Sixteen years after the creation of the presidium of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin signed the decree establishing the award of “Hero of the Socialist Labour” on December 27, 1938. The honorary title, which was awarded for the first time a year later to Stalin himself, became the highest award of distinction for exceptional achievements, specifically “for selfless work and displayed valor” in the spheres of agriculture, industry, sports, culture, science and commitment to the party. Awarded for the first time in December 1939 to Stalin himself, the hammer and the shackle gold medal was last handed out on December 24, 1991, the day before then-Soviet Union president Mikheil Gorbachev announced that the USSR ceased to exist. In those 52 years, a total of 20,812 people received the prestigious medal - of them about 200 were Armenians.
Today just a handful of recipients are still alive, living in oblivion and forgotten by the current Armenian state.
Tsaghkanush Galemteryan, weaver, 79
Tsaghkanush Galemteryan worked for over 40 years at Yerevan’s silk factory named after Vladimir Lenin. The large industrial complexe used to employ thousands of people and supplied silk material to the entire Soviet Union. Galemteryan was awarded the medal in December 1966.
“It was unexpected. I had never received any awards before, but I was one of the best workers. If I had the time I would work two shifts in a row. My life changed dramatically after, I became the centre of attention among my staff and society in general. The award pushed me to keep high standards in my work. Among the privileges that followed, I received an apartment, jumping the queue. Today I get only a retirement pay. Either they have forgotten about us, or we are not interesting any more.”
Galemteryan has no children, most of her relatives are outside the country and has been living alone since her husband died 22 years ago.
Geghetsik Karapetyan, farmer, 69
The kolkhoz, a form of collective farms in the Soviet Union, in Nalbandyan, in Western Armenia, close to the Turkish border, would regularly beat other kolkhozes’ harvests. Its team-leader, Geghetsik Karapetyan, was a source of pride for the village and a regular on the newspapers covers. Her fame lived on and she is still highly respected in the community and can boast a bridge in the Armavir province.
‘I don’t complain for anything. Working has always been a villager’s strength. In those times, though people living in villages were in a different condition, we were respected. As a delegate I used to go to Moscow twice a year for meetings, during the Soviet years people from the villages had their say, now no one listens to them’.
Anahit Baghdasayran, farmer, 79
Anahit Baghdasaryan doesn’t like that much talking about her awards and her title of Socialist Hero. She lives alone in her house in Mkhchyan, a village south of Yerevan near the Turkish border. Her pension of AMD 47,000 AMD ($ 100) is her only income and is barely enough to pay the utilities and some other small expenses.
“The title of socialist hero was the highest award a villager could aspire to get in those days. I received it when I was 44. It was difficult but I did it. I was working in a field, when the newspaper of the day was brought there, and I saw my name among those awarded. For a few years the journalists wouldn’t leave me alone, they would come every day. I didn’t start bragging about it. It’s a complex experience for a person living alone to recall all that pride; it’s pleasant, yet on the other hand, considering that people now ignore us, it’s painful. We created an economy and its benefits live up to now, yet we don’t get anything today. Even for a medical visit we have to find money from somewhere; no one will help you until you put something on their table. I have addressed many of institutions without any success. There are issues, which you cannot solve.’