Category Archives: Armenian Repatriation

The little girl with brown eyes

Tom Mooradian, Armenian Repatriate
There was a flush of questions that immediately dominated my thoughts as I listened to the woman’s voice on the other end of the telephone.

“This is the Shirley Temple look-alike, you wrote about in your book,” the voice said. It was a voice I had not heard for more than a half of a century. “And I want you to know that I do not have blue eyes; they are brown.”

Before my burst of questions to the caller began, she identified herself as Christine Karibian. “I loved your book, especially your description of me, but for the record my eyes are brown and not blue.” Christine went on to say that she had heard I would be appearing in the Providence area, and that she and her friends would definitely be attending the talk. Unfortunately, her brother, the lanky, sandy-haired Michael, would not. He had passed away in the USSR several years ago.

Christine and Michael were among the youngest of the Armenian American repatriates. Their father, Harry, and mother, Jean, who was of Polish descent, left Detroit in 1947 to live in Soviet Armenia. Christine’s father unsuccessfully attempted to get his family out of the USSR and was arrested after leaving the US Embassy in Moscow. He was tried and convicted as an “enemy of the state”.

“Dad survived the gulag,” Christine said. “In fact, he and mom actually made it back to the States. When you get here I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Christine married an Armenian American repatriate, Ara Lafian, and they had two children while in Armenia. The Lafians made it back to the United States and settled in Rhode Island.

***

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 Cup of Love

Papazian-raising cups

“When you become frustrated with our world and yearn for your world, drink from this cup, it will take away your problems and life will become beautiful.”

The voice belonged to Armen-Dei and his words still ring in my ears. His wrinkled, ageless face is as vivid in my memory as if he were still sitting on his bench in the garden behind the Pioneers Palace in Yerevan, Armenia.

Made of obsidian, Armen-Dei’s cup was actually filled with wine, and the wine was an invitation to friendship. He called it a “Cup of Love.” Although I hesitated at first, Armen-Dei smiled and said, “Our children are born with wine in their blood. That is why they are so beautiful.”

In the days to come Armen-Dei would convince me that I, too, should have wine in my blood. Our friendship would last more than a decade.

Armen-Dei would never, ever reveal his age, but he laughed as he drank from the cup…and ate the lavash bread with cheese.

“I am older than…” he would start and then break into laughter, “Do you know that we Armenians are descendants of Noah’s son, Shem. In fact, I am named for one of Noah’s grandson’s, Armen.

What could I do but humor him? And then he would remind me that Noah lived to be over 900 years old.

“That’s a fact. You read the Bible, don’t you?”

A Bible! In an atheistic country! A Soviet citizen could be prosecuted as “an enemy of the state” if he possessed a Bible. All the churches had been closed and the believers sent off to Siberia.

And, then Armen-Dei went on, “We are supposed to be a free people. Our constitution says that we have the right to free speech, to a free press, and are guaranteed a job. Is that not so?”

The Soviet Constitution did do that and more, I agreed.

Armen-Dei had survived in the ungodly world of the Soviet Union and lived in a world surrounded by children, orchards, vineyards, and the mountains of the Caucasus. In his courtyard, filled with laughing children during the summer months, he would tell of the times that were and the times that would be. He would retell the story of Noah and the Ark and God’s Covenant. He would offer me a cup of love.

“The hatred within us – all of us – is the progeny of stupidity,” he would tell me. “It is nurtured and it grows with the help of its twin, prejudice…this government we all must serve, one day, will collapse. One day…as all governments which deceive and exploit their people will do….”

Armen-Dei would stop and hand me the cup and say to me, “Drink.”

And I learned to do so.

In a country whose citizens were restricted from owning land and producing anything outside the collective farm, Armen-Dei had created an acre of organic tapestry where mulberry and cherry trees, a vineyard, tomatoes, cucumbers and corn would flourish.

Armen Dei must have been over 100-years-old when I first met him in that courtyard. I was but 20, alone in a strange country, a repatriate living in my ancestral homeland in Soviet Armenia. His eyes had seen the rise and fall of Czar Nicholas II, World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the rise and decay of Stalin. He had also watched a young Armenian Republic struggle for independence and on the right road to democracy when the Soviets armies marched in and destroyed freedom in the guise of building a “workers’ paradise”.

The transformation from a capitalistic to a socialistic system proved deadly. Untold suffering for all was not what the Soviet citizens and the working class had expected. But that is what they got. Miraculously shutting out the rest of the Soviet world, Armen-Dei built his world with a panoply, created of his own hands – a rose wall made of Armenia’s natural stone, tuff. Ironically, on the other side of the wall, stood a foreboding three-story Gothic building, the office of the KGB (nee NKVD).

“Today our people are again in chains. But someday we will – and you will – again be free. Look, look to the mountain. It was there, atop Mt. Ararat, you will find the answers. God made his covenant with Noah there. With all of us. Remember His message, “Whoever sheds the blood of man… by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God has God made man…”

A few years ago, I returned to free Armenia. I visited the courtyard near where I had spent part of my youth teaching youngsters to play basketball. And stood at the spot where I had first met Armen-Dei.   The trees are still standing, but the bench, the garden, and the vineyard were gone.

I stood there for awhile, dreaming of those days that were, and the desire to have just one more day with him, to tell him I’ll never forget. The sun glistened from some small objects in weeds. I strolled to the spot, and there I saw the pieces of the obsidian. His cup. I picked up the pieces, brushed them off and smiled. He has been here all these years. I glanced up at the towering mountain that stood in the West and for one brief moment I was sure that I saw him standing there on the deck of the Ark. I wanted to shout, “Come back…come back! Your orchards and your vineyard need you – I need you!” And I am certain that I heard his voice say, “Come, drink from the cup.”

***

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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Death Is So Disruptive

Tom Mooradian Armenian Repatriation
Death, oh how disruptive it can be!

With my byline appearing under the headlines of more than three hundred homicides I have had been assigned to cover for a western Wayne County newspaper in the great state of Michigan – and with an uncountable number of church services I have attended for departed friends and loved ones – I believe I can attest to the rude and cruel behavior of this obscene, inhumane, dark, vile, voiceless, vandal called Death.

This omnipresent creature that preys and craves all living things, appears suddenly, without invitation, then indiscriminately proceeds to destroy lives of everything it touches. Death cares not if the harvest is from the wise or the wicked, the powerful or the poor, the scholarly or the illiterate, the rich or poor – when it calls, it owns the scene; it has the final say.

Nations may stand in tribute for the fallen heroes or shout in joy when an evil tyrant falls. From ancient to modern times we have tomes of literature in praise and in awe of Death…but…oh, death can be so disruptive, so destruction to those who stand at the grave to mourn. Rest assured that time on the remarkable station called earth has no warranties or guarantees.

Years ago, during the reign of Josef Stalin and the Soviet Empire, I unwittingly wrote my own death warrant in the form of a petition to the Ambassador to the United States Embassy in Moscow. At the time I did not know that it was a fatal mistake for a citizen of the USSR to contact a foreign embassy; the belief that it belittled the Soviet regime, therefore a crime under Soviet law. I paid the consequences, but survived. A wise and older woman who always had her Bible at her side (also a crime under Soviet law) cleansed my wounds and helped me back to life, assured me daily during the healing process that my mission on earth was not over. “You still have much work to do,” she said. She renewed my faith in humanity, and also reminded me that, although we live among the atheists, the demons who are the messengers of the Devil…that our God is omnipresent and omnipotent. God defeated evil and the Devil and He will guide you home one day, she promised me.

She was among those who were taken away on that unforgettable night in 1949 when thousands were taken from their homes, tossed into trucks, driven to train stations, and transported to Siberia never to be seen or heard from again.

Evil – it is alive and lives in the hearts of many. It can be defeated.

Was not sinister Dorian Gray granted his wish by the Devil? And did not disillusioned Gray end his own life? After he was strangely enough given eternal life? And did not Mr. Daniel Webster beguile and dupe the Devil and save the day for the hard-luck New Hampshire farmer Jabez Stone? Mr. Webster’s arguments on behalf of his client, Stone, convinced Lucifer’s hand-picked jury that the farmer’s contract with the Devil should be tossed into the flames of Hell. His words saved the day and Stone’s soul. And reportedly the Devil never again showed his face in New Hampshire. (Of the latter I am not sure for some citizens of the Granite State reported that they saw the Damned One on stage during the recent presidential caucus.)

But would a man or woman seeking the highest office its people have to offer the use of profanity? Naw…

Unfortunately I must stop here. Death has intervened. My dear wife has just called my “dungeon” and informed me there is “breaking news” of national and international importance: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died and I must leave this page to get the updates. If news sources confirm the report, our sympathies go out to his wife, Maureen, and the family. Death is so disruptive…

See you 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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The Covenant

Tom Mooradian, Armenian Repatriate

In a match-box apartment shared by other fellow-travelers, on a street named Kalinin, in the Soviet Armenian capital city of Yerevan, oh so many years ago, I would often end my day-long wanderings for a mere kilo of bread sharing my fought-over treasure with my new-found friends. One loaf of sand-laden, damp, dreadful dough as a meal, never to forget how cruel my gods could be!

Many a day I would sit there dreaming of love. Of freedom. Of evil and good.  And chewing on bread that would have to satisfy me for the entire day.

Fortune can change with just one decision. One careless, reckless decision of mine slammed down an iron curtain between my heaven and the hell that was mine for thirteen years. Oh how my soul yearned for revenge. Wretched are those who lie for power and promise abundance on plates of misinformation.

There I sat day after day on a crate made in the USA, looking out from a third story window at an awesome view of the Araratian Plateau. Were there not waves of sunbeams dancing on the ice-covered Ararat? In those darkened clouds, did I not see a rainbow? If Noah and his wife and their sons and their wives were saved, would I not also survive my “forty days”?

Could it possibly be true – my imprisoned soul would taunt – that the tale of Noah was not the imagination of an opportunist fictional writer?

I had grabbed for Simonian’s Bible. As I turned to Genesis, I found what I was looking for…it was there…on that mountain where Noah’s Ark came to rest…it was there where Noah and his wife and sons would build a new life and plant the seeds of a civilization that would prosper…..and as it says in Genesis 8:4, “Never again will waters become a flood to destroy all life…”

And where did we go wrong! Is a merciful God now mocking us? Or what are we doing, what decisions are we making, to bring on the end of civilization?

If you want to blame someone for your failures, my mother would say, look in the mirror. Success has many fathers, defeat/failure is an orphan. A child’s innate appetite to do good or to do evil – to construct or to destroy – is nourished in the womb….and arrives with that first breath of human spirit, perpetuated by a loving family. But it could be destroyed by his or her environment. For some the journey is short; for others, it seems endless but for all, it is a miracle that we are here.

Despite our obsession with power and war, we will survive.

We are one. And from one we were given life. And that life will continue on earth.

Despite the fact that the forces of Good and Evil have taken to the battlefields again: an outburst of hostility between Saudi Arabia and Iran; what appears to be a never-ending war in Iraq, and Afghanistan and Syria; and predictions of Armageddon, the warning and chorus of nations that the world’s end is at hand, good will triumph over the evil. The past has shown that there is more good on earth than evil.

And there is this covenant:

“Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”

And for those who believe, the gift of his son…January 6 we (Armenians and others of Orthodox faiths) celebrate his birth…Merry Christmas.

 ***

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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