Armenians in Exile: The Blank Slates of 1949

On the night of June 13-14, 1949, agents of the MGB (Ministry of State Security) arrived in the village of Rndamal (Jrarat) and neighboring villages. They began going house to house with a notification: “Pack your things, you are being deported.” Families were deported if they had been captured as prisoners of war.

It did not matter how a person had been captured: unconscious, wounded, or if they had run out of ammunition. Immediately after their liberation, all prisoners of war underwent screening and verification procedures.

No incriminating evidence could be found against those who were not sent to Soviet camps in 1945. By 1949, it appeared that they had been treated too leniently. While “purging” Armenia, authorities also remembered recent repatriates.

The wave of deportations in 1949 was the second deliberate blow by the Stalinist regime against the Armenian people after 1937. Thousands of people were deported to the Altai region, not only from the Armenian SSR but also from Armenian-populated areas in the Caucasus.

Around four in the morning, the villagers of Razdan condemned to exile were transported in covered trucks to the railway station. In the pre-dawn darkness, a locomotive whistled, heralding the howl of the Siberian blizzard…

In the Razdan archive, a file marked “Case No. 4” is preserved, related to the partial deportation of residents from thirteen villages in the Akhty district. Here’s one page from the file:

“Inventory of property to be deported:

  1. Earthen house — 1 unit (not his property)
  2. Table — 1 pc.
  3. Box — 1 pc.
  4. Suitcase — 1 pc.
  5. Barley sown on a household plot — 0.10
  6. Man-days of labor — …”

The inventory note is signed by the secretary of the local party organization and the chairman of the village council. The next document is titled “Power of Attorney.” It implies that the deportee is transferring the mentioned property to the village council for subsequent sale and the transfer of the proceeds to Siberia.

The chairman of the village council does not object to the villager’s wishes. On the back of the sheet, he affixes his signature and seal, certifying that the property was received from the owner and not confiscated. Senior Lieutenant Semyakov of the MGB notes in the report that the homeowner has no complaints about the search.

The forms were pre-printed at the printing press. Everything was in order—appropriate columns, headers, spaces for signatures. The month and year “June 1949” were filled in everywhere. It turns out that preparations for mass deportation had been made in advance.

The same details about another citizen:

(Here the text ends; it seems to indicate that similar procedures were followed for other individuals as well.)

Inventory of Deportee’s Property:

  1. Chicken with 14 eggs — 1 pc.
  2. Wooden barn — 1 pc.
  3. Room — 1 pc.
  4. Cow dung (Kizyak) — 2 cartloads
  5. Wooden chest — 1 pc.

The deportee again “has no complaints” and “requests” that the village council sell his property. The village council agrees once more and is prepared to send the value of the property to Siberia, confirming this by stamping their seal. The ease with which the documents are processed suggests that this isn’t a deportation to Siberia but a trip to a holiday home.

Testimony of Exiled Artashes Martirosyan, who was 12 years old in 1949:

“They came for my father to take the whole family away—our childish joy knew no bounds. The adults hurried us along with sad, tear-streaked faces, but we were happy we would ride in a car. Who in the village had ever seen a car, let alone had the chance to ride in one?

And there it was, a truck covered with a brand-new tarpaulin, waiting right outside our home just for us… When we climbed into the cargo bed and were followed by soldiers with rifles, we internally rejoiced again.

Much later, we experienced the horror and the endless sorrow that now always stays with me. This happened in a freight car when pregnant women were giving birth in front of everyone, without medical assistance.

The heart-wrenching screams and cries of newborns, the stale air, the lack of food—my childhood was slipping away from me each day. Then our train stopped in an open field so people could relieve themselves.

It’s hard to imagine a more horrifying sight. Women and men, young adults, girls, and small children huddled under the wagons, forced to attend to their natural needs in front of each other.

Upon reaching our destination, we discovered how bitter the lives of exiled settlers could be. Twice a month, officials would bring adults a card to sign, warning that any escape attempt would result in either execution or a 25-year sentence.”

Life was so unbearable that the thought of escape arose constantly. But the signature on that cursed card forbade us even to think about it. We couldn’t get an education.

Sons of the exiled were not accepted into the army; they were considered unworthy to serve the Motherland—and we had to go through this humiliation. My older brother got married and stayed at the place of exile, as many did. And we returned to Armenia after eight years.

What was the logic behind this exile, these deaths, horrors, humiliations? For example, why did my father continue to receive the pension of a deserving Red partisan until his death?”

Testimony of a fellow villager who wished to remain anonymous:

“Everything happened before my eyes. Who knows, maybe it will happen again. What I saw back then became a life lesson for me. About two weeks before the ‘event,’ the head of our family was tasked with secretly monitoring a neighbor who was a candidate for deportation.

Such people were summoned for interrogations at night. No matter how much they tried to keep it a secret, the village sensed it, understood what was happening.

Suddenly, it became noticeable that people stopped interacting with the candidates for deportation, even stopped saying hello—a void formed around them. In my opinion, this was the most horrifying part.

Sometimes, teenagers, noticing such a person on a deserted village street, would sneak up behind and loudly shout his surname. The poor man would flinch, turn pale; I still remember the pleading look on his face—do whatever you want, just don’t say my name out loud.

People became like mice, afraid of every rustle. One dawn, everyone marked for deportation was loaded onto trucks and taken away, and we silently stood on rooftops, watching.”

Ambartsum Ovannisyan — 91 years old. Back then, he was a senior police officer; his police uniform trousers still hang on the nickel-plated bedpost, and an old tunic rests on the back of a chair.

“We were ordered to load them onto the trucks with the soldiers and take them to the railway station. The order was announced at three in the morning; in case of resistance, we were allowed to use weapons. Of course, it never came to that.”

Soldiers surrounded the house from all sides, not allowing relatives or neighbors to approach. We discreetly tried to alleviate the people’s hardship in some way. Sometimes we allowed them to take along items that were forbidden for export; if possible, we helped carry the load to the truck.”

The night of June 13th was a dark one for all of Armenia. During the confiscation of homes and property of the exiled, the extent of people’s poverty became clear. Families were found who had practically nothing.

How could there be any property when the head of the family had recently returned from war? In his absence, to avoid starvation, the family traded items for food. They had just begun to rebuild their lives and again, misfortune struck…

If you had to choose the most well-off among the exiled, this is what his family could boast:

“Inventory of the property of the deportee:

  1. A stove with a pipe — 1 piece,
  2. Three-year-old goat — 1 piece,
  3. Kid born in 1949 — 1 piece,
  4. Labor days — 9 units,
  5. Black cow, milking — 1 piece,
  6. Barrel for churning butter — 1 piece,
  7. Male goat (written in Russian) — 1 piece,
  8. Calf born in 1949 — 1 piece,
  9. Donkey — 1 piece,
  10. Horse saddle — 1 piece,
  11. Non-fruit trees — 1 piece,
  12. Baby cradle — 1 piece (the cradle was borrowed and crossed off the list),
  13. Three-meter-long log — 1 piece,
  14. Donkey foal born in 1949 — 1 piece,
  15. Fuel reserve
  16. Bullock born in 1948 — 1 piece,
  17. Calf born in 1949 — 1 piece,
  18. Literature — 30 units.”

In another archive, one can find information about the life of the same Rndamal on June 15th—this is a journal with protocols of the meetings of the district council and the village council of Rndamal, where traces of the deputies’ rare concern for collective farm animals can be found.

No word is mentioned about the events of the recent night, even though entire families from the village were taken away. According to the testimony of Onik Zakaryan, his two-year-old son was also deported with him, and purely mechanically attributed as belonging to the Dashnaks.

With what zeal, a day later, the village council deputies organized measures against the lizard that appeared in the Sevan district:

“Decided: Instruct the village council to prohibit the entry of any stray animals into the village, and to establish round-the-clock surveillance at the village borders.”

Onik Zakaryan narrates:

“In ’46, a repatriate named Artash Tonapetyan settled in our village. On that dark day, he too was sent off with us. He had only spent three years in his new place, not even having the time to acquire any property. Headed for Siberia, the poor man didn’t even know a single word of Russian. There were three young children in the family; all of them died in exile…”

Inventory of Artash Tonapetyan’s property:

  1. Ram and sheep — 2 pieces
  2. Goat — 1 piece
  3. Household plot — 0.25 ha

And nothing more. Not a word about the three children, who soon perished in exile. But plenty of other kinds of documents:

“The district executive committee meeting resolved: 1) to organize the extermination of locusts, to prevent the danger threatening the crops, establish a special committee; 2) to require the chairmen of collective farms to allocate the necessary number of collective farmers for combating locusts, and to personally oversee the resolution of the task of eliminating locusts as soon as possible.”

Another “locust,” much more voracious and insatiable, was not satisfied with the “harvest” of the year ’37. On the night of June 13th to 14th, it swept through and emptied 13 surrounding villages, taking with it 113 families from Alapars, Bzhni, Arzakan, Farukh, Agavnadzor, Akhbyurak, Megradzor, Upper Akhty, Atarbekyan, Lower Akhty, Fantan, Akhpara, and Rndamal. The empty houses, along with the household items, were intended for sale. Those remaining in the village could buy them.

On June 13th, when less than 24 hours remained until the deportation, the following articles appeared on the pages of the district newspaper “With Lenin’s Banner”: “On Collective Farm Fields,” “Prepare for Haymaking,” “DOSAAF Congress in Our District,” “Football” (“The Akhty team met the Akhbyurak team on their field. The game began in an organized manner…”), “Concerts in Our District” (“On June 7th, performances by the state philharmonic ensemble of Armenian gusansky songs named after Sayat-Nova began…”— a list of the already mentioned villages follows).

The village council decided:

“During the work week, organize all the buckets. Fill them with water and simultaneously clean all the roads, provide resting places for animals, and direct them to summer pastures only via routes approved by the village council department.”

Exiled Artashes Martirosyan:

“…Soon our fellow villager Artash Tonapetyan, with whom we lived in exile as neighbors, perished. He burned to death along with his house during a fire. Then my sister’s two children also died.”

Meanwhile, the Razdansky District Council issued one resolution after another on combating field mice, on constructing public toilets in the villages, forbade giving cold water to cows that had just given birth, and mandated tying up yard dogs…

“Decided — A solemn meeting in honor of Comrade Stalin’s 70th anniversary must be organized in a way that significantly distinguishes this jubilee from previous ones. Decorate the club and library both inside and outside, hang up portraits of the ingenious Stalin with slogans dedicated to his 70th anniversary.

Before the arrival of the festive day, agitators must hold talks in the red corners. We perceive this day as the happiest and sunniest day for the Soviet people. Nothing should be spared for the celebration.

Employees from all institutions and enterprises will enter the hall at the appointed time with posters and banners. In the red corners, organize performances with the reading of Comrade Stalin’s biography, select literature dedicated to the life of the ingenious leader from childhood to the present day…

Millions of collective farmers declare that in our country, for the first time in the world, a government has been created which, in the words of Comrade Stalin, stands firmly behind workers and collective farmers.”

Comments, as they say, are superfluous.

by Levon Hechoyan.

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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