Conversation with my Mother
Source of the picture: Mediamax
Student: Tatevik Gasparyan
My interviewee is my mother, Tsaghik Khangeldyan, born in 1960, March25, in Artashat. The interview took place in Artashat, September 2, at 20:00.
_Were you a member of the Komsomol/Community Party? Can you recall how the membership began and why it was significant to become a party member?
_Well, to become a member of the Community Party was a long and a very complicated process, hence not everybody could get that. Those who had further plans to assume an official position or employment were obliged to become a communist.
_Are there any family experiences with the Stalinist exterminations, repressions, concentration camps?
_Fortunately, my family didn’t have any such experience but my uncle’s wife’s family was exiled to Sibir. They lived in exile for years. Within that period they had a child there and after some years returned, therefore. However, I can’t remember the exact reason for their exile.
_What was it like to live in Soviet Armenia?
_Actually, the Soviet Union conducted the policy of iron curtains: it blocked itself and all the other member-states from the open contact from the West and its allied states. There was little information, we had a vague idea about the ongoings outside the borders of the USSR, so the perception was mainly bookish. We were told that in the capitalist countries it was very difficult to live, people felt oppressed, they were exploited while in our country in the realm of socialism there was equality between all people. Consequently, we were going to communism and the like.
Nevertheless, we lived very joyfully and no one had to think or worry about their next day as we do today. We had a stable job, our salary was enough for everything: holidays in the satellite states, cultural events. Also, people could easily manage to build a house which is a dream for many people in this day and age.
_ Would you, please, discuss your experience with the Soviet control over individuals/freedom of expressions.
_Well, the control was noticeable in every sphere: one’s speech and deeds had to be suited to the standards of the unwritten rules. I’ve heard that some parts of many films were cut down because they didn’t correspond to the norms or contrasted the communist spirit. Many poems, stories, novels were altered because of the same reason. / There was no freedom of expressions or actions.
_ Were you employed? What was it like working in the Soviet Union (SU)? What were the benefits and downsides of working in the soviet system?
_ Definitely, I was. First and foremost, I would like to mention that being employed was compulsory in those years. If some people were seen gathered together they may have been caught and taken to the police, and if they appeared not to have work they were forced to work at least as a worker in the factory. I’d like also to mention the important role of the trade unions at that time. In my view, they were really helpful: they provided material assistance, holiday vouchers and some social welfare benefits, thereafter.
One more thing worth mentioning is the product selling policy. In this sense a human being was appreciated, especially a child: the food for children, their clothes were really very cheap, may be only the cost of production was covered. Meanwhile, such kind of things as furniture, drinks, cigarette and the like which were considered not to be so necessary were much more expensive. However, when there was a crack in the budget, the price of a certain item could be risen exponentially.
I can’t recall a disadvantage in the mentioned area for workers as everybody was satisfied. But in the last years before the collapse of the Soviet Union I had a prediction that this country could not last long as there was a lot of corruption, besides everybody was stealing. When a person already got a job he couldn’t but do without stealing and thinking about only what he could grasp. When I saw everybody stealing I was wondering what is left to the poor country’s budget. But if anybody was caught, they were at least imprisoned.
I worked as a chief economist, my salary was very high. There was a five-year plan which was divided into one-year plan, and if we met the targets of the plan we got bonuses as well. My salary was 400 rubles a month in average which was a huge amount in those years.
_Did you support the Soviet system? Explain the answer.
_No, I didn’t but not because for me or my family, as for a working person it was really easy and careless to live, to gather with friends and relatives in the evenings as there were no worries about anything, but there was not enough control over the course of the country’s economy and its growth.
-Did you feel a victim of the Soviet system? Explain the answer.
– No, I didn’t as I don’t think I suffered in any way. Maybe I did, but I wasn’t aware of it )))
– Have you traveled outside of the SU? If yes, can you recall how the system worked for letting them out of the country?
– The first time I had travelled outside of the SU was 1989 when the country was on the eve of collapsing and the demonstration had already started. I travelled to Slovakia and then Checkhia (former Checkoslovakia). The first thing that caught my eye were the cultivated fields and gorgeous gardens, nice roads, the freedom of their youth. Despite being a socialistic country there were a lot of goods of a good quality from abroad that were also sold freely and without any queues which was a rare case in the SU.
– What were the 5 key turning points in Armenia’s social and political life that they remember the best through the 1970s and 80s?
_ Those years were somewhat the upsurge of Armenia. When Karen Demirchyan came to power, our country started to blossom. He was a good statesperson and a real patriot. He tried his utmost to convince the Kremlin to let Armenians have a metro system which was really very difficult, but he succeeded as he did in many spheres during holding the office. For having a Metro a city should have had 1 million population: we managed to achieve that number within a very short time. Moreover, he built many beautiful and interesting buildings such as Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concerts Complex, Kukuruznik and the like. And what is important here to mention is the fact that he was really very popular among Armenians and was very much appreciated by them. Sport was especially paid attention to: we had many champions in various spheres, even in Olympic Games. The football team “Ararat Yerevan” won the USSR championship in 1973, which was a fantastic event at that time. Culture flourished as well, nobody missed a new performance. Reading was in fashion and if one wanted to give a valuable gift to somebody, he chose a book.
-What is your recollection of the Karabakh movement?
-It was a great inspiration for our nation, something unbelievable that might become true, our hearts leapt. We believed that were going to succeed no matter how strong the authorities were stuck to the system. The people were surprisingly united and there seemed to be no other thing or phenomenon to be able to defeat Armenians and to suppress Armenian spirit.
New leaders appeared and were also loved and respected. But, in my opinion they shouldn’t have made such drastic changes like rejecting Karen Demirchyan at all, not wishing to have any ties with the past. Our economy suffered a lot, Nairit that was of great importance for our country was closed, we had some economic giants that were closed as well. The leaders were real intellectuals, they were really educated people but they made great mistakes and it was very difficult for the country to recover. I sometimes thought that Stamboltsyan’s actions were controlled and were not dictated by a regard for our welfare, and he succeeded in closing our economic giants.
-What was it like to see the collapse of the SU?
-It seemed that the people woke up from a long sleep and wanted to have independence, to go abroad, to choose the sportsmen who the country itself wanted to represent. There was a meeting between US president Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held in Reykjavik. They had an agreement on some issues that were not known to us. Then the demolishment of the Berlin Wall followed. So, what happened next was inevitable. And thank God that we are now a free and independent country. Of course, there are still difficulties to overcome but I am very optimistic about the future of our country.
Thus, in view of all that has been mentioned so far, one may suppose that the Soviet Union was full of corruption, bribery, lies and aberration. Meanwhile, people felt very happy and careless, thinking that they not only got high salaries, but also the support of the country in every sphere. For example, in the case of Trade Unions people were very satisfied as they thought that those worked for their benefit only. Besides, work enforcement was taken into granted while nowadays it can be considered a violation of human rights. And when the small demonstrations in Yerevan started at first protesting the pollution generated in and around Yerevan, then those small demonstrations turned into a mass movement (Libardian, p. 25), people started to realize that they did have many rights and started to fight for them. And as Vazgen Manukian mentions in his article “It is time to jump off the train” Armenians have a very strange feature that no other nation can either have or understand: it is our ability to unite over any question of national importance and act as a real strong force(Manukian, p.39). And it’s not surprising that our efforts were not in vain and our dream to become an independent country is now a reality.
- Libaridian, G. J. (1999). The Challenge of Statehood Armenian Political Thinking Since Independence. Watertown, MA, Blue Crane Books. pp. 19-45.
- Manukian, V. (1990). It is time to Jump off the Train in Armenia at the Crossroads: Democracy and Nationhood in the post-Soviet Era: Essays, interviews and speeches by the leaders of the national democratic movement in Armenia, ed. Ger. Libaridian. 1991. Watertown, Blue Crane Books. pp. 51-86.