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Rousseau Abrahamyan

Rousseau Abrahamyan

Rousseau Abrahamyan (born in 1940) was interviewed by Gayane Shagoyan in Gyumri (11.06.2012).

[They exiled us in 1949. ] I was ten years old then. We lived in Isahakyan Village [Shirak Marz, former Aghel Region]. They came at night, at 1.00 a.m., the day was Saturday. [On the eve] we grabbed some eggs and yogurt, me and my dad, and were on our way to see my brothers in Leninakan. The train was passing right along the borderline. There were cannons directed at the Turkish side. Horses stood at the ready. We heard voices from the reedbeds of Arpachay. There were soldiers holding hatchlings of wild ducks. The mother ducks were flying overhead, hitting on the soldiers’ heads and flying away. My father exclaimed, “Shameless people, why did you catch these younglings? Their mothers are crying. Don’t you have a bit of mercy?” This incident got heavily stamped in my memory.

So we arrived… The train was already leaving when we reached the station. The Russian board keeper standing on the tower said, “Father, you are late. You have to go back”. “This is a bad sign”, said my father. We turned back to the village, it was the night of June 13, my father sat under oil light checking his students’ papers. At 1.00 a.m., there was a knock at the door. There stood three armed people together with Anushavan, the head of the Village Council, the head of the Collective Farm Mambre, the head of NKVD and some Russian, a representative from Moscow.

They said, “Get ready to go!. “Go where?”, my father asked. “Get moving now! And your son too!”, they began to push my father. And so we gathered some things; my father took Jivani’s book, some lavash (Armenian bread), two blankets but nothing more. … [My stepmother was also with us. My mom had died in 1944, and father had married her in 1947]. Her name was Dasha. She was the daughter of Don Cossack Yefim. Later she turned out to be a traitor too. She stole some bonds when we were in exile. My father divorced her in Siberia in 1950. She lived with us only a year. After their divorce, our neighbors would help us with washing or milking the cows. Darya would always blame my dad, “You are a Dashnak” they had exiled you for being a Dashnak- nationalist, but my lord, what was she talking about!

My father was elected а deputy of Shirak Provincial County Council (Number 4) when they exiled us.

After the exile, the grandson of Avetik Isahakyan’s uncle Ara Isahakian, who had been in the front with my brother, went to Leninakan on foot, found our house and told my brother that they were going to exile our father. They took us to Artik by car to put on the train. The wife of my uncle who had been axed in 1937, Arusyak Kurginyan was a doctor. She came to see us there, got on the train with her Red Cross bag across her back, carrying some cigarettes and candies for us. When she got on the wagon she told my dad, “Bro, dear, please, take good care of Rousseau.”

They took us to Leninakan by night. Kojoyan Mnatsakan, from our Isahakyan village, his wife Hripsik, brother and mother Hayko were with us. Hripsik was Ara Isahakyan’s sister. This was the second exile in Hayko’s life. We called her granny Hayko. She was 65 years old by that time, a survivor the exodus [meaning Genocide]. She took some garlic, dried curds and a big pot full of buttermilk to make butter. As they were taking us Hayko was saying, “I know them so well, all those hardships of deportation route”. The road took 18 days. During the way, Hayko used to feed the small children in the wagon with garlic and dried curds. She would say, “Children should be taken good care of”. The bread we had taken with us soon became stale but we ate it nevertheless.

The train would make stops in the deserts. It passed through Julfa, Nakhichevan from where we could see Khor Virap. We had made a hole in the vagon door with a knife and were watching out through that hole. We saw Turks running away screaming “surgyula, surgyula” which meant “exile” in Turkish. The people from NKVD armed with guns were patrolling the entire area.

When we crossed the Volga, we passed through Volgograd/Stalingrad. I can never forget the scene I witnessed there. The picture of battle ground is still as fresh as ever. The corpses of German soldiers were scattered everywhere. They took care of the bodies of soviet soldiers but you could see skeletons of Germans, broken machines and tanks everywhere. They had only cleaned up the railway to make the line operational for trains. The wrecked ships were still in the river. The train stopped not far from the station, near a newly built massive bridge. They fed us fish soup and those who ate it got dysentery… They did not care for the detainees. Hayko mom would mix the garlic, dried curds with water and feed us until we got to the place of exile.

There was nothing even close to the notion of toilet. Grandma would hang a sheet and separate the place for children and men … Those were cattle carrying wagons – hard, wooden floored double-deckers. The journey took 18 days… Hayko provided all the people in our and the next wagons with garlic but those scoundrel NKVD officers did not allow moving from one wagon to another. They would beat people with weapon butts and if anybody resisted they would take him to a punishment cell where the conditions were even more terrible. It was hard to breathe inside the wagon because they had locked the doors and covered the windows with bars. When we crossed the Armenian border they took out the bars as people were suffocating but they still kept the doors locked. The wagons were covered with metallic nets from underneath so that nobody would escape. There were two guards on the roof of each wagon.

Actually, nobody ever attempted to escape, but some people threw themselves out of the train. There was a good lad, Artyom, a very good musician and singer. He jumped out as the train was crossing Volga River. The train didn’t stop. He would hardly have stayed alive amidst the iron junk. One wouldn’t survive such blow on the head. Besides they would make sure you’re dead with a bullet. At each stop the soldiers took out corpses of those who could not endure the torturous trips. There were people at each station taking the bodies. So many people were left unmarked, buried in unknown graves. Some would try to committ suicide but the soldiers binded them and took to the penalty wagon. The train also had a sanitary wagon.

13 000 people, 2-3 families in each wagon, depending on the number of people. In our wagon there were two families from the same village. Then they brought Gegham’s family from Horom village. He was a war prisoner. A person ought to be punished for his crimes one time but how many time do you think he was? He was a war prisoner, that’s first, then the exile, second; the third is that someone informed on him in exile. They were three in the family; all got sentenced for 25 years. The man had served under Dro. He had a German colonel godfather in Italy and there was a photo of him holding a cross. How on earth did he manage to carry it into exile! We sometimes saw the photo at their place but I don’t know how he was betrayed. They sentenced him to 25 years and he died there.

We arrived in Barnaul but the commandant told us we still had to make 120 kilometers till Ordalesk. We started from Barnaul station and stopped in the steppe… for five hours. We got off the train. The armed soldiers ordered us to sit and not to stand up until told to. They ordered us to turn to the opposite side so that we didn’t see the train leave. Some trucks arrived to picke up the people. They had decided in advance how to allocate the families between the sovkhozes – 50 families to each. There were sovkhozes cultivating beats or pigs. They took us to Aleysk. They grew beet there.

We went to the market. Tashkent was nearer, but they would bring grapes from Semipalatinsk. One grape ball cost two kopecks. Armenians are not used to buying anything in grams. My father approached the Uzbek tradesman and asked to buy 1 kg of grapes. He was surprised. My father said, “Come on, give it”. We bought the grapes and started to eat when a mustached tall man wearing long coat and white Leninakan style hat came up to us. “Boy, where are you from?” My father said we were from Leninakan.Call itAlexandrapol” he replied. He had strong dislike for Lenin, you see. He had been in prison in Krasnoyarsk and happened to be in the same cell with Stalin. Shakhbazyan Vruzh was his names, an old revolutionist exiled from Gyumri. “I don’t like the name Gyumri and I don’t like Leninakan either. Say Alexandrapol. Let’s go to my place”, he said. He took us to his home. It was September; the weather was cold and snowy. He introduced us to his wife, “This is my son from Alexandrapol. They have exiled him from Armenia “.

Then he treated us and gave some bread, pork fat and samagon for the road. Seeing my telogreika (a warm coat for workers), he brought a fur coat and said, “My grandson is freezing”. He gave it to me with a flicker of emotion and told that it belonged to his deceased son, who drowned. He wished me a long and healthy life saying, “Your life is ahead of you and one day there certainly will be a light in the window”. That man was a huge help for us. He was 78 years old by that time. When we would return from NKVD they treated us with honey. It was a trust thing; we allowed us to see him, the road was 30 km long.

We lived in barracks. They were underground shelters made of clay and straw mixture. We had a Russian pechka (furnace) inside and it was warm. It had a roof covered with straw. One year it was so cold that even vodka froze in the shops. It was 45 degrees below zero. We had to bring the small pigs, calves and chicken inside. In such conditions, living in the same place with cattle is horrible indeed.

One barrack accommodated two or three families. The school was 3 kilometers away. In winter, the snow was two meters high and covered the barracks. There was an old white guardsman Vagrelich (regiments fighting against the Bolsheviks’ Red Army) who had fought in China. He had longbeard and was walking with a stick. If he happened to see our chimney, he would shout and hit on it from outside trying to find our house covered with snow. People usually dug underground ways to the houses. These were like tunnels, like trenches six-to seven meters long. This way people made their ways to the surface and found each other’s houses. We did not have a water supply and drank melted snow. We couldn’t help it, everything was freezing.

When Stalin kicked the bucket, and, they finally arrested Beria, in [19]56, Khrushchev announced amnesty for everybody. They started to free the prisoners and the exiled. We returned in [19]54, however, people here started to appeal for justice since [19] 51. Norayr Sisakyan had called my brother and encouraged him to find out why my incent father was exiled. So my brother did. He sent a letter to the Supreme Council. Sisakyan helped him a lot in Moscow. Then he came back and got a response, which said they would reconsider the case…Arpiar Arpiarian said, “I know this case, I personally know the man.” Moreover, he gave a recommendation for my father. The Chief Prosecutor … it took them a few years to do it, until both Stalin and Beria went to the hell. Only then, the lucky star smiled to the people. It was in [19]56. In [19]54, they gave us the tickets, and we came to Moscow through Orenburg and Tomsk. They would buy the tickets, take the people to the station and see them off.



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