Traditional Armenia lies in an area between the Black and Caspian seas, in the region known as the Caucasus. This land has been the home of civilization since civilization began. Many argue that Armenia fits the legendary location of the Garden of Eden, and travelers from ancient times to this day give testimony that Noah’s Ark still rests on Mt. Ararat, the heart of Armenia.
The present-day Republic of Armenia occupies but a fraction of what was ancient Armenia, which extended from the lesser Caucasus Mountains south across the Armenian Plateau to the Taurus Mountains. Frequent earthquakes still remind us that the land lies near the great geological fault between the Asian and African subcontinent plates. The Armenian plateau is a highland, which rises directly above its surrounding regions. Geography undoubtedly played a key role in the history and culture of Armenia. Forming an important crossroad for trade and commerce between Asia and Europe, Armenia was destined to be thrown into adversity. The land, with its untold riches and its strategic position of primary import, stirred the ambitions of many “superpowers” within the region.
For a succession of centuries, the Armenians were in constant warfare with invaders and conquerors-Assyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Parthians, Arabs and Turks. Armenians maintained their historical identity and upheld their national heritage against great odds. Although occasionally overpowered by superior forces and reduced to the status of vassals, the nation nevertheless enjoyed a semblance of national autonomy. Yet, the very vicissitudes that troubled its existence contributed to the creation of a varied and original culture, held together by the constants of social, intellectual and religious institutions.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Armenian communities outside the Ottoman and Russian empires, with the exception of Iran and Egypt, had either assimilated religiously and culturally, or had lost their economic and political influence and were generally reduced to insignificant clusters in a number of urban centers across the old world. The massacres of 1895-1896 and the anti-Armenian policies of Sultan Abdul-Hamid forced many Armenians to emigrate from Anatolia. Some joined the communities in Europe and the Middle East, others journeyed to the Americas.
The Armenian genocide created hundreds of thousands of refugees who eventually settled both in the old and new worlds. Although a significant number repatriated to the Armenian republic in 1918-1919, many, as we have seen, fled in 1920-1921, or were deported by Stalin in 1936-1939. A second wave of approximately 100,000 repatriates arrived in Soviet Armenia in 1945-1948 and a third, much smaller group in 1953-1965. By 1985, however, nearly half of the post-war repatriates had emigrated to the West. Revolutions and civil wars in Asia and North Africa, throughout the four decades following the Second World War, resulted in the diminishing of the Armenian communities there and the growth of the Armenian Diaspora in Europe, Australia, and the Americas.
The historical events of the last one hundred years have thus resulted in a pattern whereby new Armenian immigrants have rejuvenated older Diasporas by reviving their Armenian identity. At present Armenians, together with the Jews, are the only significant nationality/religious group which have more members living in the Diaspora than in their own country. It is estimated that out of the more than seven million Armenians in the world barely over three million live in the Armenian republic. Armenians are to be found in almost every country of the globe.