In those years the “Karabakh” Committee was the main tool of people’s direct power and direct democracy.

Rima Grigoryan talked to Grizelda Ghazaryan, a member of the “Union” NGO initiative  group. 

Until 1988, what were the moods in the Armenian society regarding  the national-political issues, in particular, Karabakh, Nakhichevan and Genocide. Did  you participate in the fermentations  before  1988? 

Although Rafayel was actively participating in the ecological movements in 1987, we didn’t know anything about the discussions and internal fermentations related to the beginning of the Movement in 1988.

However, the problems concerning Karabakh, the  Genocide and even Nakhichevanwere among  the vital topics  discussed in our family and around us. Despite 70 years of Soviet propaganda about the friendship between nations, and the long-standing silence of Genocide, in both of our families   the talks on the “forbidden topics” have not stopped. For example, my grandmother told us about the Artashat migration, the years following the Genocide, Njdeh, whose main bodyguard was his brother Vasak.  And Rafayel’s father, Avetis, was Andranik’s soldier from 1914 to 1919 and took part  in all the battles.

In 1965, Rafayel was an active participant in the preparations  for the 50th anniversary of  the Genocide,  he was the one, who translated the letter, sent to Moscow, took part in the signature collection of intellectuals before April 24, and after that he participated in the meetings with the authorities of the Armenian SSR with Paruyr Sevak and others. On April 24, entering his auditorium, he announced  “Today is not a lecture  day, whoever is Armenian will come after me!”. Saying this, he went out, and the students followed him. They still remember that episode. In the pockets they had leaflets inviting people to demonstrations which they were pinning to the walls during previous nights. He described all of this in his  book “I am Responsible, published in 2003.  

The National Wave, as usual, was followed by persecutions against  the activists. And Rafayel appeared on  the Soviet traditional “Black List” too. As a  result, he  was not allowed to travel to  any foreign conference or business trips from 1969 to 1989, his postgraduate students were going, he wasn’t.  They explained it by saying that being a member of the USSR Special Committee on Radiophysics, he could not go abroad because he possessed secret information. Personally, he didn’t know what secret information he possessed for so many years.  His membership was limited to attending committee meetings in Moscow once a year, during which nothing was heard from the world. Years later, I heard the interview of a Nobel Prize winner, director of the Sakharov Institute, Ginzburg, and it turned out that he was also not allowed to leave the country for the same reason. 

And how did you get involved  in the 1988 Movement and  was the beginning of the Movement unexpected?

The beginning of the Movement was really unexpected, because we did not participate in the internal fermentation. Rafayel didn’t return home since the start of the Movement. He was at the meetings, discussions, and rallies all day and night. The rallies of 88 began at the end of February. Rafayel came back from the business trip on 22th and the  next morning, he immediately went to the rally. He  returned very excited in the evening  and said  that although there was a lot of emotional talk, there was a practical talk too.

He had also asked for a word and spoken Russian, so that they wouldn’t misinterpret it. On that day, Dolgix and Lukyanov arrived from Moscow, and the people coming  from the Freedom Square,gathered in front of the Central Committee building, that’s currently,the National Assembly building. Unfortunately, his words haven’t been videotaped.  But the idea of the speech was that the Armenian people must correct the historical injustice committed against them, which was done by the Bolsheviks, who took advantage of the weakness of Armenia and will stand for it till the end. 

During the Movement the demand  for independence was also raised. How  do you think the society perceived it and what changes did that  perception undergo in the future ?

In 1988, the Committee tried to suppress the issue of independence, because it understood that the escalation of the demands would turn against them, while the task  was to legally resolve the issue of reunification of Karabakh and Armenia with the opportunities provided by the Soviet Constitution. And that had to be done step by step. A far-sighted and analytical group was gathered, which clearly understood what independence was, what risks might arise, and so on. Later, with the changes of the situation in the Union, the possibilities of independence rose, the Committee took advantage of that just on time, and the new Supreme Council adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1991.

And how the people perceived the idea of independence, showed the referendum, the results of which do not leave room for misreading. The reason for it also was the disgust towards the Soviet  System. Another thing is, that later, during the hard days of the Karabakh War, our people, who did not shed blood for it, underestimated the value of the gift given to us. Maybe the reason was that they wanted to be independent, but at the same time they didn’t imagine what could  happen in the future. It seemed to us that we would fight, shout, and Karabakh would  be given  back to us without war. After all, it seemed that the world could  not remain  indifferent to our pain. The excitement was big and the feeling of danger was small. Who would have imagined, that there would be Sumgait in the Soviet Union, that the Genocide would be repeated in Baku and Kirovabad, that after the earthquake, our neighboring country would rob the coming aid, and that the Central government would not be capable or willing to do anything about it, that there would be a four-year war and blockade. Let me draw a parallel, The Great Patriotic war lasted 4 years, so did Karabakh war. After the Patriotic War, the Victory day was not celebrated for 20 years, since his pain was deep. And we, the contemporaries of those deprivations and losses , still remember that pain. Meanwhile the society of t Independent Armenia, having  also suffered great losses during  the war, didn’t perceive the collective responsibility of the war. It was here that the other side of gaining independence without blood was seen. Not having fought for it, they didn’t understand its exceptional importance for Armenians’ future and the whole burden of everyone’s individual responsibility of putting Independence on a  stable footing. And the majority of them escaped from that responsibility preferring to humiliate  even the  independence itself.

The collapse of the USSR, the turmoil caused by the war, and the economic hardships drew the public attention to themselves, as a result of which the historical achievements, such as the liberation of a part of the homeland, the inviolability of the borders, etc.,  remained  ignored, even devalued. Moreover, even in the minds of the majority of people, the possible scenario that the war could  leave us homeless is still missing.

You called the “Karabakh” Committee a very farsighted group. Have you ever been present at the discussions of the Committee? How were  the  decisions made?

In the beginning I indirectly attended the  meetings once or twice. The meetings were usually closed. They were listening to each other carefully, then bringing all the ideas together and so on. They could argue for days, but if they reached a consensus, there would be no further discussion on it. As life has shown, collective thinking always makes right decisions. The Central Committee was not a subject, in essence, there was no governance, the people were sovereign and inspired. Therefore, in those years, the “Karabakh” Committee was the main tool of people’s direct power and democracy.

One thing is clear, the responsibility and tension associated with it were very high, extremely high within the committee. Rafayel could sometimes come and say “that’s it, I won’t go again”. But in the morning, he would get up and go, saying “I need to go so that those rabid dogs don’t do anything foolish”. This was an inner joke. He was the oldest, at the age of everyone’s father. He was respected and loved by everyone. I felt it by everyone. 

Let’s talk about society-Movement relations. A significant part of the  society took part in the 1988 Movement, but from the perspective of the years it may seem that the whole society was united. How was it really ? Which layers were actively involved  during the Movement? Which ones were more passive, carefull, and which ones had a hostile attitude? 

It’s undeniable that in the 1988 Movement there was a great unity and accumulated energy. It really had to be lived, seen. After many years of ups and downs, in 2008, the active mass of which was mainly the people of the same 88 (and the opponents were majorly the former communist nomenclature, who didn’t accept 88, and its’ current  descendants), one of our boys, Gurgen Boyajyan, who died prematurely, said  “It is surprising, I was always thinking how to explain to my son what a Movement we have seen, what unity! God heard my words, gave 2008, and I don’t  need to tell him about the Movement. Lately, he came, and proudly said, that he was the platform controller.”

You really had to live the Movement. I think, for those who have seen it, these years were the happiest in their lives. The atmosphere of national excitement has fraternized and benefited many. People were not strangers anymore, everyone had stood up for a common goal, and what is the most important thing, they realized the importance of that goal and the need for their own  participation in them. The youth was too active. In the Soviet country, it was surprising how the young generation of university students approached the  national issues more consciously, than the Stalinist generation, called  to educate them.

That unity of the people was really interesting, but it  can’t be said that the whole population of Yerevan or the regions participated. For example, people from Aparan came to the rally on foot while the people of Ashtarak were passive. One morning, they woke up and saw the city square in-fill grass. The people from Aparan had brought it and sprinkled it, hunting them to graze until they came back. The villages of Artashat were distributing  fresh bread to those who had come on foot all the way from Yeghegnadzor to Yerevan. Like today’s active mass, people from regions were coming on foot.  Yezidies from Aparan, Yeghegnadzor and Azibekov were coming by horses.

There was one difference: in the initial stage  of the movement, the police didn’t hinder it, which is not the case  today.

The excitement was so big, that one day, a note came to the platform, in which it was said that the thieves of Yerevan were joining the Movement declaring. ”There will be no thefts in Yerevan, but those who will not go  to the rally will have  their houses robbed”. There were no thefts in the country for two years. It was another uplift. On the 20th of the month, Igor Muradyan looking at the huge crowd gathered there, said “No, it’s not Karabakh, it is resentment”. And indeed it was. All the anger that had accumulated among the people during 70 years, poured out.

People were self-organizing everywhere. Every region, every institution had its “Karabakh Committee”. But they were opposed by the party nomenclature of the same regions and their servants.

In other words, there can be no questions about the unification of people. At the rallies one could see the army of those wandering on the pavements just like today, who never joined anything. So, there was a split in the society. Simply, there were too many people involved in both sides.

Now, when I go to rallies and see people walking calmly and quietly on the pavements, I experience the same rebellion as in 88. At that time, for example, a few people from our Physical Research Institute were coming to the rallies. Many people were against the Karabakh Movement. Many of them didn’t care, and still  don’t forgive themselves  for their smallness. They are ready to throw mud at everything for their self-justification. The debt committee of our institute didn’t even know where Karabakh was situated on the map.  There were people, who were from Karabakh by origin, just like the leadership of the institute, they were fiercely opposed to the Movement and did everything possible to hinder it, even by intimidating  active workers and  dismissing them. Many of them later made a smooth and convenient transition to appropriate head positions, received various medals and adopted the same approach during all the future riots and oppositional Movements. They learned this lesson well in life.

Unlike these people, Rafayel got only one medal during Armenia’s independence,from the leadership of the Republic of Karabakh. He and Igor Muradyan were awarded with “Mkhitar Gosh” medals. And Rafayel then told reporters that he could not help but accept the medal because he had earned it with his life, but added that it was in fact the medal of the whole “Karabakh” Committee.

In fact, the majority of the intellectuals were against the movement. How was their attitude and position expressed?

In 1989, during one of the rallies, I told a story, which, later, became popular. One night, Rafayel woke me up and said “I understood that our nation is in this situation, because  the word “intellectual” is misspelled, it must be written with the hard R. the traitors of our nation are our intellectuals”. And I saw it very clearly. In the first days of the Karabakh movement, I was continuously asking him “what does the Academy of Science do? “ One day, he turned around and said “What do you want from those poor people?”

And really, I saw their faces later, when we were collecting signatures to change the restraint measure of the arrested members of the “Karabakh” Committee., Different people were collecting signatures from the intellectuals, but I was the one collecting signatures from the academicians. I was going to their offices and houses, and each time I was shocked. I had to explain to the academicians what the Karabakh Movement means, who the members of Karabakh Committee are, and why those signatures are needed? The thing is that in order to justify not signing they could for example, say, that they don’t know the “Karabakh” Committee even in 89, in response to which, I was telling them, that in his speech Sakharov said, that he didn’t know the members of the Committee, except for Rafayel Ghazaryan, and by knowing that one person, he was of the opinion that “Karabakh” Committee must be released immediately.

After the release of the “Karabakh” Committee, new times began, with new leitmotiv. Rafayel was told  “You are a good person, what were you doing next to them? To which he was counting with his own humor “I didn’t see you when I went up to  the platform, I stood next to those who were with the people.”

Were there many people who didn’t sign?

Some were signing with difficulty, some weren’t signing at all. The 37 had passed, but its generation didn’t shake the subservience off. The historians showed the worst behaviour. One day, I was informed  that there was a meeting of the department of the historians at the Academy, and if I went, I would meet them all at once. I went in and presented  them what I had come for. Hearing that, Mkrtich Nersisyan started shouting and then muttered about the content of the letter. I had to say to them that, unfortunately, our level was that high, but he could create his own, and  I would collect signatures again. I couldn’t help myself and said:  “Enough for you to walk behind the history, maybe  you could  walk in front of it at least once”.

Among the signatories were Lendrush Khurshudyan and Gagik Sargsyan, the head of the department. Let me remind you, that there were 4 historians in the Committee.

Was the Academy hindering the collection of the signatures and was the  activity being suppressed at all?

First of all, let me tell you that entering the Academy was already a big difficulty. The Police didn’t allow it. If someone was helping to go in, he/she was definitely having a problem, at the level of argument or reprimand. This happened to David Sedrakyan (the Academy’s secretary of science), and Viktor Fanarjyan (the vice president of the Academy), for helping me to pass the checkpoint. Viktor Hambardzumyan’s secretary, Hovik, was shouting at them. Can  you imagine?

When the Committee was arrested I was working part time at the Institute for Physical Research, because I had 2 little children. They called my boss and asked him to order me to come only in the morning, so that I couldn’t meet the academicians. My boss called me to give  me that instruction, and I suggested him to just fire me. They didn’t fire me, but I have to say that Rafayel Ghazaryan was the only member from the “Karabakh” Committee, whose salary stayed in the state fund. If the bosses of other members gave their salaries to their families, the boss of my husband didn’t. For comparison, let me say that even in 37 many academicians were transferring money to the families of the arrested academicians.

They were trying to put pressure on the participants of the signature collection. They were calling them and warning, that if they continued, they would be fired from job. Some from our institute were reprimanded, and some were  fired. It was not easy. The same thing happened  in the Institute of Radiophysics and Electronics,  the president of which was Radik Martirosyan.

The atmosphere in our institute was very heavy. As I have already mentioned, the director  Mikayel Ter-Mikayelyan had banned collecting signatures, by declaring that Ghazaryans’ arrest was not the problem of the institute and  Ghazaryan was involved in the case by his wife. After that, the only member of the Academic Council who had signed the petition, withdrew his signature. All I could do was to advise everyone in turn  to put the question of my scientific divorce for saving their  scientist friend. One of them replied to me with a guilty look, “We are not as brave as you to fight.” And that was all. Life goes on, these people live that way, discussing “the famous speech” of Gorbachov, on the way to Yerevan Institute for Physical Research from time to time. 

How did the behaviour of those same intellectuals change after the “Karabakh” Committee came to power?

“The Elbow Era” and the stage of conquering  a sunny place in the jungles began. Naturally, previous positions were forgotten. During the 96 election, Rafayel and I  had to oversee  the work of the election commissions in Ashtarak. I saw the vice president of our institute in the polling station of our institute. Suddenly, it turned out that he was a proxy too, but of course, of the current government. That is why, addressing the intellectuals from the Freedom Square in 2008, I told them what I had seen, that in case of victory, they would come again and  by pushing us  would stand next to Levon, just like after 88.

After the movement they started to enjoy it. The communist nomenclature succeeded in the task of adaptation and after 98 it went straight into revenge bringing back what it had lost and criticizing everything bright of 88 in the course of all possible means. This, in turn seriously distorted peoples’ perceptions about the movement and many already imagine the Movement with the words and stereotypes  of those people.

Are there any special memories that are characteristic of those days?

When I was collecting signatures in 89, academician Edvard Atayan signed and said  that he was a supporter  of our movement. After talking for a while, he gave me an envelope, saying that he was aware  that Rafayel wasn’t being paid. He was the only academician who offered  me money, came after me with crutches and forced me to take it.  This was the most exciting moment during the whole petition.

The people were collecting money for the Movement. Later, the first sum of money for weapons the Committee received  was from Rafayel Ghazaryan’s  friends from Canada.

About the visit

Among the wives of the arrested members of the “Karabakh” Committee, I was the only one, who was allowed to meet my  husband. At the conference held in April, Gorbachov delivered  a long speech, in which he said that they had been cut off from the people and must go to the people. The next day, the secretaries of the Regional Committee began “to go to the people ” and walk around. I saw the secretary of the Central Committee Lobov accidentally at the doors of the university . I introduced myself and asked him to accept me, and he accepted. After 2 hours of talking and mutual accusations he asked me what I wanted from him. I said  I wanted to meet my husband to tell him not to worry about the children.Two weeks later, I was told that Lobov asked not to tell anyone and that he had used his personal acquaintances for giving me an opportunity to meet my husband. After the Starovoytoy’s election campaign and elections, I left for Moscow. “Kharabakh ” Committee members Samson Ghazaryan’s brother, Samvel Gevorgyan’s brother, Ashot Manucharyan’s sister Khachik Stamboltsyan’s wife and Igor Muradyan’s girlfriend were standing in front of the Butiryan prison. It was the end of the day. They let us in with great difficulty. I was told that I should be well groomed and trimmed that day for he would get excited and lose the ability to speak when he sees me, and then  he would analyze every word he heard. He was brought being hold under his armpits. He was walking hardly. I was speaking quickly, but when he was taken away, I began to cry. The guards took me out. I kept crying. 

Those standing outside, were eating the parcel I had brought and the honey cookies made by Hambardzum Galstyan’s mother’s recipe. They didn’t take the parcel, as Rafayel’s brother Vazgen had already brought a parcel the day before   not knowing that I would come. One parcel (3 kg) and 10 rubles were allowed per month. In Butir prison food was  only 37 kopecks a day  and in Matrosskaya Tishina, it was 68 kopecks. Later, those who were in Matrosskaya Tishina were mocking the ones from  Butir prison, by boasting about their “elite” lifestyle.

When Rafayel was in prison, I felt he was sick. Then, it turned out that he had a microinfarct and no one approached him or provided medical assistance.

After the meeting, I gave an interview to a few radio stations. We met Starovoitova, Sakharov and Yeltsin in the morning and went to the Prosecutor’s Office, to Titov. The doctor of the hospital was in confusion. After that, he visited Rafayel. He told Rafayel that he  had wanted to see him for a long time . To which Rafayel answered that he hadn’t left the area and had been  waiting for him in the same room for 3 months.

About Hambardzum Galstyan

My meeting with Hamardzum Galstyan was interesting. In the autumn of 1988, the Turks were all leaving peacefully, taking with them what they had loaded  on the agricultural machinery and the money they had taken out of the cash registers. One of the citizens got to learn who I was and told me that one of his turkish neighbours had taken  his money out of the bank and had left. He was upset by the plight of our compatriots, who were fleeing Azerbaijan. At that moment, I saw Hambardzum Galstyan, and told him all I had heard. He answered “They are turks and behave like turks. Do you want us to act like them?”. Hambardzum had also told the Turks that we would not deport  them, but if they wanted to leave, they could peacefully take everything they had  and then leave. 

Source: archive of website

Translator: Lianna Sargsyan