Armenia prides itself on being the first nation to formally adopt Christianity (early 4th century). Despite periods of autonomy, over the centuries Armenia came under the sway of various empires including the Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Persian, and Ottoman. During World War I in the western portion of Armenia, Ottoman Turkey instituted a policy of forced resettlement coupled with other harsh practices that resulted in an estimated 1 million Armenian deaths. The eastern area of Armenia was ceded by the Ottomans to Russia in 1828; this portion declared its independence in 1918, but was conquered by the Soviet Red Army in 1920. Armenian leaders remain preoccupied by the long conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a primarily Armenian-populated region, assigned to Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1920s by Moscow. Armenia and Azerbaijan began fighting over the area in 1988; the struggle escalated after both countries attained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. By May 1994, when a cease-fire took hold, ethnic Armenian forces held not only Nagorno-Karabakh but also a significant portion of Azerbaijan proper. The economies of both sides have been hurt by their inability to make substantial progress toward a peaceful resolution. Turkey closed the common border with Armenia in 1994 because of the Armenian separatists' control of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas, further hampering Armenian economic growth. In 2009, senior Armenian leaders began pursuing rapprochement with Turkey, aiming to secure an opening of the border; this process is currently dormant.
Armenia (Armenian: Hayastan) is the only country remaining from 3,000 year old maps of Anatolia. It became the world’s first Christian country more than 1,700 years ago in 301 AD, and has a large Diaspora all over the world. As a former Soviet republic lying in the Caucasus region, straddling Asia and Europe, Armenia has an ancient and rich culture. Armenia is very easy to experience, thanks to very hospitable people.
Landlocked, Armenia is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest. Five percent of the country's surface area consists of Lake Sevan (Sevana Lich), the largest lake in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range. The many mountains and mountain valleys create a great number of micro climates, with scenery changing from arid to lush forest at the top of a mountain ridge.
On a trip to Armenia, you will frequently be reminded that Armenia was the world's first officially Christian country. You will have a hard time forgetting this as a tourist, since countless monasteries are among Armenia's premier tourist attractions. Fortunately for those who might otherwise suffer monastery fatigue, many of these monasteries are built in places of incredible natural beauty, making the sites of monasteries like Tatev, Noravank, Haghartsin, Haghpat and Geghard well worth a visit even without the impressive, millennia old monasteries found there.
Since 2001, when Armenia celebrated the 1,700th anniversary of the nation’s conversion to Christianity, the growth in the number of tourists has grown by about 25% every year. Straddling Europe and Asia in the lesser Caucasus Mountains, an ex-Soviet state, with a culture over 3,000 years old and examples of ancient architecture and art all over the countryside, this beautiful country offers something exotic for many tourists.
Read more about Armenia in our Armenia travel guide »