Khachaturian was born in the city of Tiflis under the Russian Empire (now Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia) to a poor Armenian family from Nakhichevan (now part of an autonomous region in Azerbaijan). In 1921, at the age of 18, he moved to Moscow to live with his brother Suren. Starting in 1929, Khachaturian studied composition and orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory. He finished the conservatory program in 1934, then stayed until 1936 to pursue graduate studies there.
One of his graduate works, the Armenian-influenced First Symphony, drew the attention of prominent conductors and composers (including Shostakovich), which helped launch Khachaturian's career. Today, however, he is most famous for the "Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia" from his ballet Spartacus, and for the "Sabre Dance" and "Adagio" from his ballet Gayane, both of which have been used in several films and television shows around the world.