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date: 22 April 2019

Modern Armenia

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.

Modern Armenia emerged in 1918 when the Republic of Armenia was established as a sovereign state after centuries of foreign rule. However, the republic hardly survived the calamitous consequences of war. Moreover, thousands of Armenian refugees generated by the genocidal policies of the Young Turk regime ruling in Constantinople arrived in the republic. The new government lacked the resources necessary for a functioning economy and polity, and the unfolding military conflicts led to its demise and sovietization after the Bolsheviks consolidated power in Yerevan in 1921. The communist regime established a dictatorial system in Soviet Armenia, as it did across the Soviet Union; the most severe brutalities were experienced under Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Despite the political difficulties, Soviet Armenia was an economic success in the long term, as the government under Stalin forced industrialization and urbanization. Armenians also benefited from the cultural developments of the 1950s and 1960s, stemming largely from Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s reform-oriented policies. By the 1970s, however, under the new premier, Leonid Brezhnev, Armenia’s economy had grown stagnant, and in the early 1980s, his successors, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, failed to ameliorate Armenia’s economic conditions, at which time the Soviet regime began to experience a political legitimacy crisis. In the meantime, nationalism emerged as a powerful force across the Soviet Union, and calls for secession from Moscow grew louder among the Soviet satellite nations. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s experimentation with perestroika and glasnost failed to reverse the loss of legitimacy, a situation further exacerbated in Soviet Armenia in the aftermath of the December 1988 earthquake and the escalating military conflict in Nagorno-Karabagh.

The Soviet regime finally collapsed in 1991, creating an opportunity for a second declaration of independence for Armenian sovereign statehood. While independence from the Soviet Union energized the Armenian people and gave rise to expectations concerning their economic and political well-being in post-Soviet Armenia, the country became mired in the twin crises of recovering from the earthquake and surviving a war with Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan was supported by Turkey, which imposed a blockade on Armenia. Since its independence, the Republic of Armenia, under the leadership of three presidents—Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Robert Kocharyan, and Serge Sargsyan—has struggled to develop its economy and infrastructure and to address its chronic problems of poverty and unemployment. The country lacks the economic and financial ingredients necessary to develop a modern, competitive productive basis for competition in global markets. Systemic corruption has obstructed efforts to improve the situation. In addition, various government agencies have engaged in violations of human rights. Efforts by nascent civil society to advance civil and political rights and democratization in general have been undermined by state policies, including gross violations of citizens’ right in time of elections. The experiences gained after 25 years of independence offer little hope for democratization and economic development.