A Conversation with My Father

Source of the picture: Mediamax

Student: Davit Grigoryan


This interview takes place on the 5th of September 2020. This interview is conducted remotely, from Yerevan to Istanbul. The interviewee, born in July of 1968 in Yerevan, Armenia, has requested to remain anonymous.

The aim of this conversation is to get an insight on life during the Soviet era. To discuss how the repressive and invasive policies of the USSR affected the everyday life of its citizens. 


    1. Were you a member of the Komsomol/Communist Party? Can you recall how the membership began and why it was significant to become a party member?

      – Although I wasn’t a member of the party, I was a member of the Komsomol Union. We were admitted to the Union from school, we were 15-16 years old. We were given the charter of the party to learn it and after a few days we were brought in to test our knowledge of the charter.

  • Are there any family experiences with the Stalinist exterminations, repressions, concentration camps?

    – No. But my grandfather from my father’s side, died of a heart attack when he heard on the radio that Stalin had passed. That is a good representation of how connected people felt with Stalin. 
  1. What was it like to live in Soviet Armenia?
  • For me they were good times, my childhood and youth were during the Soviet Era. And those are the happiest years of anyone’s life.
  1. What was your experience with the Soviet control over individuals/freedom of expressions?

    – Before the Karabakh movement, it was practically impossible to publicly voice your opinions and concerns. The Karabakh Movement gave the people a chance to speak up. 
  2. What are your memories of serving in the Soviet Army? Did you encounter any discrimination?

    – I served for two years from 1986-1988 in Siberia. I learned a lot and made lasting friendships, that continue up to this day. There was tension between the serving Armenians and Azerbaijanis, but I did not face discrimination from the military authorities. 
  3. 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?

– I wasn’t employed during the Soviet Era. 

  1. Did you support the Soviet system? Explain the answer.

– At the time, I was young and information was limited, so it was hard for me to shape an educated opinion. 

  1. Did you feel victims of the Soviet system? Explain the answer.

– I felt that there were lost opportunities, like politicized and limited education, but I never felt as a victim of the SU. 


  1. Have you traveled outside of the SU? If yes, can you recall how the system worked for letting you out of the country?

– I remember, during my youth me and my mother were planning to go on a trip to Bulgaria. My mother was busy with the paperwork for months, papers that verify  your working, studying and living status and credibility, a process which took months. After going through all the corresponding institutions, we were last minute denied the opportunity to leave the SU. It was a socially uncomfortable situation, because you are denied the opportunity without further comments, so every institution that you were involved in starts to question you and your background. There even was this saying going around- “Курица не птица, Болгариа не заграница.”  


  1. If they traveled outside of the SU, have their opinions of the SU changed?
  • As I said, traveling was strictly controlled, I can give you another example of how strictly monitored it actually was. During my military service, after six months my military unit was supposed to transferred to the German Democratic Republic, but since I had distant relatives in “a capitalistic country – United States” I wasn’t transferred.

  1. If they lived through the 1970s and 80s, what were the 5 key turning points in Armenia’s social and political life that they remember best?
  • 1973 Ararat FC, became champion of the USSR football championship. 1980 Moscow Olympics, part of which was supposed to take place in Armenia, but ultimately did not. The rise of the Karabakh Movement in 1986. “Perestroika” & “Glasnost” and its impact on Armenia. For the first time “Glasnost” allowed for more public voicing of the Karabakh Issue. I also want to stress the importance of the 1988 earthquake. The “effects” of the earthquake were felt outside of  Armenia. For the first time international rescue services arrived in the USSR and for the first time United Nations made an appearance in USSR.

    Myself and a few of my friends went to help as volunteers, but after the French Rescue Services arrived on the third day, we decided to head back, in order not to hinder their work. Based on the experience gained from this devastating earthquake, in 1991 the National Seismic Defense Service (Սեյսմիկ պաշտպանության ազգային ծառայություն.) and Emergency Situations Committee, which throughout the years evolved into todays Ministry of Emergency Situations were formed.  
  1. What is your recollection of the Karabakh movement?

– Karabakh Movement was the first movement that raised the issue of national liberation and national self-determination. I think the emergence of the Karabakh movement played a role in inspiring other movements in Soviet countries, like the movement in the Baltic states.    

  1. What was it like to see the collapse of the SU?
  • For me it wasn’t unexpected, between 1986-1991, throughout those five years there was an increasing feeling that the existing economic and political structure is becoming increasingly unstable. After the collapse, a new generation of ideas started to emerge. Ideas like self determination and freedom of speech. But there were also more practical issues arising, for example throughout 1992-1994 there was no electricity, heating or water in Armenia.


To conclude, life during the Soviet Era was strictly controlled by the Communist Party. A lot of aspects of life, such as education and travel were highly politicized and strictly monitored. Ultimately, the outdated policies, political and economic structures put forth by the USSR could not withstand the test of time, and gave way to new ideas and policies. The emergence of the Karabakh movement was an integral part in the development of Armenia’s national identity and self preservation. Not only did the Karabakh movement spawn similar movements in other Soviet states, but also was highly important in the emergence of free speech in Armenia. While the devastating earthquake of 1988 ushered in the attention of the international community and resulted in the formation of important local institutions.