Azerbaijan International

Spring 1999 (7.1)
Pages 38-41

Stalin's Oppression in Azerbaijan
(1920s - 1950s)

(1938 - )

The Morning of That Night

A Short Story
Written in 1964 during Brezhnev's era after Stalin's death (1954)

AI 7.1 Special Feature Articles

The year 1937 will always be remembered in the former Soviet Union as the height of Stalin's repression. In Azerbaijan alone, thousands of people were arrested and executed or sent off to Siberian labor camps. Stories abound of mysterious black government cars that would pull up in front of apartments in the middle of the night to usher the "alleged criminal" out into the cruel darkness of the night. Often that person was never seen or heard from again.

Here the writer Anar describes the fear that permeated that era. The writer's own mother, poet
Nigar Rafibeyli, was also targeted by the KGB for the same fate. Fortunately, her arrest was delayed and never came to pass.

Anar's storytelling has the makings of a Hollywood thriller; unfortunately, the inspiration for the story line is based on true life situations.

Stalin's 1937 repressionsA Night in 1937
One of the calm streets of Baku. Two large apartment buildings standing on both sides of the street looked as heavy as iron. There was a small garden a short distance from the houses.

The street had swallowed up the noises of the day - conversations, footsteps, the sound of cars passing by - just like soil absorbing water. The garden had become empty, without any smiles. The wooden benches were reminiscent of clean, lined notebook paper. On one of the benches - the one with the tree branch hanging down over it like a broken wing - there were two people nestled close to each other. The guy was stroking the girl's hair.

The garden, the street and the apartments had become very dark. A very weak light shone from one of the windows of the four-storied building on the right-hand side of the street.

Everyone was sleeping, although it was an anxious sleep.

That night, around two o'clock in the morning, the silence of the street was broken by the drone of a car engine. A car had stopped in front of the four-story building. The car had moved slowly, but the screech of the car's rusty brakes, bringing it to a sudden stop, interrupted the sleep of the apartment residents.

No one got up out of bed. No one walked out onto his balcony. No one peered out of the window. The people, lying in their beds, all concentrated on the sounds coming from that one direction.

Flat No. 1
In Flat No. 1 on the first floor of the four-story building lived an elderly man with his wife. Bashir was the caretaker of the building. His wife's name was Zulekha.

Zulekha had been lying there dreaming of their village. White smoke poured out of the chimney of their small house. Someone yelled out, "Hey Zulekha, come wash these dishes. Hey girl, where are you?" Zulekha approached and recognized the person who was calling her - it was her mother.

Bashir had been drinking tea in his sleep. It was a strong tea that steamed up the glass.

But the halt of the car had suddenly awakened both of them. They listened. The doors of the car opened.
Zulekha whispered, "God, save us from trouble." She tried to recall her dream and determine whether the symbolism in it foreshadowed anything bad to come. Water represents happiness
(See Footnote 1) . . . her mother. . .

The car doors slammed shut. Zulekha again said, "God save us from trouble."

Footsteps could be heard. Bashir tried to determine how many people were coming from the sound of the footsteps - three or four.

The outside door to the building opened. Footsteps were heard very near - in front of Bashir's apartment. "I wonder who's leaving tonight?" Bashir thought. The footsteps passed on by their door.

Sketch - The victim is entangled and hung by his own words. Political cartoon by Gunduz.

Flat No. 2
In Flat No. 2, opposite Bashir's, lived an old widow. Her name was Zahra. She had a two-room apartment and had rented out one of the rooms since her husband died. Aunt Zahra was hard of hearing and slept soundly. Even if they fired a gun next to her, she wouldn't wake up. And this time, she didn't wake up either.

The person who had rented her room was a typist named Sakina. Sakina was 32 years old. She was a pleasant, quiet girl with an ugly face. When the car stopped at the door, she woke up immediately. She listened anxiously. When the footsteps approached their door, many thoughts raced through her mind. The thoughts broke into small, disjointed pieces in her mind - like mercury uniting, dividing, again uniting.

"They can't do this because of one letter," she thought. "Nobody knows about it except Ahmadov. Would Ahmadov do such a thing? No, no. It's true the word was a very important one. I hope I also made a typing error in another word. Why did I make such a mistake and put the letter "z" after "p" in that word? No, I can't believe this.

Ahmadov wouldn't do this. But you never know. He's a human being, maybe he got scaredNo, no he isn't a coward. But there were just two of us in his office. Who else could have found out about this? Maybe he was afraid.

I wish I had made a mistake in another word. How could I know that with one letter the meaning of the word would change so much? How can I prove now that I didn't do it on purpose? It was a mistake, a coincidence. Why would I do it on purpose anyway? I'm just a typist and don't poke my nose into anything. I type hundreds of pages and just one mistake. No, Ahmadov is a brave person. Even though he has often criticized me, he wouldn't do this. No, no it can't be true. It can't be true. What should I say..."

Sakina took a patterned handkerchief from under her pillow that she had sewn herself and wiped the cold sweat on her forehead. The footsteps were heard going up the stairs.

Flat No. 3
Flat No. 3 on the second floor was Surkhai's apartment. He was an architect. Single. His light was on and could be seen from outside the apartment. He was working because he had to finish the design for a new school building and turn it in the next morning. That's why he was working all night long.

Surkhai was so busy concentrating on his design that he wasn't aware that anything was happening. He neither heard the sound of car that had stopped at their apartment, nor the footsteps. Now, as the footsteps sounded in front of his door, he still didn't hear them. The footsteps passed by his door in the direction of Flat No. 4.

Flat No. 4
Gurban, who lived in Flat No. 4, was an old Party member.
2 During the previous three months, Gurban had kept two sets of clean underwear, toothpaste, a toothbrush and three bars of soap near his bed at night. Since his youth, his friends had always said that he was tense and edgy.

As soon as the car stopped, Gurban opened his eyes. He hadn't fallen asleep yet. Lately, he had been sleeping very poorly. But he was calm and easy-going. As the footsteps came up the stairs, Gurban thought, "So - April 14, 1937."

There are a number of dates that are important in a human being's life. One always remembers those dates - the date one was born, the date one first fell in love, the date one first became a father or a mother, the funeral date of a beloved, a date that a great hope arises. But there is one more date that doesn't embed itself in one's memory. That's the date one's memory is extinguished. The date of his death. These are the most important dates in the life of a human being.

The footsteps approached Gurban's door as he repeated "April 14" to himself and reviewed the most important days of his life:

December 7. Year 1903. The first secret student meeting.
August 18. Year 1904. The first student demonstration.
April 28. Year 1920. Baku. The morning of revolution.
February 22. September, 10. July 8.
Exile of the czar, the years of the revolution, civil war.
October 5. The last serious conflict with any person.

During the seven months that had passed since then, Gurban had waited for this important day, actually for this important night of his life. He waited for it every single night. He had been waiting for it that night. "So, the night of April 14."

Now Gurban wasn't thinking about that date anymore. He was thinking about another date. He knew that even though this night was one of the important dates in his life, it wasn't the last important one. He knew that he had one more important day - the most important morning of his life. This was the morning that would usher in fairness and justice. But when would that morning come? Which day? Which month? Which year?

The footsteps stopped at Gurban's door. Gurban got up out of his bed to open the door. He placed his feet on the cold floor and tried to find his slippers. He searched for his slippers with his foot and managed to find them like a blind man finding his way with his stick. Gurban put his right foot in the slipper, but not the left one. He remained motionless, listening to the footsteps that surprisingly were moving away step by step.

Flat No. 5 & 6
There were two flats on the third floor. Flat No. 5 had just become empty two weeks ago. A composer by the name of Faraj had been living there. No one had moved into the flat yet.

A person whose name was Javanshir, his wife Tavus and their six-year-old daughter Rana lived in Flat No. 6. As soon as the car had turned the corner, the hand that embraced Tavus' waist - Javanshir's hand - froze. Shortly afterward, Javanshir pulled away from his wife and jumped up. Tavus became tense and lay there silently. They both strained to listen.

Little Rana was sleeping. She was dreaming of a big, light-blue-colored window. It was a window that didn't have any curtains. Someone was teaching her how to count: one, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five. One, two, three, four, five.

When the car stopped in front of their building and the footsteps were heard, Javanshir said only one word to Tavus: "Gurban." Probably, he had his own reasons for breathing that name.

Two weeks ago when a car had come like this, Javanshir had said only one word to his wife: "Faraj." Tavus, who had just recently become aware of these situations, had frowned. Javanshir had said, "You're a woman. Don't meddle in men's affairs."

It was two days before Tavus stopped frowning and bothering herself about it. She finally resolved it in her mind by saying, "I don't care. He's a man and it's his business."

That evening when they had become reconciled to each other, while kissing his wife's neck, Javanshir had whispered, "I don't make up anything. When they ask me, I simply tell them what I've heard."

When the footsteps passed Gurban's door and started to climb the stairs, they breathed a sigh of relief and tried to relax.

Javanshir slipped his hand into the pocket of his jacket, which hung at the end of the bed. With trembling fingers, he pulled out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. He didn't light it but instead just sat there frozen, listening very, very carefully.

"Maybe, they've made a mistake," he thought. "OK. Don't they know that there are just two flats on this floor. Flat No. 5 is empty and No. 6 is mine. Listen Tavus, have you spoken out of place anywhere?"

"What are you talking about, Javanshir?"

"I know that your girlfriends like to gossip a lot."

"Hey Javanshir, we talked about this two months ago and I think we discussed everything. Since then, none of them have come here. And I also haven't seen any of them. You know better than me that we've cut off all our contact with our relatives. We haven't been communicating with anyone."

The footsteps passed Flat No. 5.

"Javanshir," Tavus's voice was trembling. She didn't know whether to tell him or not. At last she decided that it would be better if he knew it. "You know, Rana has been singing that song again."

"What?" Javanshir jumped up from the bed.

That single guy, the composer Faraj, who himself was impotent, loved little Rana very much, for some strange reason. He had been teaching her new songs that he had composed.

Two days earlier, Javanshir was reading some newspapers, trying to familiarize himself with what was going on in the world. Suddenly, he jumped as if a snake had bitten him. Little Rana, who was unaware of the things that were going on in the world, was putting her little doll to bed, singing a lullaby and crooning in a low voice the song that Faraj, "the Enemy of the People," had composed.

Javanshir lost control over himself and, before explaining anything to his wife, barged into the other room and slapped Rana several times across the face. After he calmed down, he told Tavus: "If I hear anything like that from that bitch again, you'll be sorry."

The footsteps stopped at Javanshir's door. Her voice trembling, Tavus went on, "I caught her singing again yesterday. I twisted her ear and she told me, "Mother, I've already forgotten those songs. I was just singing in order to check whether I've forgotten all of them or not."

After she heard that explanation, Tavus smiled.

But on this night, in this year, in this situation, that smile was the greatest betrayal of Javanshir. He took hold of Tavus's arm. "Shut up," he said and swore at her.

The footsteps moved away from their door. Javanshir lit his cigarette angrily. "I'm stupid," he said and laughed. "I had totally forgotten that there is one more floor upstairs."

"On the fourth floor," added Tavus, who was on the verge of tears. The swear word still burned her ears.
"The fourth floor!" thought Javanshir. "The fourth floor? Who is he? Captain? Oilman?"

Flat No. 7
There were two flats on the fourth floor. Salayev lived in Flat No. 7. He was the captain of a ship that was traveling back and forth to Astrakhan.
3. He was home three days a week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Four days at sea.

"Today is Friday," Javanshir remembered. "So, oilman Zeynalli? Just think about it. I had never thought about him before. He always acted so proud and self-satisfied. Lately, he hasn't even been saying hello to people."

Flat No. 8
Javanshir listened carefully. The footsteps passed Flat No. 7 and stopped in front of Flat No. 8. Then the knock came at the door. It was a loud knock. The whole building heard it.

In Flat No. 6, Javanshir was thinking: "So, Murad Zeynalli. Just think about his self-satisfaction! Three wide, well-lit rooms are going to go empty. I wonder who will move in there. But by looking at Zeynalli, you would never guess that he was in trouble."

In Flat No. 5... The door to Flat No. 5 had been sealed.

In Flat No. 4, Gurban was walking around the room, thinking, thinking, thinking: "Maybe I should go to Moscow somehow and take the letter myself. We'll see..."

In Flat No. 3, Surkhai was still working.

In Flat No. 2, Sakina was crying bitterly in the silence. Old Zahra was sleeping, though it was a dreamless sleep.

In Flat No. 1, Bashir, the caretaker of the building, was reprimanding his wife: "Woman, don't talk nonsense," he was saying. "They wouldn't take a person if he wasn't guilty. God knows what he has done." Then he sighed deeply and added: "Hey, who inherits the earth, if it didn't even go to Suleyman?

The door of Flat No. 8 opened on the fourth floor. The footsteps went inside. Shortly afterward, footsteps were heard again, descending the stairs, step by step. The outside door of the apartment complex again opened and closed. The car's ignition turned on, and the car began to move ahead. The car could be heard in the distance and then the sound disappeared.

The silence of the street absorbed all the noises and sounds. Light came from only one of the windows of the darkened building. And on the bench in the garden under the branch of the tree that hung down like a broken wing, the guy kissed the girl's lips.

Bashir, the caretaker of the building, took a brush and a bucket full of paint early the next morning and went out into the corridor. On a blackboard in the corridor written in white letters were the names of the people who lived in the apartment building. Only the last name written in front of No. 5 had been blackened out so that it was impossible to read. Bashir had blackened it out two weeks ago. This morning again Bashir took his black bucket and brush and went out to the corridor. It was seven o'clock.

The residents of the apartment - Sakina, Javanshir and Tavus - who were late for work, met in the corridor. For a second they stopped and looked at Bashir. Sakina felt cold and once more flung her scarf around her neck. Bashir lifted the brush and brought it nearer to the "Zeynalli" last name.

Suddenly...Javanshir and Tavus were frightened. Sakina held onto the fringes of her scarf. Bashir stood frozen with surprise. The slanting light from an open door of the corridor fell on the gray concrete floor. From the half-open door, one could see a part of the street, a window of the opposite house and green samanis
5 that had been placed in the window.

But it was something else that surprised the people standing in the corridor. Oilman Murad Zeynalli, who lived in Flat No. 8, was standing at the door. Murad looked at Bashir the caretaker with his board, brush, and bucket and immediately understood what was going on. But he didn't move from the door.

Javanshir stuttered: ""

Bashir's wife Zulekha also came out. She also looked surprisingly at Murad and the other people who were standing at the corridor. Someone's footsteps were heard quickly descending the steps. Design papers were rolled up like a tube under Surkhai's arm.

When Murad laughed, his mouth became bigger, showing his white, healthy teeth. He warned: "Don't always think about bad things. It was an ambulance. We took Farida to a maternity clinic. Last night she gave a birth to a boy and I'm a father now."

Tavus placed her hand on her forehead. "Oh, I had totally forgotten that Farida was pregnant and that she was going to have her baby very soon."

Zulekha added, "You're right. It's true. We hadn't even thought about it. We congratulate you. I hope he grows up surrounded with the love of his parents."

For some reason, Javanshir grew pale. He quickly took out a cigarette. For some reason, Sakina turned red. She bent her head. A knock was heard. The brush slipped out of Bashir's hand and fell to the ground.
"Congratulations," Surkhai said and left in a hurry.


The child who was born that night was me.


There are various days in each year - both happy and sad. Work days, holidays, funeral days. But there are certain years that stay in people's memory with one color. My generation has their birth date written 1937 in their documents. When we grew up, we discovered that 1937 was a black year. It would fix itself in people's minds as a year of fear and anxiety. But for us this year was the most important year of our lives. This is the year we laid eyes on the sun, trees and life for the very first time.

1 In Azerbaijan, it is believed that water brings good fortune and happiness. In Azerbaijan, when a person leaves for a long trip, they toss a cup of water after him. To dream about water is considered a good sign. (Up).

2 Party member here does not refer to the Communist Party but rather to a member of the Azerbaijan Musavat Party at the turn of the century which was in opposition to the Bolsheviks who captured Baku in 1920. (Up).

3 Astrakhan is a city in southern Russia located at the delta of the Caspian Sea. (Up).

4 Here the reference to Suleyman refers to the Biblical King Solomon who was wealthy beyond imagination and had access to all privilege and power. The author implies that each of us will die someday. (Up).

5 Samanis refers to the wheat grass that is traditionally grown on a plate to celebrate the coming of Spring at Noruz (New Year) - March 20-21. (Up).

Anar Rezayev (1938- ) writes with the simple pen name Anar. He is President of the Writer's Union and a member of the National Parliament. His major works include: Waiting for Spring (1963), Dante's Jubilee (1968), White Sky (1970), The Sixth Floor of the Five-Story Building (1981) and Hotel Room (1995). His parents, Rasul Reza and Nigar Rafibeyli, were both nationally recognized poets.

Translated by Vafa Mastanova

From Azerbaijan International (7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.

Back to Index AI 7.1 (Spring 99)
AI Home
| Magazine Choice | Topics | Store | Contact us