Country in western Asia, bounded east by Azerbaijan, north by Georgia, west by Turkey, and south by Iran.
Government Armenia has a multiparty presidential political system. Under its 1995 constitution, there is a directly-elected executive president, who serves a maximum of two five-year terms. Candidates must secure over 50% of the vote, with a second-round run-off election held if this is not achieved in the first round. There is a single-chamber legislature, the national assembly (Azgayin Zhoghov), comprising 131 members elected for four-year terms, with 41 members elected in single-member constituencies and 90 by proportional representation from party lists based on the national share of the vote. From the majority grouping within the assembly, a prime minister (chair of the cabinet of ministers) is nominated by the president.
History Armenia was in ancient times a kingdom occupying what is now the Van region of Turkey, part of northwest Iran, and what is now Armenia. Under King Tigranes II (95–66 BC) the kingdom reached the height of its power, controlling an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus. Under Tiridates III (AD 238–314) Christianity spread and was adopted as the state religion. The Armenian kingdom fell in AD 428, but the country remained an autonomous principality and in the 10th century was ruled by the Bagratuni dynasty. Thereafter, it fell under the sway of the Byzantine Empire, then the Muslim Turks from the late 11th century, the Mongols in the 13th century, and the Ottomans from the 16th century. This domination by foreign powers bred an intense national consciousness and encouraged northward migration of the community.
Under Soviet control With the advance of Russia into the Caucasus during the early 19th century, there was a struggle for independence which provoked an Ottoman backlash and growing international concern at Armenian maltreatment. Between 1894–96 over 100,000 Armenians were massacred under Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Between 1915–16 up to 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or deported by the Turks. Conquered by Russia in 1916, Armenia was briefly independent in 1918 but, after a brief war with Turkey, was occupied by the Soviet Red Army in December 1920. Along with Azerbaijan and Georgia, it formed part of the Transcaucasian Soviet Socialist Republic, but became a constituent republic of the USSR in 1936. Under Soviet rule, the Armenian Church struggled and during Joseph Stalin's Great Purge in the 1930s thousands of Armenians were deported or executed. But after Stalin's death in 1953, repression eased and there was industrial development and greater toleration of the church.
Growth of nationalism As a result of the liberalizing glasnost, policy of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s, Armenian national identity was reawakened. In 1988 demands for reunion with Nagorno-Karabakh, the Armenian-peopled enclave within the Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, led to a civil war 1989–91, resulting in the intervention of Soviet troops. The Armenian Pan-Nationalist Movement (APM), which was formed in November 1989 by Levon Ter-Petrossian and Vazguen Manukyan, and the militant Karabakh Committee were at the fore of this growing nationalist campaign. The campaign included attempts to secure full control over the Azeri enclave of Nakhichevan, leading to the flight of almost 200,000 Azeris from the republic. In the 1990 elections to the republic's supreme soviet (parliament) nationalists polled strongly and Ter-Petrossian and Manukyan were chosen as president and prime minister respectively.
Struggle for independence In August 1990 a declaration of independence was made but ignored by Moscow. The republic boycotted the March 1991 Soviet referendum on the preservation of the USSR and in April 1991 property belonging to the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) was nationalized. Four months later the CPA dissolved itself. In a referendum held in September 1991, shortly after the failed anti-Gorbachev coup in Moscow, 94% voted for secession from the USSR. Independence was formally proclaimed by President Ter-Petrossian, but this failed to secure Western recognition.
Nagorno-Karabakh dispute A ceasefire agreement signed by Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 1991 collapsed in November when the Azeri parliament, dominated by communists-turned-nationalists, voted to annul Nagorno-Karabakh's autonomous status. Soviet troops were gradually withdrawn from the enclave, leaving it vulnerable to Azeri attacks. In response, after a referendum and elections in December 1991, Nagorno-Karabakh's parliament declared its independence, precipitating an intensification of the conflict.
Armenian independence achieved In October 1991, Ter-Petrossian was overwhelmingly re-elected president, capturing 83% of the vote, in the republic's first direct election. In December 1991 Armenia joined the new Commonwealth of Independent States, which was formed to supersede the USSR. Also in December Armenia was accorded diplomatic recognition by the USA and in January 1992 was admitted into the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, from 1994 the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE); in March 1992 it became a member of the United Nations.
Ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict The war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh crippled the Armenian economy as a result of Azerbaijan's imposition of a rail and air blockade and a trade and energy embargo, which was joined by Turkey, in 1993. Armenian forces captured several strategic Azeri strongholds in May 1992, but by August had lost much of their newly gained territory in a surprise Azeri counteroffensive. They recovered their losses during 1993. By the time Russia brokered a ceasefire, which was signed in May 1994, Armenia controlled one-seventh of Azeri territory, including much of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and unrest in neighbouring Georgia led to severe food and energy shortages, and large antigovernment demonstrations were held in the capital, Yerevan, in July and November 1994. In response to the unrest, the president suspended the chief opposition party and closed down a number of antigovernment newspapers. Economic reforms continued and a new privatization and price liberalization programme was launched in March 1995. Parliamentary elections in July 1995 resulted in a victory for the ruling party, and a new constitution, strengthening presidential powers, was approved. However, the election was tarnished by intimidation of the opposition.
Replacement of Ter-Petrossian In September 1996 Ter-Petrossian was re-elected president, but OSCE observers reported serious irregularities in the elections. Tanks were sent to Yerevan to quell the protests. Faced with mounting opposition to a harsh reform programme which had brought rising unemployment, lower wages, and deteriorating social services, Prime Minister Hrand Bagratian resigned in November 1996. In 1997 President Ter-Petrossian appointed as prime minister Robert Kocharian, who was formerly the prime minister and president of Nagorno-Karabakh.
In early 1998 the president faced mounting popular protests against his plans to compromise with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, including withdrawing troops from occupied parts of Azerbaijan to encourage talks. Nationalists opposed this and in February 1998 Ter-Petrossian resigned, with the ruling coalition split. In March 1998 the hard-line Prime Minister Robert Kocharian was elected president, amid reports of electoral infringements.
In May 1998 Kocharian lifted the ban on the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a socialist party founded in 1890 to fight for Armenian nationalism, and brought two members of the ARF into his cabinet. He also appointed a commission, chaired by Paruyr Ayrykian, to recommend changes in the constitution to reduce the president's executive powers.
Assassination of the prime minister In October 1999, five gunmen burst into Armenia's parliament and, live on television, shot dead the prime minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, and seven other officials and lawmakers. The gunmen later surrendered and said they had acted in protest against the prime minister's economic policies.
Armenia had made a full switch to a market economy and in January 2001 was admitted to the Council of Europe. This committed it to democracy and human rights. It has made it unlikely that it will seek to settle the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh by force. Instead, it has held OSCE-mediated talks with Azerbaijan, but without progress.
Re-election of Kocharian Kocharian was re-elected president, with 68% of the second-round vote, in March 2003, but there were again allegations of ballot-rigging. His proposals to reform the constitution were rejected by voters in a referendum later in 2003 and he faced, from 2004, popular demonstrations against his rule. There was another referendum in November 2005 to increase the role of parliament and restrict presidential powers, but the opposition again claimed the result was rigged.
Failure to achieve a breakthrough on Nagorno-Karabakh President Kocharian met with Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev in Paris, France, in February 2006 to discuss Nagorno-Karabak, but they failed to agree on a declaration of principles. The two countries remained technically at war over the disputed territory and in December 2006 there was a further vote in the enclave to approve a constitution declaring its sovereignty.
Succession to Kocharian The pro-Kocharian Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) held on to power in the May 2007 National Assembly elections, winning 64 of the 131 seats, with 33% of the vote in an election which European observers assessed to be fair.
The prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan (alternative spelling Sarkissian), who had been leader of Nagorno-Karabakh's self-defence forces in 1989–93 and Armenia's defence minister 2000–07, succeeded Kocharian as president in April 2008. As the candidate of the nationalist HHK, he won 53% of the vote in the February 2008 election, defeating the former president, Levon Ter-Petrossian, leader of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), who secured 22% of the vote. Supporters of Ter-Petrossian claimed that there had been ballot-rigging in Yerevan, and there followed violent protests in which several people died. But OSCE observers considered the poll fair.
The new president appointed a non-partisan, Tigran Sargsyan, a former chair of the central bank, as prime minister. He placed emphasis on promoting economic growth to raise living standards and to negotiate associate membership of the European Union (EU). Following reforms in 2001 to encourage exports and improve business conditions and helped by inward investment by Armenians living abroad, the economy grew by 10% a year until the global financial crisis and the ending of a construction boom. GDP fell by 15% in 2009 and grew only slowly in 2010–11.
In April–May 2011 President Sargsyan made concessions to the opposition when he agreed to an inquiry into the deaths of protesters after the disputed 2008 election and to allow rallies in Freedom Square in Yerevan and release some imprisoned opposition activists. This followed several months of peaceful demonstrations, which were inspired by the Arab Spring. Further demonstrations followed the May 2012 parliamentary elections, which the opposition claimed had been rigged by the ruling party.
Sargsyan elected for second term as president Economic growth accelerated again in 2012. This helped Sargsyan win the February 2013 elections to secure a second presidential term. He won 58% of the vote, but several opposition candidates did not take part, viewing the polls as slanted.
In July–August 2014, sporadic fighting over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabak claimed the lives of six Armenian and 13 Azerbaijan troops – the highest reported casualties since the 1994 ceasefire agreement.
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