Following various conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and Russia during the 18th and 19th centuries, more land inhabited by Armenians became part of Russia. The remaining Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire had to face the consequences of the rise to power of the Young Turks at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds. The Young Turks brought with them a nationalistic ideology which aimed to make the population of the Empire ethnically and nationally homogeneous. While Russian troops were advancing within the Ottoman territories at the onset of the First World War, the Istanbul government ordered a harsh repression and mass deportation of the Armenian population, which caused between six hundred thousand and two million deaths. Still today, April 24th is when Armenians throughout the world commemorate Metz Yeghérn (The Great Calamity), or rather the extermination politics of the community, implemented by the Turks.
In fact, on April 24th 1915, many of the Armenian elite in Istanbul were arrested, which would mark the start of one of the most dramatic pages in contemporary history. For the Armenians and much of the world it was a real and actual genocide, and continues today to be a topic of much heated discussion, both historically and politically. Even though the majority of historians consider and speak of the repression by the Turks as genocide, Turkey still does not accept the use of this term with reference to the events which led to the quasi-elimination of the Armenian minority in Turkish territories during the First World War. Still, in 1917 there were only two hundred thousand Armenians left on Turkish land, a far inferior number compared to before the First World War, though far superior to the current number. Today in Turkey there are in fact thirty thousand Armenians, making them the biggest minority, the majority of which live in Istanbul.
Nevertheless, at the end of the First World War, the Armenians proclaimed an independent Armenian Republic, which was recognised by the Allies and by the Turkish Republic in 1920. However, much of the territory of Western Armenia remained in Turkey, while the Eastern territories, which accounted for less than one million inhabitants, were united with Azerbaijan and Georgia, and this marked the birth of the Transcaucasian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. This political formation lasted until 1936, when each member took on the status of the social Republic of the Soviet Union. Only after the fall of the USSR in 1991 did the Armenians regain independence. In September of that year Armenia held a referendum to decide whether to pull out of the Soviet Union. Despite troops sent by Moscow, officially to protect Soviet defence structures in the country, on September 23rd 1991 the Armenian Supreme Soviet made their declaration of independence. The following October Ter-Petrosian was elected president of the Republic with a landslide victory.
Right from the start the Armenian Republic has nonetheless had to deal with considerable difficulties, both economic and political. As well as an extremely serious economic situation and constant political instability, Yerevan has also had to deal with the difficult Nagorno-Karabach crisis. This region, located on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan, has a large Armenian community. Since the nineteen-eighties, Nagorno-Karabach has been contested by the two states. Following a war which lasted several years, and following the deaths of thousands of people, a ceasefire was finally reached, which does not, however, guarantee a definitive end to the conflict.
The history of the Armenian people is of a people who, over the centuries, have had to deal with invasions, deportations and massacres, and the Armenian diaspora is the most glaring proof of this, even today. Currently, approximately half of the Armenians live outside their country, dispersed in the Middle East, Europe, India and North America. Despite this fact the Armenian community has made a lot of effort to keep their culture alive; through religious, cultural and charitable institutions. Many Armenians who live outside their fatherland have made (and continue to do so) important contributions to the Yerevan government, financing the building of universities, industry and hospitals. This is proof of their desire to keep their century-old culture alive; a culture which has been in danger of dying out more than once in the course of their millennial history.
Translation by Sonia Ter Hovanessian