Politicians generally operate based on the current landscape: to maintain their approval ratings and extract benefits from any given situation, they typically conform to prevailing realities. The person this article is about was not one such individual.
I began writing this article about the public figure Valeriy Grigoryan, whose life was tragically cut short on August 10, 1991, in his hometown of Gadrut.
“This is a very complicated subject,” warned Nelli Kasparova, an experienced educator and daughter of Soviet Union Hero Ashot Kasparov.
Love of the People Beyond Politics
In her words, there’s a warmth and a deep, almost reverential, respect for the hero of our story.
“He was a man who was willing to sacrifice himself for peace,” she says. “Extremely decent, with a sharp analytical mind, you always wanted to listen to him. He reminded me so much of my father.”
People back in his hometown remember him fondly, at least everyone I spoke with does. Despite any obstacles, Valeriy Grigoryan always maintained close ties with his district and its ordinary residents.
During the tragic years of the Karabakh movement, when the “Ring” of Azerbaijani OMON and Soviet troops began to oppress the population of border villages in the district, it was largely due to his efforts, official and personal connections, that further deportation of local residents was averted.
“Valeriy Grigoryan had human qualities such as sincerity, kindness, and a willingness to help people,” says well-known Karabakh public figure and human rights activist Albert Voskanyan. “He was very accessible to ordinary people who approached him with various concerns. Valeriy always tried to help everyone; he didn’t ignore anyone’s suffering.
He was eager and sincere in his help. A modest man of utmost integrity, his charming smile was a constant. In his free time from public service, he would work in his garden. As a young man, I didn’t fully understand this, but as the years went by, I realized that for him, a man without avarice, the garden was an essential support for his family.”
“My father raised us in the spirit of nobility; he was the ideal parent, never raised his voice, and his authority was unquestionable,” recounts Arthur, Valeriy Grigoryan’s son and a defender of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). “But in his last years, he was often absent from the family. The times were difficult, and he was entirely engulfed in events, trying to ease people’s lives. He was always attentive to all relatives, interested in their affairs, and helped in any way he could.”
Valeriy Grigoryan was born on May 25, 1943, in the village of Htsaberd in the Gadrut District of Nagorno-Karabakh. After completing high school, he studied at the Shusha Teacher’s College. He graduated from Yerevan Pedagogical University named after Khachatur Abovyan, and also completed the Higher Party School in Moscow.
He became a member of the Communist Party in 1966 and started working in Gadrut as the first secretary of the Komsomol organization. Later, he was invited to Stepanakert to work at the regional party committee as an instructor, head of the organizational department, and head of the personnel department. From 1989, he was involved in the work of the Special Control Committee under the leadership of Arkadiy Volsky.
As part of delegations from Nagorno-Karabakh, he visited Moscow and Yerevan. In July 1990, during the 28th Congress of the CPSU, where debates on the Karabakh issue were unfolding, Valeriy Grigoryan spoke. His speech was candid.
The essence of his words was as follows: neither Azerbaijan nor the central authorities were hesitant to use any means, including force, to resolve the issue. Valeriy Grigoryan emphasized that the only way out he saw was through mutual understanding. According to him, this would create the possibility of finding common ground and constructive solutions.
“The problem must be resolved in such a way that justice prevails,” he stressed.
Valeriy Grigoryan attempted to break through the thick layer of indifference, criticizing those who operated on the principle: “We don’t know about your stance, but we’re sure it’s wrong.”
It’s easy to judge now, to categorize people as right or wrong, to call black ‘black’ and white ‘white.’ But back then, things were far from clear-cut! In those most challenging times, when pressing questions like “Who is to blame?” and “What to do?” were being asked, some of the Karabakh intelligentsia believed that certain concessions should be made to maintain the status quo, while others held extreme positions. There were also those who took a middle ground, hoping to buy time. Of course, no one wanted to remain part of the Azerbaijan SSR.
On July 20, 1991, following heated discussions, a delegation from Nagorno-Karabakh was sent for negotiations with the leadership of Azerbaijan. Upon returning from Baku, Valeriy Grigoryan, one of the representatives of the Committee of Authorized Representatives, was killed in broad daylight.
Writer Zoriy Balayan believes that Valeriy Grigoryan “fell victim to a finely planned propaganda stunt by Polyanichko.”
“In those days, Polyanichko was openly praising the participants of the meeting in Baku, especially Valeriy, apparently assuming that the ‘sentence’ would be executed by Karabakh patriots themselves. Six people went to Baku against their will. They were merely carrying out the assignment of the underground committee,” Balayan writes in his book “Between Hell and Heaven.”
This cynical murder remains unsolved to this day. Attempts were made to sweep it under the rug by transferring the investigation to the “justice” authorities sympathetic to the Azerbaijani SSR. According to Albert Voskanyan, Valeriy Grigoryan wanted to avoid mass bloodshed.
“I had the chance to speak with Valeriy Nersesovich on this subject several times. He was a committed advocate of a peaceful solution to the problem and believed that it was practically possible.
Using his connections with the head of the Organizing Committee Polyanichko and Comendant Safonov, he did everything to prevent punitive actions against the population. The fact that the residents of many villages in the Hadrut region were not deported is primarily the merit of Valeriy Grigoryan. Few would deny this.
The murder probably stems from a misunderstanding of his activities, of the positive things he did for Nagorno-Karabakh. Or perhaps it was malicious intent. In any case, it was an utterly wrong move: human life is sacred, given by God, and no one has the right to take it away. I think time will put everything in its place.”
“In 1989, when I was a teenager, Dad said that to undertake anything, one needs to prepare,” says Grigoryan’s son, Arthur. “If we start now, they will set up howitzers in Shushi and start shelling us, and we will have nothing to respond with,” he predicted back then.
Being a reserve officer, the father was against the war with its inevitable numerous casualties. He wanted everything to be settled with minimal bloodshed, and he saw Karabakh as part of Armenia.”
Valeriy Grigoryan is considered the first victim of the Karabakh movement for political reasons. Alas, politics has its own laws, often illogical, immoral, and unethical.
“At that moment, it was easy to pit people against each other; the tensions were extremely high. Give a fool a weapon, and he will go and kill without thinking,” continues Arthur. “In the early days, I couldn’t believe that my father was no longer alive. He was a decent, principled man and suffered for it. I think it was an intimidation tactic.
They chose an unarmed man, who had no particular group backing him. The people who made such a decision are deficient; they are incapable of engaging in proper dialogue with a worthy opponent. Failing to condemn this vile act, we subsequently saw a series of murders and the settling of personal scores. And once upon a time, I couldn’t believe that murder could go unpunished.”
Today, the middle school in his native village of Htsaberd bears Valeriy Grigoryan’s name. The decision was unanimously supported by both the school’s teachers and students, as well as all the residents of the village, including relatives of war heroes who have passed away, whose names are borne by schools in many Karabakh villages.
People’s love and respect are beyond politics, above it. And Valeriy Grigoryan proved this by his example.
by Ashot Beglaryan
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan