Category Archives: Return to the US

Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World

In the final two months of the year nineteen hundred and sixty, Mitch faced a life-changing challenge, and I learned that I was a “person of interest”.  The FBI wanted to learn more about me and my life in the USSR, and I was invited to go to Washington D.C. to meet with the bureau and their Soviet experts.

My employment portfolio was tainted, and no one apparently was interested in hiring an American who had spent thirteen years in the USSR; Mitch discovered that William Randolph Hearst was not interested in the metropolitan Detroit market and, after lengthy negotiations sold The Detroit Times to The Detroit News.

Like the one-thousand five hundred employees who were receiving their weekly paychecks from the Times, Mitch received a telegram late Sunday, November 6, that stated, in part “…It is not necessary for you to report to work on Monday November 7, 1960…your paycheck will be available on your usual payday in The Detroit Times’ lobby…”

Although hundreds of Times’ employees showed up the next day to collect their belongings, empty their desks, pick up personal items, and bid their colleagues a farewell, none were permitted into the building, which was locked for the first time since Hearst had purchased the property in 1900.

This was not a merger of two great Detroit newspapers and some of the best journalistic talent in the industry left Detroit to find employment in various markets. Mitch and some of his colleagues combined their talents for a while and published a weekly newspaper.

When he was offered a position in Ohio, Mitch and his wife, Rose, who were raising three children, one that was only fourteen months old, had some serious decisions to make. Should they pack up the family and go to Ohio, leaving behind most of Mitch’s family, including his mother, father, and brothers, or stay in Detroit? The weekly venture was not turning a profit; the community could not/would not support the publication.

Eventually Mitch accepted the position in Ohio. Rose stayed in Detroit with the children and found a part-time position with the Melvindale-North Allen Park schools. The school system soon discovered that it had someone special in this energetic and intelligent young woman and eventually offered her a full-time position. I have been reminded more times that I can recall by Rose of the ancient Armenian saying, that my grandmother had always told me, “It is the woman of the house who maintains it and keeps the man standing.”

So  the children  – Grace, who was six at the time, Janet, 4, and Karen, fourteen months – would have the love and care of their mother and grandparents, but see their father only on weekends. Mitch had accepted a position on the editorial staff of the prestigious Citizens Journal in Columbus, Ohio, and loved the job, but not being away from his “girls”. The separation from family eventually persuaded Mitch to return to Michigan and the family where he belonged and would eventually join the staff of The Macomb Daily.

With all Mitch’s problems, I did not want to bother him with mine.

And I had problems…in Washington. After years of living in the shadows of Soviet agents and informers, I again needed to prove who I was, this time to my native land. Tired to the point that I failed to cooperate, one FBI agent during a session asked, “But, Mr. Mooradian, I thought you said you love your country!”

“Yes,” I replied, “I do. But, after all of this s— I wonder if my country loves me!”

My week in December had started off with a lie detector test and continued with daily meetings with those who wanted to be sure I was who I said I was; find out what I did in the USSR and where I had traveled in the USSR. It ended in a darkened room and an encounter with a Russian-speaking shadow that I firmly believe was a former officer of the KGB. The meeting would have ended in a physical confrontation, if not for the quick intervention by my FBI handler.

As Mitch built a career on his bedrock of his integrity, becoming the managing editor of The Macomb Daily, I enrolled at Wayne State University to re-Americanize myself. I graduated with a major in journalism, certainly not the direction that I thought I would take when I had left high school.

My first job was at The Dearborn Press, covering high school sports, and then I moved over to The Dearborn Guide to add city council and the police/court beat. Eventually I was contacted by Ray Clift, who had followed my high school basketball career and was a partner in a chain of weekly newspapers in western Wayne County. He offered me a position at their main office in Wayne, Michigan. Media mogul John McGoff, seeking to add and extent his political influence, purchased the paper and turned it into a daily, renaming it The Daily Eagle.

One day I walked into the newsroom and glanced over at the Managing Editor’s Office. I thought I saw a familiar face. I made a move to get a closer look. The door opened and Mitch walked out. Surprised and happy to see him, I greeted him with a smile.

He said simply, “Mr. Mooradian, please step into my office.”

I wondered what the hell was going on. He told me to sit down.

“I’m your boss, now,” he said.

I didn’t say a word. But I was stunned.

And then my boss said, “You’re fired!”

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship

I was sitting alone in a booth at a sweetshop on Fort Street waiting for Mitch. We would usually end up there after all of our home basketball games. I’d been in that place more times that I can remember with teammates, fans and their high school girlfriends, chatting about the game, drinking Coke or Pepsi, having fun, but that afternoon, waiting for someone whom I had not seen for thirteen years, made me feel strange. I had felt alone and out of place; nervous to the point I had wanted to leave.

After all, only forty-eight hours before I had been at the National Hotel in Moscow, checking out for the last time, waiting for a cab to take me and my one piece of luggage to the Sheremetyevo International Airport where I would be flown to Copenhagen and to freedom.

Unquestionably I was home, this was not a dream. I remember hearing my heart pounding in my ears as I glanced around the restaurant, listening to the jukebox playing songs I have never heard before. Young couples were sitting, chatting, eating and laughing. I held back my tears of joy.

Before I had left for the USSR Mitch had always been that “divine voice” of wisdom, praising me when praise was needed, and chastising me – yes, when I was way off the track. That is what friends are for, right? I was so anxious to talk, to share my adventures…and my pain. But could I? One could not wipe clean a slate of despair and fear of that “midnight knock at the door!” that had be written over thirteen years in one night.

Where was Mitch? He had been adamantly opposed to the Armenian Americans repatriating to Soviet Union. “Don’t go,” he had told me. “You’ll regret it,” Mitch had warned. “You’ll never come back – believe me.” His words had chilled my blood then, and they do whenever I recall them.

My heart warmed as Mitch walked through the front door and directly over to the booth where I was, as it does whenever I think about my friend Mitch.

“Damn it, you look good!” I had said, slipping out of the booth to greet him

“You sonofabitch!”  he had said.

His words stopped me in my tracks.

He tossed a newspaper on the table and said, “This damn newspaper scooped us. Do you know what that means? We had to rewrite this crap from the AP wire services. When I told my boss that I grew up with the idiot, he blew his stack – he wanted to know why I haven’t got an exclusive.”

I didn’t understand what he was talking about and it must have shown on my face. He stepped back and looked at me, noting that I had acquired a strange accent and was shaking. Mitch realized that I really didn’t understand. He grabbed me and kissed me on both cheeks as most Armenians do to show their affections when they meet, and said, “You sonofabitch…we all believed you were dead.”

“They almost got me, Mitch…they almost did…”

“You’re home. You’re safe. And damn it – that’s all that counts.”

We sat, he ordered Coke – or was it Pepsi – took out a cigarette, offered me one and I rejected it.

“You mean those Soviets didn’t get you to smoke?”

“Nope…but I can drink Vodka with the best of them.”

Mitch laughed and then shoved the newspaper he had brought with him to my side of the table. The front page had my high school photo, with a story about my return home. “Self-exiled to the Soviet Union for 13 years, a 32-year-old American was secreted in his Detroit home today…”

I continued to read, “…Mooradian’s father, Paul, barred visitors from the home ….”

I looked up at Mitch. In a calmer voice he explained, ”My editor was pretty pissed off when I told him I knew you, that we grew up together and went to the same high school. His immediate response was, ‘Why the F—don’t we have this story?!’ I told him your father barred all the reporters from talking to you.”

I tried to apologize that he didn’t get a story, but Mitch brushed it aside. He didn’t seem to be irritated.

“O.K. What’s the story – how did you get out?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

I explained that a year before I had been in Moscow with a team I coached and after a game a stranger, who I later discovered was a high-ranking KGB officer, approached me and told me that “they” had decided that I was going to be allowed to return home, to the United States….And here I am.”

“You’re kidding me, aren’t you?!”

“Mitch, believe me, you know I would not lie to you…that’s what happened, and the irony is I had given up believing that I would ever come back.”

Mitch gave me a strange look, “What happened to the others?”

“The elderly – they didn’t last a year. Most couldn’t survive – the bread lines, the lack of almost everything we take for granted – there was no soap, or sugar, or running water or electricity in the apartments.  Everything your father has told you and what you read in the papers, was true; my father didn’t have a clue about what was going on behind that Iron Curtain.” I started to share some of my experiences.

But as we continued alarms were going off in my mind, memories of the many interrogations I had withstood in the Soviet Union, signals that warned me I needed to be on guard. But, I had argued with myself, this is Mitch! I was so hungry to keep this deep friendship. Mitch and I had shared so much in our early years. I naively asked, “I hope you’re not going to write all what I told you.”

“If what you are telling me is the truth, why wouldn’t you want this story to get out?”

“Mitch, I came of age in a country where everybody is suspicious of everybody else. They’re vicious – they’re killers – “

“Who are you talking about?”

“The KGB!”

He looked puzzled.

“That was over there, and you’re here now. You’re safe at home.”

I told him that the agent who handled my case warned me that if ever I became a tool of the capitalists and spread “lies” about the USSR, they would find me because they have friends everywhere.

Mitch repeated that I would be safe here and that our counter-intelligence agencies were considered among the best in the world.

I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I did remind Mitch that the Cheka and Premier Stalin  didn’t stop looking for Leon Trotsky after he escaped from Alma Ata, and they eventually caught up with him in Mexico City.

I trusted my friend, I wanted so desperately to believe him.

Read the full “Mitch and Me” series:

Mitch and Me: A Posthumous Tribute to a Childhood Friend
Mitch and Me: The Years of the Great Depression
Mitch and Me: Iconic Moments of Friendship
Mitch and Me: Challenges in a New World
Mitch and Me: Explaining the Inexplicable
Mitch and Me: A Divergence
Mitch and Me: The Final Chapter to an Epic Life
Mitch and Me: The “Contract” is Null & Void

 

An Armenian-Speaking Imposter

Soviet Mens and Womens basketball team

During a trip to Los Angeles, my host asked if I would like to chat with a mutual acquaintance, who happened to be a former Soviet basketball star. The woman, now in her late seventies, immigrated to the USA and is presently living in the North Hollywood, California area. I told my host that I would be delighted to speak to the woman, but I reminded him that my Armenian remained rusty for I had little practice over the past four decades, besides the former star may not remember me.

My host smiled, picked up the telephone and dialed Lena’s number. As I waited, I recalled the many pleasant days and weeks I had spent with her. In the late 1940’s and during the decade of the 1950’s, Lena was definitely one of the premier basketball players of Soviet Armenia, if not the Soviet Union. Lena had represented the Armenian Soviet Republic in more tournaments that I could count. And I was elated to know she had survived the Soviet régime and was alive and in good health.

In the former Soviet Union, women and men’s basketball teams usually traveled together and played in the same tournaments when they represented their republic in national tournaments. Much like brothers and sisters, teammates got to know each other quite well.

My host finished dialing and there was a brief exchange of words in Armenian before he handed me the telephone. Since Lena did not speak English, the entire dialogue took place in Armenian. I immediately introduced myself to and asked about her health and welfare and how she was adjusting to the American way of life. There was no immediate response from the other end. Lena’s first words to me, in Armenian, were: Eddie (Edward) is that you?

I immediately repeated my name.

Lena was not convinced. “Edward, quit playing your silly games with me. I know it is you!”

“But…this is Tom.”  And I tossed in my father’s name as is accustomed in the Russian culture to convince her. “This is Tom Boghosovich…Mooradian. Lena, don’t you remember me – we went to so many tournaments together. “

“Impossible!” Lena shouted back into the phone.

I was now completely frustrated and was about to return the telephone to my host when I decided to try one more time. I thought maybe my language skills were so bad that I had not made myself clear. Speaking slowly and deliberately I again repeated my name and conjured up certain stories that she and I had shared. I explained that I left the USSR in 1960, that she and I attended the same university together, that she – and then I named off a few of her teammates – used to wash my socks and shirts when we were on the road.

There was that nervous pause again before she shouted, as many Soviets do during telephone conversations into the phone. “Impossible!”

“Why is it impossible? Do you think Tom is dead?”

“No! I know he is alive. Abraham has told me so. But you can’t be Tom because Tom didn’t speak Armenian as well as you. Whoever you are you are a good imposter.” And she hung up.

I was speechless. I handed the phone back to my host. He smiled and said, “You’ll be back in October. I will make sure that Lena attends one of your talks.”

***

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 Nazi and the Communist

Black Handprint
Image courtesy of Pixabay and open-clipart

He was born in Germany at the height of Hitler’s power.

I was born in Detroit the year before the Great Depression.

After World War II, he chose America and attended the University of Michigan, becoming a prominent architect.

After World War II, I chose the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and became a teacher who earned prominence playing basketball.

We met in May in Petoskey, Michigan, at McLean & Eiken Booksellers where I was signing copies of my book. I will confess I was more anxious to hear his story than sign books. He wanted to know why I would leave a country like the United States to live under a despot as evil as Joseph Stalin. My answers mystified him.

Our conversation drew more people around us than either of us expected.

I asked him about Hitler and life in Nazi Germany. “When we were winning all was well; when we were losing, all was hell.” He then offered the following…“We were losing the war and, at 15, I was called upon to do my duty for the Fatherland. They trained me as an anti-aircraft gunner and I spent the last days of the war futilely trying to shoot down planes. But, you know we also had a lot of planes…even jet planes…but we didn’t have enough pilots to fly them.

When his family found out that the Russians were at the gates of Berlin and they made a frantic rush to escape to the West. “And then we came to America. Why would you go to such an evil place as the USSR?”

I did not know it was evil, I told him. The Soviets were our friends, our allies, and I did not understand how a ruler could be evil. After all I was born in a democracy and believed that the world enjoyed the same rights as we did.

“Did you not know or read about the mass arrests and killings…Hitler, yes, was evil, but there are no words to describe what Stalin did to his people and to his enemies.”

My argument was the argument that most fellow travelers, socialists and communists at the time used, the Soviet Union was so great an ally during World War II, that Stalin and the Communist Party offered work and security and did not discriminate while capitalism had crushed the creative forces of labor and was constantly subject to the explosive whims and greed of those forces who controlled Wall Street. Capitalism had served its purpose and it was felt that it needed to be replaced by a system that would serve the masses, the working people.

Like him, I, too, had lived most of my youth surfing tidal waves of radical idealism, hoping to find a utopia that does not exist.

He asked whether there were any regrets on my part. My answer was short and truthful, “No.” The Soviet experience has made me the man I am today.

***

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 French Connection

French Flag painted on bricks
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and criminalatt.

I did not anticipate, nor was I prepared to immediately answer, the question. Over the years the memory of the events had been relegated to the farthest corners of my mind. It would take time to recall the story. And one thing a speaker doesn’t have when facing a group is time.

I had been on a coast-to-coast talking tour to promote my book, The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB. This particular event was sponsored by AGBU/Chicago.

A petite, Victorian-dressed, French-speaking Armenian in Chicago had asked in a patois, consisting mostly of French and English and Armenian words, “Whatever became of the French women who had repatriated in 1947? I was to go with them,” she continued, “but at the final hour our family decided not to go.”

I pondered the question, as she provided me time and stirred my memory, “You mentioned in your book that there were French odars (non-Armenians) married to Armenians living across from where you lived. Do you know if they ever got out of the Soviet Union?”

Her distinctive accent led me back in time, to Kalinin Street, to the courtyard and the communal cistern where we would wash, brush our teeth, and chat with our neighbors. It was there on a daily basis the French and the Americans would pause and chat. Never behind closed doors for it would draw suspicion and possibly a visit from the secret police.

I had stored so many of those events away that it took several seconds to search my memory and recall what had happened. I told her the following story:

The French Armenians, especially the French women, were the most courageous of our lot, I began. In public, they were a silent, struggling hard to feed their family, and washing clothes at the cistern where they managed to learn some of their Armenian.

Then, an unprecedented chain of events in 1956 placed these French women in the international spotlight. In February, during the 20th Session of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev unmasked Stalin for his crimes, and within weeks it appeared that the Iron Curtain had dissipated. Later that year, French Premier Guy Mollet, and his Foreign Minister Christian Pineau were invited to visit Moscow to discuss with the Soviet Premier and other top Soviet officials the future relations between the two countries.

Pineau, I had been told (but I can’t find any supporting information to the rumor), was born in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. During a social evening, the French foreign minister apparently expressed a desire to visit “the city of his birth” and Soviet Minister Anastas Mikoyan informed him that that could be arranged. Little did Mikoyan realize at the time that he had opened up a Pandora’s Box.

News that the two top French diplomats planned to pay Yerevan a visit reached Soviet Armenia before their plane’s motors were even warmed up in Moscow. Scores of French Armenian repatriates prepared an unprecedented greeting at the airport and there would be no stopping them.

In the meantime, the French women were busy at home planning their own party. Their greeting went beyond the wildest thoughts of the KGB. During the evening, the women had come together to sew blue, white, and red cloth – the tricolors of the French Flag and made banners, embracing “Liberte”, “Equalite”, and “Fraternite”. Arm-in-arm the following evening, they marched down Abovian Street, the main thoroughfare of the capital, to the Intourist Hotel, where the distinguished diplomats were staying.

Confronted by the secret police and ordered to disband, the women stood their ground, and began to sing the “Marseilles”, the French national anthem. The commotion and the song reached the ears of the French diplomats who appeared at the balcony of the hotel, and looking upon a sea of faces below, most in tears as they sang, were moved by the crowd.

It is said that Pineau apparently rushed down to the street and met with the women. One stepped forward and said, “We are French. We want to return to our homeland. The Soviets have refused to allow us to go.”

The shocked Socialist Foreign Minister listened to her, and to the others who presented their grievances. The French Premier vowed he would help. And apparently did. The French would be the first to return to their homeland. There would be many, many others.

I believe I was the first of 300 Armenian Americans who would leave the USSR. And I also am convinced that if it were not for these courageous French women none of the rest of us would have been granted exit visas.

It is rather interesting to note that only one – just one – Armenian American, who had married a Russian and raised a family there, remained behind when he had an opportunity to get out. Tragically the one who didn’t return home would, in the years to come, succumb in the disaster the world would know as “Chernobyl”.

***

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 Phone Call from Paris

Soviet Basketball team
Some of the students that Tom coached

“A teacher may forget a student; but a student will never forget a teacher.” I found that to be true over the years, for many of my former Soviet students have continued to keep in touch with me thanks to the Internet.

One such student, who was on staff at the BBC in London, serving on the Russian Bureau until he retired, contacted me by phone from Paris to tell me how much he enjoyed the book.

“I knew all of the characters in the book, Mr. Tom,” he said. “I am so happy that you are alive and found time to write it. Do you remember who I am?”

I conceded that the four decades of separation had dimmed my memory.

“Do you remember when the Harlem Globetrotters came to Tiflis and you had picked ten players to go watch them play?”

I admitted that I remembered when the professional black basketball team visited the USSR, but I did not remember the incident of choosing my players to attend the exhibition game. “That was so long ago.”

“It doesn’t matter, of course,” my former student said, “But I was No. 11, and I didn’t get to go. And I cried all night and that’s why I remember it so well.”

I profusely apologized for the sadness I had inadvertently caused, and told him I was very sorry.

“Oh, I ready didn’t care…I was just happy playing for you.”

Curious, I asked, “Do you recall what the administration at the school said when I didn’t show up in the gym to conduct my class?”

“Oh, yes, yes, of course, I do. They said that Tavahrishch Tom was sick, and that you have been taken to a sanatorium to get some rest. And that you would soon come back.”

Interesting, I thought. “Did you and the others believe what they said?”

“Of course not, Mr. Tom.” There was a pause. “We knew better. We knew you were somewhere in Siberia.”

***

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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Rewriting History

Armenian Fingerprint
Image courtesy of Pixabay and Kurious

Many who fell for the Soviet propaganda and accepted an invitation by the Soviet government to repatriate felt betrayed.

The Soviet Constitution, Stalin’s Constitution of the 1930’s, by law guaranteed a Soviet citizen work, free medical care, and free education. That was the Soviets’ promise to those who would return.

Instead, those who went found hell: long lines for food, what food there was, unimaginable living conditions, nauseous and disgusting working conditions. Life in the former Soviet Union was beyond any American’s wildest imagination.

Even to this day – six decades later – I shudder to think of the life I lived as a Soviet citizen.

Now, I feel betrayed by Armenian scholars, some of whom lived under the fear of the communist state, who fail to recognize the Armenian Americans’ contributions to the repatriation program. And by not recognizing them they perpetuate the existing schism between the Motherland and the Diaspora.

In November of 1947, along with 150 other Armenian Americans I repatriated to Soviet Armenia. I lived in the republic and played basketball continuously for the next 13 years. A second group of Armenians from America of approximately the same number arrived in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia in March of 1949. Between us, Armenian Americans contributed millions of dollars in machinery, cars, trucks, tractors, refrigerators, and items that the Soviets never thought existed, to help rebuild the war-torn nation.

The repatriation program was conducted during a period of time when most of Europe was dying to come to the shores of the United States, seeking freedom and liberty from war-torn countries and their totalitarian dictators.

“America had the highest standard of living in the world. We gave it all up. We were going against the tide,” said Deran Tashjian, now living in Pasadena, CA. Tashjian, who became an outstanding Soviet track and field coach, coaching athletes to Olympic stardom, continued, “We had a lot to lose. And we lost it, especially our freedom.”

“I consider these Armenian Americans heroes,” said another surviving repatriate, who went with his family from Kenosha, WI. “They contributed so much, and asked so little. The Soviets repaid them, by exiling their fathers and mothers to Siberia…”

A few years ago, I attended an International Academic Conference hosted by The Armenian Research Center, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Armenian scholars throughout the United States and Europe attended the conference which, without hesitation I would call a tremendous success.

But, a paper submitted by Professor Garen Khachatryan, of the Institute of History, National Science of Armenia, and presented during the first session, chaired by Kevork Bardakjian, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, noted the repatriation of Armenians from Lebanon, Egypt, Greece, France, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and then bunched the United States with “other countries”, not even mentioning it by name.

The Armenian repatriates from the United States contributed more to the wealth of that impoverished Soviet republic than all the others combined. And these American Armenians suffered the most, for they gave up the most!

The others took from the Soviets – we gave to them and received from them a slap in the face. No, not a “slap” but the basic denial of our freedom.

Although I, as did many others from the United States, wanted to return home, I was denied that right for 13 years. Some who tried were imprisoned.

It is my sincere opinion that it would be an injustice to adopt Professor Khachatryan’s paper, before it is amended to include the historic contributions by Armenian Americans to the Motherland.

In addition, in another session, I heard an advisor to the President of Armenia tell the group that government archives, as well as many others, have been opened for use for scholarly study. However, when I asked, “Have the KGB files been opened?” He responded immediately, “No. No. No.”

One of my repatriate friends told me of two Armenian Americans who went to Hyestan in 1949. They were Dashnaks and the Soviets sent them to Siberia before they could even get their things off the ship.

We depend on scholars, not only from Armenia, but all over the world to speak freely, but it seems that the cloak of communism still remains in some of the countries that were behind the Iron Curtain.

***

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 Readers Have Spoken

Tom and Jan Mooradian, on the grounds of the Etchmiadzin
Tom and Jan Mooradian, on the grounds of the Etchmiadzin

When I landed on the tarmac at the Romulus International Airport in July 1960, after spending 13 years in the Soviet Union, I had seven dollars in my pocket – dollars I had kept during the entire period I lived in the USSR. The $100 issued to me and allowed by the Soviet government to take from the country had undoubtedly been taken from my wallet by one of seven Syrian fighter pilots training in the Soviet Union the night before my departure at a drinking fest. The pilots were my guests at the Hotel National in Moscow.

All of my savings, furniture, the Soviet bonds, and the apartment I had – any and all Soviet rubles I had or banked during my Soviet life – everything, and I mean everything, I had accumulated during those thirteen years as a Soviet were confiscated because “they belonged to the people.”

Even though I had nothing, I was thankful to be home in one piece from a so-called “worker’s paradise”. With really nothing in my pockets but hopes and dreams of picking up the pieces of my life in the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” I began my long search for the American Dream.

While I remain grateful to God for allowing me to celebrate the miracle of life and, at times, to question some of my youthful decisions, I shall never apologize for my choices, for I discovered early that with each dawn and with each twilight there is a new adventure, a new challenge, and so much to be thankful for.

That this nation is blessed most of us realize and, although the world may have its problems, the people of these United States have time-and-time again stood ready and willing to discharge humanitarian duties, to eradicate injustice, to defeat evil and bury the “isms” of Nazism and Communism. Where would England and Europe and Asia and, yes, the United States be today, if Americans of all race, color, and creed, had not joined the ranks of the Allies in World War I or World War II?

Nazi Germany is now but a mere page in the history of humankind, and the Berlin Wall and The Iron Curtain have disintegrated because men and women are not born to live in shackles. In Thomas Jefferson’s words, “I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom…”

Americans are not easily duped by those political charlatans who lack common sense, point fingers at the media for their own incompetence, ridicule reporters to disguise their own ignorance and ineptness. They not only dishonor themselves but the country they purportedly say they love. To turn one faction against another is not to serve one’s country, but is an attempt to divide it.

In the many years abroad, I have had no occasion to hate any race, or color or creed.

In fact, I am honored to have had the privilege to live among the brave Russian people who shared their bread and cheese with me, even though they, themselves had little to eat. My 13 year odyssey behind the Iron Curtain was painful, yet seasoned with patience. Showing interest in human beings and their culture taught me life lessons that define me to this day.

I visited the homes of the rambunctious Georgians and the gregarious Azerbaijani invited me to their dinner table for a special meal of “shashlik” and rice. Then, in the mountains of the Transcaucasus, around a camp fire, the irrepressible Chechens talked about freedom and liberty. I have dined and shared a bottle of wine with the Jews of Odessa and learned about my ancestors and met an aunt in Armenia who lost three sons in the Greek Civic War.

I spent many days and nights in Riga, and Vilnius, and Tallinn and Kiev. With vodka flowing as silently as the Don, I talked about life in America with those Soviets who were eager to know the truth about the West. I put my neck on the block when I told them that their newspaper, Pravda (Truth), should be changed to “Ne-pravda”. (No truth) Would you believe they laughed!

I shall never forget the Volga and its ruins and the millions of men, women and children who died in the bloodiest battle, for the city of Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad was Nazi Germany’s first major defeat and turned the tide in favor of the Allies in World War II.

I stood on the steps of the shell of a building where Germany’ military genius, Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, surrendered the skeleton of his once-considered invincible 350,000 troops to Soviet Marshal Vasili Chuikov. Only 9,000 of the 350,000 Germans returned to their homes and families. During my early days in Soviet Armenia, having nothing more to do, I would visit a park where I sat on a rock and watched for hours as German prisoners of war built a bridge over a river in Yerevan. Ironically, that bridge eventually would collapse because of the faulty design and material used in the construction.

Upon my return home to Detroit, I was picked up by an FBI agent, driven to the Federal Building, then, after an initial interview, asked if I was willing to go to Washington D.C. to discuss my life in the Soviet Union. Having nothing to hide, I agreed to go. The information the FBI and CIA compiled should be as intriguing as a John LeCarre or Dan Brown novel….provided everything has not been redacted.

My hesitation in receiving these files is not without validation. After all, my intention was to journey to Armenia for a few years, not the better part of my youth. I had no concept that once I stepped off The Rossia I would lose all the freedoms I had enjoyed. That I would be watched and followed with severe mistrust.

While the Freedom of Information Act allows individuals to submit requests to see their own CIA and FBI files, who can accurately predict what will come of this inquiry? In today’s severe mistrust of the Middle East, will I re-awaken the government’s interest in my own personal history? Will my wife, children, and grandchildren be safe from their scrutiny?

Last week, I asked readers if I should ask the agency for my dossier. I received many replies, though Facebook, my blog, personal emails, and phone conversations supporting me to submit the request. With unending curiosity and extreme hesitation, I shall make application for the dossier as soon as this is post hits the cloud.

Wish me luck.

***

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 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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One Day in the Mind of a Writer

Tom Mooradian at the editorial desk circa 1970
Tom Mooradian at the editorial desk circa 1970

What goes on in the mind of a writer when he – or she – sits down to create a line of two for those who are interested in his talent?

Plenty and nothing!

Right now, echoing in the back of my mind, are those who wish to put me on a guilt trip, like my daughter who calls and says, “But, Dad, the readers want to know what happened to you when you came home after those horrible years in the Soviet Union…”

No kidding.

Do you really want to know? Do you really want me to spend the next four years gathering evidence of the FBI interrogations and the lie-detector tests and the almost fatal meeting in Washington D.C. with a turncoat KGB officer who happened to say to me during one of the sessions, “Comrade, Tom Bogoshovich, you and I know that the KGB would not allow you to return home unless you do something for them… Tell me what your mission is and I definitely will help you…”

Do I really want to relive that crap?

The last time I saw Paris…” Hammerstein, get the hell out of my mind. “Her heart was warm and gay…I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café….”

“I’m leaving Paris,” Jeannot said.

“No! No! No!” I shouted back in my mind. “You can’t! It’s the most beautiful place on earth…Please, Jean don’t!”

“I have sold my home and Laura and I are moving to St. Rapheal. The streets are not safe anymore. The cafes are not safe. We can’t stroll the boulevards. Even the birds don’t sing anymore. Come visit us at our home on the Mediterranean. Too many people in Paris today are wearing ‘masks’.”

The epicenter of nationalism and the rebirth of radicalism in American politics…get thee from me, Donald. I had vowed never, never again to mention his name in print! God forgive!

*He would leave millions stateless;

*He robbed thousands of workers of their hard-earned wages and had the audacity to say he created “millions of jobs” for Americans;

*He is simulated by his ego and has shown daily that he cannot be trusted with power;

*He belittles those who are handicapped;

*When he can’t get his way, he cries like a baby and would kick crying babies out of his sight;

*And, here in America, when a fallen soldier’s family mourns, we mourn with them, you would dishonor the names of our heroes. You would attack the father and mother of those who sacrificed…oh, let me allow Mr. Lincoln to say it, for he would do it far, far, better than my mind could…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…”

Mr. Kahn offered you a copy of the Constitution; I am forwarding you a copy of Lincoln’s Gettysburg’s Address, so that you can read the final words. On the other hand, do you read anything other than the National Inquirer? Using your view, through your licentiousness and despicable character, Mr. Trump, our heroes have sacrificed their lives so that you can build walls and make your fortunes. Have you no common sense or humanity? Do you not know the definition of “sacrifice”?

There is another America, Mr. Trump. An America that, after I lived behind the Iron Curtain for 13 years, I came back to and the people of this great nation opened up their arms and welcomed me back.

These are the fragmented thoughts and tribulations of a writer as dawn breaks over a beautiful lake in the state of Michigan…

 

***

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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