Stepan Lisitsian was a pioneering name in several fields at the turn of the twentieth century. He is particularly remembered for his work as an educator and ethnographer.
He was born on September 22, 1865, in Tiflis, in a doctor’s family. After graduating from the Russian gymnasium (high school) in 1884 with highest grades, he entered the school of History and Philology of Odessa University (Crimea) the following year. After a year, he moved to the University of Warsaw and graduated in 1889. From 1889-1891 he taught Russian literature at the Gevorgian Lyceum of Holy Etchmiadzin, but he was fired by an order from Catholicos Makar I for leading student agitations against the administration.
Lisitsian moved back to Tiflis. He contributed to the journal Taraz, and was its de facto editor in 1892-1893, when editor in chief Tigran Nazarian was abroad. In 1894 he was hired as teacher at the Nersessian School, where he taught Armenian history, general history, and Russian geography at different times until 1915.
Meanwhile, in 1904 his request to the authorities to publish a magazine for children was refused due to his questionable background. In the end, a year later Hasker appeared, formally under the editorship of Lisitsian’s wife Ekaterina. The magazine gathered the best Armenian writers, illustrators, and scientists, including names like Hovhannes Tumanian, Avetik Isahakian, or Atabek Khenkoyan, and actually the first true magazine for children in the Armenian press. Stepan Lisitsian became the editor in 1913 and continued the magazine until 1917 (it had a short revival in 1922).
Lisitsian worked in the pedagogical field for almost 60 years. Besides the publication of Hasker, he wrote textbooks, curricula, and specialized studies. The textbook Lusaber (“Daybreak”), which he authored with Tumanian and Levon Shant, was particularly popular. He also traveled to Russia, Switzerland, France, and Germany to study new teaching methods. In 1911 he turned his wife’s elementary school into a middle school and then a high school, of which he became its principal in 1924, when the school was dissolved. He moved to Yerevan in 1924 and became a university professor, and from 1938 he also taught at the Pedagogical Institute.
Lisitsian, who knew several Western languages, was also an accomplished and prolific translator, literary scholar, and polemicist. Among his many works, he translated Henrik Sienkiewicz famous novel Quo Vadis ? from the Polish original. He is also particularly remembered for his extensive work in the field of ethnography, especially since the 1920s, and geography. He gathered much material during fieldwork and wrote pioneering studies on different ethnographic areas of Armenia. In 1928 he became the head of the section of Ethnography in the State Museum of History. He wrote an important textbook on physical geography of Armenia in 1940 and was the author of an “ethnographic questionnaire,” published in 1946, that became a guide for scholars in the field for many decades. In 1945 he was honored with the title of Emeritus Worker of Science of Soviet Armenia and decorated with the Order of the Red Banner of Labor.
Lisitsian passed away on January 4, 1947. A school in Yerevan carries his name, as well as the ethnographic section of the Museum of History of Armenia.