“Pavlovian conditioning,” “Pavlovian theory,” “Pavlov’s dog.” These are expressions that are quite current in English vocabulary, one way or another. The biography of Pavlov’s first Armenian assistant, named Vartan Vartanov (indeed, Vartanian), is not as current.
Vartanov was born in Tiflis (Georgia, nowadays Tbilisi) on January 12, 1853. He graduated from the Russian gymnasium in 1871 and entered the Medical and Chirurgical Academy of St. Petersburg. He graduated in 1876 and served on the Balkan front during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878.
In 1892 he defended his doctoral dissertation on the subject of “Galvanic phenomena in the frog’s skin.” His scientific works dealt with the relation of the depressor and the vagus nerve (the nerve responsible for such varied tasks as heart rate, sweating, and speech), the exchanges of gases and the thermoregulation of the organism.
Vartanov would become the first Armenian professor in medical schools of St. Petersburg. He taught physiology from 1898 at the Women’s Medical University of St. Petersburg, where he founded the chair of physiology and the laboratory, and became ordinary professor at the same university in 1904. In his last years, he was the deputy rector of scientific issues.
In 1890 he started working at the Military-Medical Academy of St. Petersburg, and became Ivan Pavlov’s assistant from 1895 until the end of his life. He also taught physiology at the University of Neuropsychiatry, the Pedagogical Academy, and other educational institutions.
He published the manuals Course of Physiology (1906) and Notes about Physiology (1915). In 1908 Vartanov was elected full member of the Society of Russian Physicians, and three years later, honorary member of the Society of Experimental Pedagogy. In March 1916 he joined Pavlov and fellow physiologists Nikolai Vvedenskii and Nikolai Likhachev to found the I. M. Sechenov Society of Russian Physiologists.
After the Soviet revolution of 1917, a deep social and economic crisis involved the country, fueled by the breakdown of authority. A wave of crime swept through Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was renamed in 1914-24), and Vartanov was one of its victims. On January 20, 1919, he was murdered during a street robbery, at the age of sixty-eight.