This Week in Armenian History

Death of Sahak Ter Gabrielian (August 19, 1937)  

Sahak Ter Gabrielian was one of the old Bolsheviks who engaged into revolutionary activities and then the Sovietization of Armenia, becoming a prominent leader, but ended as one of the victims of Stalin’s purges.

He was born in Shushi (Artsakh), on February 27, 1886. He was a dropout of the Royal School there to enter the revolutionary field in 1900. He worked intermittently at the office of an oil company and the Caspian Society in Baku until1908. He was particularly active in Baku during the revolution years of 1905-1907, was one of the leaders of the general strike of 1914 in Baku.

After the Revolution of February 1917, and later during the period of the Baku Commune in 1918, Sahak Ter Gabrielian occupied different positions. After the fall of the Baku Commune, he left for Russia. He returned to Armenia in the late summer of 1920, Ter Gabrielian was designated advisor of the plenipotentiary delegation of Russia in the Republic of Armenia, and meanwhile carried out clandestine activities. He was among the members of the Revolutionary Committee that proclaimed the Sovietization of Armenia in November 1920 but took the government in December of the same year. At the end of 1920, he left for Moscow, where he became representative of Soviet Armenia until 1928. He returned to Armenia in 1928 as president of the Council of Popular Commissars (Council of Ministers) until 1935.

Like many others of his old comrades, Ter Gabrielian would be devoured by the regime that he had helped create. In 1931, he had the audacity to question the proposal to designate Laurenti Beria as leader of the Federative Republic of Transcaucasia in Stalin’s presence. This was tantamount to rebel against Stalin’s wishes, indeed, and would not go unpunished.

Ter Gabrielian was arrested during the purges of 1936-1937, Ter Gabrielian was arrested. An “official summary” communicated to Stalin that on October 19, 1937, he had committed “suicide.” But, according to writer Vahram Alazan, a survivor of the Stalinist Gulag, in a speech at the party assembly of the Writers Union of Armenia in 1961, “after a terrible beating, Sahak Ter Gabrielian was thrown out from the fourth-floor window [of the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the future KGB] and killed, and they later wrote a minute that Ter Gabrielian had supposedly thrown himself from the fourth-floor window to commit suicide.”

During Soviet times, there was a street called Ter Gabrielian in central Yerevan, which was renamed Yeznik Koghbatsi Street after the independence.