Yerevan (Armenian: Երևան [jɛɾɛˈvɑn]) is the capital and largest city of Armenia and one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities. Situated along the Hrazdan River, Yerevan is the administrative, cultural, and industrial center of the country. It has been the capital since 1918, the thirteenth in the history of Armenia.
The history of Yerevan dates back to the 8th century BC, with the founding of the fortress of Erebuni in 782 BC by king Argishti I at the western extreme of the Ararat plain. After World War I, Yerevan became the capital of the First Republic of Armenia as thousands of survivors of the Armenian Genocide settled in the area. The city expanded rapidly during the 20th century as Armenia became part of the Soviet Union. In a few decades, Yerevan was transformed from a provincial town within the Russian Empire, to Armenia’s principal cultural, artistic, and industrial center, as well as becoming the seat of national government.
With the growth of the economy of the country, Yerevan has been undergoing major transformation as many parts of the city have been the recipient of new construction since the early 2000s, and retail outlets such as restaurants, shops and street cafes, which were rare during Soviet times, have multiplied.
As of 2011 estimates, the population of Yerevan was 1,121,900 people making up to 34% of the total population of Armenia.
Yerevan was named the 2012 World Book Capital by UNESCO.
The ancient kingdom of Van (Ararat or Urartu or Biainili), was formed in the 9th century BC in the basin of Lake Van of the Armenian Highland, including the territory of modern-day Yerevan. King Arame was the founder of the state which was one of the most developed states of its age.
However, the territory of Yerevan-Erebuni was settled in the fourth millennium B.C., fortified settlements from the Bronze Age include Shengavit, Tsitsernakaberd, Teishebaini, Arin Berd, Karmir Berd and Berdadzor. Archaeological evidence, such as a cuneiform inscription, indicates that the Urartian military fortress of Erebuni (Էրեբունի) was founded in 782 BC (29 years earlier than Rome) by the orders of King Argishti I at the site of current-day Yerevan, to serve as a fort and citadel guarding against attacks from the north Caucasus. Yerevan, as mentioned, is one of the most ancient cities in the world.
By the greatness of the God Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, built this mighty stronghold and proclaimed it Erebuni for the glory of Biainili [Urartu] and to instill fear among the king’s enemies. Argishti says, «The land was a desert, before the great works I accomplished upon it. By the greatness of Khaldi, Argishti, son of Menua, is a mighty king, king of Biainili, and ruler of Tushpa.» [Van].
Between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, Yerevan was one of the main centers of the Armenian satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire. During the height of Urartian power, irrigation canals and an artificial reservoir were built on Yerevan’s territory. In 585 BC, the fortress of Teishebaini (Karmir Blur), thirty miles to the north of Yerevan, was destroyed by an alliance of Medes and the Scythians.
Due to the absence of historical data, the timespan between the fourth century BC and the third century AD is known as the «Yerevan Dark Ages.»
Armenia became a Christian nation in 301. The first church in Yerevan; the church of St. Peter and Paul, was built in the fifth century, and was demolished in 1931 to build a cinema hall. The Tsiranavor Surb Hovhannes Church of Avan (595–602) of Avan district which was partly damaged in the 1679 earthquake, is the city’s oldest surviving church.
In 658 AD, Yerevan was conquered, during the height of Arab invasions. Since then, and as a result of the Arab trade activities, the site has been strategically important as a crossroads for the Arab caravan routes passing between Europe and India through lands controlled by the Arabs. It has been known as «Yerevan» since at least the seventh century AD. Between the ninth and eleventh centuries, Yerevan was a secure part of the Armenian Bagratuni Kingdom, before being overrun by Seljuks. The city was seized and pillaged by Tamerlane in 1387 and subsequently became an administrative center of the Ilkhanate. Due to its strategic significance, Yerevan was constantly fought over, and passed back and forth, between the dominion of Persia and the Ottomans.
At the height of the Turkish-Persian wars, Yerevan changed hands fourteen times between 1513 and 1737. In 1604, under the order of Shah Abbas I, tens of thousands of Armenians including citizens from Yerevan were deported to Persia. As a consequence, population became 80 percent Muslim (Persians, Turco, Kurds) and 20 percent Armenian. Muslims were either sedentary, semi-sedentary, or nomadic. Armenians lived in Erevan or the villages. The Armenians dominated the various professions and trade in the area and were of great economic significance to the Persian administration. The Ottomans, Safavids, and Ilkhanids, all maintained a mint in Yerevan. During the 1670s, the Frenchman Jean Chardin visited Yerevan and gave a description of the city in his Travels of Cavalier Chardin in Transcaucasia in 1672–1673. On 7 June 1679, a devastating earthquake razed the city to the ground. During the Safavid Dynasty rule, Yerevan and adjacent territories were part of the Čoḵūr Saʿd administrative territory. This lasted until 1828, when the region was incorporated into the Russian Empire.
During the second Russian-Persian war, Yerevan was captured by Russian troops under general Ivan Paskevich on 1 October 1827. It was formally ceded by the Persians in 1828, following the Treaty of Turkmenchay. Tsarist Russia sponsored Armenian resettlement from Persia and Turkey. Due to the resettlement, Armenians’ share in city population increased from 28% to 53.8%. The resettlement was intended to create Russian power bridgehead in the Middle East. In 1829, Armenian repatriates from Persia were resettled in the city and a new quarter was built.
Yerevan served as the seat of the newly formed Armenian Oblast between 1828–1840. By the time of Nicholas I’s visit in 1837, Yerevan had become an uyezd. In 1840, the Armenian Oblast was dissolved and its territory incorporated into a larger new province; the Georgia-Imeretia Governorate. In 1850 the territory of the former oblast was reorganized into the Erivan Governorate. Yerevan was the centre of the newly established governorate until 1917, when Erivan governorate was dissolved.
Yerevan began to grow economically and politically, with old buildings torn down and new buildings in European style erected instead. The first general plan of the city was made in 1854, during which, St. Hripsime and St. Gayane women’s colleges were opened and the English Park was founded. In 1874, Zacharia Gevorkian opened Yerevan’s first printing house and in 1879 the first theatre, sited near the church of St. Peter and Paul, was established.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Yerevan city’s population was over 29,000, of which 49% were Azerbaijanis, 48% Armenians and 2% Russians. In 1902, a railway line linked Yerevan with Alexandropol, Tiflis and Julfa. In the same year, Yerevan’s first public library was opened. In 1905, the grandnephew of Napoleon I; prince Louis Joseph Jérôme Napoléon (1864–1932) was appointed as governor of Yerevan province.
In 1913, for the first time in the city, a telephone line with eighty subscribers became operational.
Celebration of the first anniversary of the First Republic of Armenia in 1919
At the start of the 20th century, Yerevan was a small town with a population of 30,000. In 1917, the Russian Empire ended with the October Revolution. In the aftermath, Armenian, Georgian and Muslim leaders of Transcaucasia united to form the Transcaucasian Federation and proclaimed Transcaucasia’s secession.
The Federation, however, was short-lived and on 28 May 1918, the Dashnak leader Aram Manukian declared the independence of Armenia. Subsequently, Yerevan became the capital and the center of the newly-independent First Republic of Armenia, although the members of the Armenian National Council were yet to stay in Tiflis until their arrival in Yerevan to form the government in the summer of the same year.
On 26 May 1919, the government passed a law to open the Yerevan State University, which was situated on the main street of Yerevan, the Astafyan (now Abovyan) street.
However, after a short period of independence, Yerevan fell to the Bolshevik 11th Red Army who entered the city during the Russian Civil War on 29 November 1920, and Armenia was incorporated into the Soviet Union on 2 December 1920. Although nationalist forces managed to retake the city in February 1921 and successfully released all the political leaders, the city’s nationalist elite were once again defeated by the Soviet forces on 2 April 1921.
Yerevan became the capital of the newly formed Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union. Yerevan was the first city in the Soviet Union for which a general plan was developed. The «General Plan of Yerevan», approved in 1924, was developed by the academician Alexander Tamanyan. The plan was designed for a population of 150,000.
During the Soviet era the city was transformed into a modern industrial metropolis of over a million people, to become a significant scientific and cultural centre.
Tamanian incorporated national traditions with contemporary urban construction. His design presented a radial-circular arrangement that overlaid the existing city and incorporated much of its existing street plan. As a result, many historic buildings were demolished, including churches, mosques, the Persian fortress, baths, bazaars and caravanserais. Many of the districts around central Yerevan were named after former Armenian communities that were destroyed by the Ottoman Turks during the Armenian Genocide. The districts of Arabkir, Malatia-Sebastia and Nork Marash, for example, were named after the towns Arabkir, Malatya, Sebastia, and Marash, respectively. After the end of World War II, German POWs were used to help in the construction of new buildings and structures, such as the Kievyan Bridge.
In 1965, during the commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, Yerevan was the location of a demonstration, the first such demonstration in the Soviet Union, to demand recognition of the Genocide by the Soviet authorities. In 1968, the city’s 2,750th anniversary was commemorated.
Yerevan played a key role in the Armenian national democratic movement that emerged during the Gorbachev era of the 1980s. The reforms of Glasnost and Perestroika opened questions on issues such as the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the environment, Russification, corruption, democracy, and eventually independence. At the beginning of 1988, nearly one million Yerevantsis engaged in demonstrations concerning these subjects, centered on Theater Square.
Following the dismantling of the USSR or Soviet Union, Yerevan became the capital of the Republic of Armenia on 21 September 1991. Maintaining supplies of gas and electricity proved difficult; constant electricity was not restored until 1996 amidst the chaos of the badly instingated and planned transition to a market based economy.
Since 2000, central Yerevan has been transformed into a vast construction site, with cranes erected all over the Kentron district. Officially, the scores of multi-storied buildings are part of large-scale urban planning projects. Roughly $1.8 billion was spent on such construction in 2006, according to the national statistical service. Prices for downtown apartments have increased by about ten times over the last decade.
Political demonstrations are a common scene in Yerevan. In 2008, unrest in the capital between the authorities and opposition demonstrators led by ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosyan occurred after the 2008 Armenian presidential election. The events resulted in ten deaths and a subsequent 20-day state of emergency declared by President Robert Kocharian.