An interview with one of the organizers of the underground stage of the Artsakh movement, later the first Commander of the Artsakh Defense Army, Arkadi Karapetyan.
- Many years have passed. Perhaps it is time to lift the veil of secrecy a little. Tell us about the Ago-underground movement.
- We, young guys, often talked about the liberation of our homeland and the creation of a powerful Armenian state since we were in school. We found and read prohibited literature. And under the influence of all this, my friends and I created an underground cell in 1975. It was in Yerevan; I lived and studied in Yerevan at that time.
But it quickly fell apart since we were very young and did not clearly understand what to do… Then, after 3-4 years, we started forming our group again here, which included Ashot Gulyan (Bekor), Telman Babayan, Akop Bagmanyan, Karo, and others. We gathered facts about the oppression of Armenians and the deliberate destruction of historical monuments. We actively worked with the youth, with our peers.
We established connections with Yerevan. Akop Khachatryan and I kept in touch with Suren Ayvazyan, Sergey Shahverdyan with Zori Balayan. Here, locally, I maintained contact with all regional leaders. I also worked with, I’m not afraid of this word, our mentors, such as Edik Pogosyan (Prince), Kina Oganesyan.
At that time, our group members were: Ashot Sarkisyan, Ashot Gulyan (Bekor), Kamo Martirosyan, Akop Khachatryan, Samvel Petrosyan, Gennady Nersisyan, Vagram Ayrapetyan, Alexander Avetisyan, Vagram Arzumanyan, Levon Avanesyan, Sergey Shahverdyan, Serzh Arushanyan, Khristofor Khachatryan, Telman Babayan, Akop Bagmanyan, Serzhik Grigoryan, and I.
Later, a group of students from the institute joined us: Norik Danielyan, Felix Gabrielyan, Gaik from Vaguas, Ashot Arushanyan, Mger from Aterka, and others. Our ranks were growing slowly, but surely. A surge in our activity came in 1987 when we were actively collecting signatures.
Each member of the organization was responsible for a specific area: for example, Ashot Sarkisyan was responsible for the Condenser Plant, Khristofor Khachatryan for the SETZ, Ruslan Israelyan for the Republican Hospital, Serzh Arushanyan for the Polyclinic.
A rethinking of our activity occurred after the Crimean Tatars raised their issue, i.e., they went to Moscow, held a demonstration in Red Square, and even there one Tatar set himself on fire. This served as a strong impetus for us.
At every convenient opportunity, at various events, we raised our issue. We established connections with other groups – with Artur Mkrtchyan’s Hadrut group, Slavik Arushanyan’s Askeran group, Vigen Shirinyan’s Martakert group, Volodya Khachatryan’s Martuni group. In general, there were only a few groups.
- What were the main activities of the groups at that time?
- In 1987 we decided to unite all the groups. Thanks to our coordinated actions, we managed to send delegations to Moscow. If you look – the delegations consisted of representatives from all regions of the republic, and this was no accident. Before that, we managed to establish connections with our party leaders – with Vachagan Grigoryan and Genrikh Pogosyan.
After our delegation visited Moscow, our issue began to emerge from the underground, and we became more active. We established connections with enterprise directors – Roles Agadzhanyan, Pavlik Nadzharyan, Vladik Sarkisyan (Director of the Vocational School), and others.
We began to prepare intensively for the rally. And before that, we managed to send another delegation to Moscow – representatives of the intelligentsia – Gurgen Gabrielyan, Grachu Beglaryan, Zhanna Galstyan, and others. We agreed to hold the first rally on February 13th at 10:30. Meetings were held at all enterprises, where people expressed their desire to reunify with Armenia.
My home became the headquarters for leadership and coordination of the upcoming actions, where the protocols of the meetings and all the documentation were brought. On the morning of February 13th, I met Slavik Arushanyan, who said that everything was ready in Askeran and already about 400 people had gathered at “Pyatachok.” I told him that we would also come soon.
I quickly visited SETZ, the Condenser Plant, stopped by the institute, and told the guys that it was time, and arrived at the agricultural college. Everyone was already prepared here, and I stayed with them and went to the rally with them. You could say that the college students were the first to leave, followed by the institute. We all went up to “Pyatachok,” where the people from Askeran were already waiting.
We stood under the fir trees and waited for the others to catch up. While we were gathering, the party quickly reacted – Zaven Mushegovich and Armen Isagulov came down and told us to disperse. A certain confusion was felt among those gathered. I had the Constitution of the USSR in my hands, and I stepped forward and said, “Guys, don’t be afraid, we have the right to gather.”
And we organized and entered the square. Yes, I forgot to mention that I had previously entrusted the banners to Sergey Mirzoyan and told him to wait with his workers and rolled-up banners for my signal at the prosecutor’s office building. As soon as we entered the square, I gave the signal, and as agreed, they came to the square with the banners unfurled in an organized manner. In the square, we started waiting for the others to catch up.
Soon, workers from the SETZ and the Capacitor Factory, representatives from all districts of the region, arrived. And since everything happened very quickly and somewhat unexpectedly, I didn’t know how to start the rally. The situation was saved by Grigory Afanasyan, who was the first to take the podium, followed by Araksya, and then me. At the first rally, there were about 8,000 people.
- Why did you decide to hold the rally on February 13th?
- Baku was overtaken by events. The fact is that on February 11-12, party economic meetings were supposed to be held under the leadership of the Central Committee of Azerbaijan, at which documents condemning our Movement were to be adopted. Such party economic meetings were held in every district, but they failed miserably, i.e., they did not go according to the scenario planned in Baku.
In every district, people gathered under the windows during the party economic meeting, and this eventually led to rallies. Therefore, the first general meeting was postponed to the 13th.
After the rally, at night, I was called by B. Kevorkov. Edik Babayan came for me and said that Marat Musaelyan was summoning me. Marat and I went to Kevorkov. Kevorkov says, like, you organized the rally, don’t do it again.
I reply to him that I didn’t organize the rally. He says, don’t play the fool with me, I know everything perfectly well, you even had the banners ready. I answered: “Armenians are an inventive people. They prepared the banners right there, on the spot.”
He says that the Turks are just waiting for a reason to attack us and wipe Karabakh off the face of the earth. I got angry and said – well, you tell them – let them come. When we left the office, Marat said to me: “I’ve never seen Kevorkov like this. He seemed smaller.”
February 20th was the session. Generally speaking, I would like to note that the media does not always provide accurate information about the proceedings of the session. The reality is that we could not achieve a quorum for the session.
Many could not come because the roads were closed, but honor and praise to those who, despite everything, through mountains, forests, on foot, still made it. But there were also those who had to be convinced for a long time that our cause was just, that perestroika was underway, that there was nothing to fear so that they would participate in the session. Finally, after considerable efforts, a quorum was reached, and the session took place. We made a decision to reunite with Armenia, something we had dreamed of all our lives.
The Azeris responded with Sumgait. On February 28, realizing the need for a pan-Armenian organization to lead the Movement, the Karabakh committee was formed at a meeting of activists in Yerevan, in the House of Writers. Its members were Igor Muradyan, Vazgen Manukyan, Ashot Manucharyan, Ambartsum Galstyan, Gagik Safaryan, me, and the leaders of our regional organizations – Slavik Arushanyan, Vigen Shirinyan, Volodya Khachatryan, and Artur Mkrtchyan.
- At that time, did you believe in the final success of the Movement and that Artsakh would have to go through the hell of war?
- Unlike many, we, the underground members, understood perfectly that all this would eventually lead to bloodshed, and we prepared for it. Work was naturally conducted against us. For example, after the visit of the first delegation to Moscow, the guys were called for a talk to the city party committee, to the KGB. Or such an example, we – I, Oskolka, Ashot Sarkisyan, Roles Agadzhanyan – organized the production of grenades at the asphalt plant, and naturally, we were exposed, and the guys were called to the KGB, at a time when the entire people had risen to fight.
Well, then, whether we were deceived or we deceived ourselves, but in the end, we did not achieve our goal, and as a result – today we have two Armenian states. That is, we did not reunite with Armenia, we did not create one state, one tangible Homeland.
The conversation was conducted by Evika Babayan
P.S. Arkadi Karapetyan offers his sincere apologies to all those whose names he did not mention, as it is impossible to cover all the events and name all the people in one article.
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan