Winter 2005 (13.4)
Defense of Azeri
Students Sent into Exile:
Fate Sealed in Letter Sent to Poet Samad Vurghun
on materials complied from KGB files by the late Historian
Ziya Bunyadov, Academician
Ziya Bunyadov was one of the first Azerbaijani historians to
gain access into the KGB archives in the early 1990s upon the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Bunyadov pulled together evidence
of what had happened to some of the victims of Stalin's Repressions.
Such information had been inaccessible to researchers for more
than half a century.
In his book "Red Terror", Bunyadov documents the proceedings
of the trials brought against various individuals and groups
who fell victim to Stalin's Repressions. One group he investigated
was the group of university students which called itself Ildirim
(Lightning), who were primarily advocating for the use of the
Azeri language, not Russian, in everyday activities.
Bunyadov observed that the tendency towards democratic ideas
was widespread among the youth during the Great Patriotic War
[World War II]. Administrative departments, especially national
security organs, were concerned about these tendencies. Stalin
was also concerned about the mood of the youth.
According to Bunyadov, once Stalin even sent an order to the
Head of the National Security Committee (NSC) Abakumov, declaring:
"There is a need to increase control of students' behavior.
It is necessary to pull them out from their roots, not one by
one, but all together. And it is essential to apply the severest
measures that the law allows. To give them 25 years, not 10.
Ten years is not a prison, it's a school. It's appropriate to
give 10 years to high school students, but youth should be imprisoned
25 years. They're young. They'll survive. They won't die".
During 1941-1942, the Ministry of Internal Affairs succeeded
in stamping out the first anti-Soviet organizations among the
students. The efforts of the Ildirim group began to take shape
in 1943 and 1934. Inspired by the poet Samad Vurghun, they sought
his support and secretly wrote him the following letter. When
they didn't hear back from him, they sensed that they had endangered
themselves and they disbanded their group, realizing that they
did not have the strength to pursue their interests and that
they were jeopardizing their own lives. Four years later this
secret letter ended up in the hands of the KGB and was the evidence
used against them that led to the arrest of all the members of
Letter to Samad Vurghun
Dear Samad Vurghun!
This letter is written on behalf of the youth who are thinking
about and wishing for the freedom, independence and development
of Azerbaijan and who are ready to sacrifice their own lives
to achieve this goal.
Dear esteemed Samad, we, who are writing this letter - the patriotic
youth of the enslaved Azerbaijan - are very glad that we have
such a great poet despite the difficult conditions we have in
our country. We are proud of you, your work and the sacred goal
you have chosen for yourself.
In addition to being proud of you, we are also grieving, full
of anxiety about one thing. When we think about the giants and
art professionals of Azerbaijan who have been taken away from
us and who would be able to take an important place in world
literature, we become anxious and afraid that the existing shameless
laws, which create obstacles for art and literature and barriers
for their development, can also target you.
Above: Four of seven students who organized
the Ildirim (Lightning) group, advocating the official use of
Azeri. In 1948, they were arrested and sentenced to hard labor
in Siberia. (1) Ismikhan Rahimov (1925-2004), (2) Azer Alasgarov
(1926-1995), (3) Aydin Vahidov (1925- ), (4) Gulhusein Huseinoghlu
(1923- ). The three other Ildirim members were Haji Zeynalov,
Kamal Aliyev and Musa Abdullayev.
We don't want to listen to the
nightingale singing artificial songs in a golden cage. We want
to hear the nightingale singing tender rubais [traditional poetic
genre] among brightly colored flowers in a beautiful garden in
Samad, how is it that Azerbaijan, once known throughout the whole
world for its poetical geniuses [reference particularly to 12th
century poet Nizami Ganjavi] has a Writers' Union with only 60
members now that the Soviet government has established itself
Left: Poet Samad Vurghun was one of the leading
literary figures in Azerbaijan in the 1940s and 1950s. The Ildirim
student group sent him a letter confiding their desire that the
Azeri language be used in more official capacities, instead of
Russian. The students never dreamed Vurghun would turn the letter
over to the KGB. As a result, the student leaders were sentenced
to 25 years of hard labor in Siberia. Fortunately, Stalin's death
in 1953 led to an early release after seven years of imprisonment
in th camps.
How is it that an Azerbaijani living in slavery and in need of
his own country doesn't have national rights? Is this the fault
of Azerbaijanis themselves?
What is the reason that Azerbaijani youth with great intellect
and minds must wander through the streets begging a piece of
bread, day and night, while the children of foreigners [meaning
Russians] have great opportunities to study?
What is the reason that scientific books that are being used
in the institutes of Azerbaijan are not translated into our language?
Is this to make Azerbaijan forever dependent upon Russians?
What is the reason that Azerbaijanis who don't have their own
state language are fighting in a war alongside Russians?
What is the reason that our literature has become artificial
and limited? These are only a few of the issues that continually
worry us and make us concerned.
Dear Samad! We are not intending to explain all the goals and
means of fighting that we are going to begin. But we want to
let you know that we have promised to fight for the independence
of enslaved Azerbaijan till the last moment. The number of those
who are with us is countless: with the exception of some bootlickers,
everybody else is with us!
"We don't want
to listen to the nightingale singing artificial songs in a golden
cage. We want to hear the nightingale singing tender rubais*
among brightly colored flowers in a beautiful garden in spring."
who were advocating for the official use of
the Azerbaijani language in everyday activities (1944).
Some of them received sentences of 25 years in exile.
Today, our motto is summarized
in the words of our respected playwright Jafar Jabbarli:
Turn your sun into fire,
shine in the West and in the North.
Gather all your strength,
and start the fight.
Either gain your rights,
or remain helpless forever.
Either let blood or let justice
water the flowers.
Either let humanity or let slavery
reign throughout world.
Azeri version of the poem
The main reason for our writing this letter to you was your most
recent speech, which reminded us of the following lines by Namig
Kamal: "A nation without a literature is a nation which
cannot speak." Those who cut the tongues are butchers.
Don't hesitate to do something. The people are with you! We,
the youth hold intellectuals like you up as a model. Unfortunately,
we don't have a common "language" with which to talk
Dear Samad! If you agree with at least one of these ideas, please
write a poem for us entitled "The Stars of the Motherland"
to show us that the Father of our Modern Poetry is with us.
May 11, 1944
When the Ildirim group didn't hear anything back from Vurghun,
they realized that he would not publicly support them and, fearing
that he might turn them in, they disbanded the group in 1944.
Four years later in 1948, their letter, indeed, did end up with
the KGB and all of them were arrested. At their "trial",
the members of Ildirim were made to confess that they were trying
to separate Azerbaijan from the Soviet Union and join it to Turkey
- an accusation, which was absolutely false. This gave the State
an opportunity to give them harsher sentences and send them into
longer terms of exile.
The three most active members of their group were given 25 year
sentences: Ismikhan Rahimov, Gulhusein Huseinoghlu and Haji Zeynalov.
Ten-year sentences were meted out to four members of Ildirim:
Azar Alasgarov, Aydin Vahidov, Kamal Aliyev and Musa Abdullayev.
The property of each of the members was subject to confiscation.
Only Stalin's death in 1953 brought these youth any reprieve,
resulting in their sentences being shortened to seven years.
In 1955, they were released and their sentences commuted and
they all were able to return to Baku.
The following year (1956), Ildirim members were "rehabilitated"
and their reputations cleared of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless,
the nightmare of their experiences being branded as "Enemy
of the People" continued to haunt them all for the rest
of their lives.
The letter from the Ildirim
Group to Vurghun was translated by Ulviyya Mammadova. Source:
"Red Terror" by Ziya Bunyadov. Baku: Azernashr Publishers.
1993 [in Azeri]. The description of the trials of the Ildirim
group is described on pages 306-324
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