Thursday, January 31, 2013

Opening of Yerevan State University - January 31, 1920

On May 16, 1919, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Armenia adopted a resolution to found a university in Yerevan. However, the lack of an adequate building forced the establishment of the University outside the capital. The opening ceremonies were held with great pomp on January 31, 1920, in the building of the Commerce School of Alexandropol (now Gumri). The first rector was a law scholar, Yuri Ghambarian (1850-1926).

The inauguration was attended by the leadership of the republic, as well as by many guests from abroad. The first class was a lecture by the famous Armenologist, Stepan Malkhasiants (1857-1947) on February 1, 1920. During its first year, the university had one school (Faculty of History and Linguistics), 262 students and 32 professors. Famous specialists who had graduated abroad and had extensive experience in teaching and scholarship were invited to teach, such as Hakob Manandian, Manuk Abeghian, Stepan Malkhasiants, and others.

The University was moved to Yerevan in June 1920, but the grave political situation of the country made it impossible to restart classes until the sovietization of Armenia in December 1920. Historian Ashot Hovhannisian, the Commissar of Education of Soviet Armenia, issued a decree on December 17, 1920, renaming the university the Popular University of Yerevan. Historian Hakob Manandian was elected rector. The Popular University had two sections, Social Sciences and Biology. In October 1921, it expanded to five sections (Natural Sciences, Oriental Studies, Technics, Pedagogy, and Soviet Construction). The Faculty of Natural Sciences turned into Faculty of Agronomy, while the Faculty of Medicine was opened in March 1922. The university was renamed Yerevan State University in 1923. It functioned initially on the first floor of the Teachers’ Seminar, a black tufa building on Astafian (now Abovian) Street. Other remarkable scholars became faculty members, among them linguists Hrachia Adjarian and Grigor Ghapantsian, historian Leo (Arakel Babakhanian), literary scholar Arsen Terterian, archaeologist Ashkharbek Kalantar, art scholar Bishop Gareguin Hovsepiants (future Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia), philologists Yervant Ter-Minasian, Bishop Mesrop Ter-Movsisian, and Karo Melik-Ohanjanian, and others. Now its central building is on the beginning of Alex Manoogian Street (formerly Mravian).
In the academic year 1933-1934, the university had five faculties: Economic Sciences, Natural Sciences, History and Literature, Physics and Mathematics, and Pedagogy. The latter became the ground for the Pedagogical Institute (now the Armenian State Pedagogical University “Khachatur Abovian”). In the same year, the Faculty of Natural Sciences branched out in Biology and Chemistry.

Many teachers were arrested and killed during the Stalin purges of 1936-1938, while others were exiled and lived for years outside Armenia. Some of them died, while others were able to return after the death of Stalin in precarious health.

The number of schools increased over the years. In 1935-1936 there were eight and in 1991 they had turned into seventeen. Yerevan State University made an important change in its educational programs in the academic year 1995-1996, when it adopted a three-level program: bachelor (4 years), master (2 years) and graduate (3 years).

The university has given about 90,000 graduates since its inception. Today it has about 13,000 students in its 22 branches. More than seven hundred of its 1,200 teachers have one or two doctorate degrees. More than thirty full members of the National Academy of Sciences currently have educational and scholarly functions at the university.