Documents Shed Light on KGB Activities in Armenian Diaspora
Documents Shed Light on KGB Activities in Armenian Diaspora
Revealing Study Appears in "Armenian Forum"
Princeton, N.J., 16 April 2001--Researcher Felix Corley has tracked down some "Top Secret" KGB documents about Armenians and the Armenian diaspora. The documents shed light on the abiding concerns of the Soviet security agency and on its clandestine methods. Corley's findings appear in the current issue of "Armenian Forum: A Journal of Contemporary Affairs."
Groups of Russians, Ukrainians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and others living outside the Soviet Union conducted "active subversive work against the USSR" before the Second World War, to quote a KGB document. By the 1970s, however, these groups had largely turned themselves into innocuous ethnic associations. Armenian groups, particularly in the Middle East, were the exception to the rule. Among these groups, the KGB was particularly concerned about the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnak party).
One concern had to do with the efforts of the Dashnak party "to force the putting on the agenda at a regular session of the United Nations General Assembly the question of the 'Armenian lands.'" Fearing that attempts to raise the question in the United Nations might worsen relations between the Soviet Union and Turkey, the Soviet authorities gave the KGB the task of debunking the idea and preventing diaspora Armenians from taking steps in this direction.
Over the years, the KGB tried various methods to infiltrate the Dashnak party. One memorable instance revealed in Corley's article concerned an agent with the code name "Gogua." Gogua was having a hard time gaining admission to the Dashnak party. So, according to a KGB document, "on the instruction of the organs of the USSR KGB, 'Gogua' began to make earnest advances to the daughter of a member of the local 'Dashnak' Central Committee." Gogua got in.
Gogua may have been an exception, however. A striking aspect of the documents is the low quality of the intelligence gathered by the Soviet agency about the Dashnak party. One of two handbooks prepared for limited internal distribution in 1972 claims that the Dashnak party had six thousand members. The other put the figure at 10,000. Neither figure is necessarily correct.
Corley's article also discusses people who spied for the KGB without knowing it. One instance involved a maid who worked in the homes of American diplomats. An Armenian KGB agent told her that any information she could glean from her employers was needed by the Armenian community and church leaders to keep them informed of potential threats to the community. Thus, she served the KGB in the belief that she was serving her church and community.
Documents cited in Corley's article also reveal secret subsidies paid to certain Armenian newspapers that were sympathetic to the Soviet Union.
The KGB's efforts to crush dissident movements within Soviet Armenia are the focus of the second part of Corley's article.
A KGB report from 1965 complains about "leaflets, graffiti, and letters," the authors of which "slander the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Soviet government as well as the policy they follow, cast doubt on the construction of a communist society in our country, criticize the electoral system and the living conditions of workers, and express nationalist ideas."
It turns out, however, that much of the clandestine activity about which the KGB was concerned was not anti-Soviet. Rather, it was directed at asking the Soviet central authorities to change the boundaries between the Armenian and Azerbaijani republics.
KGB reports about such clandestine activity illustrate some of the ways in which Armenians organized themselves in spite of the KGB. They show that a civil society operated in Armenia through family connections, friendships developed in university, and other networks.
In the early stages of the Gharabagh movement of 1988-90, the KGB tapped phones and tried to infiltrate the movement. As the movement took on a mass character and the Soviet Union began to fall apart, however, the Armenian KGB, the Azerbaijani KGB, and the central KGB went their own ways. The Armenian KGB began to support the nationalist movement.
The KGB was also involved in more mundane activities. It was concerned, for example, with "a surge in the number of 'cassettes with videofilms of Western production imported by contraband channels.'"
Corley writes: "Because of the 'great harm to the ideological/moral and political education of young people' as a result of . . . clandestine showing of videos 'propagating the Western way of life, sexual debauchery, and violence,' the Armenian KGB was given the task of 'suppressing the ideological subversion by means of the video business undertaken by the adversary,' the United States and other Western powers. The leaderships of the KGB and the Armenian Ministry of Internal Affairs held a joint meeting to draw up measures to counter the video business."
Felix Corley is best known for his work on religion in the Soviet Union and successor states. He has worked in newly opened Soviet archives, in Yerevan and elsewhere.
The article is titled, "Dogging Dashnaks, Dissidents, and Dodgy-Dealers: Armenians and the KGB." It appears in "Armenian Forum," volume 2, number 3, which can be obtained by calling 1-888-927-6369 toll-free. For more information, visit , send E-mail to , or write Armenian Forum, PO Box 208, Princeton NJ 08542-0208.
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