was a war prisoner for four years.
"It was four a.m. when our detachment was
awakened by the alarm. Each of us was given 15
bullets and we were taken to the deserted field.
Three hours later while meeting the enemy we have
realized the war had begun."
It was nearly 62 years ago when then 19-year
old Arshaluis Vardanyan found his place in World
War II on the southwest border of Lithuania. There
were only 50 in his unit and their job was to
clear the Germans from the town of Kibarti.
"We didn't have even a trench," he
says. "Each of us was defending himself as
well as he could. And the enemy was approaching
from the height by thinning out our rows."
Today (May 9), as Victory Day is celebrated in
many countries, Vardanyan has gone with other
veterans to lay red carnations at the grave of
the Unknown Warrior.
Vardanyan's own name was once among the unknown;
one of the missing.
On the first day of war, June 22, 1941, Vardanyan
and two Russian soldiers were taken captive.
To his family he was known as Ashik. But for
the next four years the Vardanyan family had no
word of Ashik, of Arshaluis, of any name associated
with their son and relative.
"I was lying wounded in the shoulder, when
German soldiers were collecting dead people's
weapons. They turned me around to take a weapon
off my shoulder and I opened my eyes," he
Leveling his machine gun at Private Arshaluris
Vardanyan, a German soldier ordered him to raise
his arms. He raised one, but the other was bleeding.
"It seemed that moment fear disappeared,"
he recalls. "I was thinking, if they are
going to kill me let them do that. But being sure
in my destiny I believed this wasn't the end.
I was always sure the Soviet Union would win."
After searching Ashik they found and took away
letters of his relatives. But the Germans overlooked
his Komsomol membership card in one of his pockets.
The card identifying him as a communist could
have meant execution. He managed to bury the card
in the dirt two days later.
"I survived due to my character," the
81-year old Yerevan architect pensioner says.
"Before being called up to the army I was
a very active Komsomol member, and I was displaying
the same activity during my military service.
I have never lost my head in any situation. When
the war started I was called-up for only six-months,
but I managed to create such an opinion about
myself that I was appointed detachment commander."
But it became the Germans who were Ashik's commanders
for the duration of the war. In the winter of
his first year in captivity he was sent to a labor
camp. Today he recalls how hungry and frozen prisoners
were forced at gunpoint in minus 20 temperatures
to dig ditches for laying water pipes in a German
Even in those conditions, he says, prisoners
were trying to fight against fascists.
"One day when we were working a German soldier
standing next to me cursed Stalin so much that
I couldn't resist saying that Stalin would show
them one day. He took a spade to hit my head,
but the other soldier managed to stop it with
"At that time I couldn't mistrust Stalin's
ideology, because I had seen him as the country's
leader from my childhood."
Ashik was sent to work at a hospital for prisoners
of war in 1942. After two years, he came to be
considered a danger and was sent to solitary confinement
in the camp headquarters.
He says the confinement came because he was part
of an underground organization within the camp.
"This was a very serious organization, we
had a code, and we were arranging escapes, ruining
activities of the enemy. We were providing escapers
with self made maps, compasses and addresses of
the nearby partisan groups."
His anti-fascist actions were punished by a month
of torture, then he was exiled with another 30
"I understood that time what real exile
is," Ashik recalls.
memories of the "Patriotic War"
include a letter he wrote to his family from
a Soviet army hospital..
This time they were either miners, or hay-makers
or woodcutters from dawn to dusk.
"We were getting a piece of bread, a piece
of margarine and one plate of meal called 'balanda.'
"When we were taken to harvesting cereals,
we were returning with our pockets full of grain-crops.
We were pouring it into metal containers full
of water and putting it in the oven. We were eating
boiled grain in the mornings and going to work
The Germans learned of their secret meals and
sent the prisoners outside in their underwear
while the barracks were searched.
"This was an awful day, it was freezing.
I remember two captives rubbing my frozen toes
with snow for a long time."
Only in 1945 when Germans started evacuation
of the captives' camps Ashik succeeded to run
away with a group of prisoners and joined the
Soviet Union army.
"I had a dream that I returned home and
my father raises his walking stick and says angrily:
'Where have you been so long?' and I answer: "Don't
worry, dad, I was busy with my business."
Not returning home he again went to the front
without informing his relatives, because he thought
he hadn't participated in the war.
"I had to prove I wasn't captured on purpose
and that I never had plans of betrayal."
On April 20, 1945, 19 days before "Victory
Day" Ashik was again badly wounded and this
time got to a soviet hospital and stayed there
till November. He managed to send his first letter
to relatives from there.
The dingy, 58-year-old letter is still part of
his war memories:
Hello, my dears,
I am safe and sound, I am in the Red Army.
I will write the details after I get your reply.
Perhaps you won't believe me, because I'm writing
in Russian, but the only reason for that is
that my Armenian is incoherent. It is already
the fourth year since I haven't spoken Armenian.
I will write a few words in Armenian so that
you believe it is really me.
Then he continues in Armenian:
Please, write about your life. Are you all
safe and sound? Is Gervasya in the Army already,
or no? Write also about my friend and all my
My address is: Field mail, 49497 Arshaluys A.
And again in Russian:
So, good-bye for now. I think that you are
very surprised and glad at the same time, so
that it is impossible to put into words. I am
waiting for your reply.
Your son, Ashik.
During the four years of his captivity the Vardanyan
family got two notices of his death. His letter
from hospital aroused new hope.
Finally, he returned home.
"I realized that they already lost hope
of seeing me, that's why before returning I sent
someone there, so that they did not get surprised."
After the war he succeeded in realizing his cherished
wish. After completing his education, he became
an architect and worked with famous architects
such as Georgi Tamanyan, son of Alexander Tamanyan.
During his career Vardanyan helped construct
several homes and state buildings. More than 10
still stand in Yerevan. Now he hands down his
professional experience to his 20-year old grandson
architect to be.
"I regret that I wasted those years,"
the old soldier says. "But at the same time
I proved to myself that a person can confront
any difficult conditions. If there is a goal,
then one should struggle till the end to achieve
And today, returning from Victory Park, he will
again join relatives to celebrate his day in an
apartment building Ashik helped construct 45 years