Grigor Ghapantsian was one of the most influential names in Armenian linguistics and ancient history in the first half of the twentieth century.
Born on February 17, 1887, in Ashtarak, he received his elementary education in his hometown. Afterwards, he went to St. Petersburg, where he was admitted to the Russian gymnasium (high school). After graduation, he entered the section of Armeno-Georgian philology in the Faculty of Oriental Languages of the local university. There, he was a student of the famous Georgian linguist and Armenologist Nikolai Marr.
Ghapantsian graduated in 1913 and returned to Armenia. He became a teacher of Armenian Studies at the Gevorgian Seminary in Holy Echmiadzin, and in 1914 he participated in the archaeological excavations of Ani, led by Marr. In the same year he published his first book, Linguistic Disciplines and Language (in Armenian). When the Seminary was closed in 1917, he settled in Yerevan. In 1918 he participated in the battle of Sardarabad.
In 1921 Ghapantsian was invited to teach at the University of Yerevan, where he worked until the end of his life and directed the chair of General Linguistics until 1954. He taught Classical Armenian, compared grammar of the Armenian language, Urartian, general linguistics, and prepared specialists in those different fields.
In 1932 he was given the grade of professor and in 1942 he earned the doctorate of philological sciences without defending a thesis. In the same year he was designated Emeritus Scientific Worker of Soviet Armenia. He became a founding member of the Armenian Academy of Sciences in 1943 and was elected academician secretary of the section of Social Sciences. He directed the Institute of Linguistics “Hrachia Ajarian” from 1950-1955.
At the time, Ghapantsian was one of the few experts in dead languages of Asia Minor, like Hittite, Urartian, and Hurrian, bringing an important element to the study of Armenian ancient history and language. His most productive period started in the 1930s, when he published several books in Russian and Armenian: Chetto-Armeniaca (1931, in Russian); “Common Elements of the Urartian and Hittite Languages (1936), The Hittitle Gods among the Armenians (1940), The Historico-Linguistic Meaning of Ancient Armenian Placenames (1940), The Adoration of Ara the Beautiful (1945), et cetera.
Ghapantsian’s linguistic interests, combined with his erudition as a historian and archaeologist, brought him to the forefront of important discoveries in his field. He condensed many of his conclusions in several influential monographs, such as The History of Urartu (1940), Hayasa, Cradle of the Armenians (1948, in Russian), and History of the Armenian Language: Ancient Period (1961). In his studies, he portrayed the existence of two different layers in the Armenian language, one Indo-European and the other local (languages of Asia Minor and the Caucasus). He also dealt with issues of general linguistics, publishing the book General Linguistics (1937, 1939).
Ghapantsian passed away on May 3, 1957, in Yerevan. There is a school named after him in Ashtarak, with a museum dedicated to his scientific career. His bronze bust is placed in the entrance of the central building of Yerevan State University, symbolizing his importance as scholar and teacher in the development of academic studies.