Tag Archives: Armenian Repatriation

An E-Mail from Ireland

Ireland Flag
Image courtesy of Pixabay and Etereuti

Why would anyone from Ireland want to read a book about an American-born Armenian who repatriated to the USSR in 1947 and spent 13 years of his life behind the Iron Curtain?

That was the question I had asked, via e-mail, of B.K. of Cork County, after he sent us an order for a copy of “The Repatriate”. The request for a book pleasantly surprised me; Brian’s response was equally surprising. Apparently he had spent several years in Armenia, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His task was to administer a multi-million dollar foundation grant to help the young republic install a social security program and also weed out corruption in government. However, every time he questioned his Armenian co-workers about life during the Soviet regime, or about life under Stalin and the KGB, they would lower their eyes to the floor, turn, he said, and walk away from him. He became very frustrated with those he worked with.

“I want to know more about why these people lived in fear at that time. And I can’t find enough books to answer my questions.”

The fear of the secret police apparently continues to haunt the citizens of the former Soviet Union.

He also noted, “Our housekeeper’s mother in Armenia was a returned Armenian from Greece. “And she did not want to discuss the Greek phase of her life…always changed the subject and when we lost a set of keys, she traveled across town, although there were several locksmiths nearby, to get the key re-cut. The place on Nalbandian Street (a building that housed the former NKVD/KGB offices) I know quite well.”

I was truly surprised and heartbroken to learn from the e-mail that the one of the buildings, the Pioneer Palace, where I spent years as a teacher-coach, teaching and coaching Soviet youngsters how to play basketball, was demolished in 2006.

B.K. says that he has been honored by local officials. He was named as an honorary citizen of Vanadzor, and because of his admiration of the Armenian people, he still maintains an apartment in Yerevan and frequently he and his wife visit the country.

***

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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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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An Apology to the Repatriates

Armenian Repatriates 1947
Image courtesy of Zabel Chookaszian Melconian 2013

There is talk about the present freely-elected government of the Republic of Armenia apologizing to those who suffered the indignation and down-right cruelty inflicted upon the repatriates. I, for one, don’t need one. I felt that, despite the hardships and the discrimination, I came out of the foreboding turmoil a better person with a better understanding of the world and its politics.

But Armenia does have to apologize to those who gave up their homes and packed up their families and relocated in Soviet Armenia. The Soviet, specifically the Soviet Armenian, government betrayed the trust of their own people. Most who went back were survivors of the genocide only to be further persecuted as Tasnags or Trotskyites or members of the elite bourgeoisie. The Soviets blundered badly, making enemies of the new arrivals who somehow managed to get the message back to their adopted lands about the conditions they had found themselves in.

The repatriates gave up everything for the Soviets and received in return a dagger in their backs. If Armenia is ever going to find a place among the civilized nations of the world, it must recognize the debt it owes to those who had embraced the country, returned to it to help rebuild it only to be imprisoned by the system.

Today, Armenia is hemorrhaging – losing its population in vast numbers – because its citizens do not trust those in high office. The president and the parliament must prove to the people that they can be trusted, and they have to heal the wounds inflicted on those who once believed in their Hyerenek. Though Armenians are not known for forgiving past injustices, an apology to the repatriates would be a move in the right direction.

***

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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Promises, promises, and promises

Let me tell you a story about a country whose national constitution and its leaders promised each and every citizen free room and board in an apartment complex, a tuition-free education from K-14 and college, and that the government would provide a monthly stipend to the student if they maintained a grade of “C” or better during the semester.

And, upon graduation from college, there would be a guaranteed job anywhere they chose to live in that country. Oh, one moment please…did I forget to mention that the government also guaranteed its citizens that in addition they would receive free medical and hospital and dental care?

Where is – or was – this Paradise?

Obviously it is not here in these United States.

Just sign here on the dotted line and the government will issue you a passport.

But, before you sign, please read the small print, you may not be in a hurry to pack and leave. In that small print, it states: The recipient shall forfeit their US citizenship to board and pledge alliance to the USSR.

Like myself, thousands did sign away their rights and disappeared into the land of unbelievable promises.

I do not know how many Jews left America for Birobidzhan, an area in the Soviet Far East, but some did. The Soviets promised them a homeland. I also do not know the actual numbers who picked up their families and slammed the doors to their homes in France, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Syria, China and from the four corners of the earth. But I do know that there were more than 300 Armenian American families that had given up on America and had accepted Stalin’s invitation to “repatriate” to the USSR. I was in one of the two groups that left the land of the free and the home of the brave…

The Soviet Union and its leader Joseph Vissarionovich Djugashvili aka Stalin needed manpower to rebuild the war-devastated country and anyone who could pick up a shovel was welcomed to get into the employment and bread lines.

They answered “Uncle Joe’s” call because many believed “capitalism” was had outlived its purpose and that communism would indeed, some day, lift the pathos of the exploited workers of the world. Aside from the many promises, the Soviet Union had also emerged from World War II as a “superpower”. Stalin had gobbled up most of Europe and, in 1949, when Mao Tse-tung ‘s Red Army forced Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek to move the Cabinet of the National Government to Formosa, (nee Taiwan) one need not crack a fortune cookie to read the future of the Chinese people.

There suddenly were Communists everywhere…at least the young Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy maintained that was so.

The Western World was sick of war and no power, not even the newly-established United Nations was willing to say “Nyet” to Stalin.

And we, the children of the Great Depression, who saw our fathers lose everything, including their hope in the country, wept for those we cherished so dearly. Bread lines in America? No jobs! Work two hours or two days, if lucky, on WPA projects!– Looking for food, even scraps, in the empty boxes at the Eastern Market..these are the images of America in the 1930’s.

Who among us that survived the bloody clashes between the strikers and scabs and police to bring in the Labor Unions will ever forget! The blood stains are still there…on the concrete at the Rouge Bridge where UAW strikers and Ford’s henchmen, led by the sadist Bennett, battled for the write to organize a union at the Ford Motor Company. Who among us will forget the Flint sit-down strike? The Republic Steel Company and the Memorial Day massacre in South Chicago where police fired upon strikers leaving a pool of a blood at “Little Steel”.

Around the negotiating tables that brought together Labor and Corporate Mangers came agreements that changed not only the lives of American families, but made the United States the envy of the world. As GM’s Charles Kettering, Chairman of General Motors, noted in his time that “the world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” And it is interesting to note that there were more that 11 million labor union members on corporate America’s payrolls during the 1940’s and 50’s, and these workers helped make this nation the greatest nation in the history of mankind.

Even in democracy’s darkest hours, when most of Europe had mourned the loss of its freedom, and was under the marching heels of Hitler’s army, America, yes, America provided the world with a gleam of light, of hope. The man who would enslave the world, and his Fascist madmen, inevitably felt the deadly sting on a united America.

When the challenge appears formidable, our nation and its leaders have always responded. Presidents did not have to “practice being `presidential’.’’ They were ready when called upon to act. I can still hear the scratchy sounds of the words of FDR coming from the radio as he addressed the nation during the dark days of the Great Depression. Those words ring clearly now as when they were uttered. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or who can forget FDR’s opening statement on Dec. 8, 1941, which began, “December 7, 1941, a day that will live in infamy…”

A united nation, whose army still relied on the horse-drawn artillery, rolled up their sleeves, and industry coked up their furnaces, and steel became tanks and ships and fighter planes and bombers and the weapons that would defeat what was considered an undefeatable Nazi Germany and an Imperial Japan.

Never again would we be caught off guard.

There have been other breathless moments – the Cold War, The Korean Conflict, Viet Nam, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, and it goes on…

In the 1960’s a young, handsome senator named John F. Kennedy reminded us, “The most powerful single force in the world today is neither Communism or Capitalism…it is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent…”and he became our president. And he made us believe in his Camelot, that he would take us to the moon and beyond.

We reached the moon, but it all turned into a nightmare when the president who had challenged the nation, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

And now I am told by the woman who I must obey, that I must come to the TV set for the “Great Debate”.

I would rather stay here with my readers.

Tell me, my fellow Americans, why should I leave you to listen to and hear the jibbering Donald Trump or the equivocating Hillary Clinton have to say? Haven’t they said enough? Instead of offering words that will provide national cohesion, the two pull the country apart. Neither has really offered a single policy or a word of wisdom that will be remembered down through the decades.

But, then there’s NBC’s Lester Holt – and he’s definitely worth listening to.

Before I end this post: I have noticed that in some sectors of social media there is an outcry for a return to “nationalism”, the evil that follows those lamentable individuals who believe that refugees should not step on US soil and those who were born elsewhere should go elsewhere. I remember the thoughtful words of Albert Einstein who noted, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

***

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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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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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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Month-long journey into the past

Armenian Repatriates at Abril Bookstore
Armenian Repatriates at Abril Bookstore

It was one of the most emotional months of my life. I traveled back into time and met with some of my former Soviet students and teammates and chatted with those who have suffered the injustices of the Soviet system first-hand. Unlike myself, who received a slap on the wrist from the KGB, these Armenian-American repatriates suffered the indignation and the humiliation of illegally being sent to the gulag and their only crime was that they wanted to return to the land of their birth – The United States.

Her name is Alice, and she has locked hate inside of her.

Injustice, the kind that no American can ever understand, pierced her heart at the early age of eighteen, and that wound has not healed with time.

Her full story is not mine to tell, and I hope someday she will tell the world the indignation she suffered under the dull-witted, despotic Soviets. In brief, Alice repatriated with family members to what was then Soviet Armenia in 1947. No sooner than she got off the ship in Batumi, she wanted to return to the United States. Within a short period of time, she had an opportunity to go to Moscow from the city of Erevan, and she grabbed it. Once in Moscow, she made contact with the US embassy and shortly afterwards she was picked up by the Soviet secret police, arrested, interrogated, and sentenced to Siberia.

We met briefly recently during one of my book talks. The talk was sponsored by the National Association for Studies and Research held in Belmont, Massachusetts. According to a cousin, it was the first time Alice had ever attended an Armenia function since returning to the United States.

When the talk ended, a new photographer asked if the former repatriates would consent to a photo op and all, with one exception, agreed. The photographer failed to convince Alice to join the group.

Later I approached her and unsuccessfully attempted to strike up a conversation. She looked at me and said: “I hate all Armenians.”

I told her that I understood. It was the wrong thing to say and hated myself for saying it as soon as it left my mouth.

“No you don’t,” Alice replied. “You – or anyone – will never understand.”

There were no words that I could use that would penetrate the stone wall that she stood behind. Alice has endured the cruel, oppressive, inhumane Soviets, but it cost her….her trust in man, her youth, and her life. No apology from any one would ever give back to this brave woman what she has lost.

***

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 Billionaire and the Pauper

Calouste Gulbenkian
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Armineaghayan

He was a playboy whose financial resources were infinite. A womanizer who would make Wilt Chamberlain’s “conquests” seem trivial. His life was one adventure after another and at any time in his young life it could have ended. He held citizenships in many countries and during World War II he served his adopted country, England, as a spy. Because he was an Iranian citizen, he managed to fly into Nazi Germany on missions on a passport that wasn’t challenged.

At birth, he was scooped up from his crib by his father, handed to friends on horseback and taken to a port before the Turks attacked the village. He grew up in wealth…

And, no, I am not talking about Donald Trump, but the son of “Mr. 5 Percent”.

“You mean you don’t know who Mr. 5 Percent is?”

I looked at the stranger and said, “No.”

“He’s only one of the richest men in the world.”

I was sitting in the lobby of the National Hotel in Moscow. The year was 1959. We had just finished a basketball tournament and my coach allowed me to remain in the capital so that I could visit the American National Exhibition, which was scheduled to open in a couple of days (July 1959).

While tourists from all over the world were flooding into the Soviet Union to see for themselves what secrets were hidden behind the Iron Curtain, I had had that opportunity to learn first-hand, thanks to the Armenian Repatriation in 1947.

While sitting and waiting for a cab, a young man, well-dressed, with American shoes (that’s how the Soviets could identify the foreigners – by their shoes) sat down in a chair across from me. I was curious about life in the West and I raised the first question, asking him where he was from. “Canada,” he said. He countered with, “Are you American?”

His question sent me into a quandary – Should I tell him that I was an American, but am now considered a Soviet citizen. I settled for “I’m Armenian and live in Armenia.”

“My employer is Armenian…and I know a lot of Armenians. You truly don’t look Armenian.”

“That has always been my problem.” I thought about telling him my story, but instead I asked him who his employer was.

He replied, “Nubar Gulbenkian. His father Calouste Gulbenkian is known as “Mr. Five Percent.” He went on to tell me that the senior Gulbenkian was the conduit in the development of the Iraq oil fields which netted him a 5 % stake in the Turkish Petroleum Company. He also brokered the Iraq Petroleum Company contract with the stipulation that 5% of the laborers in the fields be Armenian.

Calouste Gulbenkian died in 1955.

The gentleman rose abruptly and said, “Here is Nubar now. Since he is going to Armenia I know he would be interested in speaking with you.”

What approached us was a man in gray suit, about five feet-six, overweight, unsophisticated, with those dark Armenian eyes and thick black eyebrows. I might have been a bit naïve, but he didn’t impress me as being the son of one of the wealthiest men in the world at the time.

Those in the lobby immediately turned their attention to him. Where there was a man of distinction, there was always a KBG crew. I was standing on quicksand, Mr. Gulbekian was not. There would be no one to save me once he left.

He asked the usual Armenian questions – who and where my father was and the reason for my stay in Moscow. I gave him all the answers, then asked, “And why are you going to Yerevan?”

“On a mission,” he said. “I would like them to name a street in honor of my father. I hope to see one built from Yerevan (the capital) to the Etchmiadzin (The See of the Armenian Apostolic Church). And then he smiled. Do you think they’d be interested?”

“I’m quite sure they would be.”

He disappeared as quickly as he had appeared.

Years later, when I was granted my freedom, I asked one of my former teammates whether Gulbenkian managed to build the street. He replied, “Those Neanderthal communists would never allow someone to put the name of a capitalist on a street sign, even if they were given millions.”

But, after the downfall of the Soviet Union, the Republic of Armenia granted the Gulbenkian Foundation its wish: Gyulbenkyan Street, not all the way to the Etchmiadzin perhaps, but in the city of Yerevan…in Armenia.

Gyulbenkyan St, Yerevan Armenia

***

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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