Grigory Karamov

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Emigre recalls jump for life in Azerbaijan Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Republican, MA May 18 2005

On Jan. 19, 1990, at the age of 68, Grigory Karamov jumped from a fourth-floor balcony.

The jump itself was easy; the difficult thing was scaling the balcony's railing.

In the previous five days as a captive in Baku, Azerbaijan, he had eaten only a few eggs and had been beaten so badly several times that he just didn't know if he would be able to scale the railing. When a guard fell asleep, he finally had a chance to escape.

"They won't let us return home alive, colonel," a Baku University professor told Karamov that morning.

There were only two of them left; all the other captives - about 15 people tortured to reveal the locations of their valuables and relatives - had disappeared from the apartment one by one.

The professor was now lying on a bed, unconscious, with a dozen knife slashes across his throat. The gang, mostly college students who came to Baku from other cities, had just left, taking away another victim. The only guard, who had knocked out two of Karamov's teeth, decided to take a nap.

"There were the clotheslines strung along the front of the balconies on every floor. So I figured out, if I grab them, they would help break my fall. I managed to grab only the first set, though."

The students were Azerbaijanis. The professor, the colonel and other prisoners were Armenians.

"I had a lot of friends among Azerbaijanis. We used to be wonderful neighbors. I don't know what happened. Those guys, maybe they were just drug addicts with sticks. But they knew where to seek us. They had lists of Armenians, which means somebody provided them with that information. They just broke down the doors and chased us out."

Grigory Karamov, who is 83 now and lives in Springfield (Massachussetts), was very lucky.

He only broke his leg, the one that was punctured by six shell fragments in 1943 in the Caucasian Mountains, where the then Lt. Karamov was fighting the German division "Edelweiss" in World War II.

"I was sent to a hospital. It wasn't very easy to get there, given the fact that I couldn't walk and that we were in the mountains. I was riding a horse that another lieutenant was leading by the bridle as we were heading to the hospital."

He would go on to graduate from a medical school and then spend another 31 years with the army, as an officer in the medical service corps. Trained as a radiologist, he served three years at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan, where he witnessed dozens of nuclear mushroom clouds from nuclear explosions.

"Of course, I received some radiation doses. Everybody did. Back then, 50 years ago, we didn't have any special protection. That's why I didn't get married until 36. I knew I couldn't bring anybody over there."

He retired as a lieutenant-colonel and lived in Baku until January 1990, when anti-Armenian riots started in the city where five generations of Karamov's ancestors rest.

"The next day, Jan. 20, Gorbachev finally sent troops to Baku, but everything was done pretty much during those previous five days. Fortunately, Russian doctors found me in a hospital where I was put after that jump and took me away to Moscow. I spent six months in a hospital over there. My wife found me. She had been told I was killed."

They moved to America 11 years ago.

"I don't know whom to blame. I still don't understand why people all of a sudden turn into beasts eager to kill each other, why they are calling for a war every now and then."

Alex Peshkov, a staff writer for The Republican, emigrated from Arkhangelsk in 2002. His column focuses on the Russian-American community.

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