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From Russia, Thwarted Love : Immigrant Hopes 'Tokens' Exchanged at Summit Will Include Husband's Release by Soviets

October 27, 1985|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

Gohar Rezian, 27, who left Armenia four years ago, lives in Gardena. She works as a clinical laboratory assistant in Torrance.

Her husband, Poghos, lives in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. He works at the Lenin Factory, making machine parts. He can't get out.

Soviet authorities twice have refused to let him leave the country. They say he knows too much. They say he served in a secret unit in Siberia when he was in the Red Army seven years ago. He says he was just a construction worker in the army.

So far, the Soviet authorities have had the last word. But that may change.

Bargaining 'Token' at Summit

U.S. senators and representatives are intervening on behalf of Gohar and Poghos and in similar cases, hoping that their pleas will be heard at next month's summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and that the Kremlin will relent.

"They may give us a few tokens" at the Geneva summit, said Jeremy Azrael, a former member of the secretary of state's Policy Planning Council and now a senior political scientist at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica. "If you happen to be one of the spouses and you are one of the tokens, that is a pretty big accomplishment."

If the story of Gohar and Poghos is just a footnote in the history of geopolitical thrust and parry, it is also an old-fashioned love story. It begins a long way from Gardena.

Gohar and her husband grew up in Yerevan, a picturesque city in the mountainous Caucasus region that was a major stop on medieval trade routes between the Black Sea and India and now is Armenia's capital, industrial center and largest city (population 1,114,000).

Relating her story in a series of interviews, Gohar said her father worked for 30 years as accountant for a collective farm--the 22nd Session of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Collective Farm, to be precise.

Gohar lived in a big house made of pink stone, owned by her family. Outside was the family garden. It had grapes, roses, tulips, parsley, mint, green onions, tomatoes and eggplants. Her father, Haykaz Panosovich Khdrian, who never joined the Communist Party, loved working in the garden.

She met Poghos in her last year of high school when she was 17 1/2. School authorities were combining classes, and she was put in his class.

Poghos, with tousled good looks, was standing at the entrance.

"Hello," he said.

She walked by without answering. "I wasn't expecting him to greet me," she explained. But he had made an impression.

"I was ashamed that I didn't answer him," she said. Much later, after they were going together, she told him that.

Good Times Together

Gohar was a top student. Poghos, who was not, made her laugh.

"He can be really funny. Everybody sits there and watches him perform," she said.

Six months later, they were at a class picnic. They played a card game, duraki , a word that means fools in Russian. They talked. They became close friends.

Two years later, they kissed.

"We were at a party," she recalled another time. They were playing a game. "There is a question asked and if you say no, you kiss the girl," she said. "So he kissed me."

Gohar remembers the kiss. She does not remember the question.

"He told me that he loved me."

Then he went into the Red Army. He wrote many letters, and sent her a German doll he had picked up somehow.

"I still have it," she said. "It is in my room, on my bed."

He came back to Yerevan two years later and went to work at the Lenin Factory. She, with top grades, was preparing to study biology at Yerevan State University. They both lived at home with their parents.

The two lovers went out to plays, ballet, concerts. They went swimming. They visited all the historic site of Armenia.

"He can be really silly and he can be serious. Deep down he is such a sweetheart," she said. "He would buy me flowers all the time."

He called her "Gog." She loved looking at his eyes--"so meaningful. I loved his hair, too. He had the best hair. He is losing it now."

Her parents liked him.

"But they didn't like the idea of our relationship because they had already applied to leave. Neither his parents nor my parents liked the idea that we would be hurt," she said. "But I am not sorry."

He wanted to get married and made her promise that if permission to leave was not granted after five years on the waiting list, then they would get married.

Sister Stayed Behind

But the exit visa came through in time.

The family--mother, father, brother and Gohar--left Yerevan in December, 1980. A married sister stayed behind.

"We had everything planned. I would go back, get married, register our marriage papers, send him the invitation and in two or three months, he would get his permission and he would come," she said.

She felt confident because most--some authorities estimate 85% to 90%--of those who request permission to join spouses abroad are granted exit visas within months.

Even so, it was hard to say goodby.

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