and restraint of violence by all parties involved in the Hamas-Israeli War. Condemning the aggressive, horrific, violent crimes of Hamas against Israelis and demanding the release of all civilians held hostage, the letter also condemned further violence against Palestinian civilians. The letter also implored the administration to “ensure the accountability of all settlers in the West Bank who are using this opportunity to attack Palestinians and illegally confiscate even more Palestinian land through violent means.” 

November 2023 Crisis in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem 
Christians faced threats not only in Gaza in the aftermath of the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israeli citizens taking hostages and the ensuing Hamas-Israeli War but throughout the occupied Palestinian territories, including aggressive actions by Israeli settlers, particularly in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, where they aim to seize 25 percent of the area. On November 16, 2023, a convoy of Israeli settler vehicles made a provocative entry into the Armenian Quarter of occupied East Jerusalem. During this incursion, Israeli police detained three Armenians, among them a minor, for allegedly supporting settlers’ efforts to annex the Armenian Gardens. This confrontation followed the Armenian Patriarchate’s lease agreement with Zana Capital to develop a luxury hotel on the Armenian Gardens, a significant parcel of land. However, the Patriarchate later annulled this agreement, citing concerns of misrepresentation, undue influence, and illegal advantages (Chancellery Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem November 16, 2023, Urgent Communique) in the deal. It was revealed that a leading East Jerusalem settler group, aiming to drastically alter the makeup of East Jerusalem and further divide Palestinian East Jerusalem, was behind the proposed development. This would not only marginalize Christian equities but also severely affect the vulnerable Armenian community and diminish the Christian footprint in Jerusalem. For further details, refer to the Churches for Middle East Peace press release dated November 17, 2023, titled “CMEP Fears Devastating Impact of Violence on Christians in Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza.”

Armenia Timeline: A Chronology of Key Events BBC News           

Books

For a deeper understanding of the history of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict since 1988 see Thomas de Waal’s Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War, New York University Press, 2013.

Articles 

East Jerusalem: Israeli settlers seek to take over Armenian Quarter by force. Middle East Eye. November 16, 2023. A convoy of Israeli settlers enter the Armenian Quarter looking to usurp the area. 

Armenia Under the Gun. Crisis Group. December 8, 2023. The fall of Nagorno-Karabakh did not resolve all the problems between Armenia and Azerbaijan. These two neighbors have never established diplomatic ties and do not engage in trade, and their citizens cannot freely visit one another. Both countries have now raised three generations of people who view the other side as the enemy.

 Azerbaijan’s Pressure on Nagorno Karabakh: What to Know, September 14, 2023

Azerbaijan appears to have eased a blockade that had cut off food and medical supplies to the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, but there are still heightened concerns about conditions facing more than one hundred thousand civilians there.

Genocide Against Armenians in 2023. Expert Opinion. Luis Moreno Ocampo. August 7, 2023. 

“There is an ongoing Genocide against 120,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as Artsakh. The Lachin Corridor by the Azerbaijan security forces impeding access to any food, medical supplies, and other essentials should be considered a Genocide under Article II, (c) of the Genocide Convention:  Read More.

Armenia Events of 2022: Aftermath of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Human Rights Watch, June 16, 2022.

Armenia 2022 International Religious Freedom Report Executive Summary, U.S.Embassey.Gov, 2022

“The constitution states that everyone has freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC) as the national church and preserver of national identity but also establishes separation of religious organizations and the state. The law prohibits, but does not define, proselytism, which may be interpreted as forced conversion. The new criminal code, which came into force on July 1, prohibits “obstruction of the right to exercise freedom of religion” as well as hate speech or inciting violence against an individual or group based on religion; punishments include fines, community service, and imprisonment.” Learn more.

Turkish Armenian File [U.S. Department of State Remarks on the Armenian Genocide] Ronald Reagan Presidential Digital Library Collections. “The United States Archives are replete with material documenting the premeditated extermination of the Armenian people, as well as American interventions to prevent the full realization of Turkey’s genocidal plan and humanitarian assistance for those who survived. The archives also demonstrate that the American people, through an organization known as Near East Relief chartered by an act of Congress, contributed some $113 million between 1915 and 1930 to aid the Armenian Genocide survivors” and fostered 132,000 Armenian orphans. Learn more.

Armenia-Azerbaijan: EU sets up monitoring capacity along the international borders, Council of the European Union, October 17, 2022. 

6 Christian Sites Armenia Fears It Has Lost to Azerbaijan, Christianity Today, January 5, 2021. 

A Plea To Save Artsakh’s Armenian Heritage, Christianity Today, November 17, 2020.

Reports and Statements

“CMEP Fears Devastating Impact of Violence on Christians in Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza.”November 17, 2023. Christians for Middle East Peace calls attention to Christians under threat in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, specifically the existential threat to the Christian communities in the Armenian Quarter and calls for the U.S. government to protect Christians and innocent civilians in Gaza, negotiate for a bilateral ceasefire, the release of hostages, securing immediate humanitarian assistance to in Gaza and address the core causes of the war and the protection of the Christian presence in the holy land. 

Responding to the Humanitarian Catastrophe in Nagorno Karabakh. International Crisis Group, September 29, 2023. Tens of thousands of people from Nagorno-Karabakh have streamed into Armenia following Azerbaijan’s one-day offensive, ending the enclave’s de facto self-governance. Outside powers should focus on meeting the refugees’ needs, protecting those few residents who wish to remain, and preventing renewed conflict in the region.

U.S. Relations with Armenia State Department, November 25, 2020

CMEP Resources
2023 Prayers4Peace: Armenia At War Series Part One. CMEP, September 20, 2023. A three-episode mini-course about Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan. Episode 1: The Survival of Church in the Oldest Christian State. Watch the recording here.

2023 Prayers4Peace: Armenia at War Series Part Two. CMEP, September 27, 2023. A three-episode mini-course about Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijan. Episodes 2 and 3: The Current Geo-Political Situation and Prayer for Armenia. September 27, 2023, | October 4, 2023, was an unrecorded prayer gathering.

Prayers4Peace: The Unknown Saint of Armenia – The Devout and Beautiful Hrispime. CMEP, July 26, 2023, Saint Hripsime lived during the third century, she escaped from the clutches of an evil emperor in Rome and committed herself to live a simple life of Christian mission in response to her love of Christ.  

An Introduction to Jinishian Memorial Program (JMP) in Armenia and Beyond. CMEP, February 1, 

JMP is a leading nonprofit bringing economic, social, and faith-based revitalization in Armenia. In response to the 2020 War, Jinishian swiftly expanded its programs to include medication and rehabilitation for wounded soldiers and humanitarian relief for displaced families.”  Learn more.

Educational Webinar: Introduction to the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict CMEP, 2022

Churches for Middle East Peace introduces the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s and the 2020 war. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon hosts guest Olesya Vartanuyan, Crises Group Senior Analyst for the South Caucasus. Geography, the history of the conflict, and the unresolved questions affecting the ethnic Armenian community today in Nagorno-Karabakh are discussed. Learn more.

Now is the Time for Sustaining Peace Between Armenia and Azerbaijan. December 21, 2020

Churches for Middle East Peace Statement on Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict calls for continued peacemaking efforts in the South Caucasus’s and the continued cessation of the violent conflict. 


Image: From the Armenian Church Eastern Diocese of America

The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin


Image: Hrair Hawk Khatcherian Source ChristianityToday

St. Yeghishe Arakyal Monastary located in Nogorno-Karabakh was built in the fourth century.

A stone building with a tower on top of it

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