Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin – Metaxian Kirakos Ovanesovich. A three-time Hero, who remained classified, an Armenian unknown to his people, stayed obscure. A man-legend. A concealed leader and organizer of the defense industry, the creator of the secret atomic weapon of the great power.
He was practically the only person entrusted with testing the first, second, third, and all other atomic bombs.
Interestingly, when Shchelkin reported to Kurchatov on August 29, 1949, that the atomic bomb was charged and ready for testing, Kurchatov declared: “Well, the bomb already has a name, let it also have a godfather – Shchelkin.”
But let’s return to the Armenian origin of Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin. I’ve reread several dozen more or less detailed biographies of the atomic scientist, but not one of them even fleetingly mentions his Armenian ancestry.
Perhaps many of his biographers simply did not know about this. But it’s equally likely that some of them were aware of it and deliberately avoided the topic. Undoubtedly, those in the higher echelons of power knew that Shchelkin was Armenian.
Suffice it to say, the work on creating the atomic bomb was carried out under the general patronage of Lavrentiy Beria, and he knew everything about everyone. And I dare express my conviction that, had Shchelkin not been so necessary to the team of atomic scientists, his fate would have unfolded quite differently.
Russian Academy of Sciences. N.N. Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics
Dear Grigory Khachaturian!
The collective of the Institute expresses to you our deep gratitude and appreciation for the publication of the popular science, biographical book about the life and scientific activity of the three-time Hero of Socialist Labor, Corresponding Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin (Metaxian Kirakos Ovanesovich), who achieved outstanding results in the field of combustion and explosion and, in particular, in the creation of nuclear weapons in our country.
A significant part of K.I. Shchelkin’s scientific activity is associated with the N.N. Semenov Institute of Chemical Physics. Therefore, we are especially grateful to you for your work on perpetuating the memory of our colleague and the person who glorified our Institute, Soviet science, and our country.
We hope that in perspective, your book will find its reader in the Russian Federation. Director of the Institute, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Berlin A.A. January 14, 2008.
…Even to this day, they do not write that the brilliant physicist, the first scientific director, and the chief designer of the Chelyabinsk-70 nuclear center, three-time Hero of Socialist Labor, Shchelkin K.I. (Metaxian K.I.) is Armenian by nationality.
Even after this authoritative letter from the N.N. Semenov Institute…
During Soviet times, there existed a theory about the origin of Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin… It was a legend, based on the fact that Kirill Ivanovich lived with his parents in Transcaucasia in early childhood and for this reason, he spoke Armenian fluently. It was claimed that Kirill Ivanovich’s father was Ivan Efimovich Shchelkin, his mother was Vera Alekseevna Shchelkin, a teacher… Thus his Armenian origin was denied for many years…
The Armenian Trail in Atomic Construction
Kirill Shchelkin – a man who knew everything about the anatomy of an explosion. After the tests of the first hydrogen bomb on August 12, 1953, the idea arose to create a research institute, a second weapons center.
Understandably, this was a secret facility, ordinary Soviet citizens were not supposed to know about it. At the suggestion of I. Kurchatov, the scientific director and chief designer of the new institute was appointed Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin.
Now this name is known to many, but then, despite all his regalia and high government awards, only a narrow circle of specialists, atomic weapon scientists, knew about him. A distinctive feature of the Soviet formation: Kirill Shchelkin was in the same group with Yuri Hariton, Igor Kurchatov, Yakov Zeldovich, Andrei Sakharov, received Stalin’s prizes and the gold stars of the Hero of Socialist Labor with them and still remained unknown. A man-legend.
A concealed leader and organizer of the defense industry, the creator of the secret atomic weapon of the great power. Thus, NII-1011 was created, an object without a name, a “postbox”. Today it has been declassified and is known as the Russian Federal Nuclear Center – VNIITF.
The ascension to the atomic Olympus was completed. By that time, Kirill Shchelkin held the position of the first deputy chief designer and head of the creation of nuclear weapons Yuri Hariton and was practically the only person in the Soviet Union who knew absolutely everything about the internal mechanisms of the explosion, about the anatomy of the explosion.
He was a Doctor of Sciences, the author of a large number of crucial studies, which had enormous practical and theoretical significance. In his doctoral dissertation, brilliantly defended in 1946, he substantiated and put forward the theory of the emergence of detonation. The work was entitled: “Fast Combustion and Gas Detonation”.
This research of his opened the way for the creation of powerful rocket and jet engines. Without the results of his work, according to the scientist’s colleagues’ belief, the development of nuclear weapons would have been simply impossible.
Jumping ahead, I will say that for many years, Shchelkin remained an outstanding scientist whose works could not be referenced. The theory existed, the theory had an author, the author had a name, quite famous in the world of nuclear physicists, but it was not allowed to refer to this name…
In 1947-1948, K. Shchelkin led a broad area of scientific research. The first nuclear reactor in Europe was put into operation in the Soviet Union. The team led by Shchelkin began to design and create a nuclear bomb.
Prominent scientists of that time were involved in the work – Mstislav Keldysh, Artem Alikhanov, Yakov Zeldovich, Samvel Kocharyants, and other specialists. The overall leadership of the work was entrusted to Igor Kurchatov.
He was even forbidden to visit the nuclear centers, the very ones where he had worked almost his entire conscious life. Without strong reasons, they do not treat high-ranking specialists like this.
The worst thing was that such oddities continued. The last of them can be considered the fact that after the death of Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin, some people came and, without going into explanations, took away all his government awards, laureate badges, even the stars of the Hero of Socialist Labor from his family.
Note in this regard that such close attention from the supreme party bureaucracy was given only to those who, without suspecting it, stepped on the “sore bunion” of the System. Why? What happened? Why did the outstanding scientist fall out with the Soviet party bureaucracy?
It can be asserted with a very high degree of probability that Shchelkin made powerful enemies by opposing nuclear madness together with Academician Andrei Sakharov and other creators of super-powerful weapons. Recall that these were the years when the “cold war” could erupt into a third world war from any careless spark.
Intensive work was carried out in the Soviet Union on a 100-megaton charge, several thousand times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The emergence of this charge brought the planet to the brink of nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The dissonant voice was only that of one of the creators of Soviet nuclear weapons – Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin, who dared to assert that small nuclear charges were sufficient for defensive purposes.
The creator of the atomic monster rebelled against his own creation, against the testing of powerful and super-powerful nuclear charges. For the sake of objectivity, I note that this is the most probable and convincing version, but it does not find documentary confirmation.
Thus, even such an informed specialist as Academician L. Feoktistov, who was very close to the “Atomic Project”, believes that there is still no clarity on the reasons for the repressions that fell upon Kirill Shchelkin.
In 1929, and only in the post-Soviet era, the booklet “Pages of the History of the Nuclear Center,” published in 1998, named the real name and surname of Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin – Kirakos Ovanesovich Metaxyan.
Then follow publications in the Armenian Republican press, in Armenian newspapers in Lebanon and the United States. But even today, very few know about this. Grigor Martirosyan, in his attempt to intrigue the reader, titled his book quite catchily: “Shchelkin Kirill Ivanovich. Metaxyan Kirakos Ovanesovich.
A thrice Hero, the secret Armenian who is unknown to the people.” The National Archive of the Republic of Armenia contains documentary materials about the parents of Kirakos Metaxyan, about him himself and his sister Irina, unequivocally confirming the Armenian origin of the outstanding Soviet nuclear scientist.
From these documents, we learn that Kirakos Metaxyan was born on May 17, 1911, in Tiflis, to the family of a land surveyor, Ovanes Epriemovich Metaxyan. In 1915, the Shchelkin family moved to Yerevan. In 1918, Ovanes Metaxyan (renamed to Ivan Efimovich Shchelkin) moved with his family to the city of Krasny in the Smolensk region.
There, the life of the Armenian family radically changed, starting from a clean slate. The years began to write a new, “Russian” biography of Kirill Ivanovich Shchelkin. Of course, Kirill Shchelkin belongs to Soviet history.
In the same way, other great Armenians belong to Russian history – Alexander Suvorov, Ivan Aivazovsky, Admiral Lazar Serebryakov (Kazar Artsatagortsyan), Admiral Ivan Isakov, Marshal of Aviation Sergey Khudyakov (Khanferjants), and many, many others.
by Gurgen Karapetyan
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan