1977 Moscow bombings

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1977 Moscow bombings
1977 Metro bombing.jpg
Scene of 8 January 1977 Moscow Metro bombing
LocationMoscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Date8 January 1977
17:33 – 18:10 (UTC+3)
TargetMoscow Metro, grocery stores
Attack type
PerpetratorsUnknown; Armenian nationalists executed

The 1977 Moscow bombings were a series of three terrorist bombings in Moscow on 8 January 1977. The attacks killed seven people and seriously injured 37 others. No one claimed responsibility for the bombings, although three members of an Armenian nationalist organization were executed early in 1979 after a KGB investigation and a secret trial. Some Soviet dissidents said that the suspects had an alibi.[1] Soon after the event Andrei Sakharov issued a public appeal, expressing concern that the bombings might "be a new provocation on the part of the organs of repression".[2] According to historian Jay Bergman, "who actually caused the explosion has never been determined conclusively".[3]


On 8 January 1977, three bombs were detonated in Moscow.

The first exploded at 17:33 on a crowded train between the Izmailovskaya and Pervomaiskaya stations of the Moscow Metro.[4] At 18:05, the second bomb detonated inside a grocery store close to KGB headquarters. Five minutes later, the third bomb exploded near another grocery store on 25 October Street, just a few hundred meters away from the headquarters of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[4]

At that moment, and for the next two months, there was little public information about the explosions. The TASS news agency reported on 10 January 1977 that the explosion was not of great force, "medical help was given to those suffering injury, and an investigation is being conducted". Later, at meetings of Party activists, it was said that not long before the explosion in the underground on 8 January there had been two other explosions on 25 October Street.[5]

Only on 8 February 1979, after the trial and execution of the three convicted men, did a letter to Izvestia, the official newspaper of the Soviet government, indicate that the attacks had killed seven people[4] and injured 37.[6][7]

Investigation and trial[edit]

An initial suspect, named Potapov, was arrested in Tambov after setting off a bomb which killed his neighbour's wife and two daughters. After being arrested, Potapov confessed that he was also behind the acts of terrorism in Moscow. However, this turned out to have been a forced confession, and after an investigation lasting one month, this lead was dropped by KGB operatives.[4]

In October 1977, at Tashkent Airport, a KGB officer noticed a woman carrying a bag similar to a reconstructed picture of a bomb sent by the KGB to all local branches.[4] It was discovered that these bags were manufactured only in Yerevan.[4] In November 1977, Stepan Zatikyan, a founding member of a splinter group of the National United Party, an underground Armenian nationalist organization, was arrested. His accomplices, Zaven Bagdasaryan and Hakop Stepanyan, were also taken into custody[8] after an unsuccessful attempt to detonate a bomb at the Kursky Rail Terminal in Moscow.[4]

A secret trial followed. Zatikyan, Stepanyan, and Bagdasaryan were all found guilty on 24 January 1978 and executed five days later.[9] The Supreme Court issued a brief statement, dated 31 January 1979, after the trial and execution, naming Zatikyan alone as the perpetrator.[10][11] According to KGB general Philip Bobkov, any publications in Armenia about the bombings were blocked by Karen Demirchyan, the head of Soviet Armenia.[11]

Alleged KGB involvement[edit]

The 8 January 1977 bombings occurred during systematic reprisals by the Soviet authorities against the Helsinki Groups in Moscow, Ukraine and Lithuania, set up to monitor the USSR's observance of the Helsinki Accords.[12]

On 10 January 1977, Soviet journalist Victor Louis (Vitaly Yevgenyevich Lui), a well known KGB agent provocateur, published an article in a British newspaper, hinting at the involvement of Soviet dissidents in the bombings. Several dissidents, including Albrekht, the secretary of the Soviet branch of Amnesty International, were threatened and interrogated by the KGB. (Soviet dissident Alexander Tarasov claimed to have been interrogated by a KGB investigator who tried to "convince" him that he was involved in the bombing. Without his strong alibi - he was confined at a hospital at the time of the bombings - "it would be me who was executed instead of Zatikyan", he said.[13]) In response Andrei Sakharov wrote an "Appeal to world community", in which he requested an impartial investigation and suggested that the bombings might have been arranged by the KGB itself to discredit the entire Soviet dissident movement.[14]

… I cannot rid myself of the hunch that the explosion in the Moscow underground and the tragic deaths of individuals are a new provocation on the part of the organs of repression, and the most dangerous of recent years. Precisely this hunch, and the fears connected with it that this provocation could lead to changes in the whole internal climate of the country, have prompted me to write this article. I would be very glad if my thoughts turned out to be wrong …

In an exchange with the deputy Procurator General, he added, "I have serious grounds for concern. This is the provocation article in London Evening News by Victor Lui. These are arrests and interrogations of people who are clearly not related to the bombings. These are murders of last months, probably committed by the KGB which were not investigated. It is enough to mention only two of them: murder of poet Konstantin Bogatyrev and murder of lawyer Evgeni Brunov."[15] After this statement, Sakharov was not only attacked in Soviet newspapers but also received threats by phone. Several people tried to break into his apartment, claiming to be relatives of those killed in the Metro.[16]

According to former KGB colonel Oleg Gordievsky, the three Armenians were selected as scapegoats for this terrorist act. He wrote, "The case that most alarmed the KGB was the bombing of the Moscow subway by Armenian separatists in 1977. Three Armenians were later shot. It was rumored in the Center that, when the KGB and militia failed to track down those responsible, three other Armenian separatists had been selected as scapegoats in order to demonstrate that terrorists would always be caught and punished."[17]

In 1982, historians Michel Heller and Alexander Nekrich assert Zatikyan, Stepanyan, and Bagdasaryan had an alibi supported by multiple witnesses, and their execution was the first political execution in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin.[1]

The Armenian dissident Sergei Grigoryants said in 2016 that KGB chief Yuri Andropov and Philipp Bobkov were responsible for the bombings.[18]

Sakharov's letter to Brezhnev[edit]

On 30 January 1979, A. D. Sakharov wrote a letter to L. I. Brezhnev, about the trial of the three Armenian suspects:[19]

There are strong grounds for fearing that a deliberate frame-up or a judicial mistake is taking place in this case. Zatikyan was not in Moscow at the time of the underground explosion — many witnesses can confirm his alibi. The investigation did not show any interest in clarifying this or other important circumstances. The trial, totally unnecessarily, was closed and secret, and even relatives did not know that it was taking place. Such a trial, in which the principle of openness is totally disregarded, cannot determine the truth. I appeal to you to stop the death sentence being carried out on all the accused in this case, and to demand a new inquiry from the investigative and court organs.

On 1 February 1979, the Moscow Helsinki Group made an official statement on the execution of Stepan Zatikyan and two other unnamed individuals, stating, "The lack of transparency and the whole atmosphere of secrecy give reasons to doubt the validity of charges, objectivity and impartiality of the court".[20]

One consequence was the 8 February 1979 letter to Izvestia, denouncing Sakharov and other rights activists as "Defenders of Murderers".[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b M. Heller and A. Nekrich, History of Russia 1917–1995; seven volumes; London, 1982, ISBN 5-87902-004-5 Russian text online, Quote (Russian): "армянские националисты были приговорены к смертной казни закрытым судом и несмотря на то, что алиби обвиняемых было подтверждено многими свидетелями." (Armenian nationalists had been sentenced to death in a closed trial, and despite the fact that the alibi of the accused has been confirmed by many witnesses)
  2. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 44.15, "Concerning the explosions in Moscow" (15 March 1977).
  3. ^ Jay Bergman, Meeting the demands of reason, Cornell University Press, ISBN 0801447313, 2009, p. 256
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Stepanov, Alexei (31 January 2004). "Бомба в московском метро". "Волжская Коммуна" №18. Archived from the original on 24 December 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2009.
  5. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 44.15, "Concerning the explosions in Moscow" (15 March 1977).
  6. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 52.1, "The case of the explosions on the underground" (1 March 1979).
  7. ^ "Moscow bombs: Metro one of world's busiest". BBC News. 29 March 2010. Retrieved 8 January 2017.
  8. ^ The Soviet Empire: Pressures and Strains By Institute for the Study of Conflict (London), Institute for the Study of Conflict. Institute for the Study of Conflict. 1980. p. 40. Stepan Zatikyan, Zaven Bagdasaryan and Akop Stepanyan were arrested in November 1977 on the charge of causing the explosion in the Moscow underground on 8 January 1977
  9. ^ McCauley, Martin (1983). The Soviet Union After Brezhnev By Martin McCauley, University of London School of Slavonic and East European Studies Contributor. Holmes & Meier. p. 50.
  10. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 52.1, "The case of the explosions on the underground" (1 March 1979).
  11. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 April 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 44, 16 March 1977.
  13. ^ "ОСТАП БЕНДЕР, НОРИНСКИЙ И Я Продолжение загадочных историй, происходящих с Александром Тарасовым". www.panorama.ru. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  14. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 44.15, "Concerning the explosions in Moscow" (15 March 1977).
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 July 2009. Retrieved 18 January 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Центр загрузки файлов". www.ras.ru. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  17. ^ Andrew, Christopher M., Oleg Gordievsky. KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev. HarperCollinsPublishers; 1st edition (1 May 1992). ISBN 0-06-016605-3. p. 546.
  18. ^ "Взрыв в московском метро 1977 г. (из книги "Полвека советской перестройки"). Сергей Григорьянц - Григорьянц Сергей Иванович". grigoryants.ru. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  19. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 52.1, "The case of the explosions on the underground" (1 March 1979).
  20. ^ "Главная - Московская Хельсинкская группа". www.mhg.ru. Archived from the original on 30 March 2018. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  21. ^ Chronicle of Current Events, 52.1, "The case of the explosions on the underground" (1 March 1979).