She was born Sirvard Kaputikian in Yerevan on January 20, 1919. Her parents were survivors from Van. Her father Barunak (1888-1919), a teacher and member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, died of cholera three months before her birth. She was raised by her mother and grandmother. She published her first poem in 1933, when she had adopted the first name Silva, and she attended the Faculty of Armenian Philology at Yerevan State University from 1936 until her graduation in 1941. In the same year, she became a member of the Writers Union of Armenia. By that time, she had already married another poet who would become well-known, Hovhannes Shiraz (1915-1985). They would have a son, the prominent sculptor Ara Shiraz (1941-2014), and divorce later.
Kaputikian joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1945. In the same year, she published her first collection of poetry, With the Days. It included a poem, “Words to My Son,” that would make her famous as one of the most recognizable poems dedicated to the Armenian language and an assertion of national identity. From that very first book until the end of her life, her writing would focus around two subjects, national identity and lyric poetry, where she also reflected traces of her personal life.
She studied at the Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow (1949-1950). She established herself as a significant literary figure in Soviet Armenia by the 1950s. She was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1952. During sixty years of publishing activity, she authored over sixty books in Armenian, including poetry, travelogues, and essays, and several in Russian. Her works were translated into Russian by well known poets like Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, Bulat Okudjava, and others. She earned the title of Honored Cultural Worker of Soviet Armenia (1970) and Soviet Georgia (1982).
In the 1960s-1980s Silva Kaputikian traveled widely throughout Diaspora communities in the Middle East, North America, and South America. She published travel books about those visits, where she focused on Armenian history—with some one-sided views—and an optimistic picture of the future. Since the 1960s, she was an advocate of national causes. She was an active participant in the April 24, 1965, demonstrations on the fiftieth anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and later criticized the Communist Party for its failure to properly address the anniversary. For decades, she went on a tightrope between Armenian nationalism and Soviet internationalism, but was one of the most outspoken intellectuals on issues of public concern, from the genocide to Soviet language and nationalities policies to environmentalism. In early 1988 she was a member of the first Karabagh Committee, together with fellow writer Zori Balayan and activist Igor Muradyan, among others. In the same year she won the Armenian SSR State Prize.
She continued her literary and public activities in post-Soviet times. She was elected a full member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in 1994. She became critical of the first two governments of independent Armenia, especially of President Robert Kocharian. She was awarded the Mesrop Mashdots Medal (1999) by the latter, but she returned it in 2004 after the violent crackdown on the opposition on April of that year.
Silva Kaputikian passed away in Yerevan on August 5, 2006, and was laid to rest in the Komitas Pantheon. In 2007 a school of Yerevan was named after her, and in 2009 a house-museum dedicated to her was opened. The street on which the museum is located (formerly known as Baghramian Lane 1) was renamed Kaputikian Street.