This Week in Armenian History

Foundation of the Hripsimian Girls School in Baku (June 14, 1869)

The decades-long Azerbaijani distortion and denial of history does not end with the Armenian presence in historical territories like Artsakh, Nakhichevan, or Gandzak. It extends to the 150-year-old presence in Baku, where a sizable Armenian population contributed to its flourishing since the first oil well starting production in 1872.

Before that, one of the oldest Armenian schools for girls was founded in Baku on June 14, 1869, although there is a document stating the date of 1870. It was originally named St. Gregory the Illuminator and renamed Hripsimian in 1873 after the 40 virgins, headed by St. Hripsime and St. Gayane, who were executed by King Terdat III in the early fourth century, right before the Christianization of Armenia.

The school functioned under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Diocese of Baku and was maintained by the Armenian Philanthropic Society. In 1872, it had preparatory and first classes, with 36 students. The subjects taught in the preparatory class were Armenian language reading and calligraphy, Christian doctrine, Russian language reading and calligraphy, algebra, handcrafts, and choir singing.

The first class gave instruction in the following subjects: Armenian grammar, translation from Classical into Modern Armenian, Christian doctrine and sacred history, Armenian history, Russian language reading, translation, and calligraphy, mathematics, geography, and natural science (in Russian), handcrafts, and choir singing.

The Hripsimian school had 100 students in the 1880s. It was closed in 1885 but reopened in September 1886 in the building of the Philanthropic Society. It had 137 students in the academic year 1888-1889, with the following distribution according to social status: clergy families, 6; nobility, 7; government employees, 10; merchants, 73; craftsmen, 50; farmers, 3. Eighty-nine girls paid tuition, while 48 were exempted. Eighty-seven students out of the total of 137 were promoted.

A new building was inaugurated in 1891. The school had 300 students in 1893 and 250 in 1896, when it was closed as part of the general shutdown of Armenian schools ordered by the government within its policy of Russification. It was reopened in 1906, after the demonstrations of 1903-1905 against the confiscation of the Armenian Church properties and the beginning of the Armeno-Tatar clashes of 1905-1907. It continued being a two-level school with 368 students.

Starting in the academic year 1909-1910, the school was gradually transformed into a seven-year middle and high school with the goal of preparing educated teachers for the Armenian schools.  In the academic year 1911-1912 the number of students fell to 287. In 1914 the student population rose again to 399, with 14 teachers. The school gave its first graduates with secondary education in 1917.

Three years later, after the Sovietization of Azerbaijan in April 1920, the school was seized by the government and turned into a co-ed institution.