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It’s so complicated: oftentimes I couldn’t tell the right from wrong even now

We met Valeri Galstyan on June 11, 2012 in the village of Karahunj of Syunik Marz and talked to him well over an hour. Hranush Kharatyan and Valeri Galstyan sat in the village center near the monument erected in memory of the Bolsheviks executed by the Dashnaktsutyun.

The family name of Valeri Galstyan’s cousin along with the names of Sevyan, Gyurjyan, Hakobjanyan, Tsatouryan, Gevorgyan, Khalapyan, Barsheghyan, and Abrahamyan is engraved on the monument commemorating Karahunj Bolsheviks executed by the Dashnaktsakans in 1920-21. Among the bulk of male names there is one inscription of a female – Varduhi Barseghyan (pic. 1).

People of Karahunj village, located very close to Goris, recount stories of violence committed both by the Bolsheviks and Dashanaks towards each other and sometimes towards the people holding no political orientation. The young people actually know very little, the family memories seem to have faded among them. However, elderly people have recollections of certain events, at times contradicting and at times sounding more like myths.

According to Valeri Galstyan Dashnaks immured several Bolsheviks alive in the wall of peasant Srapion’s house next to the former village school. The incident was known in the village “but who would dare to speak of it, much less in public”.

In the 1960s Srapion destroyed the wall to rebuild his house and discovered the three skeletons enclosed within (some people said there were two). (pic. 2)

Valeri says that the owner of the house was well aware of the burial but “he was subordinate to them, particularly to Lazar Mardyan and some others. He could not oppose Nzhdeh’s supporters, how could he? Lazar was the right hand of Garegin Nzhdeh. He trusted only Lazar”. Did the owner know about the wall? “Either way the man kept silence. That was a cruel and a brutal crime. You see, they could have chosen another means of terminating them”. In the aftermath of Bolshekis’ establishment in Armenia, when Dashnaktsutyun was being persecuted, people bewared of disclosing any type of connection to the Dashnaks. “Besides, they were all getting exiled. Lazar returned from the exile in 1962 and lived another 15 years before he died. Three families from our village were exiled, but two of them after the war [World War 2], as families of war prisoners”.

Valeri appears concerned over objectivity of the successor parties and the propaganda distributed by them. “Who can tell who was right, what was right? The Dashnaks accused the Bolsheviks and then the Bolsheviks came and stated the opposite. We do not perceive the overall picture of the time but it occurs to me that both eliminated each other in the name of the truth. There are storied in our village about Varduhi Barseghyan, about how they put her on a donkey, covered her head with a sack and had her stoned in the village streets. No… they tied her from horse tail and dragged her body across the village. It was indeed a brutal murder. Rumors went around as if she was involved in love affairs with the Turks. But others are inclined to think she was a Bolshevik which is why the Dashnaks had her killed in such an unspeakable way.

Another complicated case is with the grandchildren of Gyurjyans. Who’s going to tell are they good or bad? Under the Communists they were considered good. Now people say they are bad. After all even now it’s not entirely clear what the right and wrong are. We Armenians have lag enormously when it comes to diplomacy. How come the Red Army, the Bolsheviks were fighting alongside the Turks against the Armenians and Nzhdeh. Russians, Turks and the Bolsheviks all were fighting against the Dashnaks. Then the Dashnaks started killing the Bolsheviks. See here [points at the monument]; the Bolsheviks came and killed the Dashnaks. No, there is no diplomacy among us”.

One of the elderly teachers of the village Zhenya Movsisyan (see the story by Zhenya Movsisyan “How Short is the Human Gratitude”) believed that one of the Bolsheviks murdereed and immured by the Dashnaks was from Gyurjyan family and his surname was subsequently added to those on the memorial.

“When the wall was pulled down they discovered two skeletons in standing position. People recognized Gyurjyan by his two missing front teeth. Both were known as Bolshevik mail carriers. They had come to Karahunj and disappeared here. My father-in-law was a well-known Bolshevik in the village. He told me that he awaited those messengers but they didn’t show up. Then, it turned out that the Dashnaktsakans had caught and buried them in the wall. They pulled the wall down in 1957 or 1958 and the story was unveiled only then. Srapion was not the owner of the house at the time. He bought it later and when he was repairing the barn he found the skeletons. The former owners might have known about what happened but they never dared to speak it out. Nobody talked about it until the skeletons were found. After that, it was much discussed. The Communists had even placed a board on the wall reading “Here the Dashanaks immured two people alive in 1920”. After the independence, when Dashanktsutyun was regaining popularity, the board was removed. The one behind that cruelty was Lazar of course. He was the leader of the Dashnaks. The Gyurjyans always hated Lazar.

In those years the village was very politicized. It was divided into two groups – the Dashnaktsakans and the Bolsheviks. There were too many people from Karahunj working in the oil fields of Baku. They would return home and bring the Bolshevik propaganda. Look, there is a woman’s name on the monument. Varduhi Barseghyan was a Communist’s wife and lived in Baku. She came to the village to visit a relative and worked as a tailor but her real goal was agitation for Bolsheviks. Tailoring was a convenient disguise because she had many clients and was able to reach a lot of people, especially young ones. The villagers noticed her activity and Lazar decided to punish her for affiliation with the Communists. But he didn’t go after her as a Communist, he rather declared that she was seeing a lot of men in her house, that she was immoral etc. My mother-in-law used to tell that she was a young pretty woman with long hair. They made her walk through the lines of 200 men of Lazar’s battalion and each one hit her with a whip. Each of them lashed the poor woman and then they beat her and hauled to the river bridge.

Her brother went there and covered her body with some fabric. After two days he secretly took her corpse and buried it. My mother-in-law told that at the sight of that brutality Lazar’s mother ran out, opened her breasts and begged, “Cursed is the milk I have given to you, Lazar. What are you doing with that woman?” Lazar reached for his gun, “Be quiet, otherwise I will kill you too …”

It was a terrible incident. Then, the Bolsheviks came and Lazar was exiled in 1929. When he returned nobody wanted to talk to him. But the Gyurjyans had very strong hatred towards him. That’s why after his return he stayed in the village only for two days”.

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