Yerevan Computer Research

Development Institute

Ideas of Maurice Wilkes

The virtual exhibition "Mathematical Machines of Armenia", which is a part of the DataArt Museum of Informational Technologies, tells about computer technologies created by Armenian electronic engineers in the second half of the 20th century.

In the 1960s, the main directions of YCRDI's activities were identified: medium and small computers, machine complexes and automated systems for special, mainly military, purposes. There were also civilian projects - for example, at the turn of 1950-1960's Institute developed a computer program "Census", intended for the treatment of the USSR 1959 population census data. Among the small machines created in Armenia, a special place was occupied by four generations of the "Nairi'' family - one of the most widespread in the territory of the Soviet Union.

Hrachya Hovsepyan, chief designer of small ECM "Nairi", participant in the development of "Hrazdan" ECM

In 1961, when the installation of "Hrazdan" at the plant was completed, I was assigned a laboratory of small machines and was appointed chief designer. First of all, an order came from the Ministry of Radio Industry to develop a small electronic adding machine that could replace a large mechanical one. Since I had already read about the ideas of the English scientist Maurice Wilkes, I immediately decided: I will make a normal machine with microprogram control.

In 1962, at the International Exhibition of Computer Technology in Moscow, a French small sequential machine CAB 500 was presented. An ultra-modern, but complex and bulky magnetic drum was used as a memory for it. The Soviet Ministry of Radio Industry acquired the car, and YCRDI was instructed to repeat it.

Hrachya Hovsepyan, chief designer of small ECM "Nairi", participant in the development of "Hrazdan" ECM

But our technologies did not allow this in principle, and my idea was completely different. I wanted to build a parallel action machine with microprogram control, and therefore I quietly worked on this - I wrote a preliminary project.

Two more machines were developed in parallel with "Nairi": "Masis-1" and "Mashtots".

"Masis-1" was a management computer for chemical and metallurgical enterprises based on semiconductor elements, already with a predominance of printed installation and integrated nodes. In 1965, the Ministry of Radio Industry issued a brief technical description of the car in Yerevan.

The "Mashtots" computer, also developed at YCRDI, became the first machine in the USSR with the function of optical text recognition.It was not put into production, but two prototypes were supplied to the KGB units: one in Moscow, the second in Yerevan.

While working on the "Mashtots" computer, Emil Hovhannisyan, who was in charge of the project, defended his Ph.D. thesis, and on December 24, 1964, he received patent No. AU282771B2 from the Australian Intellectual Property Agency for "Method for determining the typographic symbol".There was no other information about this car in open sources, we were told about it by the son of the chief designer of the project Emil Hovhannisyan - Sarkis Emilievich, a famous musicologist living in Yerevan.

Hrachya Hovsepyan, chief designer of small ECM "Nairi", participant in the development of "Hrazdan" ECM

Having started development in 1961, in 1964 we were able to present "Nairi-1" - a small machine with an original structure. It has been patented in four countries: England, France, Germany and Japan.

The Ministry of Radio Industry at first did not approve the project of a fundamentally new computer instead of the planned clone, and Hrachya Hovsepyan's group was engaged in it secretly. However, when the car was almost ready, the development was shown to officials, who nevertheless allowed it to be tested by the state. The State Acceptance Commission under the leadership of Academician Anatoly Dorodnitsyn gave the go-ahead for the serial production of Nairi. Already in January 1965, its implementation at the Kazan plant was completed in just a week - there the production of "Nairi-1" began even earlier than at the YCRDI pilot factory.

From 1965 to 1970, about 500 Nairi-1s were produced, modifications of the machine appeared - with increased RAM, a tape puncher, a Czech electric typewriter Consul-254 as an input device. In 1966 Hrachya Hovsepyan presented a new model "Nairi-2" with memory on ferrite rings of increased volume.

In the late 1960s, Zelenograd became interested in small Yerevan cars. There, at the Mikron plant, they were already producing integrated circuits for space and military projects, but they were looking for a way to massively introduce a technology new to the Soviet market. Anatoly Lazarev, chief engineer of the Scientific Research Institute of Electronic Mathematical Machines (NIEM), associated with secret developments for the Air Force, suggested YCRDI create a new model of the "Nairi" family on the basis of integrated circuits.

Hrachya Hovsepyan, chief designer of small ECM "Nairi", participant in the development of "Hrazdan" ECM

The memory of "Nairi-3" could store up to 128 thousand high speed operating addresses. We were one of the first in the world to apply methods of full firmware emulation of several machine languages and use a rich database of software created for other machines, for example, "Minsk-22". Specially for this modification "Nairi-3-1" was created.

The flexible structure made it possible to create new modifications of the machine, adapting it relatively easily for solving special problems. One of them, Nairi-3-2, implemented a time-sharing system: up to 128 teletype devices could be connected to it, effectively providing each operator with computing capabilities equal to one Nairi-2 computer.The customers for it were to be educational institutions and large factories, one of these machines worked at the department of Academician Nikolai Buslenko at the Moscow Institute of Petrochemical and Gas Industry named after Ivan Gubkin. The two-machine complex "Nairi-3-3", designed to automate the processes in large-scale industries, was introduced at the Lviv Radio Components Plant as an example.

In 1974, work on the Nairi-4 project  began. It was no longer just a computer, but a “complex of universal computing facilities” (CUCF): the system was initially divided into modules, from which a machine of the desired configuration could be assembled. Large and super-large integrated circuits were used as the element base, which made it possible to reduce the size and simplify the assembly of the final device.

Hrachya Hovsepyan, chief designer of small ECM "Nairi", participant in the development of "Hrazdan" ECM

In the mid-1970s, we missed the option of manufacturing Nairi-4 for consumer goods, that is, we never made a domestic personal computer. The truncated Nairi-4 processor in the TV case was supposed to be a model for it. The model had already been made and stood for a long time in the director's office.

However, Hrachya Hovsepyan failed to complete the project: in 1976, when former Armenian repatriates were allowed to travel abroad, his mother and brothers decided to leave the USSR. They did not want to let the relatives of the famous scientist, who also worked at the institute and carried out large defense orders, out of the country. Hovsepyan makes a difficult decision - he writes voluntary statement and at the peak of his career leaves YCRDI.

After leaving YCRDI, Hrachya Hovsepyan moved to Moscow with his wife and children - there he taught at the University and worked at the Academy of Sciences. However, the scientific institutions were closed for him when one of the brothers sent him an official invitation to go abroad without warning.  In 1984, under the threat of criminal prosecution for parasitism, Hrachya  Hovsepyan got a job as a stoker in one of the Moscow skyscrapers, tried to really leave the USSR, but he was denied permission. In 1988, he began to actively fight for the right to leave the country: he appealed to foreign embassies and even went on a hunger strike, a story about him appeared on American television. After the question of Hovsepyan's fate was raised by Ronald Reagan at a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, he and a dozen of other "rejected asylum seekers" were allowed to leave for the United States.