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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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 p490  Chapter XLIX
Armenian Soviet Socialistic Republic

(Condensed from Encyclopedia Americana, Vol. II 1953 Edition)​a

One of the 16 constituent republics of the U. S. S. R., this state is situated in southern Transcaucasia. It is bordered on the west by Turkey, on the south by Iran and Nakhichévan, on the east by Azerbaijan S. S. R., and on the north by the Georgian S. S. R. Its area is 11,500 square miles; the population in 1944 was estimated at 1,521,000. Erevan (pop. 500,000) is the capital, situated on the Zengar River; other important cities are Leninakan (Alexandropol) and Kirovakan (Karaklis). Etchmiadzin ("The Holy One Descended") the religious center of the Armenian world, has a cathedral dating back to the third century. Soviet Armenia consists of part of the Iranian plateau and the valley of the Araxes River, with its tributary, the Zanga. Lake Sevan, 40 by 15 miles in size, which lies near the center of the country, 6,500 feet above sea level, is one of the world's largest mountain lakes. While the climate is dry, there are wide variations in temperature. Winters are apt to be long and severe, except in the valleys, and summers extremely hot.

Natural Resources

More than half of Armenia is treeless alpine pasture; some 15 percent is forested. The remainder, lacking moisture, was unproductive until irrigation canals were built under the five year plans; vast areas have thus been reclaimed. Besides feeding the canals, mountain waters also are harnessed for hydroelectric power; 40 such power stations completed by 1940 supplied power to cities and farms. Copper is found in combination with lead, zinc, silver and gold, as well as deposits of molybdenum and other essential ores, and some coal, lime, pumice and marble.

 p491  The People

Armenians have been widely scattered over Europe, Asia and America. Ravaged in the first World War, those remaining in their native country numbered only 720,000 when the Armenian S. S. R. was proclaimed in 1921. Within 20 years the population almost doubled, owing in part to the return of many refugees. In 1940, 85 percent of the people were Armenians, 9.8 percent Azerbaijanis and 2.4 percent Russians, the remainder being mostly Georgians, Kurds and Greeks.

Literacy had become almost universal by 1940, at which period there were 1,125 primary and secondary schools in the republic, besides numerous kindergartens and schools for the industrial workers. Teachers are trained in normal schools and at the state university. The University of Erevan was foremost among Soviet Armenia's ten institutions of higher learning; the medical, agricultural and architectural schools were independent colleges by 1942. Numerous scientific and research institutes include the Armenian branch at Erevan of the Academy of Sciences of the U. S. S. R. The educational budget for 1944 totaled 120,000,000 rubles; there had been a 23 percent increase in the school population.

The 1936 constitution of the U. S. S. R. confirmed freedom of religious worship. The New York Times on Nov. 15, 1941 said that "The people of Soviet Armenia . . . live their own lives, unhampered by . . . religious intolerance."


By secret ballot and universal suffrage, the Armenian S. S. R. elects deputies to both chambers of the Supreme Soviet of the U. S. S. R. It also has the local and all-republic assemblies (with their responsible administrative councils) and the various courts appropriate to the constituent republic under the Soviet constitution of 1936. Under an all-union permissive decree, Armenian Commissariats of Foreign Affairs and Defense were created March 19, 1944.

Agriculture and Industry

Largely because of the extension of irrigation, the 60,000 hectares (1 hectare = 2.471 acres) of land under cultivation in 1939 had been increased by 1943 to 200,000 hectares, all but two percent of the agricultural population being engaged in collective farming. Scientific  p492 methods of agriculture, combined with irrigation, gave large crops of wheat, rye and other grains, and increased production of sugar-beets, tobacco and potatoes. Replacing short-fibred cotton with long, Armenia ranked third among the cotton-producing states of the U. S. S. R. The republic was also one of the Union's leading silk-growing regions, and viticulture. The relatively unproductive native cattle and sheep, crossed with prolific breeds from other regions, doubled their numbers within 20 years. Horses and pigs also multiplied.

Despite the advances in agriculture, manufactures in 1943 represented 80 percent of the Republic's output, the manufacture of 250 new products having been undertaken during the war. Soviet Armenia was a pioneer producer of synthetic rubber. Copper, molybdenum and other ores were being mined on an extensive scale, and some local coal was being used in the expanded chemical industry, replacing fuel formerly obtained from the Donets Basin. Other important manufactures were machinery, cement, lumber, leather, soap, textiles and meat products. The country had also become widely known through the export of rose tufa rock, from the Mount Ararat district, an easily workable, durable and very beauti­ful building material.

The rapid development of the country's economy has been due mainly to the exploitation of its hydroelectric power resources, especially the Sevan-Zanga series of stations, forming an immense "water staircase," by which it is planned eventually to produce 2,500,000,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.


The swiftly flowing rivers are unsuitable for navigation, and the country lacks seaports, but there is a good railroad in the north and west of Soviet Armenia. The line runs north of Tiflis, capital of the Georgian S. S. R., whence it continues to ports on the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. This railroad, entering Armenia from Tiflis, divides south of Leninakan, one branch leading westward to Kars, in Turkey, linking it with Ankara and Istanbul; the other branch continues southward in Armenia to Erevan, and thence passes through the Nakhichévan A. S. S. R. into Iran, connecting with Tabriz, Teheran and the Persian Gulf.

 p493  Art and Literature

Armenian literature, music and architecture have undergone marked development in the Republic. In 1941 the combined total number of libraries, museums and art galleries was 530, and there were 25 theaters with stock companies. The dramatists and fiction writers have drawn upon the entire history of their country, dating back nearly 2,000 years before Christ. Many outstanding Russian and foreign literary works have been published in Armenian, and by 1941, 85 notable modern Armenian works had been published in Russian.


On April 2, 1921 the nucleus of Armenia — excluding the Lake Van-Ararat region, held by Turkey — became a Soviet Republic. Formerly a backward, subject territory, within the two following decades it became a modern industrial state. In 1915, during the First World War, the (American) Near East Relief organization had established in Russian Armenia headquarters at Leninakan, and continued its good work during the early years of the Republic. The Armenian S. S. R., through the rapid development of its economy, attained a large degree of self-sufficiency, and when the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany in 1941, it was in a strong enough position to contribute men and materials to the common cause.

Thayer's Note:

a Condensed from Encyclopedia Americana: I've been unable to track down the copyright status of the original article; that of Kurkjian's abridgment, however, is governed by that of his entire book, which, as stated on the homepage, is in the public domain.

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Page updated: 24 Apr 05