Vardan Harutyunyan Վարդան Հարությունյանը

* 1961

  • Dissidents in Armenia were relegated to the background, in many cases even further. Why? There is a reason here. It is not that our dissidents were worse or less prepared than, for example, the Ukrainians. The reason is that Karabakh was the leading idea for us. The fight was not for the independence of Armenia, but for the Karabakh’s unification to Armenia. When the visible part of the dissidents returned from the detention centers, some already had returned, some had just returned - I returned at the very end, I returned in June 1988 - the movement had already advanced quite a bit. The former dissidents who created their own organization, the National Self-Determination Unity, etc, those dissidents did not join the Karabakh movement, did not enter the context of the Karabakh movement, they were separate. The independentists, the independent wing, claimed that we should not deal with the Artsakh unification issue, but the issue of Armenia's independence. At that time, we were disseminating texts that Armenia and Azerbaijan should solve this problem as two independent republics, and it is not possible to turn to the Kremlin and solve this problem through the Kremlin. But the idea of independence was still a bit foreign back in 1988. People were saying, and very openly, that maybe independence is a good thing, you're right to say independence, but it's too early, let's wait... Moscow will be upset with us, Artsakh will not be given to us, let us not talk about independence, leave it for later, as soon as the Kremlin gives us Karabakh, we will talk about independence together with Karabakh.

  • In the 60's, 70's, 80's, to print a half-page leaflet, a person would need months of work, dangerous, extremely dangerous work, with the imminent danger of being arrested, detained, exposed at any stage of the work. To be exposed meant to be detained, arrested, convicted. There were no printing media, the available printing media was the typewriter, which could not be purchased. To buy a typewriter, you had to go to a special store with a passport, they were usually sold in commission shops, these were specialized shops. You had to give a reason why you wanted to buy a typewriter. Let's say you gave them a reason "I'm writing a dissertation", they allow it, you leave your passport data. Each typewriter font was different from other typewriter fonts, and they were registered in special services. And people, in order to print some text, be it a newspaper or a leaflet, those people had to mold the fonts themselves, either from clay, or from metal, or from dough and various other materials. The students made those leaflets and distributed them in the chemistry faculty of the university. Why? Because chemists know with what substance, how, in what way it can be done so that it turns out well.

  • Five members of our group were arrested [Marzpet Harutyunyan, Ishkhan Mkrtchyan, Samvel Yeghiazaryan, Hovhannes Aghababyan], more people were arrested, but five of us reached the court and were convicted. I was the last of our friends to be arrested. We have been sentenced with rather lengthy sentences. Why lengthy? Because the punishments against us Armenians have always been quite severe, but after the subway explosion [a series of explosions in Moscow in 1977, as a result of which seven people died and 37 were injured. Although no one claimed responsibility, the Soviet KGB arrested and five days after a closed secret trial executed three young Armenians, led by Stepan Zatikyan, the founder of the National United Party], for which Stepan Zatikyan, one of the founders of the National United Party, and his two friends were accused, much bigger and more severe punishments were applied to Armenians. I was sentenced to eight years, one of my friends Ishkhan Mkrtchyan and Marzpet Harutyunyan were sentenced to 12 years together with exile. Five years and three years of exile for me, seven and five for them. That was the maximum that could be given under the article. During our trial, US President Reagan was shot, and he was just elected not even a month before, I don't remember now. In his speeches, he constantly talked about the Soviet Union, the evil deeds of the Soviet Union, he promised that he would fight against the Soviet Union/ later, in 1983 he was the one who declared the Soviet Union an Empire of Evil. When he was shot, Marzpet Harutyunyan suggested I write a text, and I came to the session the next day with a text. The judge was stunned, he said, "What should I do now?" I remember well. Samvel said: "Take it, and attach it to the case." I wrote a very nice text, in my opinion. I don't remember the text now, it was very short, about a couple of paragraphs. I wrote that we offer our condolences to the American people. We hope that Reagan will recover and fight with us against the evil called the Soviet Union. I wrote something similar. And Samvel Yeghiazaryan read the text.

  • Starting from the period of the Union of Armenian Youth in the 1960s, the patriotic movements, the core of which, as I have already said, was the Genocide, should have aimed to give the Armenian people an opportunity to commemorate that day, April 24. Not only to commemorate, but also to have a place to go and lay flowers. That place was the Komitas sepulture before that. On various occasions, people gathered near Komitas' sepulture. Mostly students. And in 1963-1965, until April 24, 1965, those instances happened continuously. In 1964, when the "Seven Patriots", the leaders of the Armenian Youth Union, were convicted [Seven members of the Organization’s Council were convicted of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, their arrest and conviction received a wide resonance, and people named them "Seven Patriots"], among them the poet Vigen Babayan, who later moved to the United States and worked at the Voice of America radio station, unfortunately died in 2000... In one of his speeches, Vigen Babayan said that 50,000 people should come out in a demonstration in Yerevan and demand that the Yeghern be commemorated, and to talk about our lost territories: Karabakh, Nakhichevan, etc. In the court, the judge quoted it as irony, and it is written in the verdict. I made their verdict public that how naive one can be to think that it is possible to organize such a demonstration in Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia, if the authorities are not behind it. The trial of these people had just ended, a much bigger demonstration took place in Armenia. It was a very big indicator, both for the people and for the authorities. After that, people in Armenia, Soviet Armenia, realized that it is possible to go out into the square without the permission of the authorities. It was very important. 1965 brought that freedom not only to the students, not only changed our way of thinking that we can go out in public without permission of the authorities, but also led to the struggle for independence, which is unimaginable, inconceivable. This is a very big struggle, that’s where the new border can be drawn. In 1966, the National United Party was established under the leadership of Haykaz Khachatryan. Haykaz Khachatryan, Stepan Zatikyan, Shahen Harutyunyan - this trio created the National United Party. A completely new period begins with this. 1966 marks the beginning of a new period in the recent history of Armenia, when the struggle for the independence of Armenia is unfolding, not for the lost territories of Armenia, not for the sake of Karabakh or Nakhichevan, or any other things, but for the sake of the independence of Armenia.

  • It was the post-Stalin period, Stalin was gone for several years, the boundaries of freedoms were expanding. People first got the right and the opportunity to speak out. Only to speak. Not write, not publish. to speak about our lost territories, and most importantly, about the Genocide. The Armenian Genocide did not exist as a topic in Armenia from 1920 to the second half and even the end of the 1950s. Those topics were very emotional for us, for Armenians, naturally, people gathered around these topics, talked, discussed, and most importantly, unlike in the forties or thirties, they were not taken to jail for talking. This was already interesting. And on that ground, as I already said, that transformation, from patriotism to liberalism, is the most important. The circumstance that you can talk about it, and you are not punished for it, was a step forward. On the background of this permissible, so to speak, “freedom”, an organization was formed in Armenia, which was called the Union of Armenian Youth. Patriotism was the basis, they talked about the Genocide, they talked about the lost territories, they talked about the need to commemorate the Genocide Day. From today's distance and from today's height, they seem very naive and primitive topics, but in the first years of the 1960s, a more serious topic could not be imagined.

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    Yerevan, 19.06.2023

    duration: 01:51:04
    media recorded in project Memory of Armenian Nation
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I could not live in the USSR without violating the Soviet laws

Vardan Harutyunyan in exile, 1985-86
Vardan Harutyunyan in exile, 1985-86
photo: pamětník

Vardan Harutyunyan was born on February 3, 1961 in Sers village (Vayk region) in southern Armenia. He grew up in a family of farmers. In 1978, he graduated from Vayk (then Azizbekov) secondary school, then moved to Yerevan to continue his studies. Getting acquainted with Armenian dissidents in Yerevan, he joined the movement, participated in the activities of underground organizations operating in Armenia. Initially, he was a member of the Armenian National Union, then he also became a member of the Armenian Youth Union, a youth branch of the National United Party operating underground. Before becoming a member of the Armenian Youth Union in 1978, Harutyunyan was a member of the Armenian National Union. This was a youth, patriotic organization, with its own charter and program. In 1980, he was arrested along with four friends: Marzpet Harutyunyan, Ishkhan Mkrtchyan, Samvel Yeghiazaryan and Hovhannes Aghababyan, then under articles 65 (anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda) and 67 (organizational activities aimed at committing particularly dangerous state crimes) of the Criminal Code of Soviet Armenia. Being a member of an anti-Soviet organization, he was sentenced to five years in prison and three years in exile. He served his sentence in the political colonies of the Urals and places of exile in Magadan (Kolyma). Due to his behavior in detention and exile, in the fall of 1986, the State Security bodies of Magadan prepared materials for initiating a new criminal case against him under the article of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. In 1987, Vardan Harutyunyan was offered to write a petition with a promise not to proceed with the criminal case and to be released early, but he refused the offer. Later, he was offered to declare in writing that he renounces further political activities and to be released early. Vardan Harutyunyan responded to this proposal with an article entitled “Why I don’t write a pardon”, in which he stated that as long as the Soviet Union exists, he will fight against it. “I cannot live in the USSR without violating the Soviet laws,” he concluded his article with these words. After serving his sentence, Harutyunyan returned to Armenia in 1988. In 2014, he published the informative book “Dissent in Soviet Armenia”, which presents the dissident movements and underground organizations that developed in Armenia in the 1960s-80s. In 2018, he published his memoir “The Story of a Political Prisoner”.