Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic

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Map of Armenian SSR in 1991. (c)

The Armenian SSR (Armenian: Հայկական Սովետական Սոցիալիստական Հանրապետություն; Russian: Армянская Советская Социалистическая Республика) or Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia came into being when the Communist Party of Armenia proclaimed control of Armenia on 29 November 1920. On 1 December 1920 Prime Minister Simon Vratsian ceded control of the country. It later changed its name to the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. The period is sometimes known as the Second Republic of Armenia, which followed the short lived Democratic Republic of Armenia (also known as the First Republic of Armenia).

On August 23 1990, it was renamed into Republic of Armenia, remaining in the USSR for a year before independence.

Sovietization Armenian civilians fleeing Kars after being forced to leave their homes by Turkish troops circa 1920-21. Enlarge Armenian civilians fleeing Kars after being forced to leave their homes by Turkish troops circa 1920-21.

Prior to the October Revolution in 1917, Armenia was part of the then Russian Empire and confined to the borders of the Erevan gubernya. When 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, Armenia, along with Azerbaijan and Georgia, declared themselves indepedent from Russian rule and each established their respective republics. After suffering numerous casualties under Ottoman rule with the Armenian Genocide and the subsequent Turkish-Armenian War, the historic Armenian area in the Ottoman Empire was overrun with despair and devastation. When the Democratic Republic of Armenia was invaded by the Bolsheviks in 1920, it was declared a Soviet republic. Many Armenians joined the advancing Bolsheviks including those in the the formation of the 20th and 22nd divisions of the 11th Soviet Red Army.[1] 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 (today the Turkish provinces of Kars, Iğdır, and Ardahan). The land given to Turkey included the ancient city of Ani and Mount Ararat, the spirtual Armenian homeland. Today, Armenia does not recognize the Kars treaty.

From March 12 1922 to December 5 1936 it was 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 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 Moscow. Additionally, the Armenian alphabet was reformed to increase literacy among the populace. The situation was difficult for the church which struggled under Communism. Stalin's reign

After the death of Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin took the reins of power. Armenian society and its economy were changed dramatically by Stalin and his fellow Moscow policy makers. In 1936, under Stalin's watch, the TFSSR was dissolved and Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia became separate republics. On its coat of arms, the Armenian SSR prominently featured Mount Ararat. This brought objections from Turkey because Ararat was part of their territory. The Kremlin retorted that although the Turkish symbol was the crescent, surely it did not mean that they laid claim to the moon. [2] Despite this spiritual boost, Armenia suffered another territorial loss when Stalin granted the areas of Nakhichevan and Nagorno-Karabakh (both of which were promised to Armenia by the Bolsheviks in 1920) to Azerbaijan.

For the Armenian people, conditions only became worse under Stalin's iron fist. 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 russification policy of the Russian Empire. In the 1920s the Church was robbed of its worldly possessions. Initially, Stalin's attempts to remove religion from the Soviet Union did not immediately reach Armenia. In 1932 for example, Khoren Muradpekyan became known as Koren I and assumed the title of His Holiness the Catholicos.[3] However, in the late 1930s the Soviets began attempts to physically eliminate the Church and this culuminated in the murder of Khoren in 1938, as part of the Great Purge, and closing the Catholicate of Echmiadzin on 4 August 1938. The Church however survived underground and in the diaspora. [4] Talented Armenian communist party leaders such as Vagarshak Arutyunovich Ter-Vaganyan and Aghasi Khanchian also fell victim to the 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 innocent Armenians were executed and deported. In 1936, together with Lavrenty Beria, Stalin worked to deport Armenians to Siberia in an attempt to bring Armenia's population under 700,000 and so justify its annexation into Georgia.[4] Under his 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 costal regions of Russia, Georgia and Turkey) were deported from Georgia to areas of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Further deportations of Armenians from the coastal occurred in 1948, when 58,000 nationalist Armenian Dashnaks and Greeks were forced to move to Kazakhstan.

The Great Patriotic War 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 Nazis never reached the South Caucasus, intending to capture the oil fields in Azerbaijan. Still, Armenia played a valuable role in aiding the allies both through industry and agriculture. It should also be noted that Armenians of the Soviet 89th "Tamanyan" Division fought in grueling battles against the German Wehrmacht in the Battle of the Caucasus, the Battle of the Crimea, the Battle of the Baltic, the Vistula-Oder Offensive, and the Battle of Berlin. During an attack on the German-held city of Novorossiysk, senior sergeants Hunan Avetisyan and S. Arakelyan both earned the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union. Avetisyan was awarded posthumously after he had thrown himself on to the firing path of a German pillbox, killing him but allowing his squad to take advantage to outflank the nest which had been delaying their advance; a feat similar to Alexander Matrosov.[5] Hamazasp Babadzhanian, commander of the 3rd Mechanized Brigade was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for retaking of the river Dniester. Fighter bomber pilot Nelson Stepanyan was recorded to have destroyed several hundred tanks, trucks, artillery, mortars, and railroad lines and was also awarded the title of Hero.[6]

Under the command of General Hovannes (Ivan) Baghramian (later on a Marshal of the Soviet Union), Armenian and other Soviet divisions entered Poland on January 12, 1945. Baghramian was the first non-Slavic commander to hold the position of front commander as when he was assigned to the Baltic theater of operations in 1944. His forces were responsible for seizing back the Baltic republics German forces had captured earlier in the war. As the 89th raced towards Berlin on its trek towards the German capital, the unit itself was recorded to have liberated a total of 900 cities, towns, and villages in both Poland and Czechoslovakia. The division entered Berlin and played a key role in defeating the Germans. For its achievements in Berlin, the Tamanyan division was embraced with a Level II Order of Kutuzov and one of its commanders, Colonel Major H. Babayan attained the status of Hero. In a final count, the Tamanyan division advanced a total of 3,700 kilometers since its original efforts in the Caucasus with 7,333 of its members receiving commendations, 9 being decorated with the rank of Hero of the Soviet Union.[7]

Those Armenians and Georgians who were captured by the Germans as POWs were formed into the 812th Armenian Battalion. Mistrust stemming from Nazi Germany's leader Adolf Hitler, led to the battalion to be primarily stationed to serve in an anti-aircraft defense role based in Holland. Though many deserted, some, according to Jewish Red Army POW Josef Moisevich Kogan played an active role in helping Jews escape the Nazi-orchestrated Holocaust. Because of their deeds, many Armenians are recognized by Jews as among the Righteous Among the Nations. Armenia contributed over 300-500,000 men to the war effort. Additionally, there were a total of 60 generals among other senior officers who served in the Soviet armed forces during the war.[8] Nearly 175,000 Armenian soldiers gave their lives in defending the country.

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 had relented his attacks on religion during the war and in 1945, the bishop Gevork II was elected as the new Catholicos and allowed to reside in Echmiadzin.

Kars, Iğdır, and Ardahan

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. On September 25, 1945 the Soviet Union announced that it would annul the Soviet-Turkish treaty of friendship that was signed in 1925. Head Soviet diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov, presented the claims put forth by the Armenians to the leaders of the Allies of World War II however opposition stemmed from British leader Winston Churchill who objected to these territorial claims as additional areas of where the Soviet government could exert its influence while President of the United States Harry S. Truman of the United States felt that matter shouldn't concern other parties.

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 feelings of hostility between the East and West transpired into the Cold War, Truman proclaimed his namesake doctrine which said it would assist any country which was threatened by Communist aggression. This namely applied to Turkey which strengthened its ties with the West and where the Soviet Union ceased its claims over the two territories after realizing the United States might enter and aid in such a conflict.[9]

Armenian migration

With the republic suffering heavy losses after the war, Stalin allowed an open immigration policy in Armenia where 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 and were presented the option of having the expenses paid by the Soviet government on their trip back to Armenia. Lured with numerous incentives such as food coupons, better housing and other benefits, they were often viewed with contempt by Armenians living in the Republic when arriving there and also since most of them spoke the more difficult to understand Western Armenian dialect of the Armenian language (contrary to 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 pronounciation of the word. Although initially used in a good sense of humor, the word went on to carry on a more pejorative connotation. Revival

After Stalin's death, Nikita Khruschev emerged as the country's new leader. The Kremlin soon began a process allowing for greater expression of national feeling. Khruschev's De-Stalinization process also eased fears for many Soviet residents. Additionally, he also put more resources into the production of consumer goods and housing. Almost immediately, Armenia began a rapid cultural and economic rebirth. Also, to a limited degree, some religious freedom was granted to Armenia when Catholicos Vazgen I assumed the duties of his office in 1955.

On April 24, 1965, thousands of Armenians demonstrated in the streets of Yerevan during the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. 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. By 1967, the memorial (designed by 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 12 lost provinces in present day Turkey. In the centre of the circle, in depth of 1.5 metres, there is an eternal flame. Along the park at the memorial there is a 100 meter wall with names of towns and villages where massacres are known to have taken place.

Many Armenians also rose to prominence during this era including one of Khruschev's advisers and close friends, politician Anastas 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 Spartacus and Gayane which featured the well known "Sabre Dance" and also renowned astrophysicist and astronomer Viktor Hambartsumyan. The Brezhnev era and stagnation

After Leonid Brezhnev assumed power in 1964, much of Khruschev's reforms were reversed. The Brezhnev era entered into a new state of stagnation and saw a decline in both the qualities and quantities of products in the Soviet Union. Armenia was severely affected by these policies as demonstrated several years later in the 1988 Leninakan Earthquake. New homes being built during the 1970s largely had materials such as cement and concrete being diverted for other uses. Bribery and a lack of oversight saw the completion of poorly built and weakly supported apartment buildings. As the earthquake hit on the morning of December 7, the houses and apartments that collapsed the most effortlessly were the ones built during the Brezhnev years. It was said that the older the date of the dwellings, the better they withstood the quake.[11] Brezhenev's policies continued in trend following the subsequent changes in the leadership in the early 1980s. In the late 1970s, the Armenia SSR also saw the completion and opening of the Metsamor nuclear power plant built near Turkey's border.


Glasnost and Perestroika

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. However, this move was denied by the Soviet government because of fears that the Muslim Hamshenis might spark ethnic conflicts with their Christian Armenian cousins. 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 and transferred to the Azerbaijan SSR by Stalin, began a peaceful, democratic movement to unite the area with Armenia. The majority Armenian population in the area claimed to be fearful of the "forced Azerification" of the region. On February 20, 1988, Armenian deputies to the National Council of Nagorno-Karabakh voted to unify that region with Armenia. However, ethnic riots soon began breaking out between both Armenians and Azeris, thus preventing a solid unification from taking place. A formal petition written to Gorbachev and senior leaders in Moscow asked that the enlave to unify with Armenia but the claim was rejected in the spring of 1988. Until Gorbachev's rejection to Armenia demands, the Soviet leader was viewed favorably. As Gorbachev refused to change his stance on the issue, his standing amongst Armenians deteriorated sharply.


Armenia was one of the first republics to declare independence from the Soviet Union on August 23, 1990, three months after Latvia, the last of the Baltic states declared its independence. 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. Finally, on September 21, 1991, the state of Armenia was fully recognized and re-established. Still, 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 Russia, Georgia, and Iran.

See also