Category Archives: Return to the US

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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War, Not Peace?

Hand holding earth
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Ponsulak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then Armenians did not have oil.

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

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

Then give them the power and the resources.

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

***

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

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The Little Mermaid and the Repatriate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I continued my stroll.

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

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

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

I felt so alive there.

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

***

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

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Of Fathers and Sons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many are surprised by my answer.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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A Slave to Nightmares

Russian PassportRead more about Tom’s return to the US in A Person of Interest Part 1 and Part 2

Inside the walls of the days and nights of my past I became a slave to my nightmares. I had been in the shadows of the KGB for so many years their ghosts became real and they were the masters of my mind.   The encounter with the FBI raised my anxiety level. I sought psychiatric help. Stopped after one session after I found out how much it cost.

There was no place for me to hide. To run. I felt exposed. Scorned. An outcast in my own country. And I dared not reveal my secret life to my family. They would not understand.

I had always walked with confidence at my side – the two agencies took that away from me. No one, I believe, would read this prose without stamping it the work of a paranoiac. But, in the final analysis, it was my life. I know the truth.

Did the KGB make a conscious effort to follow up on the threat it had made to me in Moscow that, if I became a “tool of the capitalists” there would be repercussions?

Did the FBI interrogate me after my return?

And did the KGB walk in my footsteps when I walked the streets of Detroit?

It will be you who will judge and decide upon the evidence.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there appeared in a newspaper article published in the now free republic of Armenia that carried the headline: “What Happened to Basketball in Armenia…” In that article, which did not have a byline, the writer describes the rise and fall of the sport in Armenia and goes on to mention the names of some of the top players of the 1950’s. My name appeared in that list. For all of the others mentioned, statistics and playing information was recalled, but following my name, there were intimate details of my personal life in America. A good editor would have asked the writer: “What the hell does this all have to do with basketball” and edit the paragraph out of the story.

I do believe the KGB made a conscious effort to monitor my actions in America. It is obvious that the FBI also considered me a “person of interest” until, like their counterparts in Moscow, interest waned. But, the evil that lived and thrived throughout the 20th century – suspicion, ambition, greed, hunger, exploitation and segregation – lives on unabated in the 21st century.

Despite all of the political nonsense we hear today from those who would be president, even those who advocate “Making America Great, Again”, I have always cherished and loved my country and have celebrated its achievements.

I would say to those who celebrate our country and wish to “Make America Great, Again” that America Has Always Been Great.

Let us all work together to “Make America GREATER!”

Read more about Tom’s return to the US in A Person of Interest Part 1 and Part 2

 ***

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 Person of Interest…Part 2

Armenian passport
Tom Mooradian’s passport: in Armenian and Russian

This is Part 2 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 1 here.

Do you not think that a man or woman who was born, raised and educated in the United States and disappeared for thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain, and then suddenly appeared in the United State would not raise J. Edgar Hoover’s eyebrows?

Would not the director of the FBI see “The Repatriate” as a possible “Manchurian Candidate”, waiting for someone to ring a bell or display a card so that the young man from Behind the Iron Curtain would execute his mission in the USA?

I was flown to Washington, D.C. and was met at the airport by one of the agents who drove me to the Mayflower Hotel. The next day, at about 9 a.m., the same agent drove me to a building where I was questioned about my life in the USSR. I answered the agency’s questions to the best of my knowledge. During the interrogation I also was given a lie-detector test.

I went along with my “hosts” through this process. Upon reflection I think it was because I had completely forgotten about my rights, after all, I had just graduated from high school when I had left America with the group of repatriates. I, and all of the teenagers who sailed on the Rossia, believed we could return to the States whenever we wanted to. To our dismay we discovered that was not true.

On day I-do-not-know-which, the FBI introduced me to a Russian-speaking interrogator. He began this session of questioning asking me about my life in the USSR, my travels, and then questioned me about the KGB and why I was permitted to leave when no others had. (I had been the first American to leave. Only a small group of French women who had gone to the Soviet Union with their Armenian husbands had returned to their homeland before I.)

That interview with the Russian brought back all of my nightmares. It reminded of what my KGB handler had told me back in Moscow: “Remember, Tommy, wherever you are we can reach you. Do not become a tool of the capitalist.”

The psychological effect of being in the same room with a Russian-speaking interrogator, his eyes and his glares, his sarcasm, his methodical questioning and degrading “the accused” to make him feel inferior, emasculating the “prisoner” ultimately unleashed the frustration, the hatred I had held back of the loathsome Soviet system …I fired back with a volley of four letter Russian words that I had picked up in the locker rooms of his country. He stood up slowly, deliberately, and I stood to confront him. There we were, toe to toe… A door behind me quickly opened and my “handler” rushed into the room and separated us…

Finally safe in my native land, the home of the free, I stood there thinking, I must be guilty. Why did they bring me here if I wasn’t “guilty”?

But of what?

Back in 1949, I was taught a life-and-death lesson by the Cheka. The Soviets stopped me from boarding a plane bound for Moscow from Yerevan because their pawns had informed them I was heading for the US embassy with some important papers. They tossed me in a truck and drove me to their headquarters. The Soviet interrogators told me that if I confessed they would be lenient. “We never arrest anyone who is not guilty…and we can’t release you, because our citizens would think that we are arresting innocent people.”

So, what do you confess to?

I wanted to scream. But, instead I bit my lip and waited from their next move.

Silence, at times, is a powerful word.

This is Part 2 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 1 here.

 ***

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 Person of Interest

Tom Mooradian, Armenian Repatriate

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

Once my feet had touched American soil there was a sense of relief. A cathartic sensation never before or since experienced flushed my veins. My nightmare in the USSR was over. I was a free man – free from the Soviet sham, from the terror one suffers as a citizen of a totalitarian state. I was no longer in the clutches of the KGB.

Or was I? How naïve I had been back then. How naïve I am.

When the KGB stepped out of their shadowy nooks and abandoned their imbecilic stratagem to unmask me as a “sleeper”, a “tool of the capitalists”, I asked them why the continuous surveillance. Why were their agents following me? I never got a satisfactory answer.

Those thirteen years behind the Iron Curtain are now history. Those thirteen years without a single Christmas…or Easter…or letter or parcel that had not been opened. I lived in a Soviet Republic that desecrated over 1000 churches and padlocked the doors or used the religious edifices as shortage space.

How tragic it all was…for it did not have to be as history reveals. Today the terror of the night is but mist and the fear to live is blotted forever.

But as sweet as it has been to return home, there were bitter moments of gloom and despair. My battle left me with scars.

You, dear reader, ask… “Where is the sequel to The Repatriate? “You have left us in limbo,” writes a reader. “…the story is incomplete.”

As proud as I am of my country and of the American people, the treatment afforded me upon return made no sense to me at the time. I understood the “hate mail” and I understood why some employers were terse, even rude, when they learned of my past, but…Depression had set in and I took long walks. Friends had lives of their own. I was broke and miserable.

As I strolled on a street in southwest Detroit, a well-dressed man approached me. “Aren’t you Tom Mooradian?”

I was caught off guard. I thought for a second that he may have been a classmate of mine or a basketball fan who recognized me. I was wrong on both counts. He said, “I’m from the FBI.”

The announcement startled me. The agent continued, “My director would like to talk to you… Do you have any time on your hands?”

I looked at him, smiled and replied, “If you have been following me all these weeks you know I have nothing but time on my hands.”

The agent raised his hand. A black sedan came out of nowhere, stopped at the curb and the agent opened the door for me, inviting me to get in. Once we were seated, the driver headed toward the Federal Building.

As the car sped toward our destination, I broke the deep silence in the car with a nervous laugh. The agent asked, “Want to share that with me?”

I had nothing to lose, so I said, “For a moment, I thought I was back in Moscow.”

The agent smiled and said, “No. …No. We don’t play the game the way they do.”

I would soon learn that they did.

This is Part 1 of A Person of Interest. Read Part 2 here.

 

 ***

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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