Armenian highlands
The Armenian highlands near the Iran–Turkey border
Highest point
PeakMount Ararat, Turkey
Elevation5,137 m (16,854 ft)
Coordinates39°42′07″N 44°17′54″E / 39.7019°N 44.2983°E / 39.7019; 44.2983[1]
Area400,000 km2 (150,000 sq mi)
Satellite image
CountriesArmenia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey
RegionWest Asia
Range coordinates39°17′01″N 43°22′19″E / 39.28361°N 43.37194°E / 39.28361; 43.37194

The Armenian highlands (Armenian: Հայկական լեռնաշխարհ, romanizedHaykakan leṙnašxarh; also known as the Armenian upland, Armenian plateau, or Armenian tableland)[2] is the most central and the highest of the three plateaus that together form the northern sector of West Asia.[2] Clockwise starting from the west, the Armenian highlands are bounded by the Anatolian plateau, the Caucasus, the Kura-Aras lowlands, the Iranian Plateau, and Mesopotamia. The highlands are divided into western and eastern regions, defined by the Ararat Valley where Mount Ararat is located. Western Armenia is nowadays referred to as eastern Anatolia, and Eastern Armenia as the Lesser Caucasus or Caucasus Minor, and historically as the Anti-Caucasus,[3][4] meaning "opposite the Caucasus".

During the Iron Age, the region was known by variations of the name Ararat (Urartu, Uruatri, Urashtu). Later, the Highlands were known as Armenia Major, a central region to the history of Armenians,[5] and one of the four geopolitical regions associated with Armenians,[5] the other three being Armenia Minor, Sophene, and Commagene.[6][7] The highlands are primarily defined by the geographical dispersal of its native inhabitants, the Armenians.[8]

Prior to the appearance of nominally Armenian people in historical records, historians have hypothesized that the region must have been home to various ethnic groups who became homogenous when the Armenian language came to prominence.[9] The population of the Armenian highlands seem to have had a high level of regional genetic continuity for over 6,000 years.[5][10] Recent studies have shown that the Armenian people are indigenous to the Armenian highlands and form a distinct genetic isolate in the region.[5][11] The region was also inhabited during Antiquity by minorities such as Assyrians, Georgians, Greeks, Jews, and Iranians. During the Middle Ages, Arabs and particularly Turkmens and Kurds settled in large numbers in the Armenian highlands. The Christian population of the western half of the region was exterminated during the Armenian genocide (1915–1917), organized and perpetrated by the Committee of Union and Progress as part of their Turkification policies.[12][13] Today, the eastern half is mainly inhabited by Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians, while the western half is mainly inhabited by Armenians (included crypto-Armenians and Hemshins), Kurds (including Yazidis and Zazas), Turks, and Azerbaijanis.[citation needed]

The region was administered for most of its known history by Armenian nobility and states, whether it was as part of a fully independent Armenian state, as vassals, or as part of a foreign state.[citation needed] Since the 1040s, the highlands have been under the rule of various Turkic peoples and the Safavid dynasty, with pockets of Armenian autonomy in places such as Artsakh. Much of Eastern Armenia, which had been ruled by the Safavids from the 16th century, became part of the Russian Empire in 1828 and was later incorporated into the Soviet Union, while much of Western Armenia was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire and later incorporated into modern Turkey. Today, the region is divided between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey.[8]

Geography and topography

Height map emphasizing the natural shape of the Armenian Highlands.
Mount Artos, Lake Van, from Akhtamar Island
Lake Akdoğan

The Armenian highlands is part of the Alpide belt, forming part of the Eurasian range that stretches from the Pontic Mountains to the Malay Peninsula. Its total area is about 400,000 km2.[14] Historically, the Armenian highlands have been the scene of great volcanic activity.[15] Geologically recent volcanism on the area has resulted in large volcanic formations and a series of massifs and tectonic movement has formed the three largest lakes in the Highlands; Lake Sevan, Lake Van, and Lake Urmia.[16] The Armenian highlands are rich in water resources.[17]

The central, axial chain of Armenian highland ridges, running from west to east across Western Armenia, is called the Anti-Taurus.[18] In the west, the Anti-Taurus departs to the north from the Central (Cilician) Taurus, and, passing right in the middle of the Armenian plateau, parallel to the Eastern (Armenian) Taurus, ends in the east at the Ararat peaks.[19]

To the west is the Anatolian plateau, which rises slowly from the lowland coast of the Aegean Sea and converges with the Armenian highlands to the east of Cappadocia. The Caucasus extends to the northeast of the Armenian highlands, with the Kura river forming its eastern boundary in the Kura-Aras lowlands. To its southeast is the Iranian plateau, where the elevation drops rapidly by about 600 metres (2,000 ft) to 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) above sea level.[2] To the southwest is Mesopotamia (or Fertile Crescent).

Armenian highlands Ptolemy Cosmographia 1467
Armenian highlands and Caucasus mountains

According to Thomas A. Sinclair in the third edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam:[8]

It occupied a large part of present-day Turkey, the whole of the territory of the present Republic of Armenia, further districts, now in the Republic of Azerbaijan, immediately adjacent to the east, and the northwest corner of modern Iran. The preceding is the definition of Armenia assumed in texts of the Classical and Late Classical periods and laid out explicitly in the early seventh-century C.E. document called the Ašxarhac‘oyc‘ ("Geography"). The earlier Arab geographers know Armenia (Arminīya) under this definition, but the Muslim geographers of the late Middle Ages know Armenia as a much more restricted area, effectively the regions of Lake Van, Erzurum, and the upper Aras in Azerbaijan (Adhharbāyjān).

According to Britannica Online, most of the Armenian highlands is in present-day eastern Anatolia, and also includes northwestern Iran, all of Armenia, southern Georgia, and western Azerbaijan.[14] Its northeastern parts are also known as Lesser Caucasus, which is a center of Armenian culture.[20]


Regardless of its topography, the Armenian highlands are primarily defined by the geographical dispersal of its native inhabitants, the Armenians.[8]


Main articles: Prehistoric Armenia, History of Armenia, and History of Anatolia

The natural borders of the Armenian plateau and its peripheral regions according to H. F. B. Lynch (1901).


From 4000 to 1000 BC, tools and trinkets of copper, bronze and iron were commonly produced in this region and traded in neighboring lands where those metals were less abundant.[citation needed] It is also traditionally believed to be one of the possible locations of the Garden of Eden.[21]


The Armenian Plateau has been called the "epicenter of the Iron Age", since it appears to be the location of the first appearance of Iron Age metallurgy in the late 2nd millennium BC.[22] In the Early Iron Age, the Kingdom of Van controlled much of the region, until it was overthrown by the Medes and Orontid dynasty.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the land of Aratta is placed in a geographic space that could be describing the Armenian plateau.[23] In Antiquity, the population living on the Highlands was ethnically diverse, but in the Achaemenid period (550–330 BC), Armenian-speakers came to prominence.[9] Recent studies have shown that Armenians are indigenous to the Armenian highlands and form a distinct genetic isolate in the region. There are signs of considerable genetic admixture in Armenians between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, these mixture dates also coincide with the legendary establishment of Armenia in 2492 BCE,[11] but they subside to insignificant levels since 1200 BC, remaining stable until today.

Middle Ages: Turkic conquests

Further information: Seljuk Empire and Safavid Empire

Seljuk Turks first arrived in the Armenian highlands in the 1040s and expanded westward, conquering territories and populating the peninsula until finally the Ottoman Empire was declared in 1299.[24] The Seljuks' victory at the Battle of Manzikert made them dominant in the region. Ruben I, Prince of Armenia, led some Armenians out of the Highlands and escaped into the mountains of Cilicia, where they founded the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.[25]

In the early 13th century, as various peoples fled from the advancing Mongol onslaught, the Highlands saw the migrations of the Karluk and Kharizmian peoples. The Mongols, who did not distinguish between Christianity and Islam, reached the Highlands in 1235. With their arrival, Armenia became part of "the East" in its entirety for the first time since the territory was partitioned during the Byzantine–Sasanian wars. Considered the successors of the Abbasids, Sassanids and Seljuks, the Mongols eventually converted to Islam and established their dynasty in modern day Azerbaijan.[26]

In 1410 the area was ruled by the Kara Koyunlu, who ruled until 1468. The pastoral culture of the Kara Koyunlu Turks undermined agricultural practices in Armenia. In 1468, the Ak Koyunlu Turks assumed power; their reign lasted until 1502 when the Safavids brought Armenia under Iranian rule. The Ottoman Turks did not take control of the highland region until 1514, several decades after Armenians in the Ottoman Empire were given millet status. The Highlands came under Ottoman control following the defeat of the Safavids at the Battle of Chalderon; they appointed Kurdish tribesman to rule over the highlands' local administrative affairs. By 1516, the Ottoman Empire had invaded all of the Armenian lands, including Cilicia.[27][28]

Early modern period

From the early modern era and on, the region came directly under Safavid Iranian rule. Heavily contested for centuries between the Iranian Safavids and its archrival the Ottoman Empire, with numerous wars raging over the region, large parts of the Highlands comprising Western Armenia were finally conquered by the Ottomans in the first half of the 17th century following the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39) and the resulting Treaty of Zuhab.[29] Eastern Armenia, the other major part of the Highlands, stayed in Iranian hands up to the 1828 Treaty of Turkmenchay, when it was ceded to Imperial Russia.

Late modern period

During the first half of the 19th century, the Ottoman-held parts of the Armenian highlands comprising Western Armenia formed the boundary of the Ottoman and Russian spheres of influence, after the latter had completed its conquest of the Caucasus and Eastern Armenia at the expense of its suzerain, Qajar Iran, after four major wars spanning more than two centuries.[30]

Map of massacre locations and deportation and extermination centers during the Armenian genocide 1915-1916.

20th century

The Highlands saw a massive demographic shift after the Armenian genocide and fall of the Ottoman Empire, with Western Armenia being relabeled "Eastern Anatolia".[31] Since the Armenian genocide and partitioning of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Highlands have been the boundary region of Turkey, Iran and the Soviet Union and, since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, Armenia, and parts of Georgia and Azerbaijan.[23]

Flora and fauna

Main article: Eastern Anatolian montane steppe

The apricot, known by the Romans as the prunus armenicus (the Armenian plum), was brought to Europe from the Armenian plateau.[2]

Notable peaks

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (December 2021)
Rank Mountain Elevation Location
1 Mount Ararat 5,137 m (16,854 ft) Turkey: Ağrı Province
2 Mount Cilo 4,135 m (13,566 ft) Turkey: Hakkâri Province
3 Mount Aragats 4,090 m (13,420 ft) Armenia: Aragatsotn Province
4 Mount Sipan 4,058 m (13,314 ft) Turkey: Bitlis Province
5 Mount Kaputjugh 3,906 m (12,815 ft)
6 Mount Azhdahak 3,597 m (11,801 ft) Armenia: Gegharkunik Province
7 Mount Trasar 3,594 m (11,791 ft) Armenia: Syunik Province
8 Mount Artos 3,515 m (11,532 ft) Turkey: Van Province
9 Munzur Mountains 3,463 (11.362 ft) Turkey: Tunceli Province

See also


  1. ^ "Topographic map of Ağrı Dağı". Retrieved 2023-06-15.
  2. ^ a b c d Hewsen, Robert H. "The Geography of Armenia" in The Armenian People From Ancient to Modern Times Volume I: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth Century. Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.) New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997, pp. 1–17
  3. ^ Bealby, John Thomas; Kropotkin, Peter Alexeivitch (1911). "Caucasus" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 05 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 550–555. ...1. Western Caucasus...&...2. Middle Caucasus: (a) Western Half...&...3. Middle Caucasus: (b) Eastern Part...&...4. The Eastern Section
  4. ^ Reclus, Onésime (1892). A Bird's-eye View of the World. Ticknor. p. 264. anti caucasus.
  5. ^ a b c d "Armenian Rarities Collection". Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. 2020. Archived from the original on 7 March 2023. Retrieved 27 March 2023. The lands of the Armenians were for millennia located in Eastern Anatolia, on the Armenian Highlands, and into the Caucasus Mountain range. First mentioned almost contemporaneously by a Greek and Persian source in the 6th century BC, modern DNA studies have shown that the people themselves had already been in place for many millennia. Those people the world know as Armenians call themselves Hay and their country Hayots' ashkharh–the land of the Armenians, today known as Hayastan. Their language, Hayeren (Armenian) constitutes a separate and unique branch of the Indo-European linguistic family tree. A spoken language until Christianity became the state religion in 314 AD, a unique alphabet was created for it in 407, both for the propagation of the new faith and to avoid assimilation into the Persian literary world.
  6. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010). Historical dictionary of Armenia (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. pp. 336–8. ISBN 978-0810874503.
  7. ^ Grierson, Otto Mørkholm; Westermark, Ulla (1991). Philip (ed.). Early Hellenistic coinage : from the accession of Alexander to the Peace of Apamea (336-188 B.C.) (Repr. ed.). Cambridge, the U.K.: Cambridge University Press. p. 175. ISBN 0-5213-9504-6.
  8. ^ a b c d Sinclair, Thomas A. (2014). "Armenia (topography)". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (3rd ed.). Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830.
  9. ^ a b La Porta, Sergio (2018). "Armenia". In Nicholson, Oliver (ed.). The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-866277-8. Among the diversity of ethnicities residing on the Armenian plateau in Antiquity, the Armenian-speakers came to prominence during the Achaemenid period.
  10. ^ Hovhannisyan, Anahit; Jones, Eppie; Delser, Pierpaolo Maisano; Schraiber, Joshua; Hakobyan, Anna; Margaryan, Ashot; Hrechdakian, Peter; Sahakyan, Hovhannes; Saag, Lehti; Khachatryan, Zaruhi; Yepiskoposyan, Levon (2020-06-24). "AN ADMIXTURE SIGNAL IN ARMENIANS AROUND THE END OF THE BRONZE AGE REVEALS WIDESPREAD POPULATION MOVEMENT ACROSS THE MIDDLE EAST". bioRxiv: 2020.06.24.168781. doi:10.1101/2020.06.24.168781. S2CID 220253091. Archived from the original on 2020-08-15. We show that Armenians have indeed remained unadmixed through the Neolithic and at least until the first part of the Bronze Age, and fail to find any support for historical suggestions by Herodotus of an input from the Balkans. However, we do detect a genetic input of Sardinian-like ancestry during or just after the Middle-Late Bronze Age. A similar input at approximately the same time was detected in East Africa, suggesting large-scale movement both North and South of the Middle East. Whether such large-scale population movement was a result of climatic or cultural changes is unclear, as well as the true source of gene flow remains an open question that needs to be addressed in future ancient DNA studies. [...] We focused on solving a long-standing puzzle regarding Armenians' genetic roots. Although the Balkan hypothesis has long been considered the most plausible narrative on the origin of Armenians, our results strongly reject it, showing that modern Armenians are genetically distinct from both the ancient and present-day populations from the Balkans. On the contrary, we confirmed the pattern of genetic affinity between the modern and ancient inhabitants of the Armenian Highland since the Chalcolithic, which was initially identified in previous studies. [...] Sardinians have the highest affinity to early European farmers [...]
  11. ^ a b Haber, Marc; Mezzavilla, Massimo; Xue, Yali; Comas, David; Gasparini, Paolo; Zalloua, Pierre; Tyler-Smith, Chris (21 October 2015). "Genetic evidence for an origin of the Armenians from Bronze Age mixing of multiple populations". European Journal of Human Genetics. 24 (6): 931–936. doi:10.1038/ejhg.2015.206. PMC 4820045. PMID 26486470. Our tests suggest that Armenians had no significant mixture with other populations in their recent history and have thus been genetically isolated since the end of the Bronze Age, 3000 years ago.
  12. ^ Üngör, Uğur Ümit (June 2008). "Seeing like a nation-state: Young Turk social engineering in Eastern Turkey, 1913–50". Journal of Genocide Research. 10 (1). London and New York: Routledge: 15–39. doi:10.1080/14623520701850278. ISSN 1469-9494. OCLC 260038904. S2CID 71551858.
  13. ^ Roshwald, Aviel (2013). "Part II. The Emergence of Nationalism: Politics and Power – Nationalism in the Middle East, 1876–1945". In Breuilly, John (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 220–241. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199209194.013.0011. ISBN 9780191750304.
  14. ^ a b "Armenian Highland | Historic Region | Britannica".
  15. ^ Volcanoes, their structure and significance Thomas George Bonney – 1912 – Page 243
  16. ^ Emerald Network Pilot Project in Armenia Archived May 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Council of Europe.
  17. ^ Der Völkermord an den Armeniern, Nikolaĭ Oganesovich Oganesian – 2005– Page 6
  18. ^ Strabo (1856). The geography of Strabo. H. G. Bohn. p. 260.
  19. ^ [1]
  20. ^ Barbara A. West (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-8160-7109-8. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  21. ^ Mesopotamian Trade. Noah's Flood: The Garden of Eden, W. Willcocks, H. Rassam pp. 459–460
  22. ^ Lang, David M. Armenia: Cradle of Civilization. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1970, pp. 50–51, 58–59.
  23. ^ a b Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania, By Barbara A. West, 2009, p. 47
  24. ^ Ghaplanyan, Irina (2017-11-01). Post-Soviet Armenia: The New National Elite and the New National Narrative. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-28267-1.
  25. ^ T.S.R. Boase, ed. The Cilician Kingdom of Armenia (Edinburgh : Scottish Academic Press, 1978).
  26. ^ Robert Bedrosian,"Armenia during the Seljuk and Mongol Periods," in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times: Volume I: The Dynastic Periods: From Antiquity to the Fourteenth Century, ed. Richard G. Hovannisian. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 241–272.
  27. ^ Adalian, Rouben Paul (2010-05-13). Historical Dictionary of Armenia. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-7450-3.
  28. ^ Peimani, Hooman (2009). Conflict and Security in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781598840544. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  29. ^ Holding, Deirdre (September 2014). Armenia: with Nagorno Karabagh. Bradt Travel Guides. ISBN 9781841625553. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  30. ^ Dowling, Timothy C. (2014-12-02). Russia at War: From the Mongol Conquest to Afghanistan, Chechnya, and Beyond ... Abc-Clio. ISBN 9781598849486. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  31. ^ The Armenian Genocide: Cultural and Ethical Legacies – Page 3, by Richard G. Hovannisian – 2011

Further reading