Interview with my Father
Source of the picture: Mediamax
Student: Nare Sukiasyan
11.10.1971/Yerevan, Armenia/ Armen Sukiasyan
On December 2, 1920, according to the agreement signed between the Republic of Armenia and the USSR, the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic was established, which existed until September 21, 1991. These historical events opened a new page in the public and political life of the Armenian people. The Soviet Union played an important role in international relations, was always in the spotlight due to its territorial advantages and governance mechanism, about which there were many controversial pieces of research. I was assigned to prepare a research interview, which would describe the legacy of the Soviet Union in the form of a question-answer, according to the respondent. My Interviewee is Armen Sukiasyan, my father, who lived and studied in Soviet Armenia and saw the process of Armenia’s independence. He will share with us his point of view about life in Soviet Armenia and the Soviet Union in general.
- –What do you know about your ancestors and family roots?
- A. –According to our family tree, the ancestor of our tribe known as Tolo lived with his family in the late 1700s in the city of Alashkert. My great-grandfather Mkrtich was a conciliatory judge in Kars, and his son Stepan studied in Venice, Italy. I know little about the fate of my relatives from Alashkert during the years of the Armenian Genocide. I know that my ancestors first moved to Kars, then some reached the village of Gazanchi in Shirak, and some settled in Tashir, creating the Norashen village. In the middle of the twentieth century my grandfather moved to Yerevan.
- – What was it like to live in Soviet Armenia?
- My memories about Soviet Armenia before the Karabakh movement are quite bright, sweet and beautiful. Much later I realized that it was just a curtain, behind which there was a lot of dirt.
- – Have you been a member of the Komsomol/Community Party?
- – In my family, no one was a member of the Community Party. But I was a very active Komsomol member. For many people, joining the Community Party was a way of achieving good careers. I didn’t have this approach. For me it was a way to show my activeness as a young man.
In Soviet times, the propaganda worked great, there were thousands of books, newspapers, and films that inspired children with Soviet ideas, taught them to be good Soviet citizens (at that time we did not imagine that a Soviet citizen could be evil). At a young age, inspired by “Timur and his Squad” film, I set up a group with my friends to go and help the elderly to carry their bags and to do similar activities.
In my student years, I was the secretary of the Komsomol within my class, which already gave me the opportunity to be active as a student, to participate in rallies and similar events.
- – Are there any family experiences with the Stalinist exterminations, repressions, concentration camps?
- – As far as I know, no. There were no such incidents in our family.
- – Do you have any experience with Soviet control over individuals or freedom of expression?
- A. – Control was always. Also there was always a fear. Especially when I became very active, read forbidden literature (Solzhenitsyn, Simon Vratsyan, Avetis Aharonyan) participated in various clandestine meetings, our family became worried. My parents thought all the time that soon KGB officers would come to the house. I even remember one day I came home and saw that my father had burned most of my forbidden books. It was out of fear, out of fear of repressions. I saw this fear in his eyes and in the eyes of almost all citizens.
- – Have you been employed? What was it like working in the Soviet Union (SU)?
What were the benefits and downsides of working in the soviet system?
- – My profession, which is the profession of musician, was quite encouraged in the Soviet Union. There was a lot of respect for classical music and musicians. In general, the approach to classical art is quite different from the current one. Of course, it is not the case that in the Soviet Union there was a great alternative to music and art. Rock, jazz only began to show some activity in the late 1980’s.
And the salaries were quite high in those years.
- – Did you support the Soviet system?
- – Yes, I did as perceive my childish consciousness. As I was brought up by carrying the ideas of Soviet propaganda, that’s why I used to support the Soviet system. But, of course, there were many paradoxical concepts, for example, our capital was Moscow or Yerevan?
These questions sparked a national awakening in me. And Of course, with the help of Armenian literature, I didn’t sink into the Soviet ideologies, leaving national roots behind.
- – Was the propaganda of Russian culture too big? Was there some freedom to preserve one’s own culture?
- – It depended on the period. In the last decades of the Soviet Union, there was some freedom both in literature and in other fields. There was some kind of freedom, but the Soviet authorities were trying to make it in control as possible, to keep it into their sight. But, of course, there was propaganda of Russification. For example, the status of the Russian language was very stable in Soviet Armenia.
- – Do you feel a victim of the Soviet system?
Many Armenians died in Gulags, many were killed during WWII because of the Soviet politics.
- – Have you traveled outside of SU? How the system worked for letting you out of the country?
Yes, I have. We have had concert tours to US and European countries. Many of my friends have settled in these countries. The Soviet Union considered them traitors and enemies. I think if there were not such an attitude, more people would have taken that step.
- – Did you change your opinion about the Soviet Union when you traveled outside of it?
- – Of course, I did. There were so many differences, from everyday issues to cultural ones, that I was very
disappointed to see them. Customer market in Soviet Armenia was very small, and even with a high salary, we could not obtain the necessary goods.
- – Through the 1970s and 80s what were the 5 key turning points in Armenia’s social and political life that you remember the best?
- – The creation of many architectural structures, in my opinion, were great events for Armenia; construction of Metro, Sports and Concert Complex, the Youth Palace.
The reconstruction of St. Sargis Cathedral by the efforts of Catholicos Vazgen. It was a sign of religious revival for Armenian Christians, and a bright spot in Armenian public life, as one is finally being renovated after seeing so many churches destroyed.
The creation of the Sardarapat Memorial, designed by Architect Rafael Israelyan, raised a wave of great pride. It strengthened our national spirit, reminded our people that we are a nation that has won great victories.
Extremely talented individuals apeared in the Armenian life, who raised the consciousness of the Armenians. Aram Khachatryan, Minas Avetisyan, Martiros Saryan, Paruyr Sevak, Victor Hambardsumyan, Artem Alikhanyan, Sergey Mergelyan and many others.
The victories of Tigran Petrosyan, Yuri Vardanyan, “Ararat” and other great sportsmen were celebrated in Armenia with great enthusiasm as well.
The celebration of Erebuni-Yerevan was very significant because it strengthened the people, they realized that they lived in an ancient historical and cultural city and should strive to be its worthy citizens.
In fact, the movement did not start in 1988 but exploded at that time. All these events grew, accumulated, and erupted like a volcano.
- Q. – What is your recollection of the Karabakh movement?
- – I remember first days of Karabagh movement, when Vache Sarukhanyan and Igor Muradyan were giving speeches on the Freedom square. There was a large crowd, which was filled with indescribably great excitement. The atmosphere was very emotional and full of national spirit. From that day on, I started attending meetings very often. Although we were aware of the difficulties we were facing, it seemed to us that our demand was so fair that we would achieve everything uniformly. After all, we were demanding our land. But during those romantic aspirations, the Sumgait massacre took place, which was a big shock for us. That was the real picture of the Soviet Union, that was the real picture of our “brothers” in Azerbaijan. We realized that Moscow was not particularly excited to help us, so we got Sumgait as a response to our fair demand. Some people started to think that this can only be solved through weapons and war. Some started to think about independence, but many feared that the absence of the Russian factor would be a reason for Turkey to invade Armenia.
At that time, I was gathering students from the college and bringing them to demonstrations. It was amazing. When it was announced that for example Vardenis or another district had joined us, it was an indescribable feeling.
All this was followed by a curfew and Soviet troops entered the city with tanks.
During one of the demonstrations, I met a man who told me about National Self-Determination Union, and I became a member of the organization. At that time, we started printing underground literature, we made many friends, both of the same age and of the older generation. The eldest of us was Varag Arakelyan, an academician, through whose efforts Nzhdeh’s body was moved to Armenia. Movses Georgiyan was the most active one, and his murder was a big shock for us. A soldier killed in position is another matter, but when a politician is killed in border line it is a completely different matter. And his absence had a great impact on the National Self-Determination Union and the independence movement.
Then the Yerkrapah Volunteer Union was formed under the leadership of Vazgen Sargsyan, which gathered all the other forces under one roof so that everything would be governed from one place.
Then there were clashes between the ANM and the ANA, but, fortunately, this did not lead to a civil war. With great sadness, I remember the day when with other young people I was on duty on Baghramyan street. It was terrible to imagine the likelihood of a shootout between compatriots.Then I was very disappointed because I realized that our struggle was much more honest from the very beginning. Fortunately, the ANA’s leadership abandoned the idea of a civil war, and everything ended well.
When the war started, I met other people who were making weapons. I went and volunteered to help them.
- – Are you proud to be a member of ‘’Yerkrapah”?
- – Of course, I am. But I have never considered myself to be a member of Yerkrapah, because I think it is a much more serious title. Even my friends always encouraged me to go and get my veteran’s card, but I did not go.
- – What was it like to see the collapse of the SU?
- – When I was admitted to the conservatory, my parents sent me to Russia to have a rest with my relatives there. I was there only one day when we learned that the Soviet coup d’état attempt took place. I was shocked to see the indifference of the Russian people when, for example, after Brezhnev’s death, my mother and many others in Armenia were crying. After some months the Soviet Union had collapsed.
- – When did the realization appear that you live in independent Armenia?
- – Psychologically it appeared after the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Armenia in 1990.
Analyzing this interview, it can be seen that, according to the respondent, the Soviet Union was an iron curtain with beautiful packaging, behind which were repression and deprivation. Soviet ideology propagandized on the streets, on television, radio. Most foreign films, music, and literature were banned. However, it should be noted that over the 70 years of its existence, the Soviet world had its positive aspects as well. We have made great progress in urban planning, in the form of architectural monuments. The strong educational system, discipline, and quality control brought to the arena the great composers, writers, scientists, but unfortunately, many of them fell victim to the Soviet apparatus and were repressed. Of course, all this had created an atmosphere of fear. Nevertheless, the Armenian national spirit, the great desire for self-determination led to the fact that today there is the independent Republic of Armenia. This suggests that superpowers with such an ideology are short-lived, they are doomed to split, especially the nations with deep ethnic memory have a great tendency to become independent and self-determined.
- Alashkert – province of Erzurum, Western Armenia.
- Kars – city in northeast Turkey (historical Western Armenia).
- Tashir – a town located in Lori Province at the north of Armenia.
- Komsomol – All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, based in 1918. Youth division of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (In Russian – Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodyozhi).
- Community Party – The Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) was the founding and ruling political party of the Soviet Union.
- Timur and his squad – Soviet action film directed by Alexander Razumny based on the novel of the same name by Arkady Gaidar.
- Stalinist exterminations, repressions, concentration camps – Millions of people were subjected to political repression during the Soviet era. The oppressed were considered enemies of the people. State punishments included executions, sending innocent people to the Gulag (Main Directorate of Camps), forcible transfer, and deprivation of civil rights. It was culminated during the Stalin era.
- Alexander Isaich Solzhenitsyn – a Russian writer, philosopher, historian, and political prisoner. He was an outspoken critic of communism and sought to draw worldwide attention to the Gulag’s forced labor camp system.
- Simon Vratsyan – the last Prime Minister of the Republic of Armenia. After the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia, he emigrated and published a six-volume memoir “The Roads of Life”, which was considered a banned literature in the USSR.
- Avetis Aharonyan – an Armenian public and political figure, writer. He made great efforts in the establishment of the first republic of Armenia.
- KGB – Committee for State Security, the secret police force that was the main security agency for the Soviet Union.
- Sports and Concert Complex – also known as Demirchyan Arena, Sports & Music Complex.
- The Youth Palace – also known as Kukuruznik designed by architects Artur Tarkhanyan, Hrach Poghosyan and Spartak Khachikyan.
- Sardarapat Memorial – Memorial of the Sardarapat heroic battle, an architectural and sculptural complex-museum, erected on the site of the Sardarapat battle, dedicated to the victory of the Armenian people over the Turkish army in 1918.
- Aram Khachaturian – Armenian composer, conductor, teacher, People’s Artist of the USSR, Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, representative of the Russian school of composition, Armenian classical music, known as a world classic.
- Minas Avetisyan – one of the brightest representatives of the Armenian fine arts of the second half of the 20th century.
- Martiros Saryan – armenian artist, People’s Artist of the USSR, full member of the USSR Academy of Arts, Academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences, President of the Union of Artists of the USSR.
- Paruyr Sevak -an outstanding Armenian poet, cultural figure, literary critic, translator.
- Victor Hambartsumyan – Armenian astronomer, astrophysicist, one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics, author of a new cosmological concept, two-time Stalin Prize laureate, founder of the Byurakan Observatory.
- Artem Alikhanyan – Armenian physicist, Doctor of physico-mathematical sciences.
- Sergey Mergelyan – Armenian mathematician, corresponding member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the youngest Doctor of physico-mathematical sciences in the history of the USSR.
- Tigran Petrosyan – Armenian chess player, grandmaster.
- Yuri Vardanyan – world famous Armenian weightlifter, Olympic champion, world and European champion.
- Football club “Ararat” Yerevan – In 1973, “Ararat” won the Higher League, and the USSR Cup.
- Erebuni-Yerevan – The first official celebration of “Erebuni-Yerevan” took place in 1968 in October. It symbolized the 2750th anniversary of the founding of the capital of Armenia.
- Vache Sarukhanyan and Igor Muradyan – Armenian political activists.
- Sumgait massacre – Massacres and deportations of Armenians organized by the Azerbaijani authorities in the city of Sumgait in Soviet Azerbaijan, which took place in 1988. during the period from 27 to 29 February.
- Union for National Self-Determination – Armenian political party.
- Vazgen Sargsyan – an Armenian military commander and politician. He was the first Defence Minister of Armenia as well as served as Armenia’s Prime Minister from 1999.
- ANM – Armenian National Movement (political party) which aimed to get Independence
- ANA – Armenian National Army