Historical records attest to a Jewish presence in Armenia dating back before the spread of Christianity in the region. Some historians claim that King Tigranes the Great brought 10,000 Jewish captives with him to the ancient Kingdom of Armenia, following a retreat from Judea due to a Roman attack on Armenia.
A large Jewish population was settled in Armenia from the first century BCE, thus establishing a permanent Jewish community there. During this period, numerous regional powers attempted to divide and conquer the country, and as a result, the Jewish population (and the general Armenian population as well) suffered the consequences of invasions, occupations, and reconquests. By the 3rd century CE, there was a huge increase in Jewish immigration from the Hellenistic region. As a result, some Armenian towns became largely Jewish.
The conquest of Armenia by the Sassanids under King Shapur II in the following century, saw deportations of Jews. Thousands of Jewish families were deported to areas throughout the region, including Isfahan (modern Iran), Artashat, Vaghasabat, Yervandashat, Sarehavan, Sarisat, Van, and Nakhichevan.
The return of substantial Jewish communities in Armenia coincided with the Russian annexation of eastern Armenia following the Russo-Persian War in 1828, when Russian Jews began arriving in Armenia. They established communities throughout the latter half of the 19th century.
In the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust, Armenian Jewry saw its population increase. This continued throughout most of the Soviet era, with many Russian and Ukrainian Jews settling in Armenia as a result of its more accepting society (by comparison to Soviet Russia and Ukraine).
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s saw widespread violence engulf the region, and as a result, many Armenian Jews left the region. Today’s Armenian Jewish population is almost entirely comprised of Ashkenazi Jews who came to Armenia during the Soviet period. The Armenian Jewish community is able to practice their religion freely, and despite some manifestations of antisemitism, live in relative stability. Levon Aronian, the chess grandmaster, openly espouses his Jewish background and received the Order of St. Mesrop Mashtots in 2012.