The Armenian people have suffered a long history of oppression and persecution, most notably the Armenian Genocide of 1915, when the Ottoman Empire massacred more than a million Armenians. However, there is another tragic episode in the Armenian history that is often overlooked: the cultural genocide of the Armenians by Stalin during the Great Terror of 1937-’38.
The Great Terror, also known as the Great Purge, was a brutal political campaign led by Joseph Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, to eliminate any dissent or opposition in the Communist Party and the Soviet society. Stalin ordered the execution of hundreds of thousands of people, including many prominent Bolsheviks, army officers, government officials, and ethnic minorities. He also sent millions of people to forced labor camps, known as Gulags, where many died of starvation, disease, or torture.
Among the victims of the Great Terror were thousands of Armenian intellectuals and artists, who were seen as a threat to Stalin’s totalitarian regime and his Russification policy. Stalin wanted to erase the identity and heritage of the Armenian people, who had a rich and ancient culture, dating back to the 9th century BC. He targeted the Armenian writers, poets, painters, musicians, scientists, and political leaders, who were the bearers and preservers of the Armenian culture.
According to historian Tigran Khzmalyan, about 4,000 Armenian intellectuals and artists were shot by Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, in 1937-’38. Many of them were accused of being spies, traitors, or nationalists, and were forced to confess to false charges under torture. They were executed without trial or public announcement, and their works were banned or destroyed.
The cultural genocide of the Armenians by Stalin had a devastating impact on the Armenian society and culture. It created a climate of fear and silence, and deprived the Armenian people of their intellectual and artistic elite. It also erased a significant part of the Armenian history and memory, as many of the victims’ names and works were forgotten or suppressed for decades.
The Armenian cultural genocide by Stalin is still a largely unknown and unacknowledged tragedy, both in Armenia and in the world. It is often overshadowed by the Armenian Genocide of 1915, or by the other atrocities of the Great Terror. However, it is important to remember and honor the Armenian intellectuals and artists who were killed by Stalin, and to recognize their contribution to the Armenian culture and humanity. They were the victims of a ruthless and bloody dictatorship, but they were also the heroes and martyrs of a proud and resilient nation.