ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE ARMENIAN SSR / GENERAL DIRECTORATE OF GEODESY AND CARTOGRAPHY OF THE USSR / Aramais Bagratovich ARUTIUNIAN and Andranik Bakhsii BAGHDASARYAN (Editors).

Հայկական Սովետական Սոցիալիստական Ռեսպուբլիկայի Ատլաս [Atlas of the Armenian Socialist Republic].

Yerevan and Moscow: Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR, 1961.

Oblong folio (33.5 x 34.5 cm): viii, 111 pp., including 97 full page coloured plates of maps and numerous diagrams, errata slip pasted to final free endpaper; bound in original full purple cloth with front cover bearing a blind-stamped border and arms of the Armenian SSR with title in gilt to both front cover and spine (Very Good, soft folds to the front free endpaper, minor dents to the spine).

An Armenian language edition of the first thematic atlas of Armenia; one of the most impressive and engaging works of Soviet scientific cartography, featuring 97 full-page, full-colour plates of sophisticated maps plus diagrams covering virtually all aspects of the geography, geology, economy, transport and demographics of the Armenian SSR; predicated upon years of careful research and draftsmanship by the Armenian Academy of Sciences.

Present here is an Armenian language edition of the first printing of the first thematic atlas of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.  The volume is amongst the most impressive works of Soviet scientific cartography, featuring 97 full-page, full-colour maps predicated upon original research and fresh data compiled by the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR.  The maps showcase a vast wealth of information covering virtually all subjects of the geography, geology, economy, transportation, demographics and history of Armenia, employing the most sophisticated graphic techniques.  Importantly, both the Russian language and Armenian editions of the atlas, which were published simultaneously, are identical in all respects save for the language employed for the text and toponymy.  This was common practice for major scientific publications in the USSR republics outside of Russia, such that works were published in the local language, while the Russian language editions could be used by everyone across the country.

The edition mas made in the same year as a Soviet version of the atlas.  While each edition was sold separately, they often appeared together in libraries for the aforementioned reason.

The Armenian SSR occupied the territory that now constitutes today’s independent Republic of Armenia.  The region had been conquered by the Russian Empire from Persia in 1828, and for almost a century was known as the Yerevan Governorate.  From 1918-1920, Armenia briefly became an independent country until it was conquered by the Red Army.  The Soviets formed the Armenian SSR in 1920, as the republic’s population swelled due the influx of refugees from Anatolia owing to the Armenian Genocide (1914-23).  In 1922, the republic was merged into the Transcaucasian SSR (embracing Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan), a union which was dissolved in 1936.  That year, the Armenian SSR was restored as a separate country within the Soviet Union. 

For the first generation of Soviet rule in Armenia much of the geographical and scientific research on the republic was run out of Moscow, with the extreme majority of related publications issued there.  In 1943, during the height of World War II, Stalin initiated reforms that led to the establishment of the Academy of Sciences of the Armenian SSR in Yerevan.  Armenia possessed an especially strong cadre of geographers and geographical historians and the creation of the academy unlocked the community’s potential, providing a local outlet and a source of sponsorship for research and publications. 

Hitherto the thematic mapping of Armenia was patchy, consisting of mining and infrastructure maps of specific localities, plus often vague geological maps.  Beginning in the early 1950s, the Armenian Academy envisaged the creation of a grand thematic atlas featuring maps covering virtually every aspect of the republic’s natural and human geography, done to the most sophisticated standards, predicated upon the latest data.  This would bring the study and application of geography to a world class level, such as had already been realized in Soviet Russia.

After years of planning, the atlas project finally came to fruition under the leadership of Aramais Bagratovich Arutiunian, who served as the Armenian Academy’s director from 1959 to 1963.  He assembled an expert panel of geographers, statisticians and historians, who marshalled data and

new research that was adapted to create entirely new, original thematic maps drafted under the direction of Professor Andranik Bakhsii Baghdasaryan.  While the project enjoyed the active assistance of the USSR’s General Directorate of Geodesy and Cartography in Moscow, the undertaking would be the first geographic mega-project of the 20th Century under Armenian leadership, and the most ambitious graphic scientific publication ever created in the country during Soviet times.  The publication of both the Armenian and Russian language editions the atlases represented a watershed moment in the intellectual life of Armenia.

After an informative introduction, both editions of the atlas (which have the exact same pagination and layout) feature 97 full-page thematic maps plus numerous diagrams.  Highlights include maps on Armenia’s Geology (p. 10); Tectonics (p. 12); Geomorphology (p. 14); Mineralogy (p. 18); many Climate maps; Hydrology (p. 40); Soils (p. 50); the Population Distribution of Armenians across Anatolia and Caucasus (pp. 58 and 59); the Emigration of Armenians to other countries (p. 61); the Population Density and Distribution in the Armenian SSR (p. 64); Electricity (p. 68); Viniculture (p. 82); other Agricultural maps; Economic Production (p. 92); Transpiration frequency along routes (p. 93); Armenian Trade with the rest of the USSR (p. pp. 94 and 95); Armenia’s Global Trade (p. 96); Economic maps for each Armenian province; maps of Historical Armenia (pp. 102-108); plus, Armenia on Antique maps.

Interestingly, the atlas features a special double-page map of the ‘kooky’ Soviet project to extract vast quantities of water from Lake Sevan, the vast high-altitude lake in the north-centre of the country (pp. 74-75).  In 1933, the Soviet government, seeking to aid the rapid industrialization of Armenia and to support irrigation in the Ararat Plain (by Yerevan), embarked upon a mega-project to drain millions of litres of water a day from the lake.  A giant tunnel running from the lake to the Yerevan area was completed in 1949, which proceeded to rapidly drain Sevan.  While the project did succeed in providing sufficient water for the desired purposes, the lowering of the water level wreaking vast ecological damage and destroying Lake Sevan’s once vibrant fishing industry.  By 2002, the lake level had dropped by almost 20 metres!  Fortunately, recent efforts to raise the lake level, by completing a massive water tunnel to Sevan from the mountains in the south or Armenia, has ensured that the fishing industry and the local ecology have rebounded; by 2029 it is planned that the lake level will rise to almost half of that which was lost since the 1930s.

References: Armenian language ed.: Library of Congress: G2157.A7 H3 1961 / OCLC: 27999874. David Rumsey Map Collection.

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