Whether you are a foreign tourist or visiting diasporan, you may notice that many of the streets of Yerevan are named for people who sound vaguely familiar, but don’t ring a bell the way Armenian historical figures like Mesrob Mashtots and Tigran Mets do for most Armenians.
However, the naming of Yerevan’s main roads and arteries is an exercise that warrants closer examination, because each name is another jewel in the national treasure chest that is Armenian culture. From poets, writers, painters and musicians, as well as a few warriors, these figures come with fascinating histories that reflect their life and times over many eras.
With influences from Persia, imperial Russia, the Soviets, and finally Independence, street names in Armenia, just like names of towns and villages, have never been written in stone. But for now, some of the namesakes that make up Yerevan’s 460 named byways—from those located in the city center, on the outskirts, or bearing names of women (a relatively new phenomenon)—it’s worth hitting the proverbial pavement without leaving home.
Streets Located in Yerevan’s City Center
One of the ring streets which encircle central Yerevan, this main artery was renamed in late Soviet times for the renowned painter Martiros Saryan, who lived on this street and where his museum is located. His vivid landscapes of the Armenian countryside have become iconic representations of the Armenian nation, especially on the 20,000 dram bank note. In recent years, Saryan Street has become a trendy locale, featuring wine bars, upscale restaurants and opportunities for people watching.
Yerevan’s main boulevard is named for the creator of the Armenian alphabet. In Soviet times it was named Lenin Prospekt (Russian for Avenue) for the Bolshevik leader, and to this day many residents still refer to it as Prospekt for short. There are a great number of landmarks along the avenue, including the Opera Theater and Blue Mosque, and is presided over at one end by the famous statue of Mashtots and his student Koryun at the world-famous Matenadaran Institute of rare manuscripts.
Located in Old Yerevan, this thoroughfare has undergone many name changes over its history. As a leader of the self-defense of Van during the Armenian Genocide and a leader of the First Republic of Armenia, Manukyan’s story was repressed during Soviet times. However, when the USSR collapsed, the street was renamed in tribute to this revolutionary statesman, as the remains of his house can be found there to this day. Unfortunately the celebrated “Aram of Van” died in 1919 of typhus at only 39 years old.
This central street extending from Republic Square, once named in imperial times Ter-Ghukasovskaya for an Armenian hero of the Russo-Turkish War, was renamed in recognition of Mikael Nalbandyan, a poet, activist, and intellectual. He is probably best known today for penning the Armenian national anthem “Mer Hayrenik,” but was also an influential thinker whose ideals, inspired by the Enlightenment, helped shape the characteristics of modern Armenian nationalism.
Formerly named Astafayan Street from 1868 to 1920, this major thoroughfare was renamed at the start of the Soviet era in honor of Khachatur Abovyan, regarded as the father of modern Armenian literature. Besides his towering influence on Armenian culture, Abovyan is remembered for being the first person ever recorded to summit Mount Ararat, as well as for the unsolved mystery of his disappearance in 1848. Leading from Republic Square to the statue of Abovyan, the road features prominent tsarist era mansions and art deco buildings from Yerevan’s “Belle Epoque.”
The namesake of one of Armenia’s most notable addresses, Baghramyan Street is home to the Armenian Parliament, the President’s Residence at #26, and the American University of Armenia. Ivan Baghramian’s early military career saw service in the landmark Battle of Sardarabad, and, during World War II, he was hailed for his role in defeating the German army in the Baltics. He was one of the few non-Slavs to be granted the highest military rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union.
Streets Located in Yerevan’s Outer Districts
Admiral Isakov Avenue
Babajanyan Street intersects with an avenue named after Admiral Ivan Isakov, who was born Hovhannes Ter-Isahakyan in Kars. His career began in 1917 as a midshipman in the Russian Imperial Navy, and he rose to commander of the Soviet Union’s Baltic Fleet and head of its Naval Academy prior to World War II. During that war, he led the successful naval landing on the German-occupied Kerch peninsula and later lost his foot during a German bombing raid. For his heroism, in 1955 he was promoted as the first ever Soviet Admiral of the Fleet, the highest naval rank in the Soviet Union and only one of three to ever hold it. Perhaps appropriately, along Isakov Avenue is the Yerablur Military Cemetery, burial place of Armenian military heroes including many servicemen of the Karabakh wars.
This street in the Malatia-Sebastia district bears the pen name of Hakob Melik Hakobian “Raffi”, who like Abovyan is another leading figure of 19th century Armenian literature. A native of the Salmas region of northwestern Iran, Raffi also spent considerable time observing life in Armenian villages throughout the Russian and Ottoman empires. The persecution of the Armenians under Turkish rule was a particular focus of his works. Best known for Khenté (“The Fool”), his novels were inspired by Enlightenment ideals, rallying the Armenian populace to assert their rights and strive for liberation.
An extension of Raffi Street which traverses the Zoravar Andranik section of Yerevan, this street honors the esteemed composer Arno Babajanyan. A musical prodigy, he was discovered at age five by composer Aram Khachaturian, who supported the talented genius throughout his career. Babajanyan rose to great prominence in the Soviet Union, but his fame abroad was limited during his lifetime due to travel restrictions. He drew deep inspiration from the works of Rachmaninoff and Khachaturian, along with Armenian folk music. For example, his Elegy in Memory of Khachaturian is an arrangement of a song by Sayat-Nova.
This prominent avenue of the Arabkir district is named for the renowned musicologist Komitas whose work preserving Armenian folk songs just prior to the Genocide saved these rich traditions from oblivion. A celibate priest, Father Komitas was one of the Armenian intellectuals arrested on April 24 and exiled towards certain death. However, he was released due to the lobbying of influential foreign officials including Ambassador Henry Morganthau. Though he spent his last days in a Paris asylum, his remains were transported to Yerevan and buried in the artists’ Pantheon named for him.
Streets Named After Influential Non-Armenians
A German soldier stationed in the Ottoman Empire during World War I, Wegner is known for going against orders and smuggling out photographs he took of atrocities against Armenians, which serve as the primary pictorial evidence documenting the Armenian Genocide. He also was a co-creator of German Expressionism and, similar to his work in 1915, was a public voice against the persecution of Jews in early Nazi Germany. He was briefly imprisoned in a concentration camp before fleeing to Rome. This street in the Nor Malatia neighborhood was named in his honor during a visit he made to Soviet Armenia in 1968. After his death some of his ashes were interred at the Tsitsernakaberd Genocide Memorial.
In the early Soviet period, a street was named after the Polish Jewish socialist revolutionary and Marxist philosopher Rosa Luxemberg. She was a leader in the German leftist uprisings which followed the abdication of the Kaiser after World War I. Ultimately, she was captured and executed. She not only has the distinction of being a non-Armenian with a Yerevan street named after her, but hers is also one of just eight named for women.
Many of the Yerevan’s nightlife spots can be found along Pushkin Street, the city’s most prominent road named after a non-Armenian. From its underground pubs (most notably for diaporans “Calmuet Ethnic Lounge”) to the famous Malkhas Jazz Club and restaurants like the renowned Dolmama, it’s a place to see and be seen. During the Russian imperial period, it was called Tarkhanovskaya and changed in Soviet times to Gnuni after an early Bolshevik revolutionary Bogdan Knunyants. It is now named after one of the best known Russian writers Alexander Pushkin, who passed through Armenia during his travels in the Caucasus.
The namesake of George Gordon Byron, best known as Lord Byron, is one of the smaller streets of Yerevan’s Central district, located near the Yerevan State Conservatory and Komitas Park. Lord Byron is as infamous for his deep passions and unconventional lifestyle as he is famous for being one of England’s greatest poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement. During the winter of 1816-17, he studied the Armenian language with the Mekhitarist clergy on the island of San Lazzaro in Venice. He sought it out as a distraction from his turbulent personal life because his mind “wanted something craggy to break upon.” He said of Armenian, “I find the language difficult, but not invincible (at least I hope not).”
Streets Named after Armenian Women
Born in Yerevan to parents who had fled Van, Silva Kaputikyan grew to be not just the most famous Armenian poetess of the 20th century but also a very consequential political activist. While remaining in good standing with Soviet leadership, which repressed ethnic nationalism, she was a voice for Armenian rights within the USSR. She was an outspoken leader of the demonstration on the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which resulted in Soviet authorities allowing the construction of the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial. She also played a role in the early Karabakh Liberation Movement. She was married to another esteemed Armenian poet Hovhannes Shiraz, and their son Ara was a noted sculptor.
An actress born in Constantinople in 1889, Voskanyan made her stage debut in 1908. Not long after, she joined the Armenian Theater Company of Baku where she became famous for her roles in ancient Greek, Shakespearean, Russian and modern Armenian plays. She continued on to Tiflis for a time before settling in Yerevan where she played leading roles at the Sundukyan Theatre. While putting her talents towards the war effort during World War II, she contracted typhoid and passed away at age 54. She was mourned by a sorrowful nation and an expressively carved bust was placed atop her tomb at Yerevan’s Central Cemetery.
Growing up poor in Gyumri undoubtedly influenced Kurghinian’s “proletariat poetry” which served as a voice for the working class. Though raised in a patriarchal society, she rejected the notion that poetry was the domain of men only. A supporter of the Bolsheviks who lived in Russia for decades, she was invited to settle in the newly-Sovietized Armenia in 1921. She eagerly accepted, but was faced with difficult circumstances there. They worsened her already failing health, which led to her death in 1927. Though her poetry fell out of favor after independence, she has been rediscovered as a strong feminist figure. The street named for her is located just north of the US Embassy and Yerevan Lake.
This park and pedestrian street in the center of Yerevan was recently named for diplomat and author Diana Apcar. Born in Burma to parents from Iran, she was raised in Calcutta and married into a family of successful Armenian traders who operated throughout Southeast Asia. In 1891, they expanded the business by moving to Yokohama, Japan, where she spent the rest of her life. Though she never stepped foot in Armenia, she dedicated her life to it, undertaking awareness and humanitarian relief campaigns during the Genocide and housed survivors who reached Japan. For her efforts she was appointed the First Republic of Armenia’s Honorary Consul to Japan in 1920, the first female Armenian representative. Her life story was told in a recent documentary The Stateless Diplomat.
Banner photo courtesy of Dreamstime Photos