In an ethnic and national sense, the Crimea has been a host to wide group of peoples. Historians and other scholars have placed dated the Armenian presence in the Crimea to the 8th century and have distinguished three distinctive stages of their settlement in the region. The Crimea was under the control of the Byzantine Empire during this time and some Armenian troops serving in the Byzantine military were stationed here. In the course of the next two centuries, Armenians from their homelands in the Armenian Highlands and other Byzantine cities came to settle here as well.
As life grew more unbearable in Armenia proper following the destructive Seljuk raids of the 11th and 12th centuries, many Armenians were forced to migrate to Byzantium and elsewhere and with some of them eventually settling in the Crimea. They most prominently found their new homes in Kaffa (modern Feodosiya), Solhat, Karasubazar (Belogorsk), and Orabazar (Armyansk), with Kaffa at its center. The stability of the region allowed many of them to find work in agriculture and engage in commercial activity. Even when the region came under Mongol control during the mid-13th century, their economic life was left largely undisturbed. The Armenians’ ties to commercial interests also greatly benefited the Genoese when they secured their economic domination there in the late 13th century. The widening economic opportunities in the Crimea attracted more Armenians to settle there. According to Genoese sources, in 1316, Armenians had three churches, two Armenian Apostolic and one Catholic, of their own in Kaffa.
As the foreign wars in Armenia continued unabated, greater numbers of Armenians chose to settle in the Crimea, to the degree that some Western sources began to refer to the region as Armenia Maritama and the Sea of Azov as Lacus armeniacus. A rich literary tradition and the art of illuminated manuscript writing were established. The Armenian Church played a central role in Armenian social life and counted 44 churches under its jurisdiction in 1330. From the 14th to 18th centuries, the Armenians formed the second largest ethnic group after the Tatars. The flourishing life Armenians established here came to a quick end, however, when the Ottoman Turks took the region in 1475. Many Armenians were killed, enslaved or fled the peninsula and as many as sixteen Armenian churches were converted to mosques as Armenians were subordinated to the rule of the Crimean khanate, which remained an ally of the Ottoman Empire.
Despite this, in the 16th century, Armenian settlements in the Crimea continued to exist in the Kaffa, Karasubazar, Balaklava, Gezlev, Perekop and Surkhat. From 1778-1779, more than 22,000 Armenians resettled in the Azov province and on the coast of the Dnieper and Samara, leading to gradual economic decline. In 1783, the Russian Empire conquered the Crimean khanate. Russian authorities encouraged the settlement of foreign colonists, including Armenians, into the Crimea. This led to a fresh wave of Armenian immigrants, reviving former colonies. In 1913, their numbers hovered around 9,000 and 14,000-15,000 in 1914. The resettlement of Armenians on the peninsula lasted until the First World War and the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire in 1915-1923. The immigrants of the 19th and 20th centuries were largely from Western Armenia and the various regions of Ottoman Empire.
In 1919, there were 16,907 Armenians living in the Crimea. In 1930, in the recently established Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, there were two Armenian national districts, and on the peninsula there were approximately 13 thousand Armenians. According to the All-Union census of 1989, the number of Armenians living in the Crimea had dwindled down 2,794.
After the deportation of Crimean Tatars in May 1944, a passport check and registration of Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians was held. On May 29, 1944, Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, Lavrentiy Beria, introduce a circumstatial report to Joseph Stalin, “Armenians live in various parts of the peninsula. An Armenian Committee, established by Germans, actively cooperate with Nazi Germany and doing anti-Soviet performance.” Later on, he suggested to deport all Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians from Crimea. On June 2, 1944, he signed Directorate 5984, titled “The Deportation of German satellites – Bulgars, Greeks and Armenians from Crimea”. This resolution deported 37,000 Bulgarians, Greeks and Armenians. The Armenians were deported to Perm Oblast, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Omsk Oblast, Kemerovo Oblast, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan and Kazakhstan.
In 1989, the communal life of the Crimea’s Armenians was institutionalized with the formation of one of the peninsula’s first national-cultural associations, the Armenian “Luys” (Light) society. Later, after re-registration in 1996, it was renamed the Crimean Armenian Society. At present, the Crimean Armenian Society consists of 14 regional offices, coordinated by the National Council of Crimean Armenians. The highest governing body is the National Congress, which convenes at least once every four years. Operational management of the society is carried out by the executive committee, which functions in the periods between meetings of the National Council. The society operates the “Luys” cultural and ethnographic center and publishes a monthly newspaper, Dove Masis. The one-hour Armenian-language program “Barev” airs twice a month on Crimean television, and radio broadcasts are made five times a week. There are Armenian churches in Yalta,Feodosiya and Evpatoria, while the first Armenian secondary school opened in 1998 in Simferopol.
Armenians living in the Crimea are currently concentrated in the cities of Armyansk, Simferopol, Evpatoria, Feodosiya, Kerch, Yalta, Sevastopol, Sudak. The Armenia Diaspora Encyclopediaindicates that there were 20,000 Armenians living in the region in 2003. In the 1470s, Armenians comprised two thirds of the total population of Kaffa (numbering 46,000 out of 70,000). Until 1941 Armenians in Feodosiya (Kaffa) formed more than 20% of the total population of the city. According to the Feodosiya Office of Statistics, there are only 557 Armenians living in Great Feodosiya itself. Today, Armenians make up 0.43% of the whole of Crimea’s population.
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