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Iren_Ordukhanyan

Iren_Ordukhanyan

Harutyun Marutyan met with Iren Ordukhanyan (born in 1938) and her daughter Agatha Vanunts (born in1963) in Yerevan on December 15, 2013. The conversation proceeded both in Russian and Armenian.

“My father Abel Iskandar Ordukhanyan was arrested in October, 1937. My mother Evelina Vardan Kirakosyan was not exiled as she was pregnant with me and was going to give birth. She evaded exile due to the circumstance of my birth. I was born in March and dad was already in prison here. I have a sister Karine, who is three years older than me.

My father was born in 1902, in Shaghat village of Sisian region. He was the First Secretary of Alaverdi regional committee [according to the criminal case (NAA F. 1191, List. 2, F. 268) he also was the Secretary of Amasia regional committee, the Second Secretary of Yerevan city committee of the Communist Party, and at the moment of his arrest, he was an instructor in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of ASSR].

The charges pressed against him stated that the efficiency of the factories decreased and the situation deteriorated because of the sabotage done by him, that he was an enemy of the people. [According to the criminal case A. Ordukhanyan was accused of affiliation with anti-soviet, right-Trotskyite, nationalist organization since 1935, wrecking of agricultural, industrial and party activities, distribution of counter-revolutionary nationalistic propaganda and agitation. The accusatory conclusion reads that the aforementioned organization intended the overthrow the Soviet authorities of the Republic by force, secession of Armenia from USSR and reestablishment of capitalism. The organization was headed by A. Khanjyan, S. Ter-Gabrielyan, Amatuni and Guloyan]. My father was struggling to prove otherwise through written, documented evidence, until he realized that it was useless. I recount this according to what I heard from my mother.

My maternal grandmother escaped from Baku in 1918 with her three daughters. My mom was born in 1914. They escaped to Gyumri, as my grandmother’s family hailed from Gyumri. The Turks had killed my grandfather in the hospital of Baku [in 1918] leaving behind four orphaned kids, one of whom died in the same 1918.

Years later my mother started working in Leninakan textile factory. She was a brave, young and beautiful girl of 18-19. There she met my father, who was a [Communist] party worker and must have gone to the factory to talk to the workers. My mom got married, and my father took her to Yerevan along with my grandma and her two other daughters. They lived together in an apartment on Alaverdyan street.”Agatha intervenes, “They believed the informer had an eye on the apartment, that’s why he wrote the denunciation.”

“It was a large and nice apartment. They came and drove us away from the home right after father’s arrest. They gave mom a hut in the yard of the printing-house on Alaverdyan street where currently the Ministry of Culture is. We lived and grew up in those huts until my father’s return.

His judgment of acquittal said he was rehabilitated for the absence of corpus delicti. He would occasionally drop a hint that he knew who was behind the denunciation. Besides, my father did not sign anything, he was a tough man [according to the criminal case A. Ordukhanyan pleaded non-guilty]. And since he signed nothing they could not deliver a death sentence. I recall something of sorts. To the best of my knowledge he stood trial [in fact he was sentenced by a closed hearing of a circuit session of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of USSR on July 20, 1938]. Before the exile dad was kept in the prison of Yerevan KGB until April-May. Mom recounted that she took food parcels to the prison when pregnant and there were huge lines of people waiting to deliver the packages. Once day mounted militiamen rode towards the line and one of them – general Khvorostyan, started to lash the waiting people with demands to “disperse this counter-revolutionary scum”. That same person, by the way, was arrested after some time.

And so my dad found himself in Sibir, in Norilsk”. Agatha adds, “He received a life sentence but served 18 years [according to the criminal case A. Ordukhanyan was sentenced to 15 years in prison with confiscation of the entire personal property. The term was effectuated since October 14, 1937]. Grandma used to say that”. “The exile destinations changed [the criminal case suggests that the first place of exile must have been Kargino village of Yeniseyski district of Krasnoyarsk Krai]. Before he was taken to Narilsk he worked on tree-felling. Dad recounted that they would be taken to taiga and what’s noteworthy – there was no one to guard them. Well, because there was nowhere to run, whoever attempted an escape ended up frozen to death. There was no need to guard them, they all returned to their barracks on their own. Father used to tell that they suffered from malnutrition. Once a commission arrived from Moscow that was supposed to inspect the place and inquire about the conditions of the inmates. Dad told them that if they wanted to have them dead they might as well execute them instead of slowly killing them with hunger”.

Agatha says, “Grandpa’s recounts were, of course, somewhat edited. He used to tell me the beautiful stories, like that story of a horse that he told a lot. But occasionally he would tell of really severe experiences about the interrogations and the exile. One particular phase got stamped indelibly in my memory, “my body turned into a fleshy ash-tray” i.e. they were extinguishing cigarettes upon his body and the scars of those injuries remained on his body. He told about needles being put underneath nails…”

“Recently I have been thinking a lot about dad, I feel so guilty before him. You see, my sister and me at first [immediately after their father’s return] treated him so wrong, terribly wrong. To the extent that he said if we didn’t want him with us he’d leave the house as soon as he got an apartment. You know why we behaved like that, I guess we were feeling gealous of my mom… it all came to that. ”

We were forbidden to speak about dad’s exile at home. We lived the entire 18 years in the courtyard of the printing house. My mom was a chief accountant at “Neftesbit”. In childhood I was very passionate about street games and I never lost. Sometimes the kids would get mad and tease me, “your dad is in prison”. I would immediately burst into tears and run home. Not to mention the school…we had this despicable headmistress. I studied in the school after Pushkin. Her husband was repressed but she had officially renounced him. She always worked against me, to kick me out of the school. Whatever happened I was to blame, only the daughter of a counter-revolutionary – Ordikhanyan Ira could have done that. She used to repeat this both in the class and in the teachers’ room. She taught a class on Constitution. When my sister was taking her graduation exam, she [the headmistress] was in the commission and even though my sister was a brilliant student she declared that “a counter-revolutionary’s daughter could not have the highest mark in “Soviet Constitution”. Because of her my sister did not get a diploma with honors. When she was planning to apply for a university in Moscow, she was warned that a daughter of a counter-revolutionary could not study in Moscow, although she would be free to attend any university she liked in Yerevan.

I was in the seventh form and we had a Russian language class. I was supposed to come up with a sentence as an example of the rule we covered and I wrote on the blackboard, “Margarita Bogdanovna, the headmistress of our school, turned out to be an unjust teacher”. The whole class froze and the teacher – Arpik Nikolayevna was thunderstuck. She informed the headmistress about the incident and later told me that otherwise she [the headmistress] would anyway learn it from others. It goes without saying that I was hounded: I was expelled for 15 days but the class went on boycott and came to our house instead of going to school. Eventually the headmistress yielded and allowed me to return on the condition that I would join another class since my classmates allegedly appeared under my unfavorable influence. Not to go into details, my schoolyears were soaked with hatred towards me”. Agatha adds, “Grandma recounted how during the class meetings they would put Ira in the first row and start lectured about counter-revolutionaries and the enemies of the poeple, and the vile things they did and how they were punished. And all the children, including Ira were supposed to clap after each such speech.

True, there was correspondence with Norilsk. Grandma wrote detailed letters about the girls, their schooling, their everyday life. They were always in touch, sending him parcels, etc., although there wasn’t much hope of seeing him again. I still keep grandpa’s letter to Stalin, written in Syberia. He explains minutely how unfounded the charges against him were. I kept the letter although some pages are mising.

My mom was caught between two fires. Whenever our poor father put his hand on my mom’s hand, we [the daughters] got shaken up. Karine was even in a state of serious emotional tension and mom had to turn to a doctor. He said advised us to take her away from the city, regardless the condition in the fmaily. That uneasiness in relation persisted for quite a time but it gradually became milder. Especially when we saw how much he loved our children, loved like crazy: he did not manage to see us grow and gave all his love to the grandchildren… My sister and me, we certainly understood that dad wasn’t to be held responsible, that it was not his fault that he spent 18 years in prisons and exile. Looking back I try to analyse why we behaved that way… I was not stupid, why would I have those sorts of thoughts… or perhaps it was our uncounsious “revenge” from our father in return for the severe years of childhood. Towards the end we got to love dad a lot but [gets emotional] the road to that love lay through hell. And now it makes me feel guilty, that it never even occurred to me to apologize to him. It never crossed my mind… to tell him I was sorry, I was stupid, I didn’t understand but now I do, now I know [in tears]. Father died in 1985.

When he just came back he had a big urge to tell. Agatha says, “Somebody advised grandma to immediately change the topic so that he wouldn’t live though those hardships again. But he really felt the urge to tell. Frunz [film director Frunze Dovlatyan, the second husband of Iren Ordukhanyan] used to listen to him”.

“When father returned, Kochinyan [the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Armenia] summoned him and promised an appartment in any building of Yerevan he would choose. And dad chose this one [Moskovyan 8], which was under construction then. He found a job with the State Planning Committee and at the end his live was the chief specialist of non-ferrous metals in Armenia. And he was much appreciated. Kochinyan promised to put his statue in the factory courtyard. Why? The Russians said to ship the raw copper to them for processing and dad was sent to Moscow to prove and convince them that we can process raw copper locally and provide final product. And when he managed to get a positive decision Kochinyan said that the moment the factory opened they were going to put his copper bust in front of the factory.

Dad never talked about the positive or the negative in Soviet regime. Never”. According to Agatha, “When someone would speak ill of Stalin in his presence he used to say you cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs. And as we argued trying to prove that he was the egg, Bakunts was the egg, he turned away. He didn’t like those conversations. He was very restrained. He criticized in his mind but never aloud. He was afraid we would loosen our tongues and bring harm upon ourselves. The fear was still inside him. After all it wasn’t certain that those days were behind us. He never participated in critical conversations… “

Agatha continues: “Every country sometimes appears in a situation like Stalinizm. Was Paris Commune better? This is what grandfather used to say always. He even used to cite this: “The revolution like Saturn eats his own children” [this expression is ascribed to the prominent figure of the Great French Revolution Georges Jacques Danton, which he uttered before his capital punishment – H.M.]. Maybe it was a bit different in Russian case, but I think every country has had such terrible times. At present, some expressions have become popular about Stalin – “a charismatic person”, who, perhaps somehow, by analogy of Hitler attracted the people and managed the crowd. Satan might have granted those skills to them. Otherwise, for instance, why did Hitler come to power in Germany? There is some regularity between them. A cruel genius appears, and the people start to submit to him voluntarily. Later, they are just afraid not to do it. Maybe the reasons are different, but the scheme is the same. I think a cruel genius appears in the world and leads to misfortunes.”

Agatha continues: “Now, for the recurrence of 1937 we at least need a personality. Who is that person?”

“I think recurrence is impossible. The international community will not let it happen. I don’t see any attempts to seed the atmosphere of fear.”

Agatha adds: “Of course, if I take part in a rally, for example, as Levon’s supporter (the supporter of Levon Ter-Petrosyan), they can take my picture one day, and if they are displeased with me at my work-place, they may dismiss me and say “goodbye” to me. I think so because a journalist appeared in such a situation, and they fired him because he had been Levon’s supporter. He just went to his rallies and appeared in the video material. It was not broadcasted, but they fired him for that. Anyway, there is something of course. Once, a few months ago, there was Levon’s rally. A young fellow working at “World Vision” participated in it and took a speech. On his way back home, some strange people followed him up and beat him in his yard so cruelly he was hospitalized. However, as far as “World Vison” is an international organization sponsored by the Evangelical Church, they clamored against it, the US Embassy invited him and expressed readiness to grant “Green Card” to him and shelter him in their country. Another European organization also asked him if he wanted political shelter in their country. They were ready to help him. Yes, there was a huge clamor. There even appeared a joke, like “Who knows the people beating Suren? Does anyone know how to fins them?” The joke became so popular.”

Agatha believes: “It is necessary to speak about the victims of Stalin’s repressions at least to show respect towards that generation. However, I doubt that “speaking” about it will prevent the recurrence.”

Iren concludes: “Speaking is necessary to show that nothing is forgotten, that nobody can ever hope that we have forgotten it and that the recurrence is possible. We should speak about it. We should do it permanently and make them know that we have neither forgiven and nor forgotten.”

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