9.4 The arrest of Genrikh Altunyan

No 9 : 31 August 1969

On 11 July 1969, Genrikh Altunyan was arrested in Kharkov. He was charged under Article 62 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 70 of the Russian Code). The police arrested Altunyan without producing a warrant for his arrest or detention.

Genrikh Altunyan, a radio-technician and engineer, was until recently a Major in the Soviet Army and taught at a military academy. He holds awards from the USSR Supreme Soviet for his many years of irreproachable service in the army, and has been a Party member since 1957. He has two children.

In July of last year the flats of a number of Kharkov citizens, including Altunyan’s, were searched. During the searches the police removed samizdat copies of [Solzhenitsyn’s] Cancer Ward, Academician Sakharov’s brochure, issues of the Chronicle, and other items. After that, Altunyan and others were summoned as ‘witnesses’ in connection with Article 187-1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code, without being informed of the concrete substance of the case. At the same time Genrikh Altunyan was expelled from the Party, dismissed from his job, and then from the army altogether, on the orders of the KGB Among the reasons for his expulsion from the Party was ‘links with Yakir and Grigorenko’.

Despite the repressive measures taken against him, Altunyan continued to play an active part in the movement for the democratization of Soviet society. His signature stands at the foot of letters in support of the convicted demonstrators of 25 August, and also in defence of Ivan Yakhimovich and P.G. Grigorenko. He is a member of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the Soviet Union, which sent a letter of appeal to the United Nations. As reported in the previous issue of the Chronicle, a number of organizations in Kharkov held meetings in June to condemn those who had signed the letter in Grigorenko’s defence. One such meeting was held in the Kharkov branch of the testing and repair administration [Orgenergoavtomatika], where Altunyan worked. It was the only one of these meetings at which the ‘accused’ was allowed to speak. Altunyan first of all explained that the letter in Grigorenko’s defence had not been sent to the United Nations, as spokesmen from the Party organization and the Party district committee claimed. He gave an account of the contents of both letters, and talked about the Crimean Tatar movement, about Grigorenko and Kostyorin, the political trials, the facts of the rebirth of Stalinism, about Yakir, Yakhimovich and Gabai, and the events in Czechoslovakia. The meeting passed a resolution condemning Altunyan for his ‘apolitical behaviour, as expressed in the appeal to the United Nations’ [see 8.10], and decided to inform the Procuracy about the appeal letter.

Altunyan appealed successively to all higher authorities in his efforts to be reinstated in the Party. On 1 July his appeal was considered by the Party Control Commission of the Central Committee of the Party. The Commission rejected the appeal. Genrikh Altunyan has compiled a complete record both of his preliminary interview with an official of the Commission, N.P. Mardasov, and of the Commission’s discussion of his appeal under the chairmanship of [S.O.] Postovalov. The record shows just how strong are the anti-democratic, neo-Stalinist tendencies of the officials in even such a high Party organ as this, and just how reluctant they are to listen to any arguments which conflict with official propaganda.

After his arrest Altunyan was put into the criminal prison on Kholodnaya Hill in Kharkov. A few days later he was taken from there to an unknown destination, and his wife was not informed of his address. At the present time he is back again in Kharkov, in a KGB investigation cell.

On the day of his arrest, searches were made at the homes of several of his friends, and once more samizdat material was taken away. Ten Kharkov citizens have written an appeal to the USSR Procurator-General in Altunyan’s defence.

The investigation of Altunyan’s case is being directed by Major N. E. Babusenko, head of the investigation department of the Kharkov KGB. The witnesses are being questioned solely about Altunyan’s part in the composition and distribution of two documents: the Action Group’s letter and the letter in Grigorenko’s defence.