Last September, the government closed an exhibit about the victims of Stalin-era repressions at the state-run Hovhannes Tumanyan House-Museum, citing its alleged “politicization.” (It later reopened in a private gallery and online.)
Speaking with reporters, Culture Minister Armen Amiryan asserted that no public museum has the right to set its own policy. Only one parliamentary faction, the opposition Way Out (Yelk) group, criticized the ministry’s claim.
The government’s reasoning surprised Meruzhan and Andranik Tovmasyan.
The two brothers, born a decade apart, represent two distinct chapters in the Stalin system’s repeated punishment of their father for alleged “anti-communism.”
The elder, 72-year-old Meruzhan, was born after their father, Yegishe Tovmasyan, a former Communist Party member and head of a kolkhoz, or collective farm, in the region of Kotayk, returned to Armenia in 1946 after 10 years of hard labor in the notorious Vorkuta prison camp, not far from the Arctic Circle.
The younger, 62-year-old Andranik, and his brother, Garnik, were born in Siberia after their father was again sentenced for “anti-communism” and sent into exile along with thousands of other Armenians on June 28, 1949. In the Krasnoyarsk village of Yeniseysk, Tovmasyan worked in a coal mine and had, as was common among divorced exiles, re-married.
In 1961, after the massive so-called “rehabilitation” of those convicted under Stalin, he finally returned with his new family to Armenia for good. Before it his Communist Party membership had been restored and he had been elected to a regional council in Russia.
Waiting for him at Yerevan’s train station was a teenaged Meruzhan Tovmasyan. “When I was 14, they showed me a man and told me that he was my father,” Tovmasyan recounts. He had not seen him since he was two.
The stories he told his Armenian-born son made a lasting impression.
At Vorkuta, “[t]hey would throw bread crumbs both to the dogs and prisoners at the same time,” Meruzhan Tovmasyan says his father told him. “Probably the first Hitler-style concentration camps were in the Soviet Union.”
“Now, Russia justifies the [rule of ] ‘the beast,’ ” Tovmasyan continues, angrily referring to Stalin. “How does that make sense?”
During his father’s 12-year exile, Tovmasyan was barred from joining the Young Pioneers, the Communist Party’s all-encompassing youth group.He also remembers being called “a son of Trotsky,” a dangerous reference to the late Leon Trotsky, Stalin’s chief political rival, who was assassinated in 1940 as an enemy of the Soviet state.
Ironically, though, Tovmasyan went on to head a sovkhoz, or state-run collective farm, in two of the same villages (Voghjaberd and Geghadir) where his father had headed a kolkhoz before his 1936 arrest.
Human-rights defender Artur Sakunts, an outspoken government critic, believes that if state structures and schools refuse to confront such stories head-on, Armenia itself cannot progress.
“This [reticence about the Stalin era] negatively affects the research of history and education. This misinterpretation shows that . . . the science of history is still [held] in the claws of Soviet heritage in Armenia.”