Hovhannes Kajaznuni was an important political figure, particularly in the crucial years of 1917-1920, and became one of the founding fathers of the Republic of Armenia as its first prime minister. He also was an accomplished architect, with important work done in Baku before the Russian Revolution and Armenia after the sovietization.
He was born on February 1, 1868, in Akhaltskha (now Akhaltsikhe in the region of Javakhk, Georgia). His family was originally from Erzerum. Their original surname was Igitkhanian, and his great-grandfather, a priest called Ter Hovhannes, had received permission from the Catholicos of All Armenians to change the surname to Ter-Hovhannisian. At his turn, his great-grandson translated the family name into Armenian, turning Igitkhanian into Kajaznuni; igit means “brave” in Turkish (kaj in Eastern Armenian, kach in Western).
Kajaznuni studied in Tiflis from 1877-1886, first in a private school and then in the royal school. In 1887 he entered the Institute of Civil Engineering in St. Petersburg. Two years later, he married Satenik Mirimanian, despite her father’s opposition. They would have six children (four boys and two girls), and they would lose three of them to the service of the homeland. Ashot would die in the aftermath of his participation in the battle of Gharakilise (1918); Aram would die in the summer of 1920 fighting Tatar rebels in the region of Zangibasar (Masis); Ashot’s twin brother, Ruben, would be taken prisoner and killed by the Turks after the occupation of Kars (1920).
In his last years of studies, Kajaznuni joined the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. He graduated in 1893 with the title of architect. He moved to Baku, where he worked as engineer-architect in the regional architecture department from 1893-1895. After working for two years as an architect in Batum, from 1897-1899 he was a district architect for the municipal administration of Tiflis. He returned to Baku in 1899 and worked for the next seven years in the Oilmen’s Council as chief architect. He designed a hospital, residential buildings, and hotels in the area of Balakhan. He was also the designer and builder of the Cathedral of St. Thaddeus and Bartholomew in downtown Baku from 1907-1911, which would be destroyed by the Soviet Azerbaijani regime in the early 1930s.
Meanwhile, Kajaznuni had actively entered political life in 1906, becoming a member of the committee to end the Armeno-Tatar conflict in Baku. In 1909 he was arrested by the Russian police within the case that had been opened against the A.R.F. and left the empire in 1911 to avoid testifying in the trial. He lived in France, Belgium, and in the city of Van, in Western Armenia, where he wrote various articles in Russian on Shakespeare.
Returning to the Caucasus in 1914, he was elected a member of the Armenian National Council in 1917 and, after the Russian Revolution, he was elected to the Transcaucasian Parliament (Seim) in February 1918.
In the critical days of May 1918, Kajaznuni was a member of the Armenian delegation that participated in the conferences of peace in Trabizond and Batum. He was among the signatories of the Treaty of Batum on June 4, 1918, a few days after Armenia had declared its independence.
After the foundation of the Republic, Kajaznuni was designated first Prime Minister. The cabinet moved to Yerevan from Tiflis on July 19, 1918. In October, under pressure from the Council (Parliament) of Armenia, Kajaznuni resigned, but was charged by the Council with the formation of a new coalition government. The coalition was formed by the A.R.F. and the Armenian Populist Party, and would last until June 1919. Meanwhile, in April 1919 Kajaznuni traveled to the United States as part of a delegation to negotiate political and economic help to Armenia, and left the position of prime minister to Alexander Khadisian.
He returned to Armenia in September 1920 and was named vice-president of the Parliament, becoming president in the last days of the Republic, on November 25. After the sovietization, Kajaznuni was arrested and spent a month and a half in prison, until he was liberated by the February rebellion. In April 1921, after the failure of the rebellion, he left Armenia and lived in Iran, India, Egypt, and Romania. He wrote a report on the party’s situation, The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Has Nothing to Do Any Longer, which was published in 1923 and generated a big controversy. In 1924 he returned to Soviet Armenia.
He taught architectural planning at Yerevan Statue University and was a member of the technical council of the Institute of State Planning. He designed and directed the construction of cotton factories in Yerevan and Sardarabad, oil and soap factories in Yerevan, and housing for workers. He also built various buildings in Leninakan (nowadays Gyumri) after the earthquake of 1926.
Kajaznuni was a victim of the Stalinist purges. His past condemned him. He was arrested in 1937 and died on January 15, 1938 from pneumonia in the prison of Yerevan. Otherwise, he had been condemned to be shot on December 5, 1937, but the prison doctor had temporarily postponed the sentence. His archives were confiscated and disappeared. Kajaznuni was rehabilitated in 1955, but his name remained in the shadows until the end of the Soviet period.
According to certain data, the first primer minister of the Republic of Armenia was buried in the cemetery of Kozern, in Yerevan. However, the cemetery was later destroyed and his tomb was lost. Thanks to the efforts of Kajaznuni’s daughter Margarit, a symbolic tombstone was erected in the city cemetery of Tokhmakh Lake.