Khanjyan Agasi – Killed under unclear circumstances

Khanjyan Agasi Gevondovich (30.1.1901, Van – 9.7.1936, Tbilisi, buried in the Yerevan city pantheon), Soviet party and state figure. Member of RSDLP(b) since 1917. Graduated from the Yerevan Diocesan School and the Gevorgyan Seminary in Echmiadzin, studied in Moscow at the Communist University named after Sverdlov (1921).

In 1917, together with G. Gukasyan, he created the Union of Young Marxists-Internationalists in Yerevan, and in 1919, with G. Gukasyan and A. Budagyan – the Armenian Youth Communist Organization “Spartacus.”

In August 1919, he was arrested. In September of the same year, he was elected (in absentia) a member of the Transcaucasian Bureau of Communist Youth Organizations. In August 1920, he was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia in December 1920, he was elected secretary of the Yerevan City Committee of the CP(b) of Armenia.

From 1922–28, he worked in Leningrad. In 1928, he was elected second secretary of the CP(b)A Central Committee, and from May 1930, the first secretary. Member of the Bureau of the Transcaucasian Territorial Committee, member of the Presidium of the USSR, TSFSR, and Arm.SSR. Khanjyan fell victim to the cult of personality, killed under unclear circumstances.

He was born in 1901 in Turkish Armenia, in the city of Van, in a petty bourgeois middle-class family. His father mainly taught in the city’s Armenian schools.

In 1915, during the war, after the retreat of the Russian army, the family moved to the Caucasus. This “flight” … made me think about a lot. Since 1915, he lived, studied in Erivan, in 1916, continued his studies in Echmiadzin (studied at the Gevorgyan seminary for only one year. – G.M.). At this time, in Erivan, he met some social democrats …

In 1917, in the days when the first news of the February Revolution arrived, I joined the Erivan Social Democratic group (in March. – G.M.) … In 1919, for Bolshevik agitation, he was arrested and spent 2 months in prison.

He participated in the work of the 1st conference of the Communist organization of Armenia (referring to the underground conference of the Armenian committee of the RCP(b) in January 1920. – G.M.). After the May events (May 1920 Bolshevik uprising against the Dashnaks. – G.M.) he continued to work in Erivan under illegal conditions but was again arrested and sentenced by a special court to 10 years of imprisonment.

From the memories of Eranui Akopyan, a liaison of the Erivan Bolshevik underground: “In those dark years, Khanjyan was in hiding. He often hid in house number 25 on Tumanyan Street, where there was a basement with an underground passage to the yard. In this basement, where Agasi lived and worked, party meetings and gatherings were held.”

Moreover, from underground, Khanjyan managed to lead the work of the entire Komsomol organization of Armenia.

From the autobiography:

“I was released from prison after the Sovietization of Armenia in December 1920. Worked in the Yerevan Committee and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia (Secretary of the Yerevan Committee from early December 1920 to February 1921, and a member of the Central Committee)… Studied at Sverdlov University for 1 year and moved to Leningrad, worked in the Vyborg District Committee of the Party (as an instructor.– G.M.), from 1922 was head of APO (Agitation and Propaganda Department.– G.M.) of the District Committee, after the XIV Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (in December 1925.– G.M.) was promoted to head the organizational and distribution department in the Moskovsko-Narvsky District Committee, where he worked until he came to Armenia.

A. Khanjyan 16/I–1929, Yerevan”. Additions and clarifications to the biography:

On May 1, 1919, on the initiative of Gukas Gukasyan, Agasi Khanjyan, and Armenak Budagyan, the first issue of the newspaper “Spartak” of the eponymous youth communist organization was released. The first illegal conference of Transcaucasian Communist organizations, where Khanjyan was elected a member of the bureau in absentia, took place at the end of September 1919 in Baku. Khanjyan’s second arrest by the Dashnaks took place in August 1920. He was exiled to an island on Lake Sevan. In September of the same year, Khanjyan was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Armenia in absentia.

During the days of suppressing the Dashnak rebellion (18.II–2.IV.1921), Khanjyan fought with arms in the northern regions of Armenia for the return of Soviet rule, being a member of the Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Armenia and Deputy First Secretary of the Central Committee Gevorg Alikhanyan.

In 1924, for the first time in the Soviet Union, in the Vyborg district of Leningrad, Khanjyan undertook the creation of the “Society for the Link between City and Village”. By the end of the year, his initiative was picked up by 300,000 workers, Red Army soldiers, and students in the city. With the active participation of Khanjyan, these enthusiasts managed to organize in the Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, and even Cherepovets regions 500 literacy eradication points and open 300 reading rooms. Immersed in party affairs, Khanjyan nevertheless found time to introduce Leningraders to culture.

From the memoirs of the old Bolshevik Vladimir Zinin: “At one of the literary disputes, Agasi Gevondovich spoke about Sergey Yesenin like this: ‘A great, talented poet with all his sober soul reaches for the new, but, unfortunately, still cannot understand the situation, wanders, suffers, looks into taverns, and composes tavern poems. We, the Bolsheviks, also love Yesenin, but the real Yesenin, not the drunken one, Yesenin – the patriot of the Motherland, Yesenin – the singer of the Russian land and its beauties’.”

While working in the Moskovsko-Narvsky District Committee of the party as the head of the organizational department, Khanjyan becomes a member of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks). In August… (The text appears to be cut off here)

In 1928, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) directed Khanjyan to the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Armenia, where in October of the same year he was elected Second Secretary of the Central Committee. The leader of the Leningrad communists, S.M. Kirov, with a heavy heart, let go his devoted comrade.

On the 15th anniversary of the Sovietization of Armenia (1935), Khanjyan was awarded the Order of Lenin. He was a delegate to the XV (1927), XVI (1930), XVII (1934) Congresses of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) (at the last one he was included in the Central Revision Commission), and the VI and VII Congresses of Soviets of the USSR.

And two more strokes to the biography of Agasi Khanjyan.

On May 7, 1930, at the plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Armenia, Khanjyan was elected First Secretary. On May 8, the Catholicos of all Armenians, Gevorg V Surenyants, passed away. The head of the Persian-Indian diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), Archbishop Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan, arrived to attend the Patriarch’s funeral.

Khanjyan wished to meet him, knowing that the Archbishop was at the origin of the creation of the state university of Armenia (opened in Alexandropol, transferred to Yerevan), where he was the first dean of the historical-philological faculty and a professor of ancient Armenian literature. Not wanting to see the Vicar of the deceased Catholicos – Khoren Muradbekyan – on the patriarchal throne, Khanjyan offered Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan to participate in the election of the Catholicos. The First Secretary of the Central Committee was disgusted that Muradbekyan was actively opposing the work of the “Free Church Brotherhood” circle, created by the OGPU organs to undermine the AAC back in 1924.

From the memoirs of Gurgen Grigoryan, nephew of Mesrop Ter-Movsisyan: “When my uncle appeared at the funeral of Gevorg V, the chief communist of Armenia Agasi Khanjyan offered him his high patronage, hinting: we will make you a Catholicos, but you will do what we say. ‘I am not intending to dance to your tune,’ was the answer.”

The archbishop’s sharp refusal alarmed Khanjyan…

The election of the new Catholicos only took place in November 1932. It was Khoren I Muradbekyan, and even that after Khanjyan did not wait for an answer to his letter to Stalin, in which he requested – not to hold the elections for the Catholicos and to abolish the spiritual center of the Armenians in Echmiadzin. Perhaps Stalin foresaw the consequences of such a step: it would strengthen the position of the Armenian Church abroad and could create a serious focus of resistance to Soviet power.

The world-renowned oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian, nicknamed “Mr. 5%” (his share in companies he was involved in amounted to 5% of all shares), was elected chairman of the Armenian General Benevolent Union in 1930, after the death of Poghos Nubar. This union is the primary guardian and stronghold of the Armenian diaspora.

30,000 Armenian refugees, involuntary victims of genocide, found themselves in a dire situation in Greece. A third of them, without shelter, also suffered from unemployment. Feeling compassion for them and wishing to provide them with work, Gulbenkian decided to create Armenian settlements along the entire route of the oil pipeline construction from Mosul–Baghdad to Tripoli and Haifa. He managed to build seven settlements, which barely accommodated 2–2.5 thousand resettlers. Turkey immediately raised a hysterical outcry, blaming Gulbenkian for generating “Armenian foci of retribution” for intervention against her.

Stalin, the Turks’ best friend, through his Transcaucasian emissary Beria, pressured Khanjyan, demanding that he resist the hostile endeavors of diaspora forces. Under such dire pressure, Khanjyan, on October 14, 1931, gave a report in which he qualified the creation of “Armenian foci” around Turkey as “a stronghold of imperialist intervention against the USSR and friendly Turkey.”

Thus began the relentless persecution of Gulbenkian. Wounded in his noblest feelings, the oil magnate resigned in April 1932 and left the post of chairman of the charitable union.

Few people know that in a close circle, Khanjyan repented, not forgiving himself for the insult inadvertently inflicted on the noblest of Armenians.

Incidentally, in 1953, two years before his death, still not forgiving Soviet Armenia’s offense, Gulbenkian bequeathed all his fortune to Portugal. In gratitude for this heartfelt gift, the government established the “Calouste Gulbenkian” Foundation. Its generosity supports scientific, educational, and cultural endeavors in 70 countries worldwide, including Armenia.

On October 31, 1931, in Moscow, on the last day of the plenary session of the CPSU Central Committee, reports from the Transcaucasian regional committee and the Central Committees of the Communist Parties of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia were heard. Not allowing the participants’ thoughts to scatter, Stalin concluded the discussion by saying, “I think you will agree with me if we propose the following comrades for the new leadership of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee: Kartvelishvili as the first secretary, Beria as the second.”

Lavrenti Kartvelishvili, the first secretary of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee of the CPSU, immediately jumped up, saying, “I will not work with this charlatan.” Then came the voice of Mamia Orakhelashvili, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Transcaucasian SFSR, a member of the RSDLP since 1903: “Koba, what did you say? Did I mishear?” Saak Ter-Gabrielyan, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Armenian SSR, also stood up: “We are not entitled to present our communist parties with such a sudden decision.” The leader was not supported by Dadash Buniat-Zade, nor Daso Dedariani, nor Gazanfar Musabekov, nor Agasi Khanjyan.

Translate the text from Russian to English: “Democratic discussion” was interrupted by Stalin’s sharp tone: “Nothing can be done, we will have to deal with the matter in a workmanlike manner.”

On November 9, in connection with Kartvelishvili’s (executed in 1938) transfer to another job, Orakhelashvili (executed in 1937) is appointed as the first secretary of Zakkraykom, and Lavrentiy Beria is “elected” as the second secretary. Not even five days pass before he is simultaneously promoted to the rank of first secretary of the CC CP(b) of Georgia. Within a year, Stalin “invites” Orakhelashvili to Moscow… as the deputy director of the Marx, Engels, Lenin Institute. The leader appoints Beria as the first secretary of Zakkraykom, leaving him also as the first secretary of the CC CP(b) of Georgia.

At that time, alongside Khanjyan, his like-minded colleagues worked: the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars Saak Ter-Gabrielyan, the Chairman of the Central Executive Committee Armen Ananyan, the second secretary of the CC Sedrak Ot’yan, the head of GPU Armenak Abulyan.

Beria, of all people, did not forget the behavior of “some” at the plenum of October 31, 1931. Following the leader’s example, he also began to act “in a workmanlike manner,” outwardly even warming to Khanjyan. His appointees began to arrive in Yerevan. In February 1933, recalling Ot’yan from Armenia and appointing him as the People’s Commissar of State Farms of the Transcaucasian Federation, Beria introduces Tiflis resident Aram Mirzabekyan as the second secretary of the CC CP(b)A, whom no one knew in Armenia. By the end of the same year, “respecting” Khanjyan’s request, he removes Mirzabekyan and sends in his place another Tiflis resident – Stepan (Stepa) Akopov, and with him, Georgy (Zhora) Tsaturov. The latter, while in the post of the head of the department of the CC, supervises agriculture and the work of the Soviets.

Jumping ahead, I note that G.A. Tsaturov (1900–1962), the only one of Beria’s surviving flunkeys sent to Khanjyan, will be arrested in October 1937 in his office as the People’s Commissar of Communications, Food, and Trade of the Republic. In 1953, during an interrogation in Beria’s case, he will reveal:

“Beria invited me to his house and over dinner informed me of my appointment to work in Armenia. Then he said: ‘We need to remove Khanjyan. Everyone I sent for this purpose failed…’ When I noted that it would be better to simply remove Khanjyan, Beria replied: ‘To remove, there must be grounds, you go and find those grounds.’ When Akopov and I came to Armenia, we always spoke against Khanjyan at the Bureau of the CC meetings, using various pretexts for this… After that, I was in Tbilisi and accidentally entered Beria’s room when Khanjyan was there. Beria began to scold me, asking why I was fighting with Khanjyan, that he was a sick person and should be taken care of.”

Khanjyan understands that he is being cornered like an animal. As if scorning the threat, Agasi allows himself “liberties”: “It is not right that power in Transcaucasia and in Georgia is concentrated in the same hands.” Needless to say, this “treason” reaches Beria’s ears. He remembers that in 1930, being the head of the GPU in Transcaucasia, he failed to place his man – Khachik Mugdusi (Astvatsaturov), who held the position of department chief under him, at the head of the GPU of Armenia.

On July 10, 1934, based on the GPU, the NKVD is revived. Beria lures Abulyan to Tbilisi, offering him the position of deputy commissar of the NKVD ZSFSR. A year later, Abulyan “accidentally” dies in a car crash.

In February 1935, Ter-Gabrielyan is transferred to Moscow, replacing him with another Tiflis resident – Abraham Guloyan. In October, Akopov is made the secretary of the Yerevan city party committee, and the second secretary next to Khanjyan is Amatuni Amatuni from Baku. This is not a typo; it is his first and last name.

The ring around Khanjyan tightened.

From the letter of the Attorney General of the USSR, R.A. Rudenko, to the Central Committee of the CPSU (January 1956): “Beria sent his men to Armenia with a special task – to remove Khanjyan. Thus, an unbearable situation was created around Khanjyan…”

Report after report from his minions in Yerevan land on Beria’s desk: “Khanjyan’s letter to some anti-Soviet Arshak Chopanyan has appeared in foreign Armenian newspapers. Unheard-of audacity for a party leader”; “Khanjyan is misusing public money for the construction of questionable objects”; “With Khanjyan’s knowledge, ‘The Book of the Way’ by E. Charents and ‘Life on the Old Roman Road’ by V. Totovents, fervent nationalists, have been published”…

Amatuni, Guloyan, Akopov, Mugdusi, Tsaturov unanimously “demand” that Beria deal closely with Khanjyan. The issue is brought to the bureau of the Transcaucasian committee. Comrade Beria, in a friendly and affectionate way, “corrects Khanjyan’s mistakes.”

By that time, Beria had already obtained a copy of a letter from Aramais Erzyan, a member of the RSDLP since 1898, to Stalin, sent back in August 1935 when Erzyan was removed from the post of Deputy Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of Armenia. Offended at the whole world, he directed all his rage at Khanjyan.

It is enough to list the subtitles of this informer’s complaints to clearly grasp the full weight of the accusations against the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Armenia: “About the distortion of party policy in the village,” “About anti-state tendencies” (here he touches on economic issues. – G.M.), “Fluctuations on the ideological front,” “About Khanjyan’s tactics of duplicity.”

The complainant writes that “on the ideological front, Khanjyan’s instructions waver between national democracy and left-wing foolishness. On the one hand, Khanjyan covers up the nationally-minded intelligentsia, on the other, especially in public speeches, he demands to ‘put an end’ to nationalism.”

The denunciation worked, but Erzyinkyan* couldn’t save his own skin: at the end of 1936, he was arrested as a participant in the “Armenian Counter-revolutionary Trotskyist-Nationalist Terrorist Center” and died in an investigative isolator in August 1937.

From the diary entries of Agasi’s wife – Rosa Vinzberg, the Deputy Commissar of Finance of the Republic at the time:

“Khanjyan’s inner circle allowed itself to distort facts and spread falsehoods about him. However, when the question of Khanjyan was raised again before Beria in January 1936, he snapped at his people in Agasi’s presence, lulling him into complacency.”

The mine under Khanjyan had already been laid; all that remained was to trigger the detonator. The “case” of Stepanyan, contrived by a gang of Beria’s minions, became the trigger. Nerses (Nersik) Stepanyan openly said: “I think there’s no democracy in our party. I don’t believe in Stalin’s creative genius. We only have his personal dictatorship, everything depends on his will. Stalin carries out Lenin’s line of socialist transformation of the country roughly and with great expense.”

The fact that the party committee of the Central Committee of the CP(b)A, under the control of the commission of the Central Committee of the VKP(b) and headed by its secretary Agasi Galoyan, acquitted the enemy of the people Stepanyan under “pressure” from Khanjyan, was first reported to his patron Beria by Amatuni. On May 21, Beria sanctioned Stepanyan’s arrest, the People’s Commissar of Enlightenment and Director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Republic. Mugdusi quickly followed suit. Stalin’s meat grinder began to operate in Armenia.

At the end of May, Khanjyan went to Moscow for the next plenum of the Central Committee of the VKP(b) – to discuss the draft of the new Constitution of the USSR. After the plenum, Stalin summoned him. The conversation was brief.

From the interrogation protocol of writer Aksel Bakunts, conducted on September 2, 1936, by the Major of State Security Mugdusi:

“Question: What conversation did you have with Khanjyan in Moscow on the so-called ‘Urartians’?

Answer: At the beginning of June this year, being in Moscow, I visited Khanjyan, who during our conversation told me that he had been with comrade Stalin and heard from him about a piece of news. Bitterly, he passed on to me the following: ‘You know, our ancestors, the Urartians, it turns out – are the ancestors of the Georgians. And the first Georgian was Mithridates of Pontus… Something doesn’t add up…’ This slander against the statement of the party leader comrade Stalin does not require comments: it reveals the nationalistic core of Khanjyan.

No matter how cunningly Mugdusi shuffled Bakunts’ answer, Agasi Khanjyan’s deep patriotism was evident. By the time Khanjyan returned to Yerevan, enough slander had accumulated in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia (CC CPA) against Stepanyan, who had already been arrested. On July 7, the Bureau of the CC examined one of these slanders. Amatuni, Guloyan, Akopov, Mugdusi, Tsaturov, denigrating Stepanyan, indirectly reproached the first secretary for softness.

And by July 9, Agasi Khanjyan was no more. But the announcement of this only appeared in the newspapers of Georgia and Armenia on the 11th:

“The Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (b) announces the death of the Secretary of the CC CPA, Comrade Khanjyan, which followed on July 9, 1936, as a result of an act of suicide. Considering the act of suicide as a manifestation of faint-heartedness, especially unacceptable for the leader of a party organization, the Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (b) considers it necessary to inform party members that Comrade Khanjyan, in his recent work, made a series of political mistakes, manifesting in insufficient vigilance in exposing nationalist and counter-revolutionary Trotskyist elements.

Realizing these mistakes, Comrade Khanjyan did not find the courage to correct them Bolshevik-style and committed suicide.

The general condition of Comrade Khanjyan was also aggravated by his prolonged illness – a severe form of tuberculosis.

Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (b).”

That same day, Armenian newspapers also published a message from the CC CPA, almost word for word repeating the first.

On July 12, in No. 190 of the “Pravda” newspaper on page 6, a more than modest message was found:

“Tiflis, July 11 (TASS). According to a message from Yerevan, the secretary of the CC CPA, Comrade Khanjyan, ended his life on the ninth of this month by suicide. Recently, Comrade Khanjyan has shown insufficient vigilance in exposing counter-revolutionary elements. Comrade Khanjyan realized his mistakes but did not find the courage to correct them in practice.

Lately, Comrade Khanjyan suffered from severe tuberculosis, which affected his general condition.” A typical example of Soviet disinformation. Not a word about the fact that this tragedy happened in Tiflis, the homeland of Lavrentiy Beria, and not just with a secretary, but with the first secretary of the CC CPA.

From the diary entries of Roza Vinzberg, dated July 14, 1936:

“Before leaving for Tiflis, Agasi constantly traveled to the regions of the republic. He complained that the attitude of his immediate surroundings was noticeably changing for the worse. This depressed him. But further from the capital, he breathed easily because he saw and felt that the people sincerely loved and understood him.

He returned from the Central Committee (b) of Armenia bureau meeting on July 8th at 3 a.m., gloomy and withdrawn. From his lips fell the words: “It weighs on me that in almost all speeches, even if not openly, there are hints that since 1934 I have been intentionally not exposing Stepanyan.” And already going to bed, he added: “Whatever it may be, I must achieve my departure from work in Armenia.”

Years will pass, and on March 15, 1955, Rosa Vinzberg will write:

“On July 8, 1936, Khanjyan left for Tbilisi with Amatuni, Akopov, and Guloyan for another meeting of the Zakkraykom bureau. Saying goodbye, my husband assured me that he would firmly raise the issue of his departure from his post, and if Beria refuses, he will go to Moscow and seek it in the Central Committee of the CPSU(b). That’s why he asked me to pack him a change of underwear.”

The Zakkraykom bureau meeting on July 9 opened without delay. Khanjyan did not utter a word until all 38 items on the agenda were discussed. Only on the penultimate – the 39th item – did he express his opinion. It was a response to a report from the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Transcaucasian SFSR Sergey Goglidze “On the identification in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia of counter-revolutionary Trotskyist groups.” Goglidze, in particular, said that several such groups had been identified in Armenia.

In Leninakan (now Gyumri) alone, one hundred Trotskyists were caught, united in 6 groups, and 36 were caught in Yerevan. Goglidze especially emphasized the arrest of Nerses Stepanyan: “So far, the talk has been about the arrests of rank-and-file Trotskyists, but Stepanyan is far from ordinary. He was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia.”

Taking turns at the podium, Bagirov, Makharadze, Amatuni, and Beria unanimously insisted that the Central Committee of the CPSU(b)A (understand Khanjyan) did not properly fight against overt manifestations of opportunism. In conclusion, Beria demanded that the Central Committee of the CPSU(b)A take special control over Stepanyan’s case and also clarify the motives – why Galoyan covered Stepanyan.

The meeting ended at 5:30 p.m., and Khanjyan went to the House of the Council of People’s Commissars of Armenia in Tbilisi. Half an hour later, the second secretary of Zakkraykom Sergey Kudryavtsev, Amatuni, and Guloyan dropped in. They sat down for dinner. Exactly at 7, Kudryavtsev excused himself. Then Amatuni and Guloyan left. Late in the evening, Beria sent a car for Khanjyan. In the regional committee, Agasi runs into Kudryavtsev, who was leaving Beria, and the first secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) Azerbaijan, Bagirov. Khanjyan’s quick glance caught a shadow of anxiety in their eyes…

Beria and Khanjyan were left alone in the office…

From the memoirs of Susanna Ilinichna Safarova (Shushanik Egishevna Safaryan), the head of the typing sector of the Zakkraykom secretariat:

“On the morning of July 9, 1936, about an hour before the start of the Zakkraykom bureau meeting, Lavrentiy Pavlovich asked me to bring him to his office and leave on the table several clean sheets with the ‘header’ – ‘First Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) Armenia.’ Late in the evening of the same day, I was to deliver the transcript of the bureau meeting to Beria. Having deciphered the new stenographer’s scribbles, I was already carrying a stack of papers to Lavrentiy for proofreading.

From Beria’s reception, a man checking from Moscow stumbled into the corridor. “Has Lavrentiy organized a binge in there?” flashed through my mind. I approached the door to Beria’s office. I knocked gently. Without waiting for an answer, I pushed the door. And I was dumbfounded: Lavrentiy, crouching down, was taking a pistol from a man lying on the carpet in a white shirt.

Twitching, I quickly closed the door and, stepping back, went out into the reception. My legs were giving way. I went to my office. And then I heard a desperate cry behind me: “A doctor! Quickly! Agasi has shot himself.” I turned and saw – Beria was coming towards me, carrying Khanjyan in his arms. A pistol on Agasi’s chest caught my eye. The guards gathered at the cries – Beria and Khanjyan.

Khanjyan was no longer breathing… The wandering eyes of a bewildered Lavrentiy betrayed panic in his soul. From the way Beria was agitated and how heavily he was breathing, I realized that he had shot the poor man. He was capable of even that, the malicious and vindictive Lavrentiy. No one in the secretariat doubted that it was his doing. It all looked too theatrical.

This sad story was told to me by Armen Garibov, a Muscovite, the grandson of Shushanik Safaryan, a native of the town of Kerki in the Turkistan region. They knew and silently kept quiet about this in their family: as if something did not come out.

But I couldn’t get this “checker from Moscow” out of my head, whom Shushanik Safaryan mentioned in her story. I accidentally found the answer in the book “Beria” by Anton Antonov-Ovseenko:

“Just in those days, in the building of the Transcaucasian Regional Committee, next to the office of the first secretary, the CPC commission was working to check the activities of the party organizations of Transcaucasia. They had already been to Yerevan; the chairman of the commission, a member of the Committee’s collegium Ivan Korotkov, and the old Bolshevik Anna Ivanovna… The working day was coming to an end. A shot rang out in Beria’s office. Korotkov rushed to the sound of the shot, opened the door. Lavrentiy Beria threw a pistol on the table; on the carpet in a puddle of blood lay Agasi Khanjyan, the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia. Korotkov returned to his room, told Ivanovna about what had happened, and added: ‘Never, nowhere, tell anyone about this. If you want to live.’

Finding himself face to face with the guards, Beria instantly “sobered up” and ordered them to wrap Khanjyan’s body in the carpet from his office and take it to the hotel. They did not dare to disobey Beria.

That’s how Khanjyan’s body ended up in the Tiflis House of the Council of People’s Commissars of Armenia. Remembering Beria’s command, Khanjyan’s personal guard fired a shot, but in his room, which the hotel guests rushed to. Thus skillfully did Beria simulate the “suicide” of the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia.

Deathly frightened by what he had done, Beria that very night convened the bureau of the ZKK of the VKP(b) and, stammering, informed them that Khanjyan had killed himself. He seemed to put on a mask of irreparable loss. Without raising his eyes, he said to those gathered: “Agasi left two letters – one for me and one for his wife.

In the letter addressed to me, Khanjyan sincerely admitted that when considering Stepanyan’s case at the party collegium, he allowed himself an inexcusable blunder for a party leader.” Catching his breath, Beria added: “Khanjyan also admitted that he no longer has the strength to continue working, and he asks the party to forgive him… At the end of the suicide note, he left a wish for the prosperity of the Motherland under the leadership of Comrade Stalin.”

From the memoirs of Shushanik Safaryan:

“I remember the stone faces of those assembled. Since I was sitting next to Beria (I was transcribing this mournful meeting), I managed to notice that both of Khanjyan’s letters were written on his official stationery. Were these not the papers that I brought to Beria the morning before?! I knew that in the NKVD, he had an entire staff of calligraphers, capable of forging any handwriting. I no longer doubted that both these letters were a complete fabrication. I also recalled the pistol on Khanjyan’s chest, the one that Beria had pulled from behind his belt.”

The Zakkraykom bureau makes a decision – to send a report to the Central Committee of the VKP(b), to Stalin, about what had happened. It began with the news of Khanjyan’s suicide. The bureau requested to send a representative from the Central Committee to Tbilisi to clarify the circumstances of his death and also asked permission to bury Khanjyan in Yerevan on July 12. The text of the notification of the ZKK VKP(b) about Khanjyan’s death was attached to the message.

The response came immediately: “The Central Committee of the VKP(b) does not find it necessary to send its representative to clarify the circumstances of Khanjyan’s suicide, as everything in this case is clear and no investigation is required. In other respects, it agrees with the opinion of Zakkraykom. I. Stalin.”

From the memoirs of Roza Vinzberg:

“Akopov informed me of my husband’s death on the morning of July 10, having arrived in Yerevan earlier than anyone else. After 2 or 3 hours, Amatuni came and personally handed me a letter from Agasi. Lowering his gaze, he said: ‘Agasi was with Beria. What they talked about there, I do not know…’

The fleeting ten lines, scribbled on the letterhead of the Central Committee of the Communist Party(b) of Armenia, were etched into my memory: ‘You know me like no one else. I’m not all that bad. And if I contemplated something evil, then the cup overflowed. Tell our comrades that I wish them success. Come to your senses, calm down, and continue to work.’

If you can, console my old folks.” Early on the morning of July 28th, I was arrested. Investigators Aroyan and Muradyan confiscated from me the letter that Amatuni had given me. During the first interrogation with Aroyan, I still saw it in his case…

But at the end of September, during the second interrogation, when the investigator stepped out for a minute, I found that the letter was no longer in the case. Back on July 10, 1936, while reading Agasi’s letter, I never doubted that it was written by his hand. It never occurred to me that Khanjyan’s handwriting could be forged. Just as I never thought that Beria was an enemy of the people…”

From the speech of A.N. Shelepin, Chairman of the KGB of the USSR, at the XXII Congress of the CPSU in October 1961: “According to contemporary witnesses, Beria personally shot the first secretary of the Central Committee of the CP(b) of Armenia, Agasi Khanjyan, in his office.”

There is further confirmation of this.

In 1956, the military prosecutor of the Main Military Prosecutor’s Office of the USSR, Colonel of Justice A.N. Vitievsky, carefully studied the circumstances of Khanjyan’s death, concluding that the answer to whether it was murder or suicide could only be determined through the examination of the skull.

In 1957, Khanjyan’s remains were exhumed, and on November 21st, a conclusion was drawn that the cap of the skull, which according to the autopsy report No. 38 from July 1936, had a through bullet hole from a firearm with brain tissue damage, was missing.

It turns out that even in Tiflis, before sending the body to Yerevan, Beria had prudently eliminated the evidence of his crime.

…From Tiflis, through the station of Akhlatyan in Lori, a funeral train carried Khanjyan’s body to Yerevan. His large portrait on red canvas in a black frame adorned the “head” of the locomotive.

On July 12th, Sunday newspapers carried the announcement: “The funeral of A.G. Khanjyan will take place today at 3 p.m. at the new city cemetery. Before the body is carried out, there will be a civil memorial service.” Below, in 40 lines of newsprint, Khanjyan’s biography was included, with a tiny photo of him below.

Khanjyan’s body had not yet been laid to rest, and in the morning the Central Committee of the CP(b)A had already convened a party meeting. Attending were members of the Central Committee, the bureau of the city and regional committees of Yerevan, secretaries of party committees, and chairpersons of executive committees of Armenia’s regions, and other Soviet leaders. Opening the meeting, the second secretary of the Regional Committee, Kudryavtsev, sarcastically remarked: “With his suicide, Khanjyan has gone over to the camp of our enemies, becoming their standard-bearer.” This accusation set the tone for the entire discussion. It was supported by two dozen speakers, among them – Amatuni, Akopov, Tsaturov, Mugdusi.

The resolution of the activists appeared more than categorical. Accusing Khanjyan of patronizing Stepanyan and his group, the comrades summarized: “Realizing his gross political mistakes, Khanjyan, instead of bringing his blunders to the discussion of the leaders of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and the regional committee and trying to correct them, showed shameful cowardice and resorted to suicide. Khanjyan’s provocative act is a stab in the back to the Communist Party of Armenia and all the Bolsheviks of Transcaucasia… An act that gives yet another pretext to the intrigues of Dashnaks, Trotskyists, and other counter-revolutionary filth.”

By the way, a year after that ill-fated party meeting, S.A. Kudryavtsev will head the Kyiv regional committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine (Bolshevik), where he will make it a rule to ask his fellow party members at meetings: “Have you written a statement about anyone?” Heaven knows how many people were ruined by his “grace”, but the fact is that he soon fell victim to his own provocation.

On the night of July 17, under the pen of Yeghishe Charents, the lines of the poem “Delirium” began to pulsate with the pain of loss:

Bitter moment of July the ninth…
It reached us in the blink of an eye.
And here it is – whether delirium in us,
or a dream:
From that moment it gnaws at the soul.
Is it possible, looking around oneself,
Is such a thing now possible,
That I’m not rushing in the delirium of cruel losses,
So that you, in a moment, resurrect before me,
That a familiar phone rang,
And I became filled with faith – it’s him…
And I myself heard – with the last of my strength,
That my friend Agasi picked up the phone…

In response to the resolution of the Armenian communists, there came the devastating article “Disperse the enemies of socialism into dust!” by L.P. Beria, published on July 20 in the newspaper “Zarya Vostoka.” On August 19, it was reprinted by “Pravda.”

Here’s an excerpt from it:

“It is now clear that Khanjyan systematically corresponded with a certain person abroad (in Paris), Chopanyan, one of the leading figures of the Armenian counter-revolutionary bourgeois-nationalist party ‘Ramkavar’ (founded in 1921 in Constantinople.–G.M.) for several years. Khanjyan hid this correspondence from the party. In his letters to Khanjyan, this Chopanyan gave him counter-revolutionary, nationalist ‘advice’.

Here Beria refers to a letter from writer and publicist Arshak Chopanyan, dated 1933, which was handed over to him by Khanjyan’s faithful servant Amatuni along with other papers. According to Beria, Chopanyan advises Khanjyan: “You will do very well if, in your press and in your speeches, as much as possible, you speak less about the Dashnaks.”

Not stopping there, Beria provides a more “vivid example of political shortsightedness” by Khanjyan:

“In a letter in 1936, Chopanyan advised Khanjyan, in connection with the project of a new Constitution, to raise the issue of revising the borders of Armenia and expanding them. ‘The speech,’ he writes to Khanjyan, ‘is not only about Ani, Ararat, Kars, and Surmalu handed over to Turkey but also about Akhalkalaki and Karabakh… and about Nakhichevan, which has always been part of Armenia.’ Khanjyannot only received such letters but considered it acceptable to respond to them and even to follow these counter-revolutionary advice.”

At the end of July, the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Armenia made a decision “About the former secretary of the Party Collegium of Armenia at the Control Commission of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) A. Galoyan.” Accusing him of close cooperation “with the enemy of the people N. Stepanyan and other counter-revolutionary elements, about whose actions the former secretary A. Khanjyan was aware,” the Central Committee resolved: “To expel Galoyan from the party ranks and hand over his case to the NKVD for further investigation.”

In September, the VII Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Armenia took place, electing Amatuni Amatuni as the First Secretary of the Central Committee. On October 2, he delivered a report on the results of the plenum before the activists of the Yerevan party organization.

Here are excerpts from the 4th section of Amatuni’s report in Russian – “Khanjyan – the last of the national-deviationist-specifics”:

“Khanjyan was connected with the executed counter-revolutionary Trotskyist spy Vagarshak Ter-Vaganyan (in 1917 he headed the Moscow Committee of the RSDLP(B), was one of the inspirers of the October Revolution.–G.M.)… For him, he created a special publishing house at the so-called House of Armenian Culture in Moscow (in the building of the former Lazarev Institute.–G.M.)… In 1935, Khanjyan transferred 30 thousand rubles to Ter-Vaganyan. Khanjyan promoted the brother of this Trotskyist bandit, the concealed Trotskyist Yndzak Ter-Vaganyan, as the editor of the newspaper ‘Khorurdain Ayastan’ (‘Soviet Armenia’.–G.M.), and subsequently – as the secretary of the district committee.

“Khanjyan actively supported and encouraged a counterrevolutionary group of Dashnak nationalist writers, led by former party member Bakuntz. Books by Alazan, Totovetz, Vanandetzi and others that appeared on our book market in recent years – Trotskyist, Dashnak, anti-Soviet – were previously reviewed and approved for printing personally by Khanjyan, despite the objections of individual communists, print workers, and publishers.”

“Khanjyan undermined our entrepreneurs with his ‘financial policy’… Moscow and Tbilisi do not give money, but ‘we’ still find the money and build the People’s House, streets, schools, etc. See how ‘we’ care about Armenian culture, about building Armenia.”

“In light of the facts presented, the statement of the Dashnak Arshak Dzhamalyan (one of the organizers of Armenian volunteer detachments during World War I.–G.M.), that ‘Khanjyan’s conscience as an Armenian patriot has awakened’, becomes clear. Yes, comrades, in Khanjyan we have a definite ‘awakening’ – a relapse of Armenian national deviation-specificity!”

The dirt slung by Amatuni at Khanjyan’s head would have been more than enough to sentence dozens of top officials to death. Not a year went by when the boomerang launched by Amatuni returned to him and his surroundings – to behead them.

In September ’37, at the instigation of Stalin’s emissaries, comrades Malenkov and Mikoyan, the entire top of the Armenian SSR, in the presence of comrade Beria, was arrested by NKVD officers led by the head of the GUGB NKVD USSR department M.I. Litvin, who arrived with Malenkov and Mikoyan by the same train from Moscow.

From the editorial of the newspaper “Khorurdain Ayastran” “Leeches-bloodsuckers of the Armenian people” dated September 26, 1937:

“The last attempt to inflict irreparable damage on the Armenian people, to restore capitalism in our country, to carry out the punishment of counterrevolutionary Trotskyists and fascist Dashnaks was made by A. Amatuni, St. Akopov, A. Guloyan, H. Mugdusi… They appeared before us as the continuators of the vile designs of national counter-revolutionaries A. Ovannisyan, A. Kostanyan, S. Ter-Gabrielyan, A. Khanjyan.”

Now let’s take a breath and conclude our journey into the “kingdom of crooked mirrors” together with Vladimir Zinin, an old Bolshevik who miraculously survived in the Stalinist hell.

He recalled:

“In the spring of 1963, having arrived in Yerevan, I visited the gray-haired mother of A.G. Khanjyan – Tagui Sarkisovna. ‘What can a mother say about her son?’ she said. ‘Agasi was always sensitive, gentle. I was proud of him and constantly worried about him. You know the path he chose. My son lived for people, and he should live on, but look how it turned out… But I am happy and proud. Many, very many people visit me, ask about Agasi. In the hearts of people, he did not die.'”

Nor will the poignant words of Yeghishe Charents, spoken bitterly at the memorial service for Khanjyan on July 12, 1936, among friends: “Agasi – our last hero, killed by the Georgian Beria.”

Charents did not know, and could not know, that Beria had attempted Khanjyan’s life three years earlier.

In the second half of May 1933, Stalin gathered all the republic leaders at his place. On the way back, already in Georgia, Beria kindly invited the Transcaucasian meeting participants to visit one of the districts. Somewhere halfway, Beria suggested that Khantzyan change cars, supposedly wishing to see how good his new “Buick” was on the road. Khantzyan switched to Beria’s convertible and sat next to the driver. In the back seat was Hariton Khatskevich, the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Georgia for transport. In the convertible, Khanjyan apparently felt a draft on his head, and he asked Khatskevich to switch places with him. And a few minutes later, shots rang out from somewhere ahead. Khatskevich was killed outright.

A rumor was spread that the assassination attempt on May 30, 1933, was planned for Beria…

In the 1950s, during trials of Beria’s accomplices in Georgia, it was revealed that Beria himself had planned and orchestrated the assassination. That time, Khanjyan survived by sheer chance.

  • The author was surprised to learn that there is a school (No. 118) and a street named Erzyinkyan in Yerevan. No less puzzling is the fact that one of the streets in Moscow still bears the name of the Armenian G.A. Atarbekov (1892–1925), chairman of the Astrakhan Provincial Cheka, head of the special detachment of the Special Department of the Cheka, plenipotentiary of the Cheka in Azerbaijan and Armenia, an executioner, nicknamed by the people for his brutal nature “the red-bearded devil from the Cheka.”

by Hamlet Mirzoyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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