The Second Genocide


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenia is a small country full of ancient monuments, with many Soviet-era statues dedicated to writers, composers and heroes. Many historic monuments and churches still remain in disrepair, waiting for the relevant authorities to save them from obliteration.

In view of the abundance of monuments, one would hesitate to propose another memorial. But the time has arrived to look into another dark chapter of Armenian history and erect a new memorial to the victims of the Stalin-era purges and executions.

I have always wondered how educated and erudite all tyrants have to be in order to select the best and brightest among the intellectuals for extermination. One does not need to go to the Inquisition era to find victims of intellectual terror, because even Queen Elizabeth I, during whose reign literature and art flourished in Britain, had blood on her hands since she chopped the heads and limbs of many of her contemporary writers and scholars.

Talaat Pasha seems to have been an equally “erudite” tyrant to be able to select the cream of the Armenian community in Istanbul, such as Taniel Varoujan, Krikor Zohrab, Yeroukhan, Rouben Zartarian, Ardashes Harutunian, Roupen Sevag, Komitas and another 200 prominent writers and leaders for execution.

It is ironic that Stalin himself had the same “distinction” to execute Charents, Bakunts, Totovents, Zabel Yessayan and 700 other writers, scholars, scientists and political leaders. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of other innocent people were exiled to Siberia to die of hunger and exposure.

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The Soviet system was a huge experiment of population engineering which ended in catastrophic failure.

The system was so cynical that it assigned quotas for each constituent republic of the union. Numbers were assigned for mass deportations of ordinary citizens. Also, there were numbers assigned for writers, artists and intellectuals to be executed. Instruments of torture were devised to be taken from one republic to the next to extract “confessions” from potential victims. Once the quotas were met, it was the task of the executioners to find their victims and send them in front of the firing squad.

Documents have surfaced recently that Anastas Mikoyan, the prominent Soviet statesman, had urged Stalin to increase the number of potential victims in Armenia by 500 to ingratiate himself to the tyrant.

In addition to hundreds of thousands of Armenians exiled to Siberia, it is believed that Stalin deliberately chose almost one hundred thousand Armenian soldiers to be used as cannon fodder during the battle of Kerch, in Crimea, during World War II.

Many may argue that Stalin’s terror was not directed only towards Armenia alone, as all the republics suffered under his reign of terror. But the difference is that Armenia was reeling from the first genocide of the century only a decade or two earlier. The other difference is that hundreds of diasporan Armenians were lured to repatriate to the Republic of Armenia and they ended up in the Siberian gulags. Indeed, such a fervor of patriotism was engendered throughout the diaspora that a massive emigration was organized from the Middle Eastern countries, as well as Greece, France and even the US.

Before the Armenian writers were executed, they were accused of entertaining “nationalistic sentiments.” Any criticism in the press leveled against a writer was equivalent to a death warrant. Even if no proof existed in a writer’s book, the assumption that he may have had “nationalistic sentiments” in his mind was enough for the executioner to convict the writer to certain death.

The literary historian David Gasparian has published a voluminous book (726 pages), titled Behind the Locked Doors, based on research into the KGB archives. It becomes clear that for a writer to be accused, the lever of the accusations were so flimsy and the verdicts so arbitrary and pre-determined, that one can only experience rage. In many cases, life-and-death decisions regarding the lives of writers were made in less than 30 minutes.

In 1937, Stalin, to cover up his cynicism, “devised another cynicism,” according to the book. Since many victims had shouted “Long Live Stalin” before their execution, that meant that “Stalin was the ‘father of all’ and could not commit such crimes. Therefore, the KGB apparatus was responsible for the crimes and began and purge of that apparatus, killing 20,000 agents. That also hit Armenians in September 1937. All those who had tortured and executed the phalanx of Armenians writers were sent to the firing squad, the most notorious among them were Vahram Chitouny, Khoren Moughdoussy, Ivan Gevorgov, Sahak Ter Gabrielian and many others.

After Stalin’s death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev relaxed the regime and almost all the victims of terror were rehabilitated. Those still alive in Siberia returned home. Gourgen Mahari, Vahram Alazan, Mugurdich Armen and many others returned to Yerevan, emaciated and broken. Not very many writers recounted their horrendous ordeal in exile. Gourgen Mahari, however, wrote his sardonic memoirs about that experience. Incidentally, he was sent back to Siberia even after Stalin’s death, accused of being “enemy of the people” and the court recorder’s typographical error extended his 10-year sentence to 11 years.

Mugurdich Armen published a collection of short stories, all based on the theme of exile, under the title We Were Asked to Deliver to You. The sufferings of all those left behind were transmitted to posterity through that book.

Many agents serving in the death machine ironically met their demise under that same mechanism. But the writers who played a sinister role in the fate of their fellow writers by fingering them to the authorities for arrest or worse, lived to a ripe age, even long after their victims were rehabilitated and called “The Just” (Not the innocents) because those evildoers were still considered untouchable. Two names in particular come up every time the issue is discussed: Hrachya Kochar and Nayiri Zarian.

When Armenia became independent, many executioners, their friends or relatives were still alive and they could be questioned as to the whereabouts of the remains of Charents or Bakunts. No government commission was formed to properly research and bring to light the facts of that dark period.

Only individual initiatives were taken, for example, David Gasparian himself began excavating in a suburb of Yerevan, where Charents’ remains were buried, according to the memoirs of a prison guard.

The issue was also raised by the novelist Norayr Adalian and it was recently revived by a young literary historian, Akamenik Nikoghosian. But still, no official action has been taken.

Armenians are very eager to have Turkey open the Ottoman archives to establish all the facts related to the Genocide, but the KGB archives in Armenia are open for anyone to conduct research, with very few takers.

While Stalin’s terror was raging, the Diaspora was divided on the issue. Of course, the ARF was fiercely critical, but since the party criticized everything in Armenia, the positive and the sinister equally, their criticism lost its impact. The other segments of the community were mostly silent, presumably preserving a patriotic policy. Only one voice in that camp was heard, that of the writer and scholar Arshag Chobanian, an ADL leader, a one-man committee fighting for the Armenian cause in Paris. He single-handedly published a literary magazine called Anahid, in which he raised his voice in 1938 about the fate of Charents and other writers. It was no wonder that Laurenti Beria, a Stalinist henchman, assassinated Aghassi Khanjian, a rising star in Soviet hierarchy, after accusing him of having collaborated with Arshag Chobanian, whom they called “an agent of the French intelligence service.”

Before Stalin’s terror machine began its grisly work throughout the Soviet Union, Ukrainians were his first victims. Stalin began the collectivization of agriculture in that country (1932-1933) by completely eliminating the kulak class (farmers), rendering Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe, into a basket case with its population dying from famine. To put down the resistance of the kulaks, Stalin starved the entire country, creating an artificial famine.

Although the numbers are different, it is safe to assume that approximately 7 million Ukrainians fell victim to that famine, which they named Holodomor.

After its independence in 2006, Ukraine officially designated Holodomor as a genocide.

Armenians need to choose a day to commemorate the victims of their second genocide. Yes, indeed, Armenia’s territory is populated by too many monuments, but still, there is room for one more, a very significant one for the victims of Stalin’s terror. A Vietnam War memorial format would be more appropriate, in which the names of all the victims are carved out, to be remembers and recorded for posterity.



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