The history of the Jewish community in Armenia (Armenian: Հայաստանի հրեական համայնքը, Hayastani hreakan hamaynqa) dates back more than 2,000 years.
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There are historical records that attest the presence of Jews in pagan Armenia, before the spread of Christianity in the region by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Early medieval Armenian historians, such as Moses Khorenatsi, held that during the conquest of Armenian King Tigranes the Great (95–55 BC), brought with him 10,000 Jewish captives to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia (which encompassed what is commonly known as Greater Armenia) when he retreated from Judea, because of the Roman attack on Armenia (69 B.C.). Tigranes II invaded Syria, and probably northern Israel as well. A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the 1st century BC. One city in particular, Vartkesavan became an important commercial center. Thus, Armenia's Jewish community was established. Like the rest of Armenia's population, they suffered the consequences of regional powers trying to divide and conquer the country. By 360-370 AD, there was a massive increase in Jewish Hellenistic immigration into Armenia; many Armenian towns became predominately Jewish. During this period (4th century AD), after the conquest of Armenia by the Sassanid King Shapur II he deported thousands of Jewish families from Persian Armenia and resettled them at Isfahan (modern Iran).
Jewish families were deported to Armenia and settled in Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan. Tournebize holds that the Assyrians deported Jews to Armenia, and not to the Khabur Valley. Aslan mentions that the Jews of Samaria were deported to Armenia.
In 1996, the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery from a previously unknown medieval Jewish community were discovered in the village of Yeghegis, in the southern province of Vayotz Dzor. In 2000, a team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem excavated the southern side of the Yeghegis river, opposite the village a Jewish cemetery with 40 gravestones with Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1266 and 1497. Michael Nosonovsky has stated that "The word khawajah is of Persian origin and it probably indicates that the Jews who settled in Yeghegis came from Persia and kept Persian as their spoken language. Biblical quotations and Talmudic formulas are evidence of a high learning standard in the community." A group of Armenian and Israeli archaeologists and historians excavated the site in 2001 and 2002 and found 64 more tombstones. Some are decorated with motifs of the Orbelian kingdom. The archaeological team also found three mills, which the bishop says show that the community had a business because one mill could feed several families. Twenty of these tombstones had inscriptions, all in Hebrew except for two, which were in Aramaic. The oldest dated stone was from 1266 and the latest date was 1336/7.
|Historical Armenian Jewish population|
In 1828, the Russo-Persian War came to an end and Eastern Armenia (currently the Republic of Armenia) was annexed to the Russian Empire with the Treaty of Turkmenchai. Polish and Iranian Jews began arriving, as well as Sabbatarians (Subbotniki, Russian peasants who were banished to the outskirts of Imperial Russia during the reign of Catherine II. They were Judaizing Christians and mostly converted to mainstream Judaism or assimilated). Since 1840 they started creating Ashkenazi and Mizrahi communities respectively in Yerevan. Up to 1924, the Sephardic synagogue, Shiek Mordechai, was a leading institution among the Jewish community.
Following World War II, the Jewish population rose to approximately 5,000. In 1959, the Jewish population peaked in Soviet Armenia at approximately 10,000 people. Another wave of Jewish immigrants arrived in the country between 1965 and 1972, mainly intelligentsia, military, and engineers. These Jews arrived from Russia and Ukraine, attracted to the more liberal society. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union many of them left due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Between 1992 and 1994, more than 6,000 Jews immigrated to Israel because of Armenia’s political isolation and economic depression. Today the country's Jewish population has shrunk to around 750. In 1995, the Chabad House was established in Yerevan.
There is a tiny community of Subbotniks (believed to be a Judaizing community that evolved from the Molokan Spiritual Christians) whose ancestors converted to Judaism, and who are quickly dwindling.
The President of the Jewish Community in Armenia, Rimma Varzhapetyan-Feller, has stated on January 23, 2015, that "The Jewish community feels itself protected in Armenia, and the authorities respect their rights, culture, and traditions. There is no anti-Semitism in Armenia, and we enjoy good relations with the Armenians. Of course, the community has certain problems that originate from the general situation of the country."
In 2005 Armen Avetisian, the openly anti-Semitic leader of the Armenian Aryan Union, a small ultranationalist party, alleged that there are as many as 50,000 "disguised" Jews in Armenia. He promised that he would work to have them expelled from the country. He was arrested in January 2005 on charges of inciting ethnic hatred.
There have been two recorded incidents, in 2007 and in 2010, of vandalism by unknown individuals on the Jewish side of the Joint Tragedies Memorial in Aragast Park, Yerevan that commemorates both the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust. This monument had replaced a smaller monument that had been defaced and toppled several times.