Category Archives: Armenian Repatriation

A Cross Road in My Life

Armenian Hillside
On the road in Armenia, photo courtesy of Bethany Mooradian

After thirteen nebulous years as a citizen of the former USSR, I remember with pride and no prejudice the early days of my life as a reinstated citizen of my country. I was proud to again say, “I am an American.”

I shall not take up your valuable time to count the ways I am indebted to those who helped me get back to my family. The circumstances in which this all came about in itself have remained locked up in mind and memory.

After touring around the country, giving numerous talks to share my time in the USSR…an American under 13 years of Soviet Rule…many have asked – no demanded – that I finish the story. While “The Repatriate” accounts for my time as an Armenian-American repatriate during the time of Stalin, it seems that curiosity remains for what happened upon my return to America.

In unison, it has been asked, “What happened after you came back. You have left us, abandoned us…surely there is more to tell…”

There is.

First, let it be clear I am not a malcontent. I love my country. I have lived under despotic rule and Americans should never lose sight that the loss of liberty is worse than death. Death is final. Tyranny! Unlawful arrests! Lack of due process! Torture! Dehumanization! Informers! For little or no reason, one can be shoved on a truck, driven to a train station, tossed in a cattle car, where you have no space or room to breathe, no water, food, or somewhere to pee, except in your pants. Human beings… dehumanization, treated worse than cattle driven to the slaughter fields and houses. Those who live, who dread each dawn, are but dust in the hands of their guards who can blow them away at their will.

Is it any wonder that we, here, in America are the envy of the world!

In the twilight of my life, I live in serenity. The past is but an apparition, appearing now and then to remind me of the ghosts who are but ghosts now. Unlike the past, there is no fear of retaliation for the words I utter on a telephone, or in public, or what I write.

I have read the Constitution. I do know my rights now. Unfortunately, after the Iron Curtain meltdown, and upon my arrival in America, I learned that ignorance is not bliss. The FBI taught me a civics lesson that to this day I have not forgotten.

Joe McCarthy may have been dead…but McCarthyism was still alive and well when my plane touched the landing strip at Metropolitan Airport in Detroit in July 1960.

Little did I know that FBI agents were standing there in the shadows, looking at this strange man, with one suitcase, dressed in a double-breasted wool suit, penniless waiting, hoping, praying that someone knew of my arrival. That young man had information they wanted…or was a “Manchurian Candidate”. I soon would learn that I was “a person of interest” to the FBI, and would discover that I also was not out of the KGB’s reach.

Now I have come to another one of those crossroads in life…it’s a “should I or shouldn’t I” situation. Which road should I follow?

When a friend asked a CIA employee…Does Tom Mooradian have a file with you?”

The answer was, “One moment please.” Then, “Oh, yes, he has.” Then, silence. “If he wishes to obtain the information he will have to apply.”

Now my question to my readers: SHOULD I APPLY FOR THE DOSSIER? I leave it to you.

 

***

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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Young Lovers Trapped in the USSR

Silhouette of couple at sunset
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and pat138241

There are so many stories that I have come upon during the research for my book, but the following ‘love story’ must be considered among my favorites.

Christine was sixteen when she fell in love and later married Ara. Both had left their native land, America, and had repatriated to the Soviet Union in the late 1940’s. After I managed to legally leave the USSR, the two young Americans decided that they too would try to return home. They weighed the risks, for Christine’s father had been arrested and charged as ‘an enemy of the people’ and convicted by Stalin’s NKVD, but my successful return home convinced them that there was hope.

So, Ara and Christine traveled to Moscow. They met with US Consulate officials who, after hearing their stories, encouraged them to apply for reinstatement of their citizenship. Since they were born in the US and were considered minors when they left with their families, they had no problems. The two were issued US passports.

But the young couple still needed ‘exit visas’, and only the Soviets, via OVIR, had the jurisdiction to grant them that unique Soviet privilege to leave the borders of the impregnable Iron Curtain. When Ara and Christine appeared before the Soviet agency, with American passports in hand, OVIR became outraged. They not only belittled the two but they warned them that Soviets communicating with a foreign power is illegal and that they could be prosecuted.

Christine knew full well what that meant. Under Stalin, her father had been exiled to Siberia and was released only after Stalin’s death. With Khrushchev was at the height of power, and Chairman Khrushchev‘s revelations of his former boss murderous tantrums, surely times had changed. Apparently for this young married couple it had not.

Not only did OVIR reject the young couple’s request for the visa, but the Soviet government reportedly issued an official protest to the US Embassy, chastising the United States for issuing American passports to Soviet citizens.

It would take years before Christine and Ara were give permission to leave the USSR and return to America.

But they did and both lived happily for years to come.

***

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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Month-long journey into the past

Armenian Repatriates at Abril Bookstore
Armenian Repatriates at Abril Bookstore

It was one of the most emotional months of my life. I traveled back into time and met with some of my former Soviet students and teammates and chatted with those who have suffered the injustices of the Soviet system first-hand. Unlike myself, who received a slap on the wrist from the KGB, these Armenian-American repatriates suffered the indignation and the humiliation of illegally being sent to the gulag and their only crime was that they wanted to return to the land of their birth – The United States.

Her name is Alice, and she has locked hate inside of her.

Injustice, the kind that no American can ever understand, pierced her heart at the early age of eighteen, and that wound has not healed with time.

Her full story is not mine to tell, and I hope someday she will tell the world the indignation she suffered under the dull-witted, despotic Soviets. In brief, Alice repatriated with family members to what was then Soviet Armenia in 1947. No sooner than she got off the ship in Batumi, she wanted to return to the United States. Within a short period of time, she had an opportunity to go to Moscow from the city of Erevan, and she grabbed it. Once in Moscow, she made contact with the US embassy and shortly afterwards she was picked up by the Soviet secret police, arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to Siberia.

We met briefly recently during one of my book talks. The talk was sponsored by the National Association for Studies and Research held in Belmont, Massachusetts. According to a cousin, it was the first time Alice had ever attended an Armenia function since returning to the United States.

When the talk ended, a new photographer asked if the former repatriates would consent to a photo op and all, with one exception, agreed. The photographer failed to convince Alice to join the group.

Later I approached her and unsuccessfully attempted to strike up a conversation. She looked at me and said: “I hate all Armenians.”

I told her that I understood. It was the wrong thing to say and hated myself for saying it as soon as it left my mouth.

“No you don’t,” Alice replied. “You – or anyone – will never understand.”

There were no words that I could use that would penetrate the stone wall that she stood behind. Alice has endured the cruel, oppressive, inhumane Soviets, but it cost her….her trust in man, her youth, and her life. No apology from any one would ever give back to this brave woman what she has lost.

***

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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Time does not ease the pain

Armenian Repatriation

She sat there in the living room of our Southfield, Michigan, home her eyes glued to the book. Not once as she was reading did she glance at her husband, who was sitting directly across from her. I had left to make some tea and when I returned with a cup and saucer she was in tears.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, “Why the tears?”

“Your story brings back memories. Tragic events that I had long since forgotten.” And then she told her story.

“My father was employed by the NKVD and the event you mentioned here, about the massive round up of dissidents that night, he was ordered by the ministry to help out. When he returned early the following day I could hear him sobbing and shouting and then he sat at our kitchen table pounding his head. He said he felt guilt for those he had arrested and conveyed to the train depot. They were just ordinary people. Innocent people who were as loyal as he was to the Party were arrested during another one of Stalin’s reign of terror.

“’Why! Why!’ My father sobbed over and over again.”

In the spring of 1949 thousands of Soviet citizens and hundreds residing in Soviet Armenia, including repatriates who had earlier belonged to the nationalist Tashnag Party or to the Ramgavars, but returned after World War II to their homeland in hopes of building a better life for their families, were rounded up and exiled.

She continued her story, “The next day I went to school and when I entered my classroom I looked for my two closest friends. I thought it strange, for they were never late. I took my seat and waited. When our teacher entered the classroom, we stood, as we usually did, and greeted her. She asked us to take our seats. I continued to look at their empty desks, they did not come. Noticing my gaze, the teacher ordered me to pay attention.

“They will not be attending class today,” she said firmly, the words being directed at me. “Their families are enemies of our state. I have wasted my time on them.”

She said that it was on that day she had vowed she would marry someone who would get her out of the Soviet Union and take her to a land where she and her family would not have to fear the government.

***

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 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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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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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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Tears of joy

Ararat-Eskijian
It would be my first of seven talks in California that I would give on The Cold War and my recently published book, “The Repatriate: Love Basketball and the KGB”. Our first stop was Mission Hills, a serene senior citizens community that has a notable museum, the Ararat Eskijian, on its spacious and plush site.

After describing some of the hardships that Soviets and Armenian American repatriates faced daily, the long bread lines, the night vigils at stores waiting for them to open in hopes of finding sugar or butter or any edible items in the morning to place on the table for their families, I spotted an elderly woman in the crowd with tears in her eyes. I continued with my talk, though I paused briefly to tell the woman that my story did have a happy ending – that I actually survived 13 years in the USSR. She smiled, but one could see torment on her face.

I was not there to arouse anger, or pity, or any other emotion…I was there to provide information about a group of 151 Armenian Armenians who in 1947 made history by returning to their ancestral lands, controlled by the Soviets at the time, to help rebuild a war-torn nation, a nation that was, incidentally, an ally to the USA during World War II.

“There was a lot of disinformation spread on both sides of the Atlantic,” I told the gathering. “The US was also eager to stop the repatriation of Armenians to a country with which it was now locked in an ideological war. I produced an article published in 1951 in a prominent Armenian publication that noted that the Soviets seized from Armenian Americans all their cars, refrigerators, stoves, and valuable possessions upon landing on Soviet soil. That was not true.

“But, after a month in the Soviet Union, living in fear of the secret police, and hungry, most repatriates would have gladly given up all of their possessions if the Soviets would have granted them exit visas.”

Shortly after my talk, the woman whose eyes betrayed her emotions, came up to me, hugged and kissed me on my cheeks – a typical Armenian greeting. She apologized for interrupting the talk, “You see, Mr. Mooradian, I was 11 at the time. My father had also decided to take us on that first ship, but my mother told him he could go but she and her two daughters would not leave America. We stayed here. I have heard many rumors and stories about what happened, but you have given me a first-hand account. I thank God that we stayed here. And I truly am sorry or what you and the others had to go through.”

***

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 American Who Died at Chernobyl

Nuclear Power Plant Chernobyl
Image courtesy of Alex Ugalek and FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We attended college together, were in some of the same classes, but I played basketball and he became an outstanding Soviet track and field coach.

I chose freedom and America in the end, but he loved to coach children and, though given the opportunity to return to his native land, Bobby M. chose to remain in the Soviet Union. I was told that he never regretted it.

But, Bobby, whose mother was of Polish extraction and his father, an Armenian, joined his family on that fateful November day in 1947 to travel to what was then Soviet Armenia. We would talk briefly on The Rossia, the Soviet passenger ship that carried more than one hundred and fifty Armenian-Americans to the USSR, many repatriating to their homeland. Most passengers on that ship stayed close to family; I had none accompanying me.

Once in Yerevan, the capital, Bobby enrolled in the Institute of Physical Culture. I was later to join him there.

Upon graduation, he taught at an elementary school and also coached track teams. I went on to play basketball for the next decade. Our paths seldom crossed. In July of 1960 my US citizenship and passport were restored and I left the USSR as fast as I could pack my luggage.

During one of my many book talks in the eastern United States, Bobby’s sister, who managed to return to the states, attended. When I inquired about her brother, she said that he had died in the Soviet Union, then offered this tragic story of the events leading up to his death.

On April 26, 1986, Bobby’s young team members were warming up to compete in track and field events near Chernobyl. News was spreading that a disaster had happened at the nuclear plant. “Not to worry, the officials had everything under control.” Unfortunately that, like most information generated by Party officials, was a lie. Clouds of deadly radioactive particles soon hovered on the skyline. But the games continued. The nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl station in the Ukraine would eventually claim thousands of lives, including Bobby’s.

According to news reports: in seconds the protective casing on the nuclear reactor melt-down released deadly radiation into the air, spreading radioactive isotopes throughout the power plant.

Even today former residents in the Chernobyl plant area have not, cannot, return to their homes because of nuclear contamination. No one can tell them when it will be safe to live or plant crops there again. Everything in the immediate area of the plant remains as it was on that fateful day that shocked the world. Yesterday, in our local newspaper, there was a news photo of a farmer in Belarus, also a former Soviet Republic, who complained that radioactive material is still being detected in his herd of cows and the milk is contaminated.

Thirty years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl remains a threat to civilization. And we add to this threat.

After fourscore and seven on this planet, a ride that I have truly enjoyed, I, as every man, woman and child, must be wary of politicians who promise us paradise one day by “making great deals” and the next day say that nuclear weapons will remain on the table. Think about Chernobyl. Think about Japan. Nuclear fallout is still threatening humankind.

It was the English essayist William Hazlitt who noted, “The love of liberty is the love of others, the love of power is the love of ourselves.”

In the final analysis, Bobby M., the only American to die because of the Chernobyl accident, died doing what he loved best…teaching Soviet children that the love of freedom is the love of others, no matter where you made your first step in life.

***

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 Visit to American House

Moscow Visit
During one of my many visits to Moscow I had met and befriended a Michigan State University language professor who, after listening to my story, asked whether he could be of any assistance to me. I asked if possible, would he contact my parents and tell them that I am in good health and in good spirits.

The professor, probably in his forties, who taught Russian (Slavic Languages) said that he would gladly carry the news back home. “Anything else?”

I thought for a moment, “No. Not really.”

He said he would be attending a program at the American House the following evening and asked if I would be his guest. I was flabbergasted by his invitation, and initially refused the generous offer. I had heard about the exclusive building from my Soviet friends and knew that it was a building that the KGB had in its sights twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. To get into the building, one had to produce an American passport. I again thanked the professor and reminded him that, though born in the United States, I did not have an American passport and was considered by the Soviets to be a Soviet, not an American, citizen.

“You would be my guest,” the professor repeated. “I don’t think the Soviets would want to create a scene on what is considered American property.”

That remark piqued my curiosity. If I was on US property could the Soviets demand that the Americans hand me over to them? I had had my run-ins with Stalin’s NKVD and Khrushchev’s KGB and was still standing on my two feet. I told the professor I was ready to risk it, if he was.

Although the professor spoke Russian fluently, I felt certain that he was not an informer. I trusted him implicitly because of his knowledge of Michigan. The Soviets knew that Detroit made cars but they didn’t know what state Detroit was in.

I accepted the professor’s invitation. He told me it would be best if I wore a suit, white shirt, and tie. It would draw less attention to me by the KGB who patrolled the area leading to American House.

I smiled and said I understood.

We breezed past the Soviet guards and reached the door where several people were waiting to get inside. We went in and I was greeted by a mysterious harmony of music and laughter – people actually laughing. My God how I had missed it. How I had forgotten the special joy that laughter brings to the heart. To the soul. People do laugh. People do smile. People do greet one another.

Into a dimly lit room I rushed like a child in Toyland. The door closed. I prayed that I would never have to go back into the street. I knew I had left the valley of the death. In one corner I spotted something that I had not seen in ages – and I rushed over and hugged it. It was a jukebox. I stood there listening. The songs and the singers were new – but it was American. Before me a buffet laden with the fruits and food of my past opened up. I rushed to the table and immediately learned that all was free. Eat all you want. And I did. I couldn’t stop. Somewhere between the jukebox and the food I lost the professor.

It was a crucial mistake to lose contact with my host. Seconds later, when I walked up to the bar and the bartender asked, “What will you have, sir?” the knell sounded for me. I had heard of, but never had Scotch and Soda, so I ordered it. The bartender asked, “Do you want that on the rocks?”

I paused for a second, not knowing what to say. “On the rocks?”…what did it mean? I did not want any rocks in my drink, I told him. He returned my puzzled look with a look of suspicion. I caught him looking over my shoulders into the dark corner of the room. Quickly I was surrounded by two muscular men. One asked if I was an American citizen.

I answered that I was born in Detroit.

“That’s not what I asked,” the man said with a tone that definitely meant business. He demanded to see my passport.

“I don’t have one on me.”

“Show me your driver’s license or any ID.”

The only identification I had was my Soviet internal passport and I surely wouldn’t show them that.

Both men looked at me and the one who was asking all the questions invited me to leave the premises. If fact, the other grabbed me by my arm and led me to the door.

I was fortunate; he didn’t toss me from the building.

I had not realized it at the time, but the prolonged absence from my native land created a cultural abyss that I would have to bridge before I would be accepted back into the culture I once knew so well.

***

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