Antonina Mahari and Stalin’s phantom
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Antonina Mahari and Stalin’s phantom


Last week I was accompanying a group of Lithuanian journalists and they asked Lithuania’s Ambassador to Armenia Erikas Petrikas whether there were Lithuanians in Yerevan. I was utterly surprised to hear the Ambassador say that Antonina, Lithuanian wife of prominent Armenian writer Gurgen Mahari, lives here. After the death of her husband in 1969, she has been living in Armenia, according to his will. 

One of the Lithuanian journalists suggested visiting Mrs. Antonina. She was living all alone at the Kasyan street, in an apartment allocated by the Soviet authorities. I’m sure the apartment hasn’t been repaired since Gurgen Mahari’s death and it looked the way it did while he was alive.

The only modern item in the living room was the TV set covered with a cloth. The walls were hung with photos featuring Mahari’s life, documents and scraps of newspapers…

Gurgen Mahari and Mrs. Antonina had a very tough life. The young writer who was friendly with Charents and Bakunts was arrested in 1936, at the very beginning of Stalin’s repressions. Mahari tried to avoid the fate of his friends but he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Returning in 1946, he tried to start from scratch but was again arrested in 1948 and sentenced to life exile in remote villages of the Krasnoyarsk region. The kolkhoz president entrusted Mahari the “honorable” job of a stock-breeder …

The KGB arrested Mrs. Antonina together with thousands of Lithuanians in 1945, immediately after Lithuania was liberated from the Nazis: she was accused of allegedly collaborating with them. As no proof of such collaboration was found, young Antonina wasn’t executed by shooting - she was “only” banished to Siberia to die on her own… But she managed to stay alive and she met Gurgen, 20 years her senior, while moving in 1952. Mahari fell in love with beautiful Tonya and started devoted poems to her. However, their romance ended when Antonina was moved to another village. Gurgen Mahari kept writing love letters which often were left unanswered. In 1953, Mahari got serious illness. Doctors diagnosed him with bilateral tuberculosis and forecast early death. But Antonina’s love saved him…

“When I went to see him at hospital, he weighed only 45kg. The doctors said he was going to die in a couple of days… His situation was grave. He didn’t eat anything and was repeating “if you go, I will die”. I ought to stay with him, he was my comrade. I took care of him, gave drugs and fed him. A few weeks later, he recovered. The doctors called it a miracle saying that it was my love that healed Gurgen”, Mrs. Antonina tells.

A few days later, they got married and soon their daughter was born. After Stalin’s death, in 1954, Gurgen Mahari was fully discharged. He went to Moscow demanding that his wife’s documents on discharge could be processed soon. And in the same year, Gurgen Mahari came back to Armenia with his wife and daughter…

The author was welcomed warmly in Yerevan. He was provided with an apartment, honored and re-conferred his position. But tragedies continued in the Mahari family: their daughter died of tuberculosis at the age of 3, and the writer’s health deteriorated and he had to be taken to hospital. Inspired by his son’s birth, Mahari wrote his best works in late 50-s. But the disease gravely affected his health: in 60-s, Mahari came down with serious illness. After long treatment, he passed away in the Lithuanian town of Palanga in 1969. Before the death, he asked his wife to return his ashes to Armenia and live in their Yerevan apartment. Gurgen Mahari wasn’t destined to know that his son was also going to have a tough and short life…

“If I knew what a tough life I’m going to have I’d like to not to have been born and seen the whole sufferings our family went through”, said Mrs. Antonina.

On April 12, Pope Francis said at the special mass dedicated to the Armenian Genocide Centennial at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican, that the 20th century faced three catastrophes - the Armenian Genocide, fascism and Stalinism. After his address, people in Russia and partially in Armenia were offended condemning the Pope for equaling fascism to Stalinism.

To be honest, it was not surprising for me as owing to propaganda and distortion of historical facts, Stalin is one of the state figures with the highest reputation. It’s a bit different in Armenia. Although everyone seems to have long known how gravely the Stalin regime affected Armenia and especially Armenians, people still attempt to make a hero out of the blood-thirsty dictator and justify Stalin’s and his supporters’ crimes by the circumstances of the age. Suffice it to recall the scandalous decision to build Anastas Mikoyan’s statue in Yerevan which was only (maybe, temporarily) stopped owing to the society’s intervention.

In her “My Odyssey” book, Antonina Mahari described in detail how the fascists and Stalin regime acted, the violence, tortures and ordeals common people went through at that time so as not a single person would wish to justify or especially glorify dictators. I'd like our young people to read the book, so as not a single person would wish to justify or, moreover, glorify dictators.

Davit Alaverdyan is the Chief Editor of Mediamax.

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