Remembering the Soviet Union

Student: Meline Hayrapetyan



I interviewed her mother, born in 1968 in Shirak region, Armenian SSR. Now she is an English language teacher. Her ancestors were from Van and Kars cities in Western Armenia. They came to Eastern Armenia in 1895 and settled in the village of Lusakert.


Komsomol/ Communist Party membership. How it began and why it was significant to become a party member.


“During my school years, I was a member of Komsomol for a long time, even after graduation. Membership was not explicitly mandatory, but it was required to join the Komsomol. There were very few people who did not join, mostly those who had bad behaviour and did not study well in school. After graduating from the school, I became the event-organizer of the school («ջոկատավար»), and so I continued to be a member of the Komsomol”, she said. She noted that significant issues were discussed during those years. For example, she solved the problem of paper waste, on her initiative the school organized fundraising for the Sevan Relief Fund (the Arpa-Sevan tunnel was built in those years). However, she did not manage to become a party member, “The Karabakh movement started” (laughed).


My mother said that her father, being the “Kolkhoz” chief accountant, never joined the Communist Party, unlike his colleagues. “My father was a man with principles, he worked there for many years, but he never became the president, just because he did not want to become a party member.” Grandfather always said: “This is not a country; it will collapse. It is full of falsifications.” He brought an example. “They keep 1,000 cows, report 500 and exceed the plans.”


Family experience with the Stalinist exterminations, repressions and concentration camps. 


My mother said that her ancestors were the village mayors (in old times, they were called “kyokhvas” (քյոխվաներ)) even before the Sovietization of Armenia. They were wealthy people. During the years of dekulakization, they were deprived of their property, but under interesting circumstances were not exiled, and the family was not physically harmed. On the contrary, her grandfather was appointed chairman of the “Kolkhoz” shortly after that. Having to join the Communist Party, he refrained from resorting to violence. According to my mother, he was a fantastic person. He was a rigorous man with strict discipline, and law-abidingness did not allow a wheat grain in his house. 


Living in Soviet Armenia


My mother said that she spent some of her youth years during Soviet times, from which she has fond memories: “We did not have a thing to worry about. We did not have communal problems. My mother and father being ordinary workers were able to ensure our happy childhood and solve all the family problems.” During her student years, she received a scholarship and studied for free. She mentioned the quality of education. “At that time, children were getting a more thorough education,” she said. 


Experience with the Soviet control over individuals/freedom of expressions.


Mother said that there were no restrictions on freedom of speech at school, and everyone at the university was already talking about Karabakh (She started studying at the Brusov State Linguistic University in 1988). “The lecturers were also free to talk to the students about different topics”, she remembered. She noted the times were such – it was already set – what to think and what not to think. It never occurred to them that one could think not only of what officially suggested but also of other directions. 


Mother remembered a ridiculous episode from his communist grandfather. “The Voice of America” was banned. With great effort, her grandfather was able to catch the “Voice of America” ​​on the radio, from which he learned about world events. other says that he never wanted others to know that he “was listening to “The Voice of America”.” “He was afraid of the punishment of his party members,” she said. 


Mother remembered another episode from his childhood. Years ago, her ancestors brought a 16th-century’s Bible from Western Armenia, which they kept as a sacred relic. However, her grandfather, Arzuman Karapetyan, was threatened by communist colleagues and accused of “not being an atheist.” However, the mother says that the precious Bible has always been the covenant from the village and other surrounding areas. One thing was sure – The book had magic abilities.

Nevertheless, for fear that they would take the book from him and take revenge on him, her grandfather had to keep it in a hole in the ground and keep it for years. After all, according to my mother, the book informed in a dream that it was “sick”. They took it out of the hole and saw that the book was wet. The director of Matenadaran, Sen Arevshatyan, rushed to help to preserve the book. Through the latter’s active efforts, the book was restored and handed over to Arzuman Karapetyan. Even today, they treat the book with great reverence and faith, and there is still a shrine in the village called “Agha Pap”. 


The benefits and downsides of working in the Soviet system. 


Immediately after graduating from school, my mother started working at the school as an event-organizer. As for his parents, she remembered that, although their salary was not the highest, they could organize their vacations, go to different resorts, travel in the territory of the Soviet Union for a month, and so on. However, here, too, my mother remembered her father, my grandfather. He repeatedly mentioned that the Soviet government was corrupted, which led him to believe that the state did not have a long life. 


Support to the Soviet system.


My mother was not dissatisfied with the Soviet system. She had an opportunity to get free and quality education and managed to work immediately after finishing the school. She had no problems to worry about. “Everything seemed to be fine”, she said. 


Feeling a victim of the Soviet system.


No. My mother does not consider herself a victim. He got what she wanted. She was not under a suppression or any aggression during soviet years. 


Travelling outside of the Soviet Union. How the system worked for letting its citizens out of the country. 


My mother did not leave the Soviet. Instead, she mentioned that her mother and father travelled a lot, but in the territory of the Soviet Union. On the downside, she pointed out that it was not easy to leave the Soviet Union. She remembers that his father once decided to go to India, but he had so many obstacles to give up the idea.


Key turning points in Armenia’s social and political life from my mother’s eyes


My mother first remembered the 1988 Spitak Earthquake. “We were very close to the disaster zone, lost many relatives. It was a terrible time,” my mother recalled. She remembered the further construction of the Arpa-Sevan tunnel, the Gorbachev Perestroika, the Karabakh movement’s awakening, and the political turmoil. She also remembered the Sumgait and Baku massacres with a particular attitude. “It simply came to our notice then. “Maybe they gave a new impetus to the struggle for Karabakh, and it became more national for us”, she believed. 


 The recollection of the Karabakh movement.


“We have newly admitted students and waited impatiently to gather go to the square and participate in rallies. We were shouting “Miatsum, Miatsum!” We wanted Karabakh to join Armenia”, she said. My mother noted that their participation was under a flow of ideas and atmosphere. “We had no idea what was going on from the very beginning. Now I understand that we were just followers of the ideas”. However, as Armenians’ persecution and the massacre began in Azerbaijan, the motivation to participate increased even more. In those years, as she told, some many unpublished works and pieces began to be published. It was forbidden to talk about them before. “We got the unpublished works of Shiraz and other writers very hard just to read them.”


The collapse of the Soviet Union


My mother started to speak almost crying; “The collapse of the Soviet Union was a big shock to us. My father lost his job, had problems with health. 


What are we going to do, how will the future of Armenia continue? Is it possible to live without a great country? There were many questions to which we did not have an answer. Enormous financial difficulties arose. The savings in banks that our parents had accumulated over the years with high hopes were lost. The socio-economic situation of the population deteriorated. Nobody knew what waited for us after the end of the Soviet Union. 


The Karabakh war is another big question. The possibility that your husband, who was in the frontline, might not return from the war, could drive a person crazy”, told me Mother recalling her feelings and suffered hardships.