19 May 1953: birthday of Shavarsh Karapetyan. Writing about Shavarsh is both easy and difficult. It's easy, because writing about good people is a pleasure. But it's difficult to find to right words, the right tone. He wouldn't like a pompous articles about a great sportsman who became a hero. However, the facts speak for themselves. Shavarsh has saved 20 people. In the most literal and direct way. His name was known to everyone in the USSR. Many years have passed. Below is the article written in 2005 by Nune Hakhverdyan.
The trolley-bus and Shavarsh Karapetyan
Nune HAKHVERDYAN | November 23, 2005
There was a tragic accident in Yerevan on September 16, 1976. A trolley bus fell into the water with a lot of passengers in it when crossing the Bridge of Yerevan Lake. The 92 passengers inside the trolley-bus could have died because the weather was cold then and they were stuck in the trolley-bus because they couldn’t break the windows. The big trolley bus was being covered by water fast and it could bring to a big tragedy. At that time Shavarsh Karapetyan and Kamo Karapetyan were running near the Lake and didn’t hesitate to jump into the water and start saving the lives of those people. Shavarsh Karapetyan, who was a world and European champion and famous swimmer realized that the lives of those people depended on one second. “I could see nothing in the water because the water was too dirty. I realized that I was alone and the only person responsible for everything”, -said Shavarsh Karapetyan to “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper correspondent. The lake was ten meters deep. Shavarsh made efforts and could break the window of the trolley bus. He entered inside by harming his legs and started to look for people with his hands. The brother of Shavarsh, Kamo, who was also a swimmer, was taking people to the bank from the surface after Shavarsh had brought them up to surface. Shavarsh Karapetyan dove for thirty times and saved twenty people. He was taking the bodies of people to the surface and giving them to his brother to take out of the water. “I was going up to the surface, breathing and diving again. And after diving one more time I took a leather chair out from the trolley-bus, I was so tired that didn’t notice that it wasn’t a man”, -said Shavarsh. The friend of Shavarsh, Babken Khachatryan, once said that Shavarsh regretted much and often said that he could have saved one more life instead of that chair. It was actually impossible to do what Shavarsh did, because you have to be also very kind and have a strong will besides being a good swimmer and diver.
When some divers came to the lake it turned out that there was no air in their balloons. He was sure that he could save everyone if there was air in their balloons. The closed system of the Soviet Union didn’t allow publishing correct and right information about the accident, and the photos were kept only in the prosecutor’s office. Head of “Photolur” agency Herbert Baghdasaryan says: “We were informed about this tragedy only two years after the accident, when we got an order from “Komsomolskaja Pravda” to make a report about Shavarsh Karapetyan”.
It is not clear yet what the reason of this accident was. According to official information the driver got a heart attack when driving the trolley-bus. But the passengers that were saved said that the reason was the conflict between a passenger and the driver. They said that the passenger was trying to make the driver stop the trolley-bus there and the driver was refusing by saying that it wasn’t a taxi for him. They also said that the passenger beat the driver and the driver lost control and that is why the trolley-bus fell into the water.
After saving the lives of those people Shavarsh Karapetyan was tired, out of power and his body was injured. As a result of his heroism he got serious sicknesses, blood disease and pneumonia. There was sewage water in the lake too and this was also a reason for his sicknesses. After this accident Shavarsh had to forget about sports. His life was divided into two parts: till the accident and after the accident. He forgot all his goals and what he had reached. Shavarsh Karapetyan took treatment at hospitals for a long time and once asked the doctors: “Will I be able to swim again?” But the answer didn’t satisfy him, because being in cold water for a long time he had seriously damaged his health. “When after the accident I dove again I understood that my lung was not like before. Before I could play with my competitors, but now I have to struggle. I reached one more world record, but this one was the last”, - once said Shavarsh.
Once Shavarsh told a Russian newspaper correspondent that the son of his brother had died in water too. And said that he felt very pity because his brother was a good swimmer and couldn’t have saved him and this time the trouble was water again.
In 1993 he moved to Moscow and tried to start a new life: he founded a small shoe production there. His company was called “Second Breath”. Now he is a good businessman. Armenian shoemakers are considered to be the best ones in Moscow. He hasn’t forgotten about his heroism 30 years ago. “The saved people didn’t know the name of the person who saved them”, -said B. Khachatryan. Only several years later in the period of “economy reconstruction” some books and information were published about Shavarsh Karapetyan. There is a planet that bears his name now. The saved people thanked him a lot. Some time later Shavarsh Karapetyan was given “Fair Player” medal of UNESCO. This medal is given to people who are good in sports, but he didn’t do this heroism in sports, but in real life.
Happy birthday, Shavarsh! And thank you. Thank you for being with us. For showing us what the man should be.