Armenia

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    Tucked away in the Caucasus mountains, in that little clutch of former Soviet Republics where Russia meets Turkey, is Armenia (Hayastan, as its natives call it). Though the current republic formed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, it's not a new country by any means - the Kingdom of Armenia goes back to 331 BC, and was later the first country to officially adopt Christianity, in 301 AD. It also used to be much bigger than it is now, most of its former historical lands now being part of Turkey (this includes Mt. Ararat, which is considered a national symbol for the country. Ouch...).

    Before the Kingdom of Armenia arose it was the Kingdom of Urartu (roughly 858 to 585 BC), where many historians believe the Armenian nationality had its genesis. Folk history denotes that the Armenians are descended from a legendary hero known as Hayk, who led the Armenian people out of Mesopotamia and was a grandson of Noah, though this aspect of the legend is likely a case of ancient Armenian mythology being Hijacked by Jesus. In any case, people have been living in the area for quite some time, as the world's oldest shoe found in a cave in Armenia can attest to.

    Armenia fell under the rule of almost anyone building an empire for the next thousand years or so after the Kingdom of Armenia fell, being ruled over by everyone from Persians to Parthians to Mongolians, eventually falling under Ottoman Turkish rule for the majority of the last millennium (its location, between the Black and Caspian seas, makes it a hot commodity for empire builders, unfortunately for the Armenians themselves). It then was partitioned between Russia and Turkey, ultimately causing the Eastern-Western split in the Armenian language still present today. The Turkish Armenians fell under suspicion during the latter half of the 19th century, as the Ottoman Empire lost territory, and the remaining Christians in the empire became a scapegoat of sorts, resulting in sporadic massacres of the Armenians during this time. This finally came to a head during World War I, and the matter of the Armenian Genocide that was to follow is still a very contentious one - few western observers doubt that there was a major humanitarian disaster in the area in 1915, precipitated by Turkish troops against the Ottoman Empire's Christian population. And the common opinion of genocide scholars is that it falls under the definition of a genocide. The contention comes from Turkey; modern Turkey, nearly 100 years later, still refuses to even discuss the issue, even though any crimes would have been committed by the government deposed by the current state. The Turkish government often goes to great lengths to force other countries not to pass any legislation acknowledging the Armenian Genocide. This has not stopped quite a number of countries from doing so anyway, however. You can even be arrested and fined for denying it in Switzerland and Slovakia, as you can any other recognized genocide [1].

    Shortly after World War I Armenia was independent for a brief period, thanks to the Russian and Ottoman empires collapsing. You see, just before the Empire fell, Russia had (as usual) soundly beaten Turkey and retaken most of the historically Armenian territories, and when Armenia became independent it had inherited these territories. But, the country was quickly weakened by wars with its neighbors and though it put up a valiant effort not to be conquered by Ataturk's newly resurrected Turkey, it was eventually assimilated into the Soviet Union, which opted to give most of Armenia's land back to Turkey during a period when they were hoping to lure Turkey towards communism. Armenia would remain a Soviet republic until regaining independence in 1991.

    Modern Armenia still has poor relations with Turkey, and also with its neighbour, Azerbaijan, over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, nominally an autonomous Arminopohone part of the Azerbaijani SSR [2], but which the region's native Armenians, with help from the country itself, freed after a war between 1992-1994. It's now declared itself an independent country known as Artsakh, which no one recognizes - no, not even Armenia, because the situation's basically been frozen ever since the 1994 ceasefire and understandably, the Armenian government is not eager to restart armed conflict; though the Armenian president has gone on the record stating Armenia would recognize it if another war broke out. Azerbaijan, on the other hand, hasn't been quite as passive, and violates the ceasefire almost daily. The country is only stopped from unleashing a full-on war by international pressure, and the fact that it didn't fare so well the last time it tried.

    Turkey, showing solidarity with its ally Azerbaijan, shut its borders with Armenia during the war, and the borders remain closed to this day. Which only adds insult to injury when you consider Armenia's former historic lands that Turkey annexed in the 1920's, including Mt. Ararat, sits just on the other side of the border. On the other side, Russia, despite having pretty amicable relations with both Turkey and Azerbaijan, has generally sided with Armenia in the Karabakh matter, and it's an open secret that the war was basically won with the Russian equipment and aid. Of course, exactly because of its good relations with all involved countries Russia has the least incentive in rekindling the conflict.

    There was a brief moment in which it looked like Turkey and Armenia might reconcile, with the signing of Protocols that would open their border, but as it turns out Turkey soon began attaching preconditions that included Armenia dropping the genocide issue and pulling out of Nagorno-Karabakh, so the Protocols are now in limbo. Which conveniently allows Turkey to threaten to pull out of them at the slightest hint that a country (most notably the US) is thinking about recognizing the Armenian Genocide.

    More Armenians live outside Armenia than inside - latest estimates are that, of 9 million Armenians worldwide, 3 million live in Armenia and the rest are scattered around the world, mainly in Russia, the US and France (whose large Armenian population means that France often gives Armenia high votes in the Eurovision Song Contest, and is one of the few countries in Europe that will stick up for Armenia on issues like genocide recognition and Karabakh).

    Armenia is best described as an oddity - in an area mainly Muslim or Orthodox, it has its own form of Christianity, a language that seems to be in its own little branch of the Indo-European family (as far as anyone can guess, it descended from Phrygian and may be sorta-kinda related to Greek, but no one is 100% sure), its own alphabet and friendly towards Russia in a region increasingly hostile to them (having the Turks on one side, the Azeris on the other, both closing their borders and placing it in an economic stranglehold tends to make them grateful for all the help they can get.) Luckily Armenia has fairly stable relations with bordering Iran, and a bit of a love/hate relationship with its northern neighbor Georgia through which it imports and exports to Russia. [3]

    Armenia sits on the Europe/Asia boundary, but culturally it's considered European (being the first officially Christian country helped), plays its sport in European federations and usually competes in the Eurovision Song Contest as mentioned.

    Another note; whenever you meet someone with a last name ending in 'ian' or 'yan', there's probably at least a 95 percent chance that they're Armenian.

    Famous Armenians and Diaspora Armenians (Fictional and Real Life)

    • Hayk Nahapet, the founder of Armenia according to folklore. He defeated the Assyrian titan Bel and led the Armenians out of Assyria in 2492 B.C.
    • Tigran the Great, king of Armenia during the 1st century BC. He conquered a significant chunk of the Middle East during his reign, which is considered the Golden Age of Armenia.
    • Vartan Mamikonian, led the Armenian army in the year 451 against the Persians, who were attempting to force Armenians to integrate with the rest of the Persian Empire (this included abandoning Christianity). Though he died in battle, the Persians were impressed by the Armenian efforts, and allowed them to keep their cultural and religious traditions despite Armenia having lost. Vartan is canonized as a saint in the Armenian church.
    • Meshrop Mashtots, inventor of the Armenian alphabet.
    • Avedis Zildjian, founder of the company that makes cymbals for drumkits.
    • Robert Zildjian, founder of the rival Sabian cymbal company, and brother of Avedis.
    • Calouste Gulbenkian, petroleum magnate and patron of the arts.
    • Cherylinn Sarkisian alias "Cher", daughter of an Armenian refugee, John Sarkisian.
    • Howard Kazanjian, producer of Star Wars among other things, of Armenian descent and active in Armenian charity and cultural organisations.
    • Robert Kardashian, Johnnie Cochran's no. 2 in the OJ Simpson trial, more famous for his Socialite daughters and particularly Kim.
    • Aram Khachaturian, classical composer.
    • Charles Aznavour, a singer, actor and songwriter of the French-Armenian diaspora. (And yes, his real family name is "Aznavourian")
    • Ross Bagdasarian (Sr and Jr), creators of The Chipmunks, of Armenian descent.
    • System of a Down - all members are of Armenian descent, though only bass player Shavo Odadjian was actually born there.
    • Michael Omartian, pop songwriter, singer, producer and keyboardist.
    • Alain Boghossian, French-Armenian footballer.
    • Youri Djorkaeff, likewise.
    • George Deukmejian, former governor of California, of Armenian descent
    • Alain Prost, French racing driver of Armenian descent
    • Andre Agassi, whose father is Iranian-Armenian (as noted above, Iran and Armenia get along pretty well--Armenians are the largest Christian group in Iran and are guaranteed two seats in the Majlis or Parliament--and Iranians can occasionally get fairly chummy, especially abroad).
    • David Nalbandian, Argentine tennis player of Armenian descent
    • Principal Seymour Skinner from The Simpsons, born Armin Tamzarian.
    • Alan Hovhaness, composer, born Alan Vaness Chakmakjian
    • Artem Mikoyan, one half of the famous Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) aircraft design pair.
    • Anastas Mikoyan, Soviet politician considered to have been the second most powerful man in the USSR under Khrushchev. Brother of the above.
    • Hovhannes Bagramyan, Marshal of the Soviet Union. First non-Slavic officer to be granted the command of a front (army group equivalent) in World War II.
    • William Saroyan, Armenian-American writer, and patriarch of a veritable clan of American Saroyans, including his actress daughter Lucy, his writer son Aram, and journalist granddaughter Strawberry. (And his last name is pronounced Sah-row-yawn, not Ser-roy-yen as Americans typically pronounce it.)
    • Alex Manoogian, an Armenian-American industrialist and philanthropist known for starting an auto-parts empire and for donating his mansion to the City of Detroit to serve as its executive residence (called Manoogian Mansion to this day). His name is plastered all kinds of stuff in and around Detroit: everything from buildings at Wayne State University to high schools to Armenian cultural centers (there are a lot of Armenians in the Detroit area) are named "Manoogian [whatever]"
    • John Yossarian, the main character of Catch-22, although he claims to be Assyrian as a joke.
    • Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the famous/infamous right-to-die activist, and a member of the aforementioned Detroit part of the Diaspora.
    • Arshile Gorky, born Vostanik Manoog Adoyan. Famous Armenian-American abstract artist.
    • Vic Darchinyan, loud-mouthed, power punching current WBA/WBC Super Flyweight champion who fights out of Australia. Possibly the most bad ass man in the world under 120 lbs.
    • Nune Yesayan, Armenian singer who chiefly focuses on modern arangements of traditional Armenian folk songs.
    • Isabel Bayrakdarian, Armenian-Canadian opera singer who performed on the sountrack of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and also sings traditional opera and Armenian folk music.
    • Komitas Vardapet, Armenian composer who travelled Western Armenia and gathered folk music from its towns and villages before the genocide, preserving it for posterity. He survived the Armenian Genocide only to go insane and die in a mental hospital because of what he witnessed.
    • Raffi Cavoukian, children's singer and entertainer.
    • Hrant Dink, a Turkish-Armenian news reporter who's controversial stance on the genocide (i.e. acknowledging it even occurred) ended up leading to his assassination by a Turkish nationalist.
    • Eva and Kevin Khatchadourian of We Need to Talk About Kevin.
    • Harout Pamjoukian, famous Armenian singer, often called the "Armenian Elvis"
    • Atom Egoyan, an Armenian-Canadian film maker.
    • Robert Sahakyants, famous armenian animator, creator of Armen Film Animated Shorts.
    • Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, one of the most successful and popular actors in Soviet and Russian cinema
    • Frunzik Mkrtchyan, popular soviet actor
    • A disproportionate amount of eastern Roman (Byzantine) emperors were Armenian, such as Heraclius, Basil I the Macedonian, and John I Tzimiskes.
    • Actor Andy Serkis (originally Serkisian), who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings.
    • Rabo Karabekian, the Armenian-American protagonist of the novel Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut.
    • Dita Von Teese is of Armenian descent.
    • Frankie Kazarian, a professional wrestler currently at TNA.
    • Anita Sarkeesian, outspoken, feminist, and host of the online series Feminist Frequency.
    Armenia provides examples of the following tropes:
    • Defeat Means Friendship: It's relationship with Iran, strangely, started out like this.
    • The Determinator: After how many empires have conquered the place over the past two thousand years it's a wonder an Armenian identity still exists at all. Resisting being converted away from Christianity and maintaining their own language and alphabet probably helped.
    • The Eiffel Tower Effect: No, you can't see Mt. Ararat from everywhere in the country, like thousands of paintings and photographs suggest. It has to be a clear day to be able to see it from Yerevan.
    • Gratuitous Russian: Being part of the Soviet Union had the somewhat unfortunate effect of mixing the Eastern Armenian dialect with so many Russian words that an Armenian speaker and a Russian speaker could probably still understand a lot of what the other is saying. Many Armenians from the Republic of Armenia won't even realize they're using Russian words until they encounter a Western Armenian speaker from the diaspora who points it out to them.
    • Overly Long Name: Armenian surnames can get pretty long.
    • Proud Merchant Race: Especially in the Middle Ages when the Armenians of New Julfa in Iran operated a vast trade network stretching from Europe to the Philippines.
    • Regional Riff: The duduk, an ancient ancestor of the oboe, playing something by Komitas Vardapet. That, or the aggressive kochari music, with heavy drums and the high-pitched zurna horn.
    • Smart People Play Chess: It's something of a national pastime. This trope is why learning to play chess was made a requirement in Armenian schools. Naturally natives of the country have gone on to do very well in world chess tournaments.
    • Status Quo Is God: Ever since the Nagorno-Karabakh War pretty much ended in a stalemate. It's mainly kept that way by the more powerful countries in the region, and the fact that neither country wants to concede anything.
    • Verbal Tic: Adding "Che?" at the end of every sentence, for a lot of Armenian speakers.

    The Armenian flag

    Flag of Armenia.svg
    1. The law almost passed in France as well, and may still pass in the future if it can be deemed constitutional.
    2. It's a Long Story, but the gist of it is: Stalin's Divide and Conquer tactics basically carved up the Caucasus and placed lots of ethnicities that didn't like other in the same administrative area. Nagorno-Karabakh, being a traditionally Armenian area, was yanked wholesale and given to the Azerbaijani SSR in 1923. This is a bit more complicated due to the wars the country had been in before being annexed by the USSR, and at least part of the reason for the Azerbaijan transfer was to placate Turkey.
    3. Though also Christian and sharing many cultural similarities with the Armenians, Georgia chooses to remain neutral regarding Armenia's difficulties with its other neighbors, plus they're a little bitter over Armenia's good relations with Russia.