This is the story of Vazgen Assiryan, a Karabakh Armenian and a Soviet person, as he calls himself. He has been living in Moscow region for 30 years already, but it was not until recently that he became a Russian citizen. In 1986, he was drafted in the army in Ussuriysk, but it was not his fate to return to his home village in Nagorno-Karabakh after two years of military service: the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict began. This is how Vazgen became a stateless person. He tells in his monologue what effort it cost him to obtain a Russian passport.
Nagorno-Karabakh and military service in Ussuriysk
I am a Karabakh Armenian but I was born in Uzbekistan.
Here is how my fate began: in first grade, I lost my father. We lived in Uzbekistan back then, and my mother worked as a tailor. One year later mom got married again and sent me away to live with her father in Nagorno-Karabakh. When I started at a new school, the children were laughing because I could not speak Armenian, I did not know the letters, I made mistakes in word endings. I felt ashamed that I lost two years and ended up in first grade again.
Already in 9th grade, I received a draft card from the military commissariat. It was strict back then. By then, I had already completed a military course with the Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Navy and received my driving license, and in 1986, I got conscripted to serve with the border troops in Ussuriysk. There I graduated from school and also attended a hairdresser’s class. Once I completed the first year of service, the news arrived that Armenians were being forced out of Nagorno-Karabakh and Baku. I was offered residency in Vladivostok: perhaps my life would have turned out differently then, but I wanted to find my family. In 1988, I came to Moscow, signed up on the military register and received a Soviet passport. I thought the war would end and then I could return home. But the war was not ending. In Moscow, I got married to a Baku Armenian and we had a daughter together.
You help one and ten people hear about it
When I was released from the military, I was not a qualified worker, I only knew hairdressing. Those were difficult times. First I worked at VDNKH (an exhibition park in Moscow– translator’s note) as a docker, then I unloaded trucks in Biryulyovo (a district of Moscow – translator’s note). Then I unloaded cement, and then once I learned how to extort screws and fix plumbing, that’s when I became someone.
For five years I worked as a plumber for free instead of rent for a room temporarily given to us, and my wife provided for us. In Istra district, in Snegiri village, a private company built condominium housing in place of a brick factory that had gone bankrupt. They already installed heating and a water supply, and had tenants, but no one was in charge of the maintenance. or all those five years I handled that house for the sake of our family, so that we had somewhere to live – we were provided with a room on the first floor. The tenants knew me, they would throw requests in my mailbox: if the heating pipes were cold, I would climb to the attic, let the air out, I would help with the plumbing. People were used to me. But once the building was accepted for operation, I was no longer needed there. So, we had to move to Dedovsk. Our daughter would still take a local train to go to her old school in Snegiri for a few more years.
In Dedovsk, I learned how to work with power supply. There were no cell phones yet back then, so people would say, Vazgen lives there, go ask him. So, I fixed pipes and faucets for elderly ladies, replaced power supply utilities. Even these days it is still easier for elderly people to let someone they know come to their apartment. You tell them something, try to explain – and they just say, do it, son, I will pay you once I receive my pension. That’s how it works: you help one and ten people hear about it. This is how I have lived for all these years; I never borrowed money from anyone, but I have not become rich either.
Soviet passport discarded
It was the policemen who took away my Soviet passport. I was taking my daughter to school when a police car stopped me in Nakhabino. They took my passport as a deposit and sent me to get money in order to pay a fine. Yet they never returned my document to me, only a certificate that my Soviet passport was discarded.
This is how I became a stateless person, the only one in the family. My wife is a Azeri-Armenian, she had had a supplementary document of citizenship in her Soviet passport until 2001, and then they took it away and replaced it with a new standard Russian one. Our daughter was granted citizenship automatically based on her mother. I felt ashamed that my child has a passport and her dad has no documents, Sometimes in school, they would ask to bring copies of the parents’ documents. My daughter would say that dad didn’t have a passport yet but would soon receive one. This is how our life was.
A long tale
When I worked in Moscow, someone told me about a charity called «Civic Assistance» that help internally displaced persons. I can remember that there were a lot of Chechen refugees in the Committee back then, they made up a long line. I came to an appointment wearing my work clothes – I was received very well, my story was heard, Elena Yurievna Burtina has been helping me all this time. First, we were trying for a long time to get citizenship by proving my relation to my wife and my daughter, citizens of the Russian Federation. We wrote letters everywhere, we requested papers, we went to court, but nothing worked. Then we decided to try the other way: proving that I had lived in Russia up until 2002 without leaving. There is a law under which in such a case they must grant you citizenship.
This required 12 documents to be collected, it was not easy at all. Several times when I tried receiving certificates from my previous workplaces, it would turn out that an entity had changed, or a director was different, or that person had died, I would spend money on transport and return home with no result – I did not manage to obtain those papers. Sometimes I felt shy to go to people I had worked for. I was afraid that they would say “Vazgen, how old you have become, how much you have changed, are you really going to get a Russian passport?” In “Civic Assistance” I was provided with an attorney who started visiting me in Istra to help me to finally figure out my case.
A lot of time was spent on sending requests and waiting for responses that I had not received citizenship of another country, First I had to get such a certificate in the embassy of Uzbekistan. Then they told me I needed to prove I had not taken Armenian citizenship. In the Armenian embassy, they gave me a certificate with a mistake in my date of birth: it stated 30 July instead of 31 July. We had to get it corrected. Then we went on with an expert assessment of the documents in Moscow, then we drew up a personal record, autobiography and we also brought witnesses from Dedovsk. Finally, all the documents were ready, and in March this year, I was handed a certificate that my application for citizenship was under consideration.
We have been running around for such a long time and finally, justice was served. By this point, I thought I would not make it, I was simply tired. Each time for New Year I wished to receive my documents. And then suddenly everything turned around this year, and now they are chasing me. When I came to receive my passport, a lady told me: “There often are mistakes, look carefully, is everything correct?” I said, no mistakes, this is me – born in Uzbekistan, grew up in Nagorno-Karabakh, live in Russia. “How long your tale is”, she replied.
There are Armenians and Azerbaijanis who already received Russian citizenship a long time ago, bought apartments, cars in Russia, and then suddenly when they go to Armenia for a funeral of their father or mother, in the airport they are told that they are not on the database. And their passports are taken away. This is to say that someone made their documents and forgot to add them on to the common database. Just one tick – and a whole person’s life is scrapped. I was very afraid that the same would happen to me. But when I had my passport handed out, they turned the screen to me and showed: here you are, your photo, your passport series, on the database, you can go anywhere, you are not a stateless person anymore.
I would very much like to go to the place where I was born in Uzbekistan, see where my father is buried, Now I have such a chance. It is rare that people manage to prove they are right, And I managed to. Step by step. But of course, if not for the “Civic Assistance”, I would not have managed anything alone. No man is an island, as it goes.
Recorded by Lera Pavlova
Translated by Daria Gorbacheva