Armenia: Past practices of the Soviet Committee for State Security (Komitet Gosurdarstvennoi Besopasnosti - KGB), including recruitment practices pre-1991, and current treatment of former officers of the KGB in Armenia
According to the book KGB: Death and Rebirth, the Soviet secret service, which is commonly known as the KGB, has undergone many changes in name and administration both during the Soviet regime and after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 (Ebon 1994). Prior to 1991, the KGB was a Soviet-wide organization with regional offices in the fourteen non-Russian republics (FAS 1997a). Although the KGB was officially disbanded in 1991, the book KGB: Death and Rebirth argues that "virtually every former Soviet republic has retained a KGB or a KGB-like apparatus for its own national purposes." (Ebon 1994). Information on the post-independence name of the Armenian secret service was not found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
The KGB and its successor organizations were apparently involved in espionage activities, domestic and international surveillance, infiltration of political groups and suppression of free speech prior to 1991 (Armenian Forum 16 Apr. 2001; Alexander 1990; Ebon 1994).
According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), before the break-up of the USSR, "the KGB was tasked with ferreting out potential threats to the state and preventing the development of unorthodox political and social attitudes among the population." (FAS 1997b). Concerning KGB activities in Armenia, FAS states that "at the republic level, KGB organization was probably similar to that of the central KGB" (ibid).
Regarding specific examples of activities, FAS reports that:
Other special KGB troops were intended for counterterrorist and counterinsurgency operations. Such troops were reportedly employed ... to suppress public protests and disperse demonstrations, such as that of the Crimean Tatars in July 1987 and those in the republics of Armenia and Azerbaydzhan in March 1988. Special KGB troops also were trained for sabotage and diversionary missions abroad (ibid. 1997c).
Two sources suggest that the Armenian KGB began to support nationalist goals even before the dissolution of the USSR (Armenian Forum 16 Apr. 2001; Ebon 1994).
According to the book KGB: Death and Rebirth, between the mid-1980s and 1993, the KGB (or local secret service organization) in Armenia was partially responsible for maintaining national security (Ebon 1994). Ebon alleges that in the early 1990s, the KGB played a role in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in disarming militias and negotiating the return of hostages (ibid. 147).
Regarding recruitment, the book The Serpent and the Bees: A KGB Chronicle details the activities of Armenian-speaking KGB officers of the Soviet Union prior to 1990 (Alexander 1990). In the author's view, KGB officers targeted Armenian émigrés in an attempt to get them to work for the USSR for reasons of ethnic solidarity (ibid.).
Information on forced recruitment of KGB officers and/or informants was not found in the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, an example was given of an informant who was not aware that the information she was passing on was going to the KGB (Armenian Forum 2001).
In addition, several sources reported on the case of Azer Aslanov, an Azerbaijani citizen who was captured by Armenian forces in 1994 while he was serving in the Azerbaijani armed forces (RFE/RL 1997; UNECOSOC 1999). He has claimed that he was "commissioned" by the Armenian secret service to plant a bomb in the Baku metro (subway) after he was tortured and his family was threatened (UNECOSOC 1999).
Information on the current conditions in Armenia for former members of the KGB could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Alexander, Edward. 1990. The Serpent and the Bee: A KGB Chronicle. Maryland: University Press of America
Armenian Forum. 16 April 2001. "Documents Shed Light on KGB Activities in Armenian Diaspora. Revealing Study Appears in Armenian Forum." Review of Corley, Felix. "Dogging Dashnaks, Dissidents, and Dodgy-Dealers: Armenians and the KGB." Armenian Forum, Vol. 2, No. 3.
Ebon, Martin. 1994. KGB: Death and Rebirth. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Exploitz.com. March 1994. "Armenia - Internal Security."
Federation of American Scientists (FAS). 26 November 1997a "Organization of the Committee for State Security."
_____.26 November 1997b. "Functions and Internal Organization."
_____. 26 November 1997c. "Security Troops of the Committee for State Security."
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Newsline. Vol. 1, No. 170, Part I, 2 December 1997.
Socor, Vladimir. Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies (Washington, DC). 20 March 2003. Number 16. "Political Rivalries in Armenia's Elections."
United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNECOSOC). 9 February 1999. Sima Eiazova. (E/CN.4/1999/177). "Letter dated 7 January 1999 from the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Office at Geneva addressed to the Secretariat of the Fifty-Fifth Session of the Commission on Human Rights."
U.S. Library of Congress. March 1994. Country Studies. "Armenia: Human Rights."
Additional Sources Consulted
Internet sites, including: Amnesty International, Armenia International Magazine, Armenia Network Information Centre, Armenia News Agency, Armenia Now, Armenian Mirror Spectator, CIA: World Factbook, Cilicia.com, East European Constitutional Review, Encyclopedia.com, Eurasianet, Freedom house, Internews.am, Human Rights Watch, United States Department of State.
Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB).
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, PO Box 208, Princeton NJ