After the establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia and especially during the Stalinist dictatorship era, talk of the Armenian-Turkish conflict was prosecuted and any vocal expression of thoughts about the Armenian Genocide or western Armenia were usually described as manifestations of nationalism and punished with imprisonment, exile, or shooting. The situation gradually began to change in the second half of the 1950s, due to Khrushchev’s “thaw” policy and a certain atmosphere of liberalization that was created in the Soviet Union. The works of Armenian writers, who were victims of Stalin's violence, gradually began to be returned to the people and those of Armenian classical writers and western-Armenian authors, who had been declared nationalists and enemies decades before, were reprinted. In the reprints and new works of Armenian writers, new themes were launched: those of lost homeland, the life and destiny of its displaced and only partially rescued people and the love, sense of loss and devotion to a lost homeland. The image of Komitas in particular, about whom the poem “Anlreli Zangakatun” (The Belfry that is never silent) by Paroyr Sevak was published in 1959, became the collective image and personification of the untold tragedy of the Armenian people. In modern times, no book or work has had as much significance in awakening the memory of the Armenian Genocide as Sevak’s.
The commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was conditioned not only by the changes taking place in wider society due to the “thaw”, but also by the political will of the Armenian leadership. Yakov Zarobyan (1908-1980) was elected as first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia in late December 1960. He personally had felt the horrors of the Armenian Genocide through the fate of his own family (he left Ardvin, his birthplace, in 1914, and reached Rostov-on-Don on foot, living outside Armenia until 1949).
One of his first steps was to prepare to raise the issue of the need to hold events to honor the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to draw up relevant plans. Yakov Zarobyan discussed these plans (and in particular the idea of building a monument to the victims of the Armenian Genocide) with the Lebanese-Armenian writer and public figure Andranik Tsarukyan when they met in 1962.
The issue of commemorating the victims of the Armenian Genocide was put before Armenian historians during a meeting of the CPA Central Committee in February 1964. As a result, Tsatur Aghayan, Hovhannes Inchikyan and John Kirakosyan prepared an 11-point proposal addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia titled “On events dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the mass extermination of Armenians in Western Armenia”. It, with some amendments, was sent by Y. Zarobyan to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow in December 1964, where the following was among its four proposals: “To erect a monument in Yerevan dedicated to the Armenian martyrs killed in the First World War. It should symbolize the renaissance of the Armenian people”. At the beginning of February 1965, the commission set up by the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to discuss the issue reluctantly agreed to allow the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
Receiving Moscow’s consent, the presidency of the CPA Central Committee approved the draft decision of the Council of Ministers of the Armenian SSR titled “On the construction of a monument to the victims of the mass extermination of Armenians” on 15 February 1965, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers on March 16 of the same year. The decision instructed the government construction agency (Petshin) of the Armenian SSR to publish the announcement of an open competition for the design of the monument in the republic’s press on 25 March 1965. The winning design had to comply with various conditions, one of which stressed: “The monument must embody the creative Armenian nation’s life that has been full of struggle, its inexhaustible vitality for survival, its present and bright future, while immortalizing the memory of millions of victims of the Genocide of 1915”.
69 Armenian diasporan and local architects took part in the competition. The competition jury, headed by Petshin President Grigor Aghababyan, convened its first session on May 10, 1965. After long discussions, it decided to further examine 8 of the designs. After several further sessions, the final decision was made on June 7 in favour of the winning project codenamed “Armenia SSR droshak”. Its architects were Arthur Tarkhanyan and Sashur Kalashyan. It had a "clear and understandable solution… The inwardly canted khachkar-like stones symbolize mourning in memory of the victims, and the erect monument symbolizes rebirth”.
The construction of the memorial was carried out by "Yerkimshin" trust, headed by Artavazd Ordukhanyan. The total estimated cost of the construction was about 750,000 rubles. The construction of the memorial was completed in a record time of two and a half years.
The memorial to the victims of the Armenian Genocide was ceremoniously opened at Tsitsernakaberd in the presence of tens of thousands of citizens on the 47th anniversary of the establishment of Soviet rule in Armenia, on 29 November 1967. The whole party-state leadership of the USSR was present under the chairmanship of Anton Kochinyan, the first secretary of the CPA Central Committee (Y. Zarobyan had been relieved of the post as first secretary of the CPA Central Committee in February 1966 and had been appointed to work in Moscow). The event was broadcast on TV and radio throughout the country.
From the beginning of 1968, hundreds of thousands of people visit Tsitsernakaberd Memorial complex on April 24 to pay tribute to the memory of the innocent martyrs. It is also visited during the year by tens of thousands of Armenians and foreigners, as well as official delegations from different countries of the world.
The memorial was completed, in April 1995, with the construction of the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute.