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What Was the Price of a Four-Page Newspaper in Yerevan 100 Years Ago? JSAS, vol. 26 (2017), pp. 106-110

What Was the Price of a Four-Page Newspaper in Yerevan 100 Years Ago? JSAS, vol. 26 (2017), pp. 106-110
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     Journal of the Society for Armenian Studies, vol. 26 (2017): 106-110  W HAT WAS THE PRICE OF A FOUR  - PAGE NEWSPAPER IN Y EREVAN 100  YEARS AGO ? A RA S ANJIAN   This communication, written on the eve of the centenary of the proclamation of the independent Republic of Armenia in May 1918, is a byproduct of research I carried out in the libraries of Yerevan in late 1990 and early 1991. 1  I was then writing my thesis on “Land Reform in the Republic of Armenia (1918-1920)” as partial requirement to graduate from the Faculty of History at Yerevan State University.  Newspapers and periodicals published in Eastern Armenia and other Armenian-inhabited cities in Transcaucasia in 1917-1920 constituted an important primary source for my research. I examined all issues of these periodicals which were then available in the newspaper collections of the Armenian National Library and the Matenadaran. Unfortunately, many of the runs of these newspapers and periodicals were incomplete. Immediately after the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 and throughout the thirty-month-long existence of the independent Armenian republic in 1918-1920, various political parties and other organizations published many newspapers and  periodicals in Armenia and the neighboring regions in Transcaucasia. 2  My notes from the two above-mentioned collections focused on issues relevant to my research topic. However, at the same time, mainly out of a sense of curiosity, I also carefully noted down the number of pages and the price as well as the names of the editor and the printing house mentioned in each issue of these periodicals, even though this information had no bearing on the theme I studied. Unfortunately, these newspapers did not provide any information about their circulation. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, the extra information collected in 1990-1991 forms the basis of this communication, which aims at inviting attention to the economic and financial aspects of the history of the Republic of Armenia in 1918-1920. I believe these facets of the republic are as yet understudied by historians and economists. Comparing the newspapers published by different political parties and other organizations during those years makes it clear that all newspapers of equal size were sold at the same price. It is also significant that the prices of these newspapers rose concurrently. This leads to the preliminary conclusion that the main, if not the only, reason behind the continual rise in the price of these newspapers was inflation, which skyrocketed during this turbulent period in modern Armenian history. In the comparisons presented below I have taken into consideration only those newspapers which published political news and consisted of four pages. My research made it clear that, during those years, if a newspaper which was usually published in four pages for some reason put out an issue consisting only of two pages, the latter was sold at half the newspaper’s normal price. 1  I thank Professors Richard G. Hovannisian, Gerard J. Libaridian, and Stephan Astourian for their comments on an earlier version of this communication. I also thank Ms. Ailsa McLardy for helping me improve its language and style. 2  For a detailed, albeit admittedly incomplete, bibliography of periodicals published in Armenia in 1918-1920, see Artash ē s T ē r Khachaturean, “Hanrapetakan Hayastani mamul ě ” (The Printed Press of Republican Armenia),  Azdak: 70ameak Hayastani Hanrapetut‘ean  (Beirut, 1988), 65-69.   Ara Sanjian 107 The earliest newspaper among those which I examined was  Ashkhatank‘  , first  published by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) in Van in 1910-1915. However, after the migration of the Armenian inhabitants of Van to Russian Armenia in the summer of 1915, these refugees re-issued the newspaper as a semi-weekly in Yerevan in 1916-1919. It appeared as the official mouthpiece of, first, the Armenia Committee of the Western Bureau of the ARF and, later, the  Erkir   Central Committee of the same party. The first issue of  Ashkhatank‘   in Yerevan was  published on May 4, 1916, when tsarist rule was still intact in Russia. It cost 6 kopeks. Ten months later, on May 10, 1917, i.e. just three and a half months after the fall of the tsarist regime, the price of a single issue of  Ashkhatank‘   was raised to 8 kopeks; on August 30, to 10 kopeks; on November 11, to 15 kopeks; and on January 20, 1918, to 20 kopeks. (These and all dates mentioned up to this point are Old Style, or according to the Julian calendar, which remained in use in Russia until February 1918. Based on an examination of the dates printed in newspapers published in Yerevan, use of the Gregorian calendar or the New Style, which replaced the Old/Julian, began in Transcaucasia in May 1918)  Not long after the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Seim , a regional legislative body, was established in Transcaucasia. After formally detaching the region from Russia, the Seim  also issued Transcaucasian banknotes, which initially had the same value as the Russian ruble. Under these conditions, the price of a single, four-page issue of  Ashkhatank‘   rose to 30 kopeks on May 16/29, 1918, i.e. exactly when the Republic of Armenia came into existence. In June, the publication of  Ashkhatank‘   was interrupted temporarily, and the next  piece of information that I was able to find about the price of newspapers published in Yerevan was from August 1918. This gap was due to the pause in publication and the incomplete nature of the newspaper collections from this period in the two libraries where I worked. In the meantime, the three newly independent national republics in Transcaucasia – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia – had reached an agreement to divide up the Transcaucasian banknotes already in circulation amongst themselves. They had also decided that new banknotes would be printed in the future only through mutual consent and by maintaining the existing distribution ratio. 3  The semi-weekly  Zang  , the official mouthpiece of the ARF Central and Yerevan City committees, had been launched in 1917. However, the oldest issue that I could locate was that of August 4, 1918. It cost 50 kopeks. During the same period, the official mouthpiece of the Armenian People’s Party, the semi-weekly  Zhoghovurd   – launched only on August 14, 1918 – was also sold at the same price. (From now on, all dates are in the Gregorian calendar or New Style.)  Ashkhatank‘   was republished – after a hiatus of five months – on November 11, 1918 with a new price of 50 kopeks. Another newspaper, the semi-weekly  Kayts  of the Organizer Bureau of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (Mensheviks) in Armenia, which appeared in November 1918, was also sold at the same price. If the price of a single issue of a four-page newspaper is again taken as a basis, inflation continued to soar during the following months. Individual issues of  Zang  , the weekly  Khosk‘   of the Communist Organization of Yerevan, and the weekly Van-Tosp  of the Armenian Ramkavar (Democrat) Party were all sold at 70 kopeks in 3  Richard G. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia , Volume II: From Versailles to London  (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1982), 296.   Price of a Newspaper   108 February and March 1919. (Like  Ashkhantank‘  , Van-Tosp  had been published in Van until 1915, and refugees had later resumed its publication in Transcaucasia) In April and June 1919, individual issues of  Ashkhatank‘  ,  Zhoghovurd  , Van-Tosp  and  Kayts  were already selling for one ruble. The same price applied to  Hayastani  Ashkhatawor  , the official newspaper of the ARF Armenia Central Committee and Yerevan City Committee, then published three times a week, as well as the semi-weekly  Araratean Ashkhatawor  , the mouthpiece of the ARF Ejmiatsin Regional Committee. (  Hayastani Ashkhatawor   was the immediate successor of  Zang  , through a name change implemented in April 1919) Because of continuing political instability in Armenia and throughout Transcaucasia, serious social and economic challenges and lack of substantial investments, inflation continued to climb until the three republics were captured by the Bolsheviks one by one in 1920-1921. In the first half of July 1919, the price of  Ashkhatank‘   had risen to two rubles, while  Zhoghovurd   was sold at 1 ruble and 50 kopeks. Monetary circulation in Armenia became further complicated when in August, Georgia, followed quickly by Azerbaijan, ignored the trilateral agreement they had reached with Armenia the year before and began to issue additional currency unilaterally. 4  In September, the four-page issues of both  Zhoghovurd   and  Ha ṙ  aj  were being sold at two rubles. The latter was the newly published mouthpiece of the ARF Eastern Bureau. The price of a four-page issue of  Ha ṙ  aj  rose to three rubles on October 17, 1919. The same occurred with  Zhoghovurd   on December 19, 1919. Meanwhile, Armenia had also gone ahead and issued an additional 400 million rubles on its own. 5  At the same time, it had taken tangible steps to establish its own national currency with the eventual aim of retiring all banknotes in circulation. 6  Under these conditions, the price of  Ha ṙ  aj  rose to five rubles on January 13, 1920, as did that of  Zhoghovurd   on January 28, 1920. In April 1920, the parliament in Armenia was obliged to authorize the printing of 500 million additional rubles to meet the government’s obligations. 7  By then four- page newspapers like  Ha ṙ  aj ,  Zhoghovurd  , the semi-weekly  Hayastani Dzayn , the mouthpiece of the Armenia Council of the Armenian Ramkavar Party (actually, the successor to Van-Tosp ), and  Nor Serund  , the mouthpiece of the Central Council of the General Union of Students in Armenia, were all being sold at ten rubles. According to Simon Vrats‘ean, “the printing press was working regularly and speedily [in the summer months of 1920]; 600-800 million rubles were being printed each month. Armenian banknotes [equivalent to] two billion rubles had been issued  by August.” 8  Under these circumstances, the price of  Zhoghovurd   had risen to 20 rubles on June 25, while  Ha ṙ  aj  was sold at 25 rubles beginning July 3. The issues of  Ashkhatawori Dzayn , published three times a week by the Cooperative Union of Kars (Karskoop), also cost 25 rubles each in the second half of July. In early August, 4  Ibid. 5  Ibid. 6  Ibid., 297. Although this new currency was printed in London in early 1920, it was impossible to place it in circulation in Armenia before the latter’s sovietization later that year. In the meantime, it was used by Armenian government officials as souvenir money for various fund-raising activities in Europe and North America (Richard G. Hovannisian, personal communication, 9 October 2017). 7  Richard G. Hovannisian, The Republic of Armenia , Volume III: From London to Sèvres, February- August, 1920  (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1996), 10. 8  Simon Vrats‘ean,  Hayastani Hanrapetut‘iwn  (The Republic of Armenia), 2 nd  ed. (Beirut: Mshak Printing House, 1958), 420.   Ara Sanjian 109 the four-page issues of both  Hayastani Dzayn  and  Zhoghovurd   were also priced at 25 rubles each. The prices of newspapers rose sharply again in November 1920, which was the last month in the relatively short life of the independent republic of Armenia. The new price of a four-page issue of  Ha ṙ  aj  was first set at 50 rubles on November 2. It then doubled and reached 100 rubles starting November 16. The prices of issues of  Zhoghovurd   and  Hayastani Dzayn  also doubled. These two newspapers were already  being printed that month with only two pages, probably because of either a dearth of  paper or a sharp decline in the purchasing power of potential readers. Two-page issues of  Hayastani Dzayn  were sold at 25 rubles beginning November 2, and at 50 rubles, after November 12. In turn, the price of a two-page issue of  Zhoghovurd   was raised to 50 rubles, starting November 3. The last issues of both  Ha ṙ  aj  and  Zhoghovurd   appeared on Wednesday, December 1, 1920. The next day, the government handed power to the Bolsheviks. The one- party rule which the latter imposed immediately forced all other political parties to cease publication of their newspapers. A hundred years ago, when radio, television and the internet were non-existent,  printed newspapers constituted an important component of the ‘commodity bundle’ of government and political circles, as well as the literate and educated classes in society. That part of society evidently constituted a much smaller percentage of the total than today; nevertheless, the rise in price of the newspapers these people bought  provides an indication of inflation in Armenia during the politically turbulent years 1916-1920. As far as I am aware, there are no published comprehensive statistics or detailed studies about the rise in prices in Armenia in 1918-1920. In what follows I will list some comparative numbers, which I have come across during my research. In July 1919, when the price of a single issue of  Zhoghovurd   was 1.5 rubles and that of  Ashkhatank‘  , two, a pood of wheat was sold in Yerevan at 350 rubles; bread at 300-400 rubles; cheese at 575 rubles; and butter at 2,000 rubles. 9  (A pood was a unit of mass used in Russia, approximately equivalent to 36.11 pounds or 16.38 kilograms) In early 1920, when the price of a four-page newspaper had just risen to five rubles, a pood of wheat was now being sold at 1,200 rubles. On February 7, 1920, when the price of a newspaper of the same size was still five rubles, the price of a  pood of wheat on the Yerevan market had risen to 1,300 rubles. A pood of flour cost 1,400 rubles, and rice, 1,400-1,800 rubles. The price of a funt of bread was 26-28 rubles; meat, 70-140 rubles; cheese, 60-100 rubles; and butter, 180-200 rubles. (A funt was 1/40 th  of a pood, i.e. equivalent to 0.9 pounds or 409.5 grams.) After comparing these prices, it becomes evident that the rise in the price of a newspaper was a fraction less than that of the basic foodstuffs listed. Two other items – besides a four-page newspaper – which could be bought in Yerevan with five rubles were a  box of matches or a funt of soap. The minimum monthly wage of government officials was 2,000 rubles. At the other end of the salary-scale, the maximum salary (for the prime minister and speaker of parliament) was 8,150 rubles. 10  This scale had  been approved by parliament on December 17, 1919. 11   9  Hovannisian,  Republic of Armenia , Volume II  , 7. 10  Vrats‘ean,  Hayastani Hanrapetut‘iwn , 367-68. 11  Hovannisian,  Republic of Armenia , Volume II  , 305.   Price of a Newspaper   110 Three months later, in May 1920, when the price of a four-page newspaper had reached ten rubles, a funt of bread now cost 100 rubles. 12  That same month, the government raised the minimum monthly wage of a public servant to 8,150 rubles, and the maximum, to 14,000 rubles. At the end of summer, when the price of a newspaper of the same size had risen to 25 rubles, the retail price of a pood of flour had skyrocketed in turn to 3,500-4,000 rubles. 13  In the spring and summer months of 1920, both  Ha ṙ  aj  and  Zhoghovurd   frequently reported on the price of an American dollar on the Yerevan market. It was equivalent to 560 rubles in the second half of March, but had risen by April 6 to 660 rubles; on April 23 to 750 rubles; on April 26 to 800 rubles; in May to 1,000 rubles; at the end of June and in early July to 1,600 rubles; and in August to 2,500 rubles. By comparing the parallel rises in the price of a dollar and that of the newspapers mentioned, it can be deduced that the price of a four-page newspaper in Yerevan in the spring and summer of 1920 fluctuated between one and one-and-a-half cents. Readers may also be interested to know that the price of a 32-page issue of The New York Times  in 1920 was two cents.  Ara Sanjian is an Associate Professor of History and the Director of the Armenian  Research Center at the University of Michigan, Dearborn  12  Hovannisian,  Republic , III, p. 10. 13  Ibid., p. 282.
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