Soviet-Era Ghosts Revisit Armenia

By Edmond Y. Azadian

As if there was a shortage of problems in Armenia, recently a new topic was introduced into the national discourse. On April 30, the Yerevan Council of Elders approved  the initiative to erect a monument dedicated to Anastas Mikoyan, spearheaded by the ruling Republican Party (with council member Hayk Demoyan, director of the Genocide Institute Museum dissenting), followed by Prosperous Armenian party.

The opposition Barev Yerevan Party voted against the measure.

The initiative seems to be the consequence of the resurgence of Soviet era values in Russia, with its fallout in Armenia.

President Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policy initiatives require a psychological environment where Russia’s glorious past is revived and emulated.

In a recent TV interview, while comparing value systems in Russia and the West, Mr. Putin referred to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and commented that had the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb before the end of World War II, most probably Stalin would not have used it against Japan, which by then was already defeated.

This Soviet-era hero worship has also permeated Armenia’s political culture, where some politicians are trying to restore luster to Stalin’s associates, this time around Anastas Mikoyan, certainly, a great statesman who was instrumental in the development of the Soviet Empire, yet whose contributions to Armenia and Armenians remains questionable. That is why the decision has triggered an intense debate in the media.

A young and talented journalist, Hovik Afyan, commenting in Azg weekly, wrote sarcastically that we have yet to see a monument dedicated to the soldiers who delivered Karabagh to us while we are proposing to erect a monument to a statesman who delivered Karabagh to the Azeris. This treasonous charge has been corroborated by scholarly research, unfortunately.

Mikoyan stands accused in history as Stalin’s henchman and executioner, even to his people, upholding the interests of the Soviet regime above those of his people.

Anthropologist Hranoush Kharatian has unearthed documents which reveal the role played by Mikoyan during the critical years of the First Republic of 1918-1920, in advocating the annexation of the Armenian regions of Karabagh and Zangezour to Azerbaijan.

Indeed, during those years, the Karabagh Assembly had held seven convocations voting for independence. With the intervention of the British government, the Assembly had consented to accept temporarily Azerbaijan’s tutelage, waiting for the Treaty of Sevres (August 10, 1920) which would determine the destiny of that territory. Documents have proven that at that period, Mikoyan intervened with the Central Committee in Moscow and said that Armenians voluntarily choose to join Azerbaijan.

Another scathing document refers to the 1937 purges throughout the Soviet Union. In a Kafkaesque perversion, Stalin and his henchman would assign quotas for each constituent republic for potential “enemies of the people.”

First the punishment was determined, then the number of the punishable individuals was decided and after that, the “guilty” parties were arbitrarily discovered and executed.

In the fall of 1937, Stalin had  commissioned Mikoyan, Malenkov and Beria to travel to Armenia to find the “enemies of the people” and execute them. To ingratiate himself to Stalin, Mikoyan proposed to increase the assigned quota in Armenia by 700 people. A document signed by Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovitch, Chubar and Loginov states that 2,000 people in Armenia had been executed, among them prominent writer Axel Bakunts.

Despite the revelation of those documents, there are still people who believe that it would be appropriate to dedicate a monument to Mikoyan. Among them is the information security expert and prolific blogger Tigran Kocharyan, who says that he does not understand why some people are “opposed to the project.”

“One should not be afraid of a monument,” Kocharyan told ArmeniaNow. “The best solution would be erecting a monument to both Mikoyan brothers.” (Anastas Mikoyan’s brother, Artem, was a prominent warplane designer responsible for many of the famous MIG military aircraft.)

He continued, “Mikoyan was a controversial character, but he was a statesman of global significance. He was the president of the USSR Supreme Council, the founder of light industry and he stopped the third world war from taking place during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.”

His contributions were very significant to the Soviet Union, but one would be hard-pressed to find any contributions to Armenia.

Many commentators argue that it would have been futile to stand up against Stalin’s policies; anyone could dared oppose Stalin did so at his own risk, meeting certain death.

But Afyan asked caustically, “Then where was [Mikoyan’s] world-saving diplomatic skills which had averted the third world war?”

One can compare Heydar Aliyev, who was a Politbureau member during the Soviet era and how he was able to depopulate the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, which was 60-percent Armenian in the 1920s. He was able to devise repressive measures to make life unbearable in Nakhichevan and any outburst of discontent was discounted as an expression of Armenian nationalism, punishable under Soviet law. The same policy was applied also to people in Karabagh, but Aliyev could not achieve his dream in that territory before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The majority of the Armenian population lives below the subsistence level, and would not like to see any public funds diverted toward monuments, regardless of pro or con sentiments in this case.

When Lenin’s monument was removed from the central square in Yerevan, historians and writers believed that only General Andranik’s monument deserved to replace it on that ornate marble pedestal. But the beautiful pedestal was dynamited imprudently when Hampartzoum Galstyan was mayor. Today, a huge screen has replaced the monument, where news and commercials flash by 24 hours a day. Perhaps that appropriately defines the current national ideology of the regime more than any other monument.

Shahan Shahnour has stated that four symbols mark the four peaks of the veneration of the Armenians: the Church, Ararat, Komitas and Andranik.

Andranik’s ashes were transferred with great fanfare from Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris to Yerablur in Yerevan, to rest for eternity with the heroes of Karabagh. A respectable move, yet still an indignity in Shahnour’s estimation, a move he did not live to witness.

Andranik is a pan-Armenian hero. His birth in Western Armenia, however, has denied him that status in Armenia. And the Soviet system entrapped Armenia’s population in its parochial values. Therefore, it is not surprising when the debate rages about Mikoyan’s memory and statue, while Andranik does not inspire any such spirited debate.

Incidentally, history has also recorded cases of Byzantine emperors of Armenian extraction, who, if anything helped bring down the kingdoms of Armenia, the last one to fall being the Cilician Kingdom to Mamelukes, after being undermined by Byzantine policies.

When the ghosts of Soviet era disappear from the horizon, we can see the future clearer. Great symbols define great national ideologies. When we are emancipated from our parochialism, perhaps we can find the genuine truth and install Andranik’s memory and statue on its rightful pedestal.