Michigan High Beat - Mooradian’s ‘The Repatriate’
Reveals True Life Behind Iron Curtain
By Betty Apigian Kessel
"The Armenian Weekly", Volume 74, No. 46, November
You’re a young, handsome, 18-year-old, coming from
a close knit Armenian immigrant family. You are a gifted Southwestern High
senior recognized as one of Michigan’s finest basketball talents. The year
is 1947 and you are facing a bright future. So why do you decide to go to
Soviet Armenia to seek an education?
Author Tom Mooradian’s
cathartic The Repatriot, Love, Basketball and The KGB answers that
question in this revealing, must-read novel of one man’s painful discovery
of what life was really like behind Stalin’s Iron Curtain for an
incredible 13 long years. If his Armenian parents wanted their son to
receive an Armenian education, did they in reality know the price he would
have to pay to get it?
He was one of a group of 150
Armenian-Americans who were the first of two groups to repatriate to the
USSR heeding the call of the Armenian Progressive League of the United
States to help “rebuild the Motherland.” It was an untrue pipe dream a
sacrifice that robbed Tom of his youth, and a yearning to return to the
freedom of his beloved United States.
Mooradian was joined by
80,000 other Armenian repatriates from around the world in this adventure
to return to the homeland.
Mooradian puts down his move to accept
Stalin’s invitation to repatriate to Soviet Armenia as youthful folly, a
stubborn and regrettable decision. He quickly discovered just how
regrettable when, en route, his American passport was removed from his
possession. It was only a shadow of the reality he and other Armenian
repatriates from around the world would soon face.
This anchor to a
before known life of freedom and plenty became a prelude to long bread
lines, unbearable living conditions and the constant watchful eye of the
secret police. It was only a shadow of the reality he and other Armenian
repatriates were forced to face. Tom was taken into custody, threatened
with a revolver held to his head by NKVD officers and beaten when a plan
hatched by him and several others to send Tom to Moscow to seek help at
the American Embassy. He was refused until he could obtain exit visas from
the Soviets, which did not become a reality until 1960.
basketball star lived under the reigns of Stalin, Beria, Molotov,
Malenkov, and Khrushchev. Those of us who remember the headlines from that
era know what an ordeal life for young Mooradian must have been. But he
Now ensconced in cramped living quarters with two other
men, he came to the realization that it was the scare tactic maneuvers of
the Politburo that controlled the lives of the Soviets and its republics.
Life was cheap and those who did not comply disappeared or were killed
outright. The name of the game was life lived with constant
Basketball was Mooradian’s savior, a way out from the
depression he was now going through. Adapting to Soviet life meant
learning to talk, act, and drink like a Soviet and even being complicit in
romancing the ladies along the way. After all he was a man; a young one at
He became a star basketball player again, going on to win 10
consecutive titles and represent the republic in the USSR nationals for a
decade. Standing room only games were the rule and they doted on the
American, Tom Mooradian. This newfound celebrity status gave him
opportunity to travel throughout the Soviet Union and, as an elite, gave
him entree to a finer lifestyle than the everyday
Mooradian miraculously finally got to leave Armenia in
1960 and return home but his respect for those friends he left behind the
Iron Curtain curtailed him from writing the revealing book till now. He
did not want to jeopardize their lives by telling his story and how his
youth had vanished with that decision he made in 1947.
Tom had had
a fulfilling life as a professional journalist in Detroit where he still
resides. His other home is in northern Michigan at Hubbard Lake, which he
shares with wife Janice whom he credits for her professional acumen in
writing of this book.
Tom also credits Alice Nigoghosian for her
guidance and encouragement as a well-known member of the Detroit
community’s intelligentsia. Nighosian is a retired assistant Director of
the Wayne State University Press. She, like Tom and his long-time friend
Macomb Daily editor Mitchel Kehetian, are fellow Keghetzis.
over-flow crowd recently attended a book talk at the Dearborn Armenian
Community Center hosted by the St. Sarkis Church Fellowship Club
introducing Mooradian and The Repatriate to an enthusiastic audience. This
will be followed by a discussion of the book by the author on Dec. 12, at
7 p.m. at Borders Book in Birmingham, Mich., to be followed immediately
after with an afterglow “Meet The Author” at Hagopian’s World of Rugs
directly across the street. Let’s show Borders how we support our Armenian
authors. Let’s produce an overflow crowd. Your fun pre-holiday evening
will be spent amongst many friends.
Give yourself a treat and
attend the Borders/Hagopian events, I promise you will enjoy meeting the
former basketball star and his Jan. Moreover, I promise you will enjoy all
459 pages of Mooradian’s book. What a great way to launch your reading
regimen for the winter. It will make for a memorable Christmas gift at a
very reasonable $25.00.
It came as a surprise to Tom when I
notified him that I had discovered in the Aug. 19, 2008 issue of Bounce
Magazine that he had been named to the All Decades Detroit Teams 1940-1949
era along with Aram Sarkisian from Detroit’s Southwestern High School.
Quite an honor. Congratulations! The Soviets recognized a star when they