Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic

Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic
Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic
Армянская Советская Социалистическая Республика
Հայկական Սովետական
Սոցիալիստական Հանրապետություն

Flag Coat of arms
Anthem of Armenian SSR
Capital Yerevan
Language(s) Armenian and Russian
Government Soviet Socialist Republic
 - Established 1920
 - Disestablished 1990

The Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic (Armenian: Հայկական Սովետական Սոցիալիստական Հանրապետություն Haykakan Sovetakan Soc’ialistakan Hanrapetut’yun; Russian: Армя́нская Сове́тская Социалисти́ческая Респу́блика Armjanskaja Sovetskaja Sotsialističeskaja Respublika), also known as the Armenian SSR for short, was one of the fifteen republics that made up the Soviet Union in December 1922. It was established in December 1920, when the Soviets took over control of the short-lived Democratic Republic of Armenia and lasted until 1991. It is sometimes called the Second Republic of Armenia, following the Democratic Republic of Armenia's demise (which was also known as the First Republic of Armenia).

Under Soviet rule, the Armenian SSR transformed from a largely agricultural hinterland to an important industrial production center. On August 23, 1990, it was renamed the Republic of Armenia, but remained in the Soviet Union until its official proclamation of independence on September 21, 1991.




Armenians crowding around the building in Yerevan where the 1920 plenum officially declared Armenia a Soviet republic.

From 1828 to the October Revolution in 1917, Armenia was part of the then Russian Empire and largely confined to the borders of the Erivan Governorate. After the October Revolution, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin's government announced that minorities in the empire could pursue a course of self-determination. Following the collapse of the empire, in May 1918 Armenia, and its neighbors Azerbaijan and Georgia, declared their independence from Russian rule and each established their respective republics. After suffering numerous casualties under Ottoman rule during the Armenian Genocide and the subsequent Turkish-Armenian War, the historic Armenian area in the Ottoman Empire was overrun with despair and devastation.

A number of Armenians joined the advancing 11th Soviet Red Army. Afterwards, both Turkey and the newly proclaimed Soviet republic negotiated the Treaty of Kars, in which Turkey ceded Adjara to the USSR in exchange for the Kars territory, corresponding to the modern day Turkish provinces of Kars, Iğdır, and Ardahan. The medieval Armenian capital of Ani, as well as the spiritual icon of the Armenian people Mount Ararat, were located in the ceded area. Additionally, Joseph Stalin, then acting Commissar for nationalities, granted the areas of Nakhchivan and Nagorno-Karabakh (both of which were promised to Armenia by the Bolsheviks in 1920) to Azerbaijan.[1]

From March 12, 1922 to December 5, 1936, Armenia was a part of the Transcaucasian SFSR together with the Georgian SSR and the Azerbaijan SSR. Armenians enjoyed a period of relative stability under Soviet rule. Life under the Soviet Union initially proved to be a soothing balm in contrast to the turbulent final years of the Ottoman Empire. The Armenians received medicine, food, as well as other provisions from the central government and extensive literacy reforms were carried out.[2] The situation was difficult for the church, however, which became a regular target in educational books and in the media and struggled greatly under Communism.

Stalin's reign

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After the death of Vladimir Lenin in January 1924, Joseph Stalin took the reins of power. Armenian society and its economy were changed by Stalin and his fellow Moscow policy makers. In 1936, the TSFSR was dissolved under Stalin's orders and the socialist republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia were established instead. For the Armenian people, however, conditions grew worse under Stalin's rule. In a period of twenty-five years, Armenia was industrialized and educated under strictly prescribed conditions, and nationalism was harshly suppressed. Stalin took several measures in persecuting the Armenian Apostolic Church, already weakened by the Armenian Genocide and the Russification policies of the Russian Empire.[3]

In the 1920s, the church was robbed of its worldly possessions and priests were harassed. Soviet assaults against the Armenian Church accelerated under Stalin, beginning in 1929, but eased up in the following years to improve the country's relations with the Armenian Diaspora.[4] In 1932, for example, Khoren Muradpekyan became known as Khoren I and assumed the title of His Holiness the Catholicos. However, in the late 1930s, the Soviets began to physically eliminate the Church.[5] This culminated in the murder of Khoren in 1938 as part of the Great Purge, and the closing of the Catholicate of Echmiadzin on August 4, 1938. The Church however survived underground and in the diaspora.[6] Armenian leaders of the communist party such as Vagharshak Ter-Vahanyan and Aghasi Khanjian also fell victim to the Great Purge, the former being a defendant at the first of the Moscow Show Trials.

As with various other ethnic minorities who lived in the Soviet Union under Stalin, tens of thousands of Armenians were executed and deported. In 1936, Lavrenty Beria and Stalin worked to deport Armenians to Siberia in an attempt to bring Armenia's population under 700,000 in order to justify an annexation into Georgia[clarification needed].[6] Under Beria's command, the Communist Party of Armenia used police terror to strengthen its political hold on the population and suppress all expressions of nationalism. Many writers, artists, scientists and political leaders were executed or forced into exile.

Additionally, in 1944, roughly 200,000 Hamshenis (Sunni Muslim Armenians who live near the Black Sea coastal regions of Russia, Georgia and Turkey) were deported from Georgia to areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Further deportations of Armenians from the coastal region occurred in 1948, when 58,000 nationalist Armenian Dashnak supporters and Greeks were forced to move to Kazakhstan.[7]

World War II

A T-34 tank monument in Victory Park in Yerevan.

Armenia was spared the devastation and destruction that wrought most of the western Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War of World War II. The Wehrmacht never reached the South Caucasus, which they intended to do in order to capture the oil fields in Azerbaijan. Still, Armenia played a valuable role in aiding the allies both through industry and agriculture. An estimated 300–500,000 Armenians served in the war, almost half of whom did not return.[8] Many attained the highest rank of Hero of the Soviet Union.[9] Over sixty Armenians were promoted to the rank of general, and with an additional four eventually achieving the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union: Hovhannes Bagramyan (the first non-Slavic commander to hold the position of front commander when he was assigned to be the commander of the First Baltic Front in 1943), Admiral Ivan Isakov, Hamazasp Babadzhanian, and Sergei Khudyakov.[9]

Some Armenians who were captured by the Germans as POWs opted to serve in German battalions rather than risk life-threatening conditions in POW camps. As with many Soviet soldiers who surrendered to German forces during fighting, Armenians were punished by Stalin and sent to work at labor camps located in Siberia. Stalin temporarily relented his attacks on religion during the war. This led to the election of bishop Gevork II as the new Catholicos in 1945. He was subsequently allowed to reside in Echmiadzin.[10]

At the end of the war, after Germany's capitulation, many Armenians in both the Republic and worldwide lobbied Stalin to reconsider the issue of taking back the provinces of Kars, Iğdır, and Ardahan that Armenia had lost to Turkey in the Treaty of Kars.[11] In September, 1945, the Soviet Union announced that it would annul the Soviet-Turkish treaty of friendship that was signed in 1925. Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov presented the claims put forth by the Armenians to the leaders of the Allies of World War II.

Turkey itself was in no condition to fight a war with the Soviet Union, which had emerged as a superpower after the Second World War. By the autumn of 1945, Soviet troops in the Caucasus were already assembling for a possible invasion of Turkey. However, as the hostility between the East and West developed into the Cold War, especially after the issuing of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, Turkey strengthened its ties with the West. The Soviet Union relinquished its claims over the lost territories – realizing that the United States might come to Turkey's aid in any conflict.[12]

Armenian immigration

With the republic suffering heavy losses after the war, Stalin allowed an open immigration policy in Armenia; the diaspora was invited to settle in and revitalize the country's population and bolster its workforce. Armenians living in countries such as Cyprus, France, Greece, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria were primarily the survivors or the descendants of the Genocide. They were offered the option of having their expenses paid by the Soviet government for their trip back to their homeland. An estimated 150,000 Armenians immigrated to Soviet Armenia between 1946 and 1948.[13]

Lured by numerous incentives such as food coupons, better housing and other benefits, they were often viewed with contempt by Armenians living in the Republic on their arrival. Most of the new arrivals spoke the Western Armenian dialect, instead of the Eastern Armenian spoken in Armenia. They were often addressed as aghbar (աղբար) or "brother" by Armenians living in the Republic due to their different pronunciation of the word. Although initially used in humor, the word went on to carry on a more pejorative connotation.[14]

Revival under Khrushchev

Athletes taking part in the annual May Day parade in Yerevan's Lenin Square

Following a power struggle after Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the country's new leader. In a secret speech he gave in 1956, Khrushchev denounced Stalin and his domestic policies largely loosened the government's grip over the country. Khrushchev put more resources into the production of consumer goods and housing. Almost immediately, Armenia began a rapid cultural and economic rebirth. To a limited degree, some religious freedom was granted to Armenia when Catholicos Vazgen I assumed the duties of his office in 1955. One of Khrushchev's advisers and close friends, Armenian Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan, urged Armenians to reaffirm their national identity. In 1954, he gave a speech in Yerevan where he encouraged them to "republish the works of writers such as Raffi and Charents (the latter had been executed by the purges).[15]

In the Soviet Union, Armenians, along with Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Georgians, Germans, and Jews were judged as "advanced" peoples, and were grouped together as Western nationalities.[16] The Caucasus and particularly Armenia were recognized by academic scholars and in Soviet textbooks as the "oldest civilisation on the territory" of the Soviet Union.[17]

On April 24, 1965, thousands of Armenians demonstrated in the streets of Yerevan during the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.[18] Soviet troops entered the city and attempted to restore order. To prevent this from happening again, the Kremlin agreed to have a memorial built in honor of those who perished during the atrocities. In November 1967, the memorial (designed by the architects Kalashian and Mkrtchyan) was completed at the Tsitsernakaberd hill above the Hrazdan gorge in Yerevan. The 44-meter stele symbolizes the national rebirth of Armenians. Twelve slabs are positioned in a circle, representing twelve lost provinces in present day Turkey. In the center of the circle, in depth of 1.5 meters, there is an eternal flame. A 100-meter wall around the memorial's park contains the names of towns and villages where massacres are known to have taken place.

Many Armenians rose to prominence during this era including one of Khrushchev's friends, Mikoyan, who was the older brother of the designer and co-founder of the Soviet MiG fighter jet company, Artem Mikoyan. Other famous Soviet Armenians included composer Aram Khachaturyan, who wrote the ballets Spartacus and Gayane that featured the well known "Sabre Dance", and also renowned astrophysicist and astronomer Viktor Hambartsumyan.


After Leonid Brezhnev assumed power in 1964, much of Khruschev's reforms were reversed. The Brezhnev era began a new state of stagnation, and saw a decline in both the quality and quantity of products in the Soviet Union. Armenia was severely affected by these policies, as was to be demonstrated several years later in the catastrophic earthquake that hit Spitak. Material such as cement and concrete allocated to the building of new homes was diverted for other uses. Bribery and a lack of oversight saw the construction of poorly built and weakly supported apartment buildings. When the earthquake hit on the morning of December 7, 1988, the houses and apartments least able to resist collapse were those built during the Brezhnev years. Paradoxically, the older the dwellings, the better they withstood the quake.[19] Brezhnev's policies were largely maintained under his successors.

The Gorbachev era

Mikhail Gorbachev's introduction of the policies of Glasnost and Perestroika in the 1980s also fueled Armenian visions of a better life under Soviet rule. The Hamshenis who were deported by Stalin to Kazakhstan began petitioning for the government to move them to the Armenian SSR. This move was denied by the Soviet government because of fears that the Muslim Hamshenis might spark ethnic conflicts with their Christian Armenian cousins.[7] However, another event that occurred during this time made an ethnic clash between Christian Armenians and Muslims inevitable.

Armenians in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which was promised to Armenia by the Bolsheviks but transferred to the Azerbaijan SSR by Stalin, began a movement to unite the area with Armenia. The majority Armenian population expressed concern about the forced "Azerification" of the region.[20] On February 20, 1988, the Supreme Soviet of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast voted to unify with Armenia.[21] Demonstrations took place in Yerevan showing support for the Karabakh Armenians. Azerbaijani authories encouraged counter demonstrations. However, these soon broke down into violence against Armenians in the city of Sumgait.

Soon, ethnic rioting broke out between Armenians and Azeris, preventing a solid unification from taking place. A formal petition written to Gorbachev and senior leaders in Moscow asked for the unification of the enclave with Armenia, but the claim was rejected in the spring of 1988. Until then, the Soviet leader had been viewed favorably by Armenians, but following his refusal to alter his stance on the issue, Gorbachev's standing among Armenians deteriorated sharply.


On May 5, 1990, the New Armenian Army (NAA), a defense force that was to serve as a separate entity from the Soviet Union's military, was created. A celebration was planned for May 28, the anniversary of the creation of the first Armenian republic. However, on May 27 hostilities broke out between the NAA and the MVD troops based in Yerevan, resulting in the deaths of five Armenians killed in a shootout at the railway station. Witnesses claimed that the MVD had used an excessive amount of force in the firefight and contended that they had instigated the fighting. Further firefights between Armenian militiamen and the MVD in nearby Sovetashen resulted in the deaths of twenty-six people and an indefinite cancellation of the May 28 celebration.

On March 17, 1991, Armenia, along with the Baltics, Georgia and Moldova, boycotted a union-wide referendum in which 78% of all voters voted for the retention of the Soviet Union in a reformed form.[22] On August 23, 1991, Armenia became one of the first republics to declare independence from the Soviet Union. Armenia's desire to break away from the Soviet Union largely stemmed from Moscow's intransigence on Karabakh, mishandling of the earthquake, and the shortcomings of the socialist economy.

On September 21, 1991, the state of Armenia became fully recognized and re-established. Following Armenia's independence, tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan continued to escalate, ultimately leading to the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Despite a cease-fire in place since 1994, Armenia has yet to resolve its conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Aside from this, Armenia has seen substantial development since independence and, although blockaded by both Turkey and Azerbaijan over the Karabakh dispute, maintains friendly relations with its neighboring states of Georgia and Iran, as well as Russia, the important regional power.


The structure of government in the Armenian SSR was identical to that of the other Soviet republics. The highest political body of the republic was the Armenian Supreme Soviet which included the highest judicial branch of the Republic, the Supreme Court. Members of the Supreme Soviet who were part of the plenipotentiary body served for a term of five years whereas regional deputies served for two and a half years. All officials holding office were mandated to be members of the Communist Party and sessions were convened in the Supreme Soviet building in Yerevan.


Under the Soviet system, the centralized economy of the republic banned private ownership of income producing property. Beginning in the late 1920s, privately owned farms in Armenia were collectivized and placed under the directive of the state, although this was often met with active resistance by the peasantry. During the same time (1929–1936), the government also began the process of industrialization in Armenia. By 1935, the gross product of agriculture was 132% of that of 1928 and the gross product of industry was 650% to that of 1928. The economic revolution of the 1930s, however, came at a great cost: it broke up the traditional peasant family and village institution and forced many living in the rural countryside to settle in urban areas. Private enterprise came to a virtual end as it was effectively brought under government control.[23]

Culture and life

With the establishment of the Republic, Soviet authorities worked tenaciously to eliminate certain elements in society, in whole or in part, such as nationalism and religion. At first, Armenia was not impacted significantly by the policies set forth by Lenin's government. Prior to his debilitating illness, Lenin encouraged the policy of Korenizatsiya or "nativization" in the republics which essentially called for the different nationalities of the Soviet Union to "administer their republics", establishing schools, newspapers, and theaters.[24] In Armenia, the Soviet government stipulated that all illiterate citizens up to the age of fifty were to attend school and learn Armenian, which became the official language of the republic.

Like all the other republics of the Soviet Union, Armenia had its own flag and coat of arms. The latter became a source of dispute between the Soviet Union and Turkey in the 1950s when Turkey complained as to why it contained the image of Mount Ararat, which holds a deeply symbolic importance to Armenians but is located on Turkish territory. Turkey felt that by having the image on the flag, the Soviet Union was making a territorial claim against it. Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time, retorted by asking: "Why do you have a moon depicted on your flag? After all, the moon doesn't belong to Turkey, not even half the moon ... Do you want to take over the whole universe?"[25] The government of Turkey dropped the issue after this.[26]


  1. ^ Matossian, Mary Kilbourne (1962). The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia. Leiden: E.J. Brill. p. 30. ISBN 0-8305-0081-2. 
  2. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, p. 80.
  3. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, pp. 90-95, 147-151.
  4. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, p. 150.
  5. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, p. 194.
  6. ^ a b Bauer-Manndorff, Elisabeth (1981). Armenia: Past and Present. New York: Armenian Prelacy, p. 178.
  7. ^ a b "Hamshenis denied return to Armenian SSR". Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  8. ^ Walker, Christopher J. (1980). Armenia The Survival of a Nation. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 355–356. ISBN 0-7099-0210-7. 
  9. ^ a b (Armenian) Khudaverdyan, Konstantine. «Սովետական Միության Հայրենական Մեծ Պատերազմ, 1941-1945» ("The Soviet Union's Great Patriotic War, 1941-1945"). Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1984, pp. 542-547.
  10. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, pp. 194-195.
  11. ^ Dekmejian, R. Hrair (1997). "The Armenian Diaspora" in The Armenian People from Ancient to Modern Times, Volume II: Foreign Dominion to Statehood: The Fifteenth Century to the Twentieth Century. Richard G Hovannisian (ed.) New York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 416-417. ISBN 0-3121-0168-6.
  12. ^ Walker, The Survival of a Nation, pp. 360–363.
  13. ^ Dekmejian. "The Armenian Diaspora", p. 416.
  14. ^ Bournoutian, George A. (2006). A Concise History of the Armenian People. Costa Mesa, California: Mazda, p. 324. ISBN 1-5685-9141-1.
  15. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, p. 201.
  16. ^ Martin, Terry (2001). The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. New York: Cornell University, p. 23. ISBN 0-8014-8677-7.
  17. ^ Panossian, Razmik (2006). The Armenians: From Kings And Priests to Merchants And Commissars. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 288–289. ISBN 0-2311-3926-8. 
  18. ^ Bobelian, Michael (2009). Children of Armenia: A Forgotten Genocide and the Century-long Struggle for Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 121ff. ISBN 1-4165-5725-3. 
  19. ^ Verluise, Pierre and Levon Chorbajian (1995). Armenia in Crisis: the 1988 Earthquake. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
  20. ^ Cheterian, Vicken (2009). War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia's Troubled Frontier. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 87–154. ISBN 0-2317-0064-4. 
  21. ^ Kaufman, Stuart (2001). Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War. New York: Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. p. 61. ISBN 0-8014-8736-6. 
  22. ^ "Baltic states, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova boycott USSR referendum.". Archived from the original on November 16, 2005. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  23. ^ Matossian. Impact of Soviet Policies, pp. 99-116.
  24. ^ Bournoutian. A Concise History, p. 320.
  25. ^ Khrushchev, Nikita, Sergei Khrushchev (ed.) Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev: Statesman, 1953-1964. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 467-468. ISBN 0-2710-2935-8.
  26. ^ Khrushchev. Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, p. 468.

Further reading

  • (Armenian) The Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia. Yerevan: Armenian Academy of Sciences, 1974–1987, 12 volumes.
  • Matossian, Mary Kilbourne. The Impact of Soviet Policies in Armenia. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1962, ISBN 0-8305-0081-2.
  • Walker, Christopher J. Armenia: The Survival of a Nation. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1990.

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