All posts by Tom

The Billionaire and the Pauper

Calouste Gulbenkian
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Armineaghayan

He was a playboy whose financial resources were infinite. A womanizer who would make Wilt Chamberlain’s “conquests” seem trivial. His life was one adventure after another and at any time in his young life it could have ended. He held citizenships in many countries and during World War II he served his adopted country, England, as a spy. Because he was an Iranian citizen, he managed to fly into Nazi Germany on missions on a passport that wasn’t challenged.

At birth, he was scooped up from his crib by his father, handed to friends on horseback and taken to a port before the Turks attacked the village. He grew up in wealth…

And, no, I am not talking about Donald Trump, but the son of “Mr. 5 Percent”.

“You mean you don’t know who Mr. 5 Percent is?”

I looked at the stranger and said, “No.”

“He’s only one of the richest men in the world.”

I was sitting in the lobby of the National Hotel in Moscow. The year was 1959. We had just finished a basketball tournament and my coach allowed me to remain in the capital so that I could visit the American National Exhibition, which was scheduled to open in a couple of days (July 1959).

While tourists from all over the world were flooding into the Soviet Union to see for themselves what secrets were hidden behind the Iron Curtain, I had had that opportunity to learn first-hand, thanks to the Armenian Repatriation in 1947.

While sitting and waiting for a cab, a young man, well-dressed, with American shoes (that’s how the Soviets could identify the foreigners – by their shoes) sat down in a chair across from me. I was curious about life in the West and I raised the first question, asking him where he was from. “Canada,” he said. He countered with, “Are you American?”

His question sent me into a quandary – Should I tell him that I was an American, but am now considered a Soviet citizen. I settled for “I’m Armenian and live in Armenia.”

“My employer is Armenian…and I know a lot of Armenians. You truly don’t look Armenian.”

“That has always been my problem.” I thought about telling him my story, but instead I asked him who his employer was.

He replied, “Nubar Gulbenkian. His father Calouste Gulbenkian is known as “Mr. Five Percent.” He went on to tell me that the senior Gulbenkian was the conduit in the development of the Iraq oil fields which netted him a 5 % stake in the Turkish Petroleum Company. He also brokered the Iraq Petroleum Company contract with the stipulation that 5% of the laborers in the fields be Armenian.

Calouste Gulbenkian died in 1955.

The gentleman rose abruptly and said, “Here is Nubar now. Since he is going to Armenia I know he would be interested in speaking with you.”

What approached us was a man in gray suit, about five feet-six, overweight, unsophisticated, with those dark Armenian eyes and thick black eyebrows. I might have been a bit naïve, but he didn’t impress me as being the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time.

Those in the lobby immediately turned their attention to him. Where there was a man of distinction, there was always a KBG crew. I was standing on quicksand, Mr. Gulbekian was not. There would be no one to save me once he left.

He asked the usual Armenian questions – who and where my father was and the reason for my stay in Moscow. I gave him all the answers, then asked, “And why are you going to Yerevan?”

“On a mission,” he said. “I would like them to name a street in honor of my father. I hope to see one built from Yerevan (the capital) to the Etchmiadzin (The See of the Armenian Apostolic Church). And then he smiled. Do you think they’d be interested?”

“I’m quite sure they would be.”

He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

Years later, when I was granted my freedom, I asked one of my former teammates whether Gulbenkian managed to build the street. He replied, “Those Neanderthal communists would never allow someone to put the name of a capitalist on a street sign, even if they were given millions.”

But, after the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Armenia granted the Gulbenkian Foundation its wish: Gyulbenkyan Street, not all the way to the Etchmiadzin perhaps, but in the city of Yerevan…in Armenia.

Gyulbenkyan St, Yerevan Armenia

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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War, Not Peace?

Hand holding earth
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Ponsulak

It was Churchill who noted that facts are better than dreams.

For we can dream all we want of jobs, or a national health care program, or financial security, or peace, if we do not work for those ends, it just won’t happen.

To hope is good, but the word is too subjective. I can pray all I want to God for peace, but the fact is there is no peace. The 20th Century was one of the most violent centuries since man recorded history; and the 21st is shaping up to being no better. We have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan for more years than we were in World War I or even World War II.

And to make it clear – I detest war as most men and women do. Death comes too soon in life to hasten it in battle.

Though I have heard during my fourscore and one years many false prophets preach of a “Judgment Day” for the evil and a Resurrection Day for the merciful, I have seen neither. So those who have died for the causes…the “isms”, for liberty, for equality, for fraternity and for their national security have apparently died in vain.

There is no justifiable reason to go to war, not even if it is a so-called “humanitarian operation”.

If by “we” means to place American lives in jeopardy, I say no…a thousand times “no”. Have we not sacrificed enough of our young men and women upon the altar of war? The world has long forgotten those who sacrificed their lives at Verdun and the Somme and Amiens and Normandy and El Alamein and Stalingrad, and Dien Bien Phu – to list but a few. Those millions of lives lost – on both sides of the battle lines – were lives of the young and our finest – what unfulfilled missions did they have before the fatal bullet struck them down? Which of those brave lads was the one destined to find the cures for our cancers, to create undersea and ocean apartment complexes – what were they destined to do before they were called to arms?

Isn’t it time for man to abandon violence as a means to settle disagreements?

Given a microphone to ask a question, one student at one of my book talks at Schoolcraft College in Livonia, Michigan, said, “Mr. Mooradian, I have served in Iraq. Do not be confused. We are not there for the people. We are there for our buddies: to protect him and hopefully for him to protect me.”

Another student raised the question, “Should we not intervene to stop those in power from mass murdering ethnic groups?”

Strange, isn’t it – that that question should be asked of an Armenian author whose mother, at the age of 10, watched as a Turk plunged a saber into the belly of her pregnant older sister and saw the Turks slaughter her mother and father after they burned down their home in the village of Ererzum. Where was the United States? Where was France and England and Russia then? They stood by and asked the Christian Armenians to pray…

But then Armenians did not have oil.

To those who believe in intervention, let the United Nations – not the United States – act. After all, was not that the purpose of the framers of the United Nations charter…to establish a government body that would immediately act against those who would commit crimes against humanity.

“They don’t have the power…or the forces…to do so,” you say.

Then give them the power and the resources.

And, I will repeat what I have told the now thousands who have heard me, “If man cannot live on earth in peace, then damn it, we do not deserve to live on earth!”

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Explaining the Inexplicable

Donkeys in a pasture
Image courtesy of Franky242 and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When it comes to politics, nationalism, and economics, everyone, it seems, (including me) is seeking to explain “the Donald Trump…”, the “Bernie Sanders…”, “The Brexit … ” phenomena. And, when it comes to enigmas, I am the first to admit I am no Winston Churchill or Alan Turing – and not to offend Polish readers, I’m also not a Marian Rejewski, a Jerzy Rozycki, or Henry Zygalski…the cryptologists who initially cracked the  “uncrackable”  Enigma, the Nazi Code Machine.

If you will please bear with me for a few paragraphs or so, I am going to digress here, to tell you an ancient Armenian saga. And when I finish, I am quite certain, you will not need the political pundits or the cryptologists to explain the poppycock Donald Trump or the ground-roots popularity of Bernie. (Now that is what we call political bias, Mr. Mooradian).

Eons ago, while sharing his wine and lavash and cheese with me under the mulberry tree, the centenarian Armen Dye, whose role as groundskeeper and gardener and in-house philosopher at the famous Pioneers Palace in Yerevan, told me the following story. It went something like this:

…Once upon a time there was this not-to-wise farmer. His name was Ashot. Ashot had a donkey (ehshe) which he used to plow his field and carry his produce to market. Ashot usually fed and treated his loyal donkey well, and the donkey repaid his master, laboring without stubbornness or complaints, and you know how stubborn a mule can be.

However, one evening Ashot was distracted and forgot to feed the animal. The following day as he worked the field, the donkey, decided to stage a sit-down strike. The animal folded his legs, and slipped to the soil. Ashot immediately realized the injustice – he had not fed his loyal laborer and the ehshe (ass) had no other recourse but to halt production. The farmer promised, after pleading, even begging, that once they got back to the barn he “would take care of him”.

But once in the barn, Arshot became belligerent – “How dare this ass make demands of me – I am the boss here. He must obey me.” So he didn’t feed him that evening. Or the next. Or the next. And the farmer realized that by not feeding the jackass he was also saving a lot of money.

Several days passed, then one evening Ashot heard a loud terrible sound come from the barn. He rushed out and a cold shill enveloped him. He glanced down at the animal. It had died. In tears, Ashot moaned, “If only you had worked one more day, I would have fed you.”

Labor is sick and tired of waiting…

The jobless remain jobless, and have given up hope of finding a job….

If you’re “fortunate” enough to be employed these days, and dare to ask for a raise…forget it. Your boss will tell you “This isn’t the time for raises.” And then you learn that the corporation is planning to move its operation overseas.

Political candidates seek power “to make changes and get rid of the elitists,” they assure us that they want office to care “for the poor and downtrodden.” But, once in office do they not become the “rich man’s friend?”

Once in office, politicians enact anti-labor laws such as NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – then add salt to labor’s wounds by joining TPP – The Trans-Pacific Partnership – so why do we wonder or why are we stunned when England’s voters decide to turn up their noses at the Europe and vote to exit the EU!

As Tony Blair, the ex-Prime Minister of England noted on “Morning Joe” the other day… “The elite today are so disconnected (with the labor class). We’re living in a bubble. And this isn’t only happening here in England. It’s happening everywhere….in France, in Italy, in Germany…in Romania…everywhere…”

And, dear Mr. Blair…it has been that way now in these United States for decades. How else can you explain the popularity of a Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump?

In time, the “elite” evaporate; the people, however, have been here since the beginning of time.

One doesn’t need the services of a cryptologist to understand this: Workers today are sick and tired of waiting for the crumbs to fall from the rich man’s table. And they have worked to put the rich man there; now, they want a seat at the table. Fear not those who rush for the crumbs that fall from the table. Fear those, who stand back and watch…

Yes, that last paragraph, I updated from what the brilliant Oscar Wilde wrote in the late 19th Century. The chair of the middle class has been snatched from beneath us and the nation is plummeting into a black hole by the senseless and irrational behavior of a divided Congress.

In the tinderbox of the world, it would be wise to remember the words of an undelivered speech of one of the greatest presidents of our country, Franklin D. Roosevelt, written shortly before his death: “Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships – the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together and work together in the same world, at peace…”

Do you think it’s possible?

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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The Little Mermaid and the Repatriate

The Little Mermaid Statue in Denmark
Image courtesy of Pixabay and user SharonAng

As a stunned American U-2 spy pilot Francis Gary Powers was heading for the frozen tundra of the Siberian nether world, I was on a Soviet jet soaring high above the clouds over Moscow, flying to Copenhagen and to my freedom. Below me were blocks upon blocks of drab, depressing, monotonous Soviet-build apartment complexes that I had known so well.

After 13 years behind the Iron Curtain, someone in the elite Soviet oligarchy decided to set his – or her – signature on a piece of paper that would eventually set me free. I was returning to my birthplace, Detroit, after living in the Soviet Republic of Armenia for more than a decade.

I had had all of my earthly possessions with me before I arrived at the airport: $100 dollars and a one suitcase filled with clothing. That was what the Soviets allowed its citizens (former citizens) to take out of the country during the Khrushchev Era. But the $100 mysteriously disappeared from my wallet during a drinking party with some Iraq pilots training in the USSR.

It all seems like a dream now, but it wasn’t then; it was a nightmare. The question that continues to haunt me and had remained unanswered over the years: Why, during the height of the Cold War (The Cuban Crisis was still to come) did the Soviets allow me to leave the country? Rest assured that I am grateful everyday.

But as the plane touched down in the capital of Denmark, I could only say “Thank God I made it!”

Once safely inside the US Embassy in Copenhagen, I knew the 13 years of Soviet repression was behind me. I would be home soon. That was all I cared about.

The US Consulate official informed me that I would depart from Denmark that evening, for New York and then for Detroit. He asked if there was anything I needed or wanted and all I could think of at the time was that I wanted to go home. Since there was plenty of time before my departure, would I like to see the city? I hesitated to answer but found myself saying that it would give me a glimpse of what Europe looked like. The official offered to accompany me, but I said I would prefer to go alone. He nodded as if he understood.

I strolled onto the street and immediately everyone and everything looked strange. The people were better dressed, smiling and all seemed to be moving on bikes. There were only a few cars. Then, something very unusual caught my eyes. I came upon a bakery…there in the display window was bread. All kinds of bread. Cakes. All kinds of cakes. And pies and… there were no lines. No people pushing and shoving to get into the store to buy bread. And I moved closer to the window and pressed my nose to it. My God, the entire store is filled, there are no empty shelves. Only my pocket is empty. Not one ruble. Not one penny. Not one franc. My heart was pounding like a drum. I swear I could have eaten everything in that bakery.

I continued my stroll.

Men, women, old and young on bikes, whizzed past me as I strolled on the sidewalks of this fairy-tale city. I arrived at a park. Tired from my ordeal, I sat down on a bench to ponder my fate.

My eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of a bright object in the calm waters before me. There, bathing in the silence of a July afternoon was the copper statue of the Little Mermaid. She greets visitors with a subtle smile and listens to their secrets, never revealing or uttering a word. It is this glorious icon made immortal by Hans Christian Andersen that I would share the most unforgettable, most wonderful day in my life. I would share my most inner thoughts, my greatest joy…if only you could understand…that truly was the happiest days of my life.

Destiny had brought me there, before that sweet, gentle statue. If it was a dream, I begged that no one would shake me back into the world where I had been. I had aged much. Lost my youth. I felt like “Alice in Wonderland.” If I had awakened back in Erevan, I knew it would truly be the end.

I felt so alive there.

Before the sun would rise again, I was home. In America. And the nightmare that was the Soviet Union was no longer mine…yet there are times when the memories haunt me.

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Of Fathers and Sons

Boghos Mooradian, Tom's Father
Boghos Mooradian, Tom’s Father

In the Armenian family, the father stands as tall as Mt. Ararat.

It is he, the father, who provides for the family, has the wisdom and the knowledge of the ages. It is he who you turn to for advice and help and consult before making life-changing decisions.

And it was my father, when I turned 18, who I approached and consulted before making the final decision to join a group of 150 other Armenian Americans two years after World War II had ended to “repatriate”. They made up the first caravan from America to resettle in the Armenia Republic in the Soviet Union.

Though my father did not encourage me to go, he did not place any obstacles before me. His voice and words resonate to this day on his sentiments, “You are now 18. You are now a man and it is your decision, and only yours, to make. However you decide, you will have my support. You, moreover, and only you will have to live by that decision the rest of your life. Whatever you decide to do, you will remain my son. Nothing can or will change that.”

Father believed that the life experiences would provide me with a better understanding of the world and the people who inhabit it. But the world I was heading to was hostile toward the West, especially those born in the United States. It was a world that Winston Churchill said was veiled behind “An Iron Curtain” and what President Reagan would later remark was “An Evil Empire.”

Following the release of The Repatriate – Love Basketball and the KGB one of the common questions raised has been “After your return, did your father and you ever sit down and discuss your experiences in the Soviet Union?”

Many are surprised by my answer.

In short, it was several years after my return and not until my father laid upon his deathbed that the subject surfaced. And it was he – not I – who brought up the topic.

Rushed to his bedside during those final minutes of his life, I sat there in silence and only could speculate upon what his final thoughts were. He was a true Marxist. He did not believe in a spiritual life. He had made his peace with my sister and brothers and asked them to leave the room as soon as I entered. The discussion was a painful one for him, I realized. He wanted to apology for the unhappiness and the pain he believed he had caused me. He said he had heard from his Soviet friends and others of the hostility, the hardships, and the trauma the repatriates suffered and he was sorry that my young life had to witness that tragedy. Before he died he asked forgiveness.

I reminded him that it was my decision, not his, to go to Armenia. True, I said, I have regretted many things in my lifetime and have oft wondered what and who I would have become if I stayed in the United States, but my life has been filled with many friends, on both sides of the so-called Iron Curtain. “Someday,” I said, “I hope to write of my Soviet experiences.”

He nodded and said that I had an obligation to do so. His final words were that he was proud of me and he would like to sleep. And then his eyes closed for the last time.

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Yet, again…

Man at sunset
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why do these dreams of ours continue to be haunted by our nightmares? Will there ever be a week when we can turn on our TVs or pick up a newspaper without a banner headline announcing yet another senseless mass murder or killing?

Must we sacrifice our sense of security or forfeit our way of life, to these apparently predatory and certainly unstable individuals? Like a rattlesnake, they attack and kill without reason or rhyme. Their poisonous venom spreads to other spineless cowards who surface time-and-time again from their sulfurous dungeons to carry out their horrific acts.

Those who survive the onslaughts become hostages to fear – fear of sending a child to school, attending church, going to a movie theater or a concert, taking a stroll in the park, or spending an evening with friends at a nightclub.

In the last century, there were real and deliberate killers …Al Capone…Lucky Luciano…John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde (aka Blanche and Bill Barrow), Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly….they were killers! Even they didn’t go into high schools to kill; elementary schools to kill; churches to kill; or movie theatres to kill. They killed specific people for power and notoriety, as well as greed. At least we understood why.

You would think that after all of the violence over the years, all of the anguish, we would be a more peaceful nation…not a more violent one.

Yes, our politicians will gather this week and again these honest and honorable people, after all they are ALL honorable, will first offer their sympathies to the families of the victims and then they will vow that these “senseless killings” must be stopped. Some will advocate more stringent control laws, while others will counter with that “we should all bear arms”, that the government and Obama want to take our weapons away from us…and the dead will be dead and the living will go on living.

It was Ronald Reagan who said, “We have a long way to go, but thanks to the courage, patience, and strength of our people, America is on the mend.”

Bullshit!

 

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Genocide by any other name

German Flag in a Heart
Image courtesy of PinkBlue and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many of you who will read this may not recognize their names. Some, including myself, can never forget them – for their sadistic acts were part of my nightmare for years: Heinrich Himmler, Reinhard Heydrick, Joseph Mengele, Ilse Koch, Adolph Eichmann, Talaat, Enver, Cemal Pasha.

And, I can recall, before one of my book talks in Wisconsin, a gentleman told me I should be thankful for what the Turks (Talaat, Enver, Cemal) did, “…after all, it brought your parents to America. And you were fortunate to be born in the United States.”

This kind of ignorance burns in my heart.

But, before we turn back the history pages to the 20th Century, let us glance at some current, contemporary political affairs that have dominated the wire services, newspapers, and TV. A tabled German resolution pertaining to the 1915 Armenian Genocide which has been gathering dust for nearly a year, was finally dusted off last week and brought to the floor of the Bungdestag for a vote.

The German legislators overwhelmingly passed the resolution affirming that, indeed, the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks was, in fact, an act of genocide. Only one politician voted against the resolution and a second abstained.

Obviously, it was not news to the German–speaking first and-second generation German-Armenians who had stormed the legislative session to await the vote. Their fathers and mothers and grandparents were among the victims of the “death marches”, executions, deportations, carried out, en masse, beginning May 24, 1915. Talaat Pasha, the Minister of the Interior, had sent his directives to all regions that the Armenians must be wiped out and that those who refused to carry out the directives would face the ultimate punishment.

Germany’s military elite knew what its ally’s plans were, and did nothing to stop them from carrying them out. In fact, they honed their killing skills in the Turkish fields of death.

How convenient.

The truth is, not only could Kaiser Wilhelm II have stopped the killings, his troops aided and abetted in the crime of genocide against the Christian Armenians. Germany, after all, is a Christian nation. But, the Kaiser was no fool; the German monarch needed the Turks to fight alongside their troops against the Russians, the British, French, and the Arabs.

And now the onus is on President Barrack Hussein Obama. Despite a campaign promise to the Armenian people that he would declare the 1915 Turkish massacre of the Armenians a genocide, Obama has failed to fulfill the vow. He apparently believes that Armenians have short memories. (He should have discussed our long-term memories with the present Turkish regime, instead of begging them to allow the US to maintain military bases in the country.)

Armenians never forget a friend. And, to our last breath, never forgive our enemies.

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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A Message to the Kurdish People

Soldiers marching across terrain
Image courtesy of khunaspix and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My dear, dear, Kurdish friends…you may not remember me, but I can’t forget you.

I am that “insane American” who, when hungry, you shared your bread and mason with. You may not remember me but one of your elders may. He is the one who called me crazy because he knew I was an American who left his native land and had traveled thousands of miles into your strange country. Alone. With only one hundred dollars in my pocket. Which, at the time, could buy me a few lemons or oranges.

That winter of 1948 I shall never forget.

What a world. Hitler and his Nazis dead. The war over. Peace on Earth and now the world can rebuild. Thank God the world will never see another war again. What looney of a leader would ever want to fight a war with weapons of mass destruction?

And you believed that Allah was Great and me, an Armenian, believed that Jesus Christ was my Savior.

But, then, we were in the USSR at that time. And we sure needed our gods to get through the hunger and the famine and the informers, didn’t we? Even though we didn’t speak the same languages, we understood each other.

You told your Kurdish stories to me, and I retaliated with hyperbole of America.

The Kurds, you said, believe the circle is the evil work of Satan. That if a stranger quickly drew a circle in the sand around a Kurd, the encircled Kurd would not cross over until one of his tribe erased it so that he could walk away. To leave the circle without the help of a believer would definitely open the door into his house and into his life.

And I countered with…If you worked hard in America, you could own a beautiful house or a farm or an automobile and that bread and milk and honey is plentiful and you don’t have to wait in line to purchase what you want in America. And if I didn’t like America I could go anywhere in the world. Even travel to the Soviet Union.

I don’t think he believed my stories.

I didn’t believe his. But, we remained friends to the end.

There were times I didn’t have a kopeck in my pocket and told Kurdish vendors: “Dangi nyet…dangi nyet.” (I have no money to pay). They would evoke the words of the prophet, Mohammed, that the Koran teaches the need to help their fellow kind, to give alms to those in need. During my early days among the Soviets, the government believed I was a “spy”; I truly needed help to survive.

It was a time that I had time to read and think and pray. And how many times did I read Omar Khayyam”s “The Rubaiyat”. Who can forget those beautiful words:

“Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness-

And Wilderness is Paradise now…”

How worlds have changed since that time we shared a cup of Chai.

Let me make it clear that it is no secret to me and my world that the Kurds willingly aided and abetted the Turkish troops in the crime of genocide of the Christian Armenians in 1915. I would not have been born in the United States if members of my mother’s family had not been victims.

The Kurds, with no homeland of their own, were only too eager to drive their neighbors off the land, strip their victims of any wealth and help in the round- up of old men, women, and children for the eventual “death marches” that ended in the Syrian desert. The Kurds are as culpable as the Turks for the massacre of 1.5 million Armenian. Time and yes, even God, can’t ease the pain or change the past.

In the madness of our times, the Kurds apparently have forgotten what they had sown. They have forgotten what happens to minorities living on land ruled by dictators who advocate submission to the ruling class. “Turkey for the Turks,” they had shouted. And blindly the ignorant masses followed. “All Power to the Soviets”…and the workers believe. “Gleichschaltung! Gleichschaltung!” the Nazis shouted…as they goose-stepped to whatever their Fuhrer Adolph Hitler demanded. And his demands lead to millions dying on the killing fields, a world of chaos, destruction in ruin.

It hasn’t changed much, has it?

The Kurds know it, today they are not only fighting against a barbaric enemy, ISIL, but, in the ominous shadows lurk Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who, if the opportunity is given, would order his mighty military troops – not to fight ISIL – but to end “The Kurdish Problem” as his sadist predecessors accomplished in 1915. And, if that is not enough to be concerned with, the Kurds have in front of them Iraq to contend with. Iraq has not forgotten the Kurds and the Kurds have not forgotten “Halabja”.

This generation of Americans will never forget Iraq and our nation should never forget what then Vice President Dick Cheney said when the US launched its invasion of Saddam Hussein’s land because the Iraq president had “weapons of mass destruction.” “We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.” The vice president would have had more support if he had advocated the invasion because Hussein had actually killed some 5,000 Kurds in the city of Halabja, using poison gas.

Then there is the perverted Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been literally fighting for his life, but would rather see millions die, his nation in ruins, his people fleeing to foreign shores and countless more dead than give up power. If he is willing to do this, then what would Assad do to the Kurds who want a piece of the northern region to create their own homeland.   If Assad, too, was ready to gas his enemies,  and it was only by a casual remark by Secretary of State John Kerry that eventually convinced the Syrian dictator to allow the Western powers to dispose of the poisonous gas – what will be the fate of the Kurdish people.

In the year 1915, the Ottoman Turks massacred 1.5 million Armenians.

In the year 2016, will the Kurds become the next victims of a genocide.

 

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Harut Barsamian: Resurrection with Cane and Shoe

The Man With the Cane

For years, I had seen him, cane in hand, limping along the streets of Yerevan, Armenia, USSR. On occasion, I would find him in “the weeping park” where most repatriates took refuge from the perils of living under a dictator. The cane hung on the back of his chair while his eyes were focused on a chessboard or a game of backgammon. I surmised he was excellent in both games and the conclusion was drawn by the frustrated look on the faces of his opponents.

Dark-haired, slim and always in his double-breasted brown suit, the Man with the Cane was in his early twenties and definitely a repatriate…but not American.

Little did I know that as a child of ten this man was a mathematical genius.

Shahumyan Park was renamed by the repatriates because here they came to complain about their Soviet life – their dreams of living in a Working Man’s Paradise shattered. Here they could sit and play cards and games and bemoan that their dream of the Motherland had turned into a nightmare.

I would never engage in a discussion in that park out of fear that what I said would reach the offices of the NKVD.

In the Soviet Union I lived in, one usually didn’t talk to strangers. It could be detrimental to their health. After all, Stalin’s informers had to justify their existence. The Gulags had to be filled. Slave labor was an economic necessity…a windfall.

Most in the park were survivors or the sons of survivors of the Turkish genocide, who returned to Soviet Armenia to help rebuild the war-torn country. Many quickly became disenchanted by Soviet reality: Work? Yes, but your monthly wages could not meet the cost of living. Bread lines. No indoor plumbing. Electricity, maybe an hour or two – if lucky – during the day. Warned by those who knew by experience not to complain about the lines of people waiting throughout the night to purchase their meager rations of bread and sugar because complaints were considered anti- soviet, some paid the ultimate price for attempting to escape.

Playing chess and backgammon seem to be better options.

In those dark and dangerous political days of the Stalin regime repatriates did not mix with strangers. Meetings on the street or in a park could be interpreted as “plots”, but these elders believed they now had nothing to lose. Past friendships were sparked that kindled the hope and hope was the only thing left.

I chose my friends among the American-Armenian community who had been on the same ship with me. They, I believed at the time, could be trusted.

I occasionally would venture into the park after touring the small of stores hoping to find something that would appease my stomach. And it seemed that the Man with the Cane would always be found sitting there, straight-faced waiting until his opponent made the move.

The stranger, I later found out, was a student, then a professor, at the Yerevan Polytechnical Institute. And he helped build and introduce computers to the Soviet students and assisted scientists to solve some of the most challenging problems in their quest to conquer space.

And, he told me years later, his father was arrested by the KGB and charged as “an agent for the French government.” In reality, his father was a prominent bootmaker in the Middle East and, while in Aleppo, made special boots for General Charles DeGaulle and DeGaulle’s top staff member during World War II. He also had made boots for his Excellency Joseph Stalin, president of the Soviet of People’s Commissars of the USSR, and Stalin was so grateful for the gift that the Soviet premier sent him a letter of gratitude. The father had Stalin’s letter to prove it.

But he was found guilty and the Man with the Cane’s father was sentenced to 10 years in Siberia. He survived the ordeal thanks to Nikita Khrushchev, who offered political prisoners amnesty in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death.

Now, fast-forward to the year 2011; I had returned to my homeland, the United States of America in 1960. My dear wife and I are on a book talk tour. On this one particular October day, I am scheduled to speak to the students at the University of California, Irvine. We are walking across the campus parking lot, heading for the auditorium when a car pulls up, stops along side of us, and this elderly stranger gets out and shouts, “Tommy…Tommy Mooradian. Wait…”

My wife and I turn and watch this Man with the Cane get out of his vehicle and, with a he smile on his face, limp up to us. He drops his cane, grabs and hugs me, and kisses me on my cheek, a common reaction by Armenians who haven’t seen each other for a long time.

“I was your greatest fan in Yerevan and in Moscow. I have come to hear you speak,” he said.

“I am Harut Barsamian. We have much to discuss. Let us go. I want to hear you speak. I want to hear about your experiences.” My wife gave me that “Who is this guy?” look and I smiled and shook my head, “I really don’t know.”

My mind races back into time…wandering through the maze of memories that have been bruised and battered and at times altered. As if awakened after a dream I realize that this is the Man with the Cane sitting in the park, playing chess. Definitely him, but without the double-breasted brown suit. He is in American-tailored clothes.

As we approached the entrance, I happened to glance up at the wall of the building and in large letters in bronze was the name – Harut Barsamian – in English and Armenian. I was definitely impressed.

Later, after I had addressed the audience, Mr. Barsamian commandeered the speaker’s dais and delighted the audience with stories about basketball in the Soviet Union.

Harut Barsamian: Resurrection with Cane and Shoe
Harut Barsamian: Resurrection with Cane and Shoe

I would also learn that Mr. Barsamian is an internationally-known scientist who had traveled and lectured at many of the prominent universities around the world. His life story is documented is his memoir… Resurrection with Cane and Shoe and it is a must read for historians and student of Soviet and Russian History.

Mr. Barsamian left the Soviet Union six years after I did…in 1966, eventually taking up residence in Waterford, Michigan. He joined the scientific community in California shortly afterwards. The income from his book is donated to the “Scholarship Fund for Handicapped Students”, which he established. The fund is administered by the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, headquartered at 6252 Honolulu Avenue, La Crescenta, CA 91214.

Not too long ago I tried to contact Mr. Barsamian to tell him that I planned to write a blog post about him, but learned from friends that he had died a year ago. Though saddened by his passing, I hold dear to his memories and kind words and will never forget the moments in the “Weeping Park” where, hunched over the chess or backgammon boards, Harut took on all comers and sent them away with that sardonic smiled on his face.

Each and every one of us has a story to tell, and never has there been a better time to tell it than now…see you here next week.

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

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Why We Will Never Forget

Noravank Monastery, Armenia
Scenic Novarank Monastery in Armenia

She seemed tall, I was so small, and board-shouldered, with raven-black and shining hair, that reached all the way down her back when she took it out of a bun, nestled at the nape of her neck. The lines on her round face added to her somber air. She has seen too much. She had endured too much. Yet, as far back as I can remember, I struggled to catch up to her in the kitchen of our apartment in southwest Detroit. And she would pick me up from the linoleum, kiss me on the forehead, then put me down gently, savoring for the moment the promise of life continuing, and quickly tended to the streaming pots that were always singing some tune over the gas-lit stove.

I didn’t know what it was to be poor or what it meant to be “a starving Armenian,” for Nana, that was what my grandmother was called by everyone, made sure that there was food on the table. Not only for our family – but for anyone who needed a meal.

When dad came into the kitchen it was never for food; he came because he needed money, gold coins from the hem of Nana’s black housedress. The kitchen was Nana’s and my mother’s domain, and no one dared trespass. They knew the consequences. But, it was – I would later learn – the time of the Great Depression and everyone apparently was out of work and father had lost everything – the coffee houses where the survivors of the genocide would come for a cup of suorge, Turkish coffee, and discuss how they would get revenge. After all, Armenian villages were “cleansed” by the Young Turks who made sure that “the Armenian Problem” would not be a problem forever more. “Turkey for the Turks” – was their nationalistic blood cry, and, as the world stood by, one million five hundred thousand of my ancestors were wiped off the map of Turkey.

After one hundred one years, Armenians will not and cannot forget. Henry Morgenthau, Sr., US Ambassador to Turkey, noted, “I am confident that the whole history of the human race contains no such horrible episode as this…the great massacres of the past seem almost insignificant when compared with the sufferings of the Armenia Race in 1915.” In his memoir he described the deportations and atrocities as a “cold-blooded, calculating state policy,” in the chapter on the Armenians “The Murder of a Nation.”

But that was, after all, in 1915. It’s a long time ago. Haven’t the Armenians, devout Christians, learned from the Bible, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed .” (Psalm 103:6).

In response to a comment from a reader who wrote:

“Since the atrocities were committed under the Ottoman Empire, I have never understood why the new modern Republic of Turkey can’t acknowledge and apologize for the Armenian Genocide. It may be similar to the relationship between the U.S.A. and the Indigenous Native Americans or, even, the institution of slavery in our own country. But while we can’t change history, by acknowledging and apologizing for it, we can move forward, having admitted to the wrong-doings and promising not to allow them again, anywhere.”

Billions upon billions of words have been written about the Armenian Genocide. And some of the finest and most knowledgeable scholars and researchers have offered proof beyond a reasonable doubt that this horrible crime against the Armenians and humanity was perpetrated by the Turkish regime.

To apologize would make them culpable, there is no statute of limitation for murder.

If I had it in my power, I would demand that Turkey cede the six Armenian provinces in what was once the Armenian Plateau to the Motherland. Within those six provinces is the former capital of Armenia, Ani. Paul Salokep (who wrote a special feature for the National Geographic Magazine as he walks around the world) commented on that part of the highlands, “I have seen no place on my journey more beautiful or sadder, than Ani…”

At one time in its long history, 1001 churches dotted the landscape of Ani. Today they stand in ruins…and a visitor would be hard-pressed to find even one of the hundreds of thousands of Armenians who, since the year 351 bowed in reverence, praying to Jesus Christ, their Savior, for this is now a land of Islam.

For the record, Germany paid more than $70 billion in compensation to the families who lost their loved ones to the beasts of the Nazi regime. How much should Turkey pay to the victims of the Armenian genocide?

There are but a handful of survivors left on earth.

Turkey is no fool. They know that time is on their side…

Or is it?

***

bookTom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess.  Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
The Second Edition is now available on Kindle and in Paperback!

Save

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