Exploring the Legacy of Soviet Armenia: Conversation with Mother

Student: Loran Ohanyan

Instructor: Vahram Ter-Matevosyan


Interviewee: Born on March 25, 1967, in Samtskhe-Javakheti, Georgia

Armenians have always been in foreign-deserted roads, exiled, suffering from the irony of fate but have always kept the spirit and courage to face up to these days. It is necessary to mention all the tangible memories that our ancestors went through from the Genocide to the Karabakh Movement. Was it unspeakably difficult for my mother and other compatriots to survive the economic or political crisis on the edge of USSR collapse and after independent Armenia? These opinions are informed by the considerations, the interview below will spell out in greater details. 

LO: 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?

AH: One of the wishes of every Soviet school child was to wear a red tie, which was painted in the color of the blood shed by the October Revolution fighters. The three ends of the tie symbolized the inseparable connection of the Communists, Komsomols and Young Pioneers. With this inspiration, my teenage years passed trying my best to be an exemplary Pioneer so that I could easily join the ranks of the Komsomol. For the latter I had to answer a special questionnaire, which I successfully overcame to become a Komsomol and with great enthusiasm I wore the badge depicting the great leader Lenin’s image. It truly became my inseparable friend before I finished school, maybe because I intended to join the Communist Party afterwards, which remained hung in the air․ 

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

AH: My grandfather was one of the victims of Stalin’s oppression, as my father told me. During World War II, he was taken prisoner in one of the camps of Nazi Germany. To save his life he had to lose the Communist handbook. Overcoming the difficult conditions of life, he returned to his homeland in 1947 and faced Stalin’s pressure, being exiled to Siberia, where he died.

LO։ What was it like to live in Soviet Armenia?

AH: First of all, let me start with the fact that I am from the province of Mush and partly from Van. While migrating to Georgia, my grandmother lost her father, mother, sister and the other sister went missing. After a few years, he met my grandfather in Poka village on the shores of Lake Paravani and they got married. Along with my first school steps, I got acquainted with the very true laws of the Soviet regime. Being from a pedagogue family (my father was the school principal, while my mother was a teacher of the Armenian language and literature) I was committed to being more balanced, free from any slips. Unlike the way of thinking and behavior of today’s society, I lived by the Soviet rule, which was to be an exemplary citizen, be guided by the motto “learn, learn, learn” in education, while in work – “give more, demand less”. This was partly the formal side, because in reality the illiterate were also being educated, the workers and the superior were robbing the factories. However, I can state that along with many negative aspects, there were also positive ones. I received free education, free medical care, as well as getting an apartment by the state. 

LO: Discuss your experience with the Soviet control over individuals/freedom of expressions.

AH: I can say that the restriction of my freedom of speech came from family and continued during my student years․ I was careful with my mentors and superiors in every word I said, which was a natural phenomenon being taken for granted. 

LO: 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?

AH: I am an engineer by profession, but due to the circumstances I worked at school as a mathematics teacher. It was really invaluable that the working day was limited to 8 hours, which had a very positive effect on me both psychologically and physically. My colleagues were more honest with each other, the communication was simple and humble, the schoolchildren were more restrained keeping the teacher-student border. And the bad thing was that I was not paid well enough to have a stable and carefree future․ 

LO: Did you support the Soviet system? Explain the answer.

AH: No, to be honest I was not a Soviet system supporter. It was due to the fact that the collapse years coincided with my graduation, marriage, and the birth of my child. It seems that I was mechanically left behind by the hustle and bustle of that period because to my busy schedule. Hence, what was to happen, happened and I accepted the reality that seemed to come from my heart.

LO: Did you feel a victim of the Soviet system? Explain the answer.

AH: I really did not feel like a victim of the system, because I did not even realize the real taste of freedom, being accustomed to that lifestyle from the day I was born.

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

AH: I had a great desire to visit countries of Eastern Bloc, such as the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Hungary, but I faced strict control both personally and financially, which was the reason for not leaving the country. Instead, I have been to other SU countries, such as Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus.

LO: If you traveled outside of the SU, have your opinions of the SU changed?

AH: As I have already mentioned, I have not been outside the Soviet Union, but I have been fortunate to know people who have been abroad, sharing their positive impressions of personal, moral and psychological freedom.
LO: If you lived through the 1970s and 80s, what were the 5 key turning points in Armenia’s social and political life that you remember the best?
AH: To begin with, I remember the victory of Ararat Football Club in 1973, Hrazdan Central Stadium, which won the Top League and Soviet Cup. Tons of people even walked to Yerevan to attend this extremely important event. Another significant point was the visit of the President and Prime Minister of India to Armenia in 1976, as well as Indir Gandhi’s meeting with the Catholicos of All Armenians, Vazgen l. In the post-war period, along with the population growth in Soviet Armenia, the issue of transportation became more relevant. Thus, began the construction of the Metro system, which has been in operation since 1981. Despite my youth and limited state information, I remember the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, including Armenian youth as well as my brother. In the end, I will mention an indelible tragic event in the life of all Armenians, the 1988 Spitak earthquake, which I unfortunately witnessed while in Gyumri (crying). 

LO: What is your recollection of the Karabakh movement?

AH: The beginning of the Karabakh Movement coincided with the fifth year of my studenthood. At first, I did not take it seriously and did not realize the seriousness of the moment. At times, we enjoyed taking time off from classes to attend demonstrations that were becoming more and more crowded. At that time, the Karabakh Committee was formed, the members of which were Levon Ter-Petrosyan, Vano Siradeghyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Ashot Manucharyan and others. Their initial goal was the unification of Karabakh and Armenia, as well as protection of co-nationals in the Oblast. Later, they expanded their list of aims, including the empowerment of economic and political systems, the issue of independence and many other points. 

LO: What was it like to see the collapse of the SU?

AH: Being a 23-24-year-old woman, growing up in a totalitarian regime, accustomed to a standard and state-dictated life, it is difficult to describe the feelings and feelings, disappointments and admiration I went through during the years of the Soviet Armenia collapse. However, I belong to the group of people who can concentrate and move at a moment’s notice in a short period of time. I started my personal activity with my husband to take care of my family’s needs and the day before I was inclined to think that the life in independent Armenia would be brighter.

LO: Did you have a carefree childhood in the Soviet system?

AH: Not so much, as I lost my father at an early age and my mother, being a teacher, received a low salary. I should also mention that at that time home training on a paid basis was prohibited.

LO: Why did you leave your homeland in 1993?

AH: I will not hide that it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life and I returned to Armenia only 5 years later, with the intention of not leaving anymore.

LO։ Were the expectations you had at the time of the SU collapse justified?

AH: I can say that 90% of them have become a reality due to my diligence, aspiration and unbreakable character typical of the Armenian nation.

LO: How would your life be if the Soviet Union did not collapse?

AH: I do not think it would be much worse than it is now, but it would be monotonous and uninteresting, like the life of any other Soviet citizen.

In a nutshell, I will not deny that this was an extremely meaningful yet gloomy interview, full of such historical twists that completely changed the course of the Armenian nation’s life. There are laws in history and politics that are not dependent on one’s wishes, which requires a course of development for that period. The secession of Armenia, establishment of statehood, motives for the Genocide, change of government, migration process, the collapse of the USSR and lots of other substantial events became more tangible for me.  A range of aspects shown above make it obvious that the mindset of the Soviet people and the way of life were very closed. These were the main reasons that stimulated its end and the beginning of our lives from a new page.