Repressing the Helsinki Groups: Armenia, 1977-1978 (48.5)

<<No 48 : 14 March 1978>>

The morning of 22 December 1977 saw the start of a major operation against the Armenian Helsinki Group. Group members Robert NAZARYAN, a deacon of the [Armenian Apostolic] church, and Shagen ARUTYUNYAN, a manual worker, were arrested and there were a number of simultaneous searches. The search warrants, issued on 20 and 21 December, had been approved by the Armenian KGB chairman Mikhaelyan and the republican Procurator.

The Arrest of Nazaryan

The search at Robert Nazaryan’s flat was conducted by senior investigator First Lieutenant Edilyan with the assistance of KGB officials Agasyan, Shamamyan and Vardevanyan. Neither Nazaryan nor his wife were present at the search; the only person there was Nazaryan’s mother.

Robert Kh. Nazaryan, b. 1948

The search lasted from 8 am until midnight. 62 items were confiscated, including: a book by V.A. Shelkov (leader of the Adventists in the Soviet Union). The Law-based Struggle with the Dictatorship of State Atheism, Nos. 42 and 46 of the Chronicle of Current Events, samizdat letters and articles about the draft Constitution (including Bulletin No. 3, see CCE 47.16), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [1948], covenants and conventions on human rights, the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference [August 1975], documents of the Moscow and Armenian Helsinki Groups, documents of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights, Paruir Airikyan’s final speech at his trial (CCE 34.4), the programme and statutes of the National United Party of Armenia, excerpts from secret directives on the correspondence of convicted persons, a feuilleton about Nazaryan in the paper Sovetakan Aiastan (CCE 47), personal documents (degree certificate, military card, Komsomol card, 13 ½ kilograms of writing paper and two kilograms of carbon paper, computer punch cards and sheets of print-outs of the results, Nietzsche’s book Thus Spake Zarathustra and a church calendar for 1882 published in New York.

On the same day Robert Nazaryan was arrested. He was charged under Article 65 of the Armenian Criminal Code (Article 70 of the Russian Code).


Robert Khachikovich NAZARYAN was born in 1948. In 1966 he graduated from a school with a mathematical specialization and entered the Physics Faculty at Yerevan University. In 1969 he received a Komsomol reprimand and was expelled from university for ‘demagogic speeches’; a year later he was reinstated. In 1971 Nazaryan graduated with a recommendation for post-graduate study but entered the theological college. From there he graduated with distinction in 1973 and was ordained as a deacon, but he did not serve for long (according to some reports he came into conflict with church hierarchs). For about three years he worked as a physicist at the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory, then there were difficulties with getting a job: in 1977 he got one in Yerevan as an engineer in a special construction office, then another in a planning institute. After a short period, they sacked him each time ‘because of staff reductions’. The last post he held before his arrest was that of senior engineer in the computer department of the Armenian Agricultural Technology Centre.

On 22 December 1977, a series of searches was conducted in connection with the Nazaryan case.

The leader of the Armenian Helsinki Group Eduard Arutyunyan (CCEs 46, 47) was first subjected to a body search and then they searched his flat. Amongst the items confiscated: notes of addresses and telephone numbers (including the Moscow telephone number of the Reuters news agency), a typewriter and a lengthy statement about the persecution he’d experienced. The search was conducted by Captain Arutyunyan, Captain Adzharyan and Senior Lieutenant Markosyan. After it, E. Arutyunyan was taken away for questioning. Protesting over being forcibly taken into custody, he refused to answer questions.

The following day, 23 December, Arutyunyan presented himself for interrogation and replied in detail to questions. The first question concerned his personal files. Arutyunyan described his persecution, which had started 10 or 12 years ago: he had been dismissed several times; he was declared insane on the basis of a diagnosis made in his absence, three years after he had been in the neurological ward of a psychoneurological hospital; his fight for the restoration of his rights — Arutyunyan is disabled, an invalid of the second group. Arutyunyan went on to describe his acquaintance with Sakharov, Bonner and Tatyana Khodorovich, whom he had asked for help in obtaining justice, handing over to them files of material on his litigation, and how he kept in touch with other Muscovites (while visiting Moscow for oncological treatment).

The organization of the Helsinki Group, said Arutyunyan, had been his idea, supported by Robert Nazaryan. Earlier they had worked together to help political prisoners and their families. Arutyunyan described the nature of his acquaintance with other people too, but when asked, for example, “Did Edmond Avetyan conduct anti-Soviet conversations with you?” he gave an indignant denial. He said that Avetyan was a humanist whose highly cultured character and educational activities enhanced Armenia’s authority. Arutyunyan did not answer concrete questions relating to the organization of material aid for political prisoners, saying that Robert Nazaryan had (until a KGB warning) attended to that. Some questions concerned Stepan Zatikyan and other people accused of trying to cause an explosion at [Moscow’s] Kursk station (see “Arrests, Searches, Interrogations” in this issue, CCE 48.8). Arutyunyan said he was not acquainted with any of them and did not believe there had been an attempted explosion.

Arutyunyan did not sign the interrogation record, stating orally that in any case he would not retract his testimony. Later he was summoned for further interrogations but did not go.


On 22 December 1977, at 6.30 am searches were begun at the homes of Edmond Avetyan, his mother T.A. Tarekanova and R.A. Papayan. Avetyan and Papayan were immediately taken away for interrogation by the KGB, so the searches went ahead in their absence. One of the witnesses at the search at Papayan’s home let slip that he works for the KGB. The searches ended in the evening.

Amongst items confiscated from Papayan were: The Gulag Archipelago, Orwell’s Animal Farm, Marchenko’s My Testimony, microfilms of Nabokov’s novels Luzhin’s Defence and The Gift, an appeal by the Moscow Helsinki Group to the Belgrade Conference [1977-1978], personal correspondence, cassettes with recordings of music, and a typewriter.

From Avetyan they took, amongst other things, a collection of documents on human rights, a Bible and articles on linguistics.

Papayan was interrogated three times after the search. The first investigator, KGB Colonel Sayadyan, began the interrogation by stating that a charge of ‘espionage’ was in store for Papayan. They questioned Avetyan four times, each time for many hours. Also questioned were Avetyan’s wife Sarkisova and his mother.

The interrogations of Avetyan and Papayan, who are formally witnesses in the case of Robert Nazaryan, bore an accusatory character with regard to them themselves.

Rafael Ashotovich PAPAYAN is a Master of Philological Science, senior lecturer at Yerevan University and the author of 25 scholarly works on ethics and prosody. In the university he teaches a course in early 20th-century Russian literature and a number of theoretical special courses.

Edmond Gegalovich AVETYAN is a Master of Philological Science, a senior lecturer at Yerevan University and the author of a number of articles on linguistics as well as of a book The Nature of Linguistic Signs (Yerevan, 1967). In the university he lectures on linguistics and Latin.


On 22 December, a search was also carried out at the home of manual worker, Ambartsum Khlgatyan, a member of the Armenian Helsinki Group (CCE 47), After the search they took him away for questioning at the KGB and detained him there. Khlgatyan was released the following day.

In connection with Nazaryan’s case his sister Nazik Nazaryan was interrogated (after a search). They asked her about her brother’s life, his acquaintances and his reasons for joining the Helsinki Group. She replied that her brother did not involve her in his own affairs, but she thought he had joined the Group in order to defend human rights in Armenia.


On 22 February in Tallinn Major Zhukov, on the instruction of the Armenian KGB, questioned Ludmila Gryunberg (they summoned her to the KGB “on a matter connected with her husband Sergei Soldatov”). The investigator was interested in how her address came to be in a notebook of R. Nazaryan’s and also in her circle of acquaintances in Armenia. L.I. Gryunberg testified that she was not acquainted with Nazaryan, she had travelled to Yerevan on her own private business, and she refused to talk about her acquaintances or give their addresses.

The Trial of Shagen Arutyunyan.

On the morning of 22 December, when Shagen Arutyunyan had set off for work, he was stopped not far from his house by five or six people who, without showing any documents, demanded that he go with them. Arutyunyan refused.

Then the people beat him up, dragged him along the street to a car and drove off with him. Arutyunyan managed to shout to neighbours to tell his family that KGB officials had taken him. At the very same time a second group burst into Shagen’s house and a third into the house of his brother Marzpet Arutyunyan in the same street. A search began, also in connection with R. Nazaryan’s case. At Sh. Arutyunyan’s house it was conducted by senior investigator First Lieutenant Sukiasov, assisted by Major Pogosyan and other KGB officials. They confiscated personal documents, Armenian calendars published in the West, cuttings from Soviet newspapers, correspondence (in particular with the West German Embassy in Moscow, on emigration), statements, copy-books, a notebook (with the Moscow telephone number of the BBC), visiting cards of Western correspondents in Moscow, and one document of the Armenian Helsinki Group.

At the search of M. Arutyunyan’s house they seized some Soviet publications — A Political Dictionary and the book The Armenian Question and International Relations — but afterwards everything was returned.

On 18 January 1978, a trial was held. Shagen Arutyunyan was charged under Article 222 pt. 2 of the Armenian Criminal Code (corresponding to Article 206 of the Russian Code) with malicious hooliganism in the form of resistance to representatives of authority. No one was let into the courtroom. Relatives were not notified individually about the trial, a procedure provided for in cases of petty hooliganism, an offence which carries an administrative [detention, fine], rather than a criminal penalty. Four KGB officials made statements to the court (i.e., the Judge) that Shagen Arutyunyan had resisted arrest and “sworn at representatives of the KGB” (the original version was that he had “beaten them up” but it did not, in the end, figure at the trial). Arutyunyan did not sign the indictment and at his trial he refused to answer questions. The defence lawyer appointed for Arutyunyan had not seen the case materials and did not see the defendant until the trial. Judge Tatevosyan pronounced sentence: three years in the camps with a fine of 57 roubles to go to the legal advice office for the lawyer’s services.

Arutyunyan complained to the Armenian Supreme Court and lodged an appeal. He described how the trial was held and, on the substance of the charge, wrote that he could not have known that the persons who attacked him were from the KGB and he was not obliged to submit to their demands, not having seen their documents. Shagen Arutyunyan demanded that the verdict be repealed, that a new court hearing be fixed, that he be released from custody until the new trial, and that the KGB officials who used unlawful violence upon him and gave false testimony in court be punished.

Two statements are attached to Sh. Arutyunyan’s appeal: one from his friends and one from 14 residents of Chemyshevsky Street. Their statement witnessed by the street committee, his neighbours write that they cannot believe that Sh.A. Arutyunyan, whom they have known since the day he was born, could have committed act of hooliganism.

Sh. Arutyunyan’s mother Asya Bubuyan also addressed a complaint to the Supreme Court:

“People’s Judge Tatevosyan has seriously, and apparently under pressure, violated the law…”

In another statement, addressed to the KGB, she writes:

“You know perfectly well that if you had summoned Shagen, as has happened repeatedly, he would certainly have reported to you himself… I am reaching the conclusion that your aim was to provoke him to resistance.”

The real reason for his persecution, writes A. Bubuyan, is her son’s wish to emigrate, which she considers entirely justified after he has been repeatedly subjected to unfair victimization and violence.

On 3 February, the Armenian Supreme Court examined the appeal and upheld the verdict.

Shagen Arutyunyan (CCEs 41, 47) is about 50 years old, has four children, aged between three and 13, and was employed as a worker at a footwear factory. From 1968 to 1971 Shagen Arutyunyan served three years under Articles 65 and 67 of the Armenian Criminal Code (Articles 70 and 72 of the Russian Code). In the autumn of 1977, together with Ambartsum Khlgatyan, he announced that he had joined the Armenian Helsinki Group.


On 27 January 1978, Marzpet Arutyunyan was summoned to the KGB. Investigator Kazaryan demanded that Marzpet “should not interfere in his brother’s case” and should not help him. Kazaryan also accused him of passing information to the West and to Moscow dissidents. “If necessary, we will play you tape-recordings of your own telephone conversations”.

Arutyunyan replied that the KGB does not have the right to eavesdrop, while he, by contrast, has the right to protect his brother from tyranny. Then they showed Arutyunyan a prepared warning about his passing of slanderous information to foreign correspondents. Having signed this paper, Marzpet Arutyunyan declared that his brother was engaged not in anti-Soviet activities but in the defence of human rights, and he promised he would continue to keep the international community informed about his brother. Kazaryan said they would have to deal with him in the same way as with his brother.

(Marzpet Arutyunyan has participated in the national movement and was brought to court in the case of Paruir Airikyan in 1974; he was then put in a psychiatric hospital.)