Exploring the legacy of Soviet Armenia

Nazig Apelian

PSIA 360: Armenian Politics

Interview Assignment

September 7, 2020

Exploring the legacy of Soviet Armenia

Date and place of the interview: Sep 7, 2020, Ajapnyak, Yerevan

Birthdate and birthplace of the interviewee: Aug 1, 1957, Gyumri, Armenia

It was my pleasure to interview Ms. Nelly Ghazaryan, an Armenian woman from Gyumri, who was born and raised there in Soviet Armenia in 1957 and lived most of her life in Gyumri until 1997 when she moved to live in Yerevan. The interview took place at the noon of Sunday, September 6, 2020. Having went to a Russian school in Gyumri, she received Soviet Medical Education in the city, after which she went to Moscow to get practical training in her field of specialty. Today, she works as a cook at a well-known classic hotel in Yerevan. Even though Ms. Nelly is not a full supporter of the Soviet Union but she praises the Soviet years and wishes that the good sides of the Soviet times were present in current Armenia as well. She mostly recalls the good aspects of Soviet Armenia as she believes they were many and definitely more than the negatives ones.

She recalls Soviet Armenia is very different from current Armenia in so many aspects. Back in the time, there was no internet for them to see the outside world, and she believes that the censorship of information during Soviet times and the closed world they lived in was not good for them in any way. However, she indeed reminisces about the life she lived with her family during those times and does not see major many flaws in the Soviet system. Moreover, she is not fully supportive of the current state of Armenia, but hopes for possible changes in the country by the current President, Mr. Armenia Sarkisian, and current Prime Minister Mr. Nikol Pahniyan. Namely, she believes that they are different from the previous leaders of Armenia, and are less likely to steal the resources of the country. It was interesting how Ms. Nelly considers herself a simple woman who is far away from the political atmosphere of the country. Back in the Soviet times, she did not complain or think about Soviet control over freedom of expression. Today, she is also not concerned about freedom of expression as she trusts the current leaders and believes that there is no need to go to the streets and protest for economic or social causes.

Ms. Ghazaryan and her family were neutral when it comes to their support of the Soviet system. “It was what we had back then, and we had to abide by it.”  She does not recall how the membership to Komsomol/Community Party began as she has not been a member of the Komsomol/Community Party but her father and her two older brothers have been. In her early ages, she was more of a family girl, not much interested in politics, and even after receiving her education she was more focused on her studies and was not much attentive to the political, economic or social developments happening in Soviet Armenia or the larger Soviet Union. Surprisingly, she also does not feel affected much by the Karabakh movement as she did not feel connected to those events. For her, those were more important for those who were politically active citizens. Moreover, Ms. Nelly thinks that for many Armenians, it was significant to become members of that community because that is how the Soviet regime guaranteed Armenians are people guided by the rules set forth by the Soviet Union. Namely, the membership was a form of tool for guaranteeing Soviet influence by the Soviet Union. 

Ms. Nelly particularly misses the robust discipline that was present during Soviet times, and which is very much missing in current Armenia. According to Ms. Nelly, people in Soviet Armenia were educated from an early age to behave well in all manners and aspects of life from wearing uniforms, obeying whatever teachers said, and had a better knowledge of the world around them. Nowadays, she thinks neither the general quality of education is high nor teachers are as good as Soviet teachers in all aspects. She truly reminisces about her teachers in Gyumri, who served as role models for her. On the other hand, she believes that current Armenia is much more developed in every aspect and is more open to the world, but still there are important missing elements, such as discipline. 

It is also worth noting that Ms. Nelly does not feel a victim of the Soviet rule and praises its good aspects, which are absent in current Armenia. Unfortunately, she believes there are more “thieves” today in Armenia than loyal and trustworthy citizens. She complains about not being able to work by her educational degree. She notes how she was rejected several times and asked to pay a large sum of money to hospitals or physicians to be able to work in the medical field in Armenia. Namely, today she struggles to change her job or work in the area of her specialty and does not have an option but works as a cook. Furthermore, she indeed misses the welfare they experienced during Soviet times and is disappointed with the current wages and well-being of older people. “If I have enough money, I would prefer living in another country, but I don’t have it, so I have to be happy with what is there in Armenia,” she says. 

Ms. Ghazaryan does not have any family experiences with the Stalinist exterminations, repressions, concentration camps but was taught that Stalin himself was well-known for being too strict. In current Armenia, Ms. Nelly does not like the fact that ‘money speaks everywhere louder than anything else,’ as everyone is more driven by their interests rather than thinking about the general good of everyone from politicians to school principals, physicians, and so on. “During Soviet times, we had to obey the rules of the Soviet system and go to work in factories, earn decent money to cover all living expenses, and be happy with what we had.”, she notes. Now she believes people have the opportunity to establish all kinds of business entities in Armenia but again money is taking the lead, and people are more prone to steal from one another instead of landing a helping hand to others. During the Soviet years, she was not working, studying. However, she does not recall any downsides of working in the Soviet Union as she believes everyone was earning much more than today, and socially they were more secured back then. Her father, an editor of a local newspaper, was always satisfied it what he brought home and did not think about going against the system, and that is how she was raised in her family to agree with circumstances and stay humble. 

When it comes to traveling, she reminisces fondly the days when she traveled to different parts of the Soviet Union with her family for recreational or educational purposes. She has been to different cities in Soviet Russia, Georgia and even Azerbaijan. She also does not think that it was impossible to travel outside the Soviet Union if one had enough money to cover the expenses. Moreover, she thinks it was easier to travel during those times than today as she struggles to earn more without being able to work with her educational degree. Besides, she praises her parents for providing them with a home and everything they needed from those times, which helped them to cope with life starting from the times when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The interviewee was quite objective in her evaluation of the Soviet Union with all its pitfalls and advantages. Her interview testifies how the Soviet Union was more caring about the social wellbeing of its people all over the Soviet Union by providing them all that was needed to lead a good life and was ready to do so compared to current Armenia. Namely, many people from the older generation in Armenia, who are vibrant testaments of the Soviet times, still struggle to find their places today in Armenia as the country is still not ready to support and guarantee their social and economic wellbeing. As such, this, in turn, demonstrates that the government has to develop better policies or make amendments to the existing ones aimed at solving this policy issue. However, the current government, to a certain degree, it does have the trust of the people of all generations when it comes to making positive changes in the country when it comes to social and economic improvements. The interview also showed how Soviet Armenia was not negative in all its aspects but was merely different when it came to the ideology and system it dictated upon its people.