Finding our Own Identity

Finding our own identity

Interview with Piruza Khachatryan (my mother)


This interview consists of recollections about Soviet Armenia’s political and social layers.  The interviewee Piruza Khachatryan remembers her youth years in Soviet Armenia, which were full of hope, but mostly full of fear and despairing memories. This interview represents the Soviet era from the point of the 90’s generation.


-What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking about Soviet Union and those years?
-Well. Let me show you something. Can you guess what this is?

-A lottery? Maybe an ancient calendar or something?
-This is a coupon for bread. We used to get bread by this piece of paper. But it was after 1991, after the independence. Before that we had coupons for coffee, meat, butter etc. It’s not that the life was poor and we suffered. No. We were living quite well, but just like robots, like machines. 

-What do you mean just like robots? You were not free and had to obey?
-It was like a cage to me. Well, imagine a parrot living in a small cage. You may feed him with the best food: fruits, raisins, creating the best atmosphere for him and etc. As soon as one day you leave the door of the cage open he’ll escape. And that is natural. Nobody wants to be in a cage.
-Now without metaphors. You mean it was a dictatorship?

-You tell me. Once when I was on grade 5, I and my classmates decided to escape the classes and go to the cinema. We thought that was a good idea and would be lots of fun. But after 15 minutes the doors of the hall opened and the guys of “Komsomol” entered. As a punishment for the “crime” our whole class was sent to “Kolkhoz” to gather potatoes next week. A week later we were forced to wander along the city and gather used paper for so called “makulatura”. Was that fun? No!
-What if you oppose to obey? I mean, were people afraid to talk, to disagree with something, to say that they are not satisfied with the government?

– You would appear in Siberia if you dare to disagree.
-So even as a kid you realized that it was a dictatorship.
-I did, but not everyone thought it was bad. During those years we were told that Soviet Union was our motherland. We had no idea of politics. We thought that Moscow was our capital and not Yerevan. Sounds strange, huh? We had a neighbor who hated the Soviet and anytime he saw an article in a newspaper about Stalin or Lenin he spited on it and threw away. And once another neighbor noticed that Gurgen papik was spitting on Lenin’s picture, he immediately reported and Gurgen papik was sent to Siberia for 10 years. It was a very common thing back those years. You had to keep silent and keep your thoughts away from public. 
-In the Soviet Union you were not able to find self-published books in the bookstores. They were banned. Have you ever read books of Armenian dissidents? 
-Hayrikyan was my favorite. I really loved and believed him. He was one of those people who really wanted freedom from Soviet and he fought for it. But you know how he ended up.

-When did you realize that Soviet Union was going to collapse and you needed independence? I mean, when you realized that Armenia is our capital and not Moscow. What was the turning point?
-1988’s. When the “Karabakh movement” started, for the first time in our schools we were told about Karabakh and our own country. Only then I realized that my motherland is only Armenia and not the whole Soviet Union and its states. Strikes and rallies began. I remember how my mom took me to those rallies. There was a good vibe in the air. We didn’t know what we wanted but there was something. 1988 made us realize that we are separate from Soviet Union and we need freedom. Even after the collapse of the Soviet when there was no electricity, people were saying that we’d better have no electricity than live under the control of Soviet force. 

-But do you want to go back to those years? Was there something that you miss?
-Well. When I was a kid we were free to travel around the Soviet states. That was cheap and everyone who had a job could do this. You could’ve gone to Baku to buy a new jewel and come back. We used to visit Moscow very often. I remember when my mom took me to “Detsky Mir” to buy some new clothes. Everyone had jobs at that time and there was no poverty.
-So you miss that!
-Maybe I do, but only some little things. Your granny will say that Soviet was good and she lived a rich life. But at that time we weren’t a separate country. We were just a little part of a big system. If you ask the same questions to her she’d say that those years were good for everyone and people were happy. But they live a life of a robot. They got up in the morning, went to work, came home, visited a restaurant once a month, had their holidays in Baltic once a year and lived a normal life.
-So, why not to have a life like that. Isn’t that all people want?
-We had no identity. Period.
-Ok, last question. Are you happy now?
-Do you know what we were yelling during the rallies? We were screaming “Karabakh is ours”. And it IS ours.
-Why in such a pathetic manner?
-Because you can never imagine what it was to not have an identity. 

This interview leads to the following conclusions: The Soviet era has left a huge impact on people who lived under that dictatorship, but the dream of having an independent country was the driving force which led to the large-scale movement in 1988. 

  1.  Political youth organization in the Soviet Union.

  2.  A form of collective farm in the Soviet Union.

  3.  The convicts were sent to the underpopulated areas of Siberia.

  4.  A mass nationalist movement in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh from 1988 to 1992.

  5.  Russian children’s retailer founded in 1957.