The fate of Aksel Bakunts was predestined – Armenians executed by Stalin’s regime

On July 7, 1937, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court (MCSC) of the USSR convened in Yerevan. The verdict read: “The defendant Bakunts was an active participant in the counter-revolutionary Trotskyist-Zinovievist terrorist organization, which carried out the heinous murder of Comrade Kirov on December 1, 1934, and in subsequent years prepared terrorist acts against the leaders of the VKP(b) and the Soviet Government.

From 1930 onwards, defendant Bakunts was one of the leaders of the anti-Soviet nationalist organization among Armenian writers. In 1933… defendant Bakunts became a member of the Trotskyist-nationalist terrorist center in Armenia, which aimed to use terror against the leaders of the VKP(b) and the Soviet Government.

In addition, Bakunts maintained close ties with Vagarshak Ter-Vaganyan, who was convicted in the case of the union Trotskyist-Zinovievist terrorist center, whom he informed about the organization’s work in Armenia… Based on the above, the MCSC of the USSR sentenced Alexander (Aksel) Stepanovich Bakunts to the highest degree of criminal punishment – execution by shooting with the confiscation of all his personal property. The verdict is final, not subject to appeal, and based on the resolution of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR dated 01.12.1934, is to be executed immediately.” The sentence was carried out on July 8, 1937.

The fate of Aksel Bakunts was decided even before the verdict of the MCSC: members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Molotov, Kaganovich, and Voroshilov, with Stalin at the head, had already given the “green light” to execute the prominent figure of Armenian culture on June 25, 1937.

On March 2, 1955, the MCSC of the USSR determined: “To overturn the verdict of the MCSC of the USSR from July 7, 1937, concerning Alexander (Aksel) Stepanovich Bakunts due to newly discovered circumstances and to discontinue the case against him due to the absence of a crime…”

The writer and citizen were rehabilitated. His name is immortalized in the name of a street in his hometown of Goris, where his House-Museum was also opened. Grateful residents of Goris erected a monument in honor of their great fellow countryman on one of the squares.

White Horse

The German war was in full swing, and throughout this universal slaughter, time witnessed personal dramas.

A seminarian of the Gevorgyan spiritual academy in Holy Echmiadzin, Alexander Bakunts, came to his parents for the holidays – to celebrate his 16th birthday.

Goris, the center of the Zangezur district of the Elisavetpol province, summer of 1915. The always bustling square was now lined with barbed wire. Here sat a selection committee tasked with culling horses and mules, requisitioned from the population for the needs of the fighting Russian army.

A large crowd had gathered in the square. On the third day, a herd of semi-wild horses was driven here from the village of Erishen. They were captured by throwing a rope around their necks, skillfully laying them down, then spending a long time calming and soothing them by stroking their muzzles. Only after this were they led to the table where the commission sat, measuring the horses’ various features. Among the spectators were the Bakunts – Alexander and his younger brother Vaan. They came to admire the beautiful horses.

Suddenly, a white horse, kicking back, broke free from the Cossacks, leaped over the table of the culling officers, raced to the fence made of barbed wire, and jumped over it at full speed. It cleared the fence but not without its belly being slashed open by the sharp wire. It ran towards the mountains, its intestines trailing behind…

It was a horrifying sight! A bloody trail led to the abyss, and reaching the edge of the Kalin-pash cliff, the white beauty tumbled down… Clenching his fingers in pain, Alexander couldn’t bear it and shouted across the square: “Barbarians!..” His outcry was directed at the military. Until nightfall, Alexander didn’t utter another word; he was so shaken by what he had witnessed.

With heavy hearts, the people of Goris saw off peasants from near and far villages, who carried on their backs orphaned saddles and saddlecloths. The poor souls barely dragged their feet – from grief and immeasurable fatigue. These unfortunate souls had no one to blame, and where could they complain? After all, they still had to plow and sow, and feed their children.

Passersby saw a young figure, frozen on a stone near the gates of his home, writhing in agony. Alexander pitied everyone: the poor animals and their owners, worn down by the burdens of war. Who knows, perhaps it was in these bitter moments that the iconic story “White Horse” was conceived?

A “Small Feuilleton” of Great Explosive Power

The summer turned out to be unusually hot. Every morning, Bohchagyul, Alexander’s mother, would carry out a colorful carpet she had woven herself and spread it under the fruit trees in the garden. This was for her beloved Santri (as the household called Alexander) to rest and rejuvenate. In the garden, Santri would immerse himself in contemplation, recalling the heart-wrenching scenes he had witnessed in Etchmiadzin. His soul was with those refugees, those who had escaped the Turkish yatagan.

About five times a day, his mother would shout to her other son Vaan:

“Could you check if Santri has fallen asleep? He might catch a cold from lying on the ground.”

Vaan would stealthily approach the sprawling loquat bush to peek at what his brother was up to. As usual, he was reading. He had a library membership and often sent the younger sibling to fetch books for him. The poor kid barely kept up with providing reading material. The librarian, Badirin Petrus, who was hard of hearing, would grumble:

“Does your Alexander swallow those books or what? Tell him we’ll soon run out; he should read more slowly.”

Always well-dressed in a black suit with a bow tie, looking like it had alighted on his dazzling white shirt, and a felt hat with narrow brims, Badirin Petrus epitomized the quintessential provincial intellectual with a European education. While his library couldn’t be described as rich, he somehow managed to update its collection with new books. He also procured postcards, which were in vogue. The voracious reader of Goris was aptly nicknamed “Girk Petrus” or “Bookish Pete”.

Thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Caucasian Armenian Charitable Society, a library-reading room was established in Goris in 1912. Numerous people took charge of it over the years. However, all these book enthusiasts deserve credit: when leaving their positions, they not only reported on the state of affairs but also commendably donated their modest personal book collections to the library, complete with bookcases and shelves. Perhaps it was the modest catalog of the “Sasun” library that inspired Alexander to think of creating a new, more extensive library for the city. And he ardently set about the task.

Alexander channeled all his energy into organizing evenings and theatrical performances. He was supported in this endeavor by local youth. With the earnings, albeit modest, from these events, the enthusiasts assisted impoverished school children. This modest funding went towards textbooks, clothing, shoes, and tuition fees.

Wishing to replenish the charity fund, Alexander and his friends personally distributed tickets to the upcoming performance throughout the homes of the wealthy and merchant shops. There were also benevolent people willing to support their initiative. Only one person remained unyielding – the city mayor, Matvey Matveich – Matevos-bek Ter-Grigoryants. He waved them off as if they were pesky flies.

“There’s no way I, Matevos-bek, the city head, would fall for the cheap venture of some beardless lads and throw money at their pitiful charade!”

Alexander nevertheless mustered the courage to send a couple of tickets to Matevos-bek’s home. His wife, receiving the tickets, told the messenger:

“Matvey Matveich will be home soon, and he’ll send you the money for the tickets.”

How mistaken the haughty bek’s wife was! He skimped on the tickets. That’s when Alexander resolved to teach the arrogant city head a lesson.

On July 26, 1915, in issue 40 of the Shusha public-political and literary newspaper “Pailak” (“Spark”), Alexander Bakunts’ first “small feuilleton” appeared:

“Matvey Matveich…

(an attempt to write the biography of an unknown figure)

Good heavens, you don’t know Matvey Matveich?! How is this even possible?! It’s forgivable not to know Wilhelm, say, or Hindenburg… But not knowing Matvey Matveich – is simply inexcusable!

One only needs to list his ranks and titles, and society will immediately recognize him as the “famous for his obscurity” man.

In the city of Goris, he is famous as the city head, chairman of the city self-government, chairman of the board of the local branch of the national bureau, chairman… of the women’s society.

Surprised? A man heading a women’s society?… I am just as stunned.

Anything can happen in Goris!

But this precisely speaks of his dedication to public work, testifying to his concern for the fate of the nation, Armenianhood in general, and the city boulevard.”

Just the other day, as soon as the school theater troupe was established, Matvey Matveich began pushing to become its chairman. After all, he has the right to everything!.. He is the chairman all over Goris…

But the schoolchildren were intimidated by his glasses and thunderous voice, well known to everyone – from Postman Anton to Abbas…

The mere appearance of the “uncrowned king” unsettled the students, and… they chose another chairman.

That’s when Matveich lost his cool… Foaming at the mouth, with fire in his eyes, he took out his anger on his guard – Kirik-Grigor…

It got to the point where he began to despise the schoolchildren and… doesn’t greet any of them.

Apart from being the city head, Matvey Matveich also ventured into acting. He acted in Polis for about three years, they say, fifteen years – in the Goris drama club, and recently he became a director – on the Eyvazlar stage in the Armenian section… He is still active in his works… Represents the women’s society… And he takes an active part in it, but not as Matvey, but under the name S. Martikyan (Fighter. – G.M.)…

He advocates for the fate of the nation and plans to redesign the boulevard in Goris.

Tez gnatsoh

(heading the opposite direction. – G. M.).

P.S. I almost forgot to mention another facet of his hectic activity. Previously, regular grass grew on the boulevard. Now there’s a clover carpet. Where once stood a single mulberry tree, now there are acacias. In the past, one couldn’t find a decent spring in the city, but now we have two turkeys available, whose eggs are sent directly to Germany, right to the table of Wilhelm himself.

Always the same.

The disheartened Matevos-bek was at a loss: the gendarmes under his command and their trackers couldn’t catch a trace of the “rotten lampoonist”.

Guarding Manucharovskaya Street, where the Bakunts’ house stood, was a gendarme named Ivan. A portly short man with a small head, he still looked impressive: bulging grey eyes and huge bushy mustaches gave him an intimidating look. He wore a black overcoat with epaulettes, a greasy sheepskin hat barely stayed on his head, and his boots creaked. On a thick leather belt looped around his fat-encrusted neck dangled an impressive holster with a revolver. On his chest, on a thick red cord, hung a whistle that had lost its former shine.

He began each morning with a patrol. Walking from one end of Manucharovskaya to the other, hands clasped behind his back, he moved slowly, but his eyes darted around – hoping to find fault with something. God forbid he spot some litter near a house: a scrap of paper, a cigarette butt, let alone overripe fruits fallen from branches, crushed by passersby!

Ivan cut no one any slack. He’d approach the gates of the “offender”, knock a couple of times with his baton, summon the owner, and, pointing a finger, bark:

– Fine!..

Knowing of this nasty habit of his, the residents of Manucharovskaya often ran out onto the street even before Ivan appeared – to check: hasn’t a tree dropped some fruit underfoot? What can’t the devil think of?!

Ivan was tasked with finding the criminal writer.

Matevos-bek was beside himself. At his command, the caricatures and incriminating leaflets were torn down. And since the “libels” were handwritten, they began hauling everyone to the precinct to check their handwriting.

Our very own Alexander was brought before the experts. These experts were the city notary Alexander Bagramov and… Matey Matveich. They made him write a few lines first with his right hand, then with his left. The biased examiners unanimously concluded: the capital letter “A”, written with Alexander’s left hand, resembled the letter “A” from the ill-fated pamphlet.

He was then arrested and thrown into the Zangezur Prison – the Goris jail. Wishing to deflect suspicion from his friends, Alexander Bakunts sent a letter to the “Paylak” newspaper, which was published in the August 6th issue:

“To the editorial board of the ‘Paylak’ newspaper,

Goris, August 1, 1915.

Please be kind enough to publish my confession on the pages of your newspaper to shield innocent people from undue persecution. I hereby inform you that I am the author of the feuilleton published in issue No. 40 of the ‘Paylak’ newspaper.”

Now Matevos-bek could sleep soundly: his sworn enemy, this snotty scoundrel, was caught. And thankfully – as the city head re-elections were just around the corner.

The city was stirred. Some people stood up for Alexander. Protest letters poured into Shusha, Baku, Elisavetpol, Tbilisi. Alexander’s father, Stepan, also appealed to the Elisavetpol Governor Kovalev. Meanwhile, the scandal grew like a snowball. The Baku newspaper “Arev” (“Sun”) voiced out:

“Our reality is quite surprising: they drag into court even over a feuilleton, and the basis for detention is mere speculation. A few days ago, handwritten leaflets were spread throughout Goris, defaming the city head M. Ter-Grigoryan. And Mr. Ter-Grigoryan, God knows why, orders the arrest and imprisonment of the student Alexander Bakunts. For handwriting comparison, a special commission is formed, consisting of a narrow circle of people close to the accuser, which naturally causes outrage among local youth. The city head allows himself disrespectful remarks about it in public places. The youth’s indignation is directed not so much against the city head, but in defense of justice…

Resorting to force under such circumstances is tantamount to a crime, and the city head must realize this, especially when persecuting a student.”

The “Paylak” newspaper also stood by its correspondent. The August 16th issue featured an article titled “The Case of Alexander Bakunts”. Journalists deemed the arrest unlawful and demanded the immediate release of the detainee:

“Long before the publication of the mentioned feuilleton, its text was read in the editorial office in the presence of two eminent lawyers, and everyone agreed that it contained nothing prejudicial. Truly, to what extent can things go if even harmless humor is persecuted, especially by a guardian of the law?”

The newspaper’s editorial board condemns the excessive zeal of self-proclaimed experts and the so-called “humiliated”:

“Who gave the right to the ‘humiliated’ gentlemen, who acted as experts, to judge an opponent? The question remains unanswered, especially since the father of the innocently aggrieved student, Mr. Bakunts, has already sent a letter to the governor himself. There is no answer to the request yet, and Mr. Bakunts is already imprisoned.

The city head is not resorting to retaliation against his opponents for the first time. After the public scandal caused by Mr. Ter-Grigoryan against the teacher of the parish school, Mr. Samson Ovannisyan, the case with Mr. Bakunts was the second to become public. How long until the third?

Goris deserved such a city head because such excesses took place in front of everyone.”


Bohchagyul was restless. She paced through the house and garden, afraid to show herself to the neighbors: you can’t silence people. At night, she would sneak out of the house and, sitting by the gate, would be consumed with tears. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

The next morning after the arrest of her son, Stepan brought him some homemade food. They accepted his parcel but didn’t let him see his son. It was then that Bohchagyul decided to fall at the feet of Matevos-bek himself: perhaps he would have mercy and release her son.

Bohchagyul and Vaan went and stood at the very gates of the city head’s house. Beyond the gates was a spacious yard, and there was a pond reflecting like a mirror, under a tree grazed a pair of deer. Instead of the usual knocker, there was a white button of an electric bell on the gate. Vaan pressed it, a long ringing sound echoed, and a minute later, the bek’s maid appeared.

“Why have you come?”

Bohchagyul said they had come to see Matevos-bek or his wife Satenik. The maid shut the gate door abruptly and left. Through a crack, Vaan peeked to see her whispering something into Satenik’s ear, then the lady went inside and almost immediately came back out, saying something to the maid.

They were let in, and mother and son entered the courtyard. Vaan walked, his eyes fixed on the deer, all the while consumed by the thought that staring at the deer was tantamount to a crime: after all, they were the property of the bek, and not just any bek, but the city head. A few steps more, and they were on a small veranda. They were met by Satenik.

“God help you. What brings you to our threshold?”

Tears streaming down,

Bohchagyul, stumbling over her words, explained their reason for coming. Before Satenik could even open her mouth, Bohchagyul threw herself at her feet and burst into tears. Satenik pushed her away with her foot. Vaan instantly rushed to his mother, helping her to stand up, then stepped aside. Then, the shrill cry of Satenik rang out:

“So it was you who brought this wretch into the world?! Matvey, Matvey, come and see with your own eyes who has come to us!”

On the veranda appeared Matevos-bek himself, bald, dressed in a colorful robe, wearing pointed Persian shoes.

For the first time, Vaan saw the man before whom the whole city trembled.

“And who are you asking me to favor, unfortunate woman?” bellowed the bek, his eyes darting around, hoping to see what the petitioner had brought him.

Preparing to see the city head, Bohchagyul had worn her best outfit, stitched in the traditions of Zangezur. Coins of silver embossing adorned her forehead. She wore a belt of red satin, wrapped around her waist several times. On her feet were festive, slightly pointed shoes, and her mouth was covered by a traditional scarf. And in this attire, she stood frozen before Matevos-bek.

“Speak, you are not some statue, why have you come?” he roared in fury. “Speak, or I’ll throw you out!”

Without raising her eyes, she began to beg Matevos-bek to graciously forgive Alexander and order his release from prison.

Hardly had poor Bohchagyul finished her plea when the city head’s voice thundered:

“I must punish him severely as a warning to others. I will hang this mangy pup for all to see that one shouldn’t play with my good name! Everyone must know that this is worse than a mortal sin! Out of my sight! Get away. I don’t want to see you!”

Bohchagyul was barely able to stand. The son was afraid that in her desperation she would fall at the feet of the city head and beg for his forgiveness. But this did not happen. With a contemptuous look, she scanned the beka from head to toe, adjusted the bandage covering her mouth, and dragged Vaan to the exit. She was shaking, and this trembling was passed on to her son. He was itching to hurl harsh words in the beka’s face, but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

The gates closed behind them with a loud bang.

The next day, Vaan and his mother went to the prison. Barely crossing the threshold of the prison yard, the boy felt the thick walls of the fence, on which guards with weapons were walking, begin to loom over him. The massive gates were iron-clad on both sides, the thick walls of sturdy masonry were intimidating, the echoing emptiness of the yard was oppressive.

He needed to pull the ring so that a bell would ring in the stone depths. Vaan clung to it and wouldn’t let go. A minute later, a small window opened, and a voice said:

“Who’s the delivery for?”

The petitioners were admitted. Passing through the yard, they came upon an iron barrier behind which the prisoners stood. Guards, jangling with huge keys, clomping in boots, with sabers at their sides, marched without taking their eyes off the prisoners. When one of the guards turned away, Alexander joyfully rushed to greet his relatives.

He was not in prisoner’s clothing – his trial had not yet taken place. Against expectations, Bohchagyul endured the meeting without tears. She held back, she admitted later, so that her son would “not be disheartened.” The mother spoke softly, reassuring her son.

Vaan brought Alexander a ripe sunflower head. The guards untied the knot with clothes and food gathered by the mother, rummaging in it for anything prohibited. Taking the sunflower head from Vaan’s hands, a guard broke it in half, looking for something there too. The younger one couldn’t hold back and cried. When he wiped his tears, he noticed two passages leading deeper into the prison building: a light and a dark one.

Alexander was taken through the latter. He waved to them and, holding the sunflower halves to his chest, walked cheerfully there.

Vaan’s eyes drifted to the light passage, on the walls of which angels were painted with oil paints, and elders, bearded and barefoot, floated in the clouds. Vaan was saddened that his brother, Santri, was led through the dark and gloomy passage, covered with bars, and not this corridor of “painted beauty.”

At home, the father explained that this was for the best, because the corridor with saints on the walls usually leads to a martyr’s death.

Bakunts will later describe the prison in the story “Kёres”:

“The city of Goris acquired a three-story prison, so spacious that it could hide half of the inhabitants of old Goris – Shena…

Ata-aper, a venerable old man, seems to foresee a time when he or some of the old-timers of Kёres will find a plowed field where the bazaar once stood, and above the bailiff Vasil’s house there will be pastures, and the Green Spring, the source of which remained under the walls of the White prison, will burst forth anew.

Ata-aper spoke slowly, stretching out words, as the native Kёres residents know how. But he didn’t mention who would discover the source of the Green Spring or what it would look like, although he often reminisced about how he would graze cattle right where the White prison now stands.”

Notes from Captivity

“In the Goris detention center, Alexander did not remain idle: he managed to send his records to the outside world. On August 29, 1915, in the Tbilisi Armenian newspaper “Orizon” (Horizon), his letter “Alarming Situation” appeared, signed briefly – “B.” It discusses the bandit raid of the Tarakama nomadic tribe, returning from Zangezur’s alpine meadows to their habitats in the Mugan Valley, robbing Armenian peasants along the way, trampling crops, ransacking homes, and stripping gardens.

Here’s an excerpt from this correspondence:

“Brnakot, Sisian, August 10

Bandits are already unfolding on the slopes of the surrounding mountains: every day they shoot there, make horse raids, gather meetings, and the like… The threat is increasing. For several days now, Turkic nomads (or Caucasian Tatars, who after Sovietization will be called Azerbaijanis. – G.M.) from the Tarakama tribe, having left our summer pastures earlier than usual, are moving towards the Mugan steppe. As it became known from the Turkic scouts, the men of the robber Suleiman received an order to transfer to Karabakh everyone who is not able to bear arms…

Currently, 15 villages inhabited exclusively by Armenians are in alarm and fear. They fully understand that in case of an attack on them, help will not arrive soon, and it is impossible to repel it on their own, because both Sisian and all of Zangezur, cut off from the locations of large army forces, are an island amid impregnable mountains and impassable roads. The situation has become extremely complicated…”

The “Pailak” newspaper on August 23 informs its readers:

“As we were informed by Goris, the conflict between our correspondent Alexander Bakunts and the city head Mr. M.M. Ter-Grigoryan has been resolved, and Mr. Bakunts has been released from prison. As it turned out, the author of the accusatory leaflet against the city head was not Bakunts at all, but an outsider who notified with a new leaflet and even a letter that Mr. Bakunts had nothing to do with it.”

The Disgraced City Head

“Two decades will pass after all these events, and Bakunts will return to the image of Matevos-bek and his flashy wife Olinika-Satenik in the story “Kёres”:”

The butchers are the first to open their stalls… The first customers start to appear… The Russian priest’s servant, Marusya, has already managed to gather meat, bread, and greens… The jailer Vasil’s wife, also named Marusya, has collected everything she needs. The same goes for the Armenian Consistory’s inkwell Pachisti Avanes, Vagarshak-bey’s servant; the carriage driver Ibish; and Chakmachi Veskan, who took half of a mutton carcass since he has an engagement planned for this evening…

And now the town’s figurehead, Mayor Matevos-bey, has appeared, followed closely by the half-deaf, half-mute Kiri, the town park’s watchman, a city council worker, and also the servant of tikin Olin’ki. He carried heavy loads for her, washed carpets, and on Saturdays fetched water from the Shor spring because on Saturdays, tikin Olin’ki, together with the washerwoman, started the laundry.

God, what was happening with you then, my dear city? In those days, it was impossible to pass not only their street but also the neighboring ones… Fluff and feathers from countless pillows flew in clouds over the rooftops, reminiscent of cottonwood fluff in May. Fine hairs twirled in the air, reaching all the way to the courthouse, settling on the eyebrows of the cook at the court. This is how the entire town knew that it was laundry day at the mayor’s house. The entire yard, balconies, and even the walls facing the street were white with hanging laundry.

While we were occupied with tikin Olin’ki’s laundry, the town head and his bodyguard Kiri had already entered the market area. Walking past the meat stalls, Matevos-bey primarily monitored cleanliness. But he was drawn to the fruit rows, where traders, with his knowledge, not only occupied part of the space but also took over the sidewalk, displaying mountains of watermelons, melons, and baskets of grapes. All were shielded from the blazing sun by a massive canvas. Between the mountains of fruits was a narrow passage, so tight that two shoppers couldn’t pass each other. But this tight gap is what attracted the mayor.

Matevos-bey and his attendant are drawn toward this paradise of immortality. It’s impossible not to admire the scene where Bijo Ak’yal, the well-known fruit merchant, brings a yellow-green melon, still glistening with dewdrops, to the mayor’s nose. The now-graying Matevos-bey was as delighted as a child, taking the melon and sniffing it. The next moment, the merchant was presenting a watermelon, and what a watermelon!

But Matevos-bey had already darted to the next stall because he spotted large, deep blue plums. And he was already inquiring in detail: whose garden do these grow in, how long can they be stored in a cellar, will they last, say, until November 4th (tikin Olin’ki’s birthday), and can jam be made from these phenomenal plums, as Matevos-bey called them…

The clock indicated a time that the people referred to as the judge’s tea time – datavori tei vaht. It was already past eleven, and the judges were just beginning to gather at the courthouse, where a crowd had already gathered. So, the judge’s tea time had come, but Matevos-bey had not yet reached the last stall in the fruit rows.

And there were a great many of those stalls, and they were lined up as if on purpose, leading directly to the city council building, right in the path of the mayor. Several council members, considering themselves progressives, criticized this weakness of Matevos-bey and planned to give him negative votes in the upcoming mayoral elections.

And they, the progressives, did indeed give negative votes to Matvey Matveyevich. Following their example, remembering the persecution of Alexander Bakunts, other council members did the same. After failing the elections with a bang and lingering for another year and a half in Goris, Matevos-bek Ter-Grigoryants, with his stunning Satenik, the “Bakunts’ tikin Olinka”, and their two daughters left for Baku. The former mayor died in September 1918 during another massacre of Armenians in Baku. What happened to Olinka-Satenik and their daughters Maria and Nina, I never found out.

But in the files of the Goris newspaper “Karmir rashpar” (“Red Ploughman”) in the issue dated June 14, 1927, I found a curious article: “Baku In April 1927, a general meeting of the Darabas community association took place. The meeting decided to ask local authorities to name the school after comrade Stepan Shaumyan and to give the “Gasani bah” gardens and the adjacent area the name of the highly respected Matvey Matveyevich.”

Regardless of what was said about Matevos-bek, the people of Darabas remembered their fellow villagers fondly, even years after his tragic death.

Amongst the city’s concerns

Even though Matevos-bek had left the stage, he was still an exceptional personality. He was born in the Sisian village of Darabas, Russians called him Darabaz, and he graduated from a technical school in Shusha. He studied with his elder brother Migran at the Lazarev Institute of Oriental Languages in Moscow. When the brothers moved to Baku, the restless Matevos established educational departments at the Armenian clubs of the oil capital. To support social and cultural life, he collected donations and delivered a series of “Eastern Music Lectures.”

Later, Matvey Matveyevich and his brother moved to Goris, where he was offered the position of the head of the local prison, and in May 1911, the city council elected him as the city mayor.

In the very first meeting of the new city administration, Mayor Matevos-bek Ter-Grigoryants delighted the people of Goris with the news that from now on, every citizen, including newspaper correspondents, could attend the working sessions of the city council.

Tigran Sazandaryan, the history teacher of Alexander Bakunts at the parish five-year school (in 1916, his daughter, the future opera diva Tatevik Sazandaryan, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, would be born) described this time in the Shusha newspaper “Karabakh” dated February 16, 1912, as follows:

“At the doors of the council hall stood a butcher. Everything about him seemed to be asking for indulgence and help. And it worked: the price of lamb was raised by open voting from 12 to 13 kopecks, with the majority of votes, leaving the beef price unchanged at 9 kopecks per pound. Simply, there was no beef trader present in the council that day.

In the morning, after finding out that the price of his meat was, for some reason, left unchanged, the beef trader, believing the council’s decision to be unfair, went straight to the mayor: “Where can one now get good meat? The livestock isn’t the same anymore, and the prices have jumped incredibly.” “Don’t make a fuss, we’ll discuss it,” Matvey Matveyevich reassured him, “we’ll reconsider the rate.”

At the next meeting, Ter-Grigoryants returned to the issue of prices. This time, the beef trader stood at the door. One of the council members suggested approving the new rate by secret ballot.

Matvey Matveyevich was surprised, “Why all of a sudden, gentlemen, are you inclined to a secret ballot? The matter is mundane and trivial!”

But deep down, he was pleased that the prices for lamb and beef would be approved by secret ballot. Imagine my surprise when the results were announced. A pound of lamb was priced at 12 kopecks instead of 13 (most likely due to the absence of the lamb seller in the meeting hall), and beef went up in price by a kopeck (because its seller was standing at the door!)”

In September 1915, the newspaper “Paylak” published an article titled “On the Eve of the Election of the Mayor of Goris,” from which I quote a brief excerpt:

“The activities of the Mayor of Goris, according to some council members, proved to be entirely useless. During his entire tenure, he either did nothing or implemented planned activities so clumsily that the council members constantly had to rectify emerging misunderstandings…

Here are the facts:

Before Mr. M. Ter-Grigoryan’s election as city mayor, Goris had electric lighting. Every year, 720 rubles were spent on lighting the streets and the city administration building. The new mayor cut this amount to 320 rubles, proposing the idea of building a power station for the city. Discussions about this continue to this day. The end result was that the contractor responsible for the city’s lighting, Mr. Petrosyan refused to provide it, and the streets of Goris are now plunged into darkness;

Three years ago, the city administration allocated 700 rubles to save the city from mudflows after rains by constructing drainage, but nothing has been done in this direction yet;

The city lacks a water pump and a fire engine, even though fires happen quite often. Funds for these purposes were allocated three or four years ago;

Annually, 100 rubles are allocated for the maintenance of city springs, and additional funds were allocated by the council for the construction of a new spring. Yet, the existing springs are in a deplorable state;

The wooden part of the old city school is put up for auction, and the stones from the masonry are sold by the mayor to his people for 3 rubles per cubic yard. However, he refuses those who are willing to pay 10 rubles for them;

From vegetable and fruit traders, the mayor collects 3, and sometimes even 6 rubles, but where this money goes, the council members do not know;

Without the knowledge of the council members, 1,500 rubles are allegedly allocated for street improvements, which the city mayor interprets as moving piles of dirt from one side of the street to the other;

Disregarding the opinion of the council members, in just a few months, the city mayor has changed the premises for the local government about five times, spending an unknown amount of money on their rent…

On the eve of the mayoral election, serious accusations are leveled against Mr. M. Ter-Grigoryan. How will the city mayor respond to them?”

As we already know, the thorny Matvey Matveich paid for everything with his position as mayor.

Matvey Matveich’s brother, Migran, held various positions in the district’s government bodies, became the secretary of the Zangezur Peace Department, and was “dismissed from his post and entirely from service, according to his request, on June 30, 1914”. Migran wasn’t overly concerned and returned to his original profession – that of a tailor. Many were flattered to wear a suit made by Migran Matveich.

With the departure of Tikin Olinka, the Union of Armenian Women in Goris was headed by Ashkhen Melik-Shahnazaryan, a beloved Russian language teacher idolized by Bakunts. And in the chair formerly occupied by Matvey Matveich, now sat the liberal Akob Ter-Arutyunyan, a former elder of the Kyoresk rural society.

Akob Ter-Arutyunyan, as the city mayor, would be succeeded by a relative of Alexander Bakunts – David Khurshudyan. He would become the last elected mayor of Goris.

In the memory of the unfortunate city:

’37 became the mass grave of the Soviet intelligentsia. It also bled Armenian culture dry.

Three-quarters of a century has passed since those dark times, but to this day, the burial places of many remain unknown. Axel Bakunts also vanished without a trace.

In a dark, damp prison cell corner, a message scratched by Axel’s hand reads: “Today they’ll take me to finish it. A. Bakunts 8.07.37”.

The guards took Axel down to the Razdan-Zangu River gorge. They handed him a shovel – to dig his own grave. He hung his jacket on a tree branch and started digging. Once he finished, they asked:

“Any last wishes?”

“Let me have a smoke.”

One of the soldiers filled a piece of newspaper with tobacco and handed it to him. Ironically, Axel found himself holding a piece of paper with his own photograph. When the cigarette burned down to his fingers, Axel made two holes in the stub and took his final drag. Perhaps this was his way of extending life for just a moment more.

“Do you want a blindfold?”

He declined.

Forty years later, one of those guards would find himself in Yerevan, coming from Dneprodzerzhinsk. Buying a newspaper and seeing a portrait of Bakunts, he’d recall leading this very man to the Zangu River. He’d return to that gorge, searching and searching, trying to find that spot… But much has changed in forty years.

by Hamlet Mirzoyan

Translated by Vigen Avetisyan

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