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.
Tom 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!