Spring 2006 (14.1)
Stalin's Legacy - Wiping Out Azerbaijan's Brightest Thinkers
Yilmaz Akhundzade (1936-2006)
Yilmaz Akhundzade was sent off to an orphanage. He was only one
year old. His father the poet Ahmad Javad had been arrested and
shot, and when his mother would not denounce and divorce him
as an "Enemy of the People", she was sent into exile
for 8.5 years. She left four children behind.
Yilmaz was born on January 5, 1936, in the village of Seyfali
in the Shamkir region of Azerbaijan. In 1955, he graduated from
Leninkand (Lenin village) Secondary School and went on to study
at the Law Faculty of Azerbaijan State University from which
he graduated in 1961.
From then onward until his retirement in 2002, he worked in various
responsible positions as a lawyer and later as one of Azerbaijan's
Supreme Court Judges.
We interviewed Yilmaz Akhundzade in November 2005. Unfortunately,
he rather unexpectedly passed away after complications from surgery
in February this year. We're so sorry that he did not even have
the chance to read the interview that we publish here in tribute
to his own remarkable accomplishments, especially given the tragic
circumstances that marked his early childhood.
My father, the poet Ahmad Javad (1892-1937) always fought for
the independence of Azerbaijan. He was always at the forefront
of this struggle. During World War I, he volunteered in the army
and was assigned to fight at the Bulgarian front with the Turks
against Armenians. Then he returned to Azerbaijan. He was a member
of the first Parliament of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and
served as its Secretary.
In 1923, Ahmad Javad was arrested along with others who had fought
for the independence of Azerbaijan. Later, he was released. Though
my father today is remembered mostly for writing the lyrics to
Azerbaijan's National Hymn which have been been readopted since
our independence, he also wrote the words to the Turkish National
March "Chirpinirdi Gara Daniz" (The Black Sea Struggles).
This song is as strong as a national anthem. Every Turk - from
the simple workers to the president - knows it.
Ahmad Javad was primarily criticized for two poems: "Kur"
and "Goygol". The Kur is a river that originates in
Georgia and flows down through the middle of Azerbaijan to the
Caspian. Goygol is a beautiful scenic glacial lake in the foothills
of the Caucasus Mountains in western Azerbaijan.
My father penned the lines: "Bend Kur, bend and pass, your
time has not come." Those who were critical of my father
insisted that he was referring to the Azerbaijani nation, in
relationship to all the difficulties it had to bear when the
Bolshevik took control of the country (beginning in the early
1920s). Goygol is a lyrical poem. But again, he got into trouble
because of some of the lines:
Do you have a message for the blowing winds?
To be delivered to far places...
Your fame has spread among all,
No matter, where they come from, Goygol!
Azeri version of
the poem above
Critics said Ahmad Javad was
sending his greetings to the Musavat Party in Turkey when he
wrote "the winds blowing over Goygol".
It was this poem, published in 1925, which landed him in so much
trouble. It was severely criticized and my father was accused
of being a "Nationalist" and "Pan-Turkist".
The consequences were devastating.
In all, my father was arrested, not once, but three times (1923,
1925, and finally in 1937). It's impossible to imagine how such
experiences affect a person psychologically. Agents suddenly
barge into your house unexpectedly, confiscate everything you
have, and drive you out.
I don't even have a single momento or keepsake that ever belonged
to my father. I have not even one little item by which to remember
him. They confiscated everything in our home three times so there
was nothing left that had belonged to us. In those times, keep
in mind that poets were not well off. They worked for the nation,
not for themselves.
Most of the families who were repressed know the names of those
who turned in their parents. I'm not aware that my father was
betrayed by any one specific person. He was criticized a lot
in general. There were many critics who complained about other
poets and other writers. For example, Mustafa Guliyev wrote many
critical articles about various poets such as Ahmad Javad, Mikayil
Mushfig and Seyid Husein. Even Samad Vurghun wrote a poem against
my father: "I'm not Sabir; no, I'm not Javad, I'm their
enemy; I'm a stranger to them."
- the arrests, executions, imprisonments and exiles-not only
had a devastating impact upon the immediate families, but they
had a profound effect upon Azerbaijan as a nation. Wiping out
the activists, the brightest thinkers and the most perceptive
minds of the nation is the equivalent of destroying the entire
son of poet Ahmad Javad who was killed in 1937
Samad Vurghun used to criticize
father's poem Goygol. Later on, Vurghun's brother Gara wrote
in his memoirs that Vurghun had once said: "In those times
I was obliged to criticize Ahmad Javad's Goygol, but that poem
is a real work of art."
Suleyman Rustam also used to criticize my father, writing articles
attacking him: "Let Ahmad Javad tell us by which winds he
sends his poems to Turkey to be published." In those times,
you dared not talk about other countries, especially Turkey.
The KGB would find out and use it as evidence against you.
My father's poems were published in Turkey. Actually, I think
that's the primary reason why he was arrested in 1937. You weren't
allowed to have ties with anybody or any country outside of the
Soviet Union. But all of these informers have since passed on.
In my opinion, their children who are still living today cannot
be held responsible for the crimes of their fathers.
The repressions - the arrests, executions, imprisonments and
exiles - not only had a devastating impact upon the immediate
families, but they had a profound effect upon Azerbaijan as a
nation. Wiping out the activists, the brightest thinkers and
the most perceptive minds of the nation is the equivalent of
destroying the entire nation.
My father was rather young when he died - only 45 years old.
But he had led a very active life. He had translated Shakespeare's
Othello, as well as Romeo and Juliet. A letter that he sent to
the Azerbaijani poet Mikayil Mushvig, who also was killed in
Stalin's purges, reads: "I have already switched to doing
translations, but they still keep criticizing me." So, he
had tried to thwart off their attacks by concentrating on translating
the classics rather than expressing his own opinions, but still
it didn't save him.
He also translated some of the works of Pushkin, Lermontov, Gorki
and Tolstoy from Russian into Azeri. My father simply could not
accept the fact that we had to live under someone else's governance.
He wanted independence for our country. He supported the idea
of integrity of all Turkic people (Turan).
Prior to the Bolshevik takeover in Baku , my father had
been the secretary of a charity organization founded by Baku
millionaires to assist Turks who were suffering the consequences
of World War I. Their main office was in Batumi [Georgia] but
they also had a second office in Trabzon [Turkey]. My father
directed the Batumi office devoting all his energy to this charity
organization. They would go to various villages and towns, assisting
the poor with money, food, clothing and necessities. Basically,
they were philanthropists. The writer Ali Sabri, headed the Trabzon
office, and later was repressed, just like my father.
Loyal Mother Shukruyya
My mother's name was Shukruyya. She was the daughter of the Ajarian
Duke, Suleyman Bejan oghlu. My father and my mother were married
in 1916. Actually my mother's parents were against their marriage,
so my mother ran off with my father.
In 1937 when many people were being arrested and shot, the wives
who had three or more children were offered the chance to divorce
their husbands and not be sent into exile. The officials made
this offer to my mother Shukruyya as well, but she refused. For
her, the only thing worse than divorcing Ahmad Javad would be
to learn that he had been shot. Since she had gone against her
parents' will in marrying him, she vowed never to divorce him.
And thus, because of her firm position, they sent her into exile
for 8.5 years despite the fact that they had killed him almost
immediately. She was assigned to a camp in Kazakhstan, by the
name of Aljir.
In 1937 when my father was arrested, they also arrested my three
brothers: Niyazi (1918- ), Aydin (1921-) and Tukay (1923- ),
too, and accused them of being children of an "Enemy of
the People". Niyazi and Aydin stayed here in Baku. Tukay,
who was only 13 at the time, was sent to the Juvenile Colony
for delinquent children in Stalingrad. Myself - I was sent to
an orphanage associated with the NKVD headquarters. I was the
youngest prisoner there. I was only one year old.
I stayed there at the orphanage for a while but then I became
very ill. My grandmother (my father's mother) and my older brother
came and begged to take me home because no one was actually paying
much attention to me at the orphanage.
So that's how I ended up living with my grandmother. After her
death, I moved in with some of our other relatives. World War
II broke out and my brothers volunteered for the front. My older
brother Niyazi, after being released from prison, was accepted
at the Economics Institute in Leningrad. But when the war started,
he, too, joined the army. He had been interrogated and tortured
by the secret police five times. Somehow he survived all that
and returned to the university, where they attacked him for not
disclosing that he was an "Enemy of the People" when
he was applying to become a member of the Communist Party. After
writing to the authorities, my brother eventually did gain Party
I wss so young back then that I didn't really understand much
about the difficulties that our family was facing. I could sense
that some of our relatives were trying to avoid us because of
the stigma of being associated with our family, but there were
also others who took care of us and provided physical and moral
In 1955, upon finishing secondary school, I wanted to apply to
the Law Faculty at Azerbaijan State University, but I couldn't
get accepted because my parents had been accused of being "Enemies
of the People". This was before their names had been cleared
and they had been "rehabilitated". So I applied to
the Azerbaijan Oil Institute.
In 1956 when my parents were rehabilitated, I transferred to
the Law Faculty at Azerbaijan State University. From childhood,
I had always wanted to be a lawyer. Of course, my father had
already been dead 18 years when they cleared him of any criminal
behavior and "rehabilitated" his name.
Left: Shukriyya, daughter of an Ajarian Duke, who ran
off together with Azerbaijani poet Ahmad Javad in 1916 because
her parents objected to the marriage. They had five children
and so she was given the chance to divorce Javad and dissociate
herself with him. When she refused, she was sentenced eight years
in exile. Her three oldest children were also arrested and the
youngest, Yilmaz, age one, was sent to an orphanage. Ahmad Javad
was shot in 1937.
When mother finally
returned from exile 8.5 years later, she didn't want to talk
about her experiences there. It's understandable.
She wanted to forget those days. Keep in mind that my mother
was a very proud, strong woman. Even while she was in exile so
far away from home, she had a strong influence over her three
sons who were fighting in the war. She would send them letters
and tell them what to do and how to cope with difficulties. She
used to tell them that they should work hard, be honest, and
prove that their father was not an "Enemy of the People".
Mother worked in a labor camp - sewing clothes for the soldiers.
They used to work 16 hours a day because they knew that their
efforts strengthened the soldiers at the war front. For her,
that meant everything because she had three sons at war.
During those 8.5 years when she was imprisoned in Kazakhstan,
we were never allowed to go and visit her. We used to write her
letters, which today are kept in my mother's personal fund in
Azerbaijan's National Archives.
Actually, these very tragic things affected my life in a very
profound way. Obviously, if these things had not happened to
my mother and father, my life would have turned out to be very
different. I'm convinced that people who have not suffered and
dealt with difficulties in their life can never excel in any
field - especially in fields that deal with human life and human
Those people who have never had to cope with difficult situations
in their lives, usually come and go, and don't leave a trace
of their existence in the world.
Becoming a Lawyer
From early youth, I had always wanted to become a lawyer. In
a way, it makes sense that I would dedicate my life to justice
since my mother and father had been at the mercy of such a corrupt
legal system. I studied hard and succeeded in becoming a lawyer,
and later a judge.
I served as a member of the Azerbaijan Supreme Court for 10 years.
During that period, I often had to make decisions about whether
people who had been convicted of crimes should be given a death
sentence or not. Whenever I was faced with such a decision, I
used to work on it for hours and hours. I always researched the
issues as thoroughly as I could and tried to probe into the reasons
why the crime had been committed. Who was really at fault? Who
was guilty? Were the parents guilty? Was society guilty? I am
proud to say that during those 40 years while working in the
legal profession, none of my decisions were ever annulled. From
that point of view, the repressions affected my life in a positive
Above: Ahmad Javad's family (left): Niyazi,
Wife Shukriyya, daughter Almas, Ahmad Javad, Aydin and Tukay,
1933. The author Yilmas was born in 1936 and was one year old
when tragedy befell his family.
What is the legacy of Stalin's repressions in Azerbaijan? Every
family in Azerbaijan has suffered from the repressions. There's
not a single family who escaped untouched by these terrible purges
- fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins.
Everybody had someone close who had been repressed. Every person
who saw and witnessed these things was profoundly affected. Repressions
broke some people, utterly destroying them. Others became stronger.
It really all depended upon the particular personality and character.
Although my father Ahmad Javad was repressed three times, he
never gave in. He fought to the end. My mother always told us
that no matter where she was sent, she would never disassociate
herself from Ahmad Javad's path. Some people fight, some give
up, and some become destroyed. All the members of our immediate
family were repressed, but none of them became weak. None of
them succumbed to committing crimes or acquired bad addictions.
They all became heroes. My brothers returned from war and pursued
"In those times,
people did bend. They did yield. And in the process, they destroyed
themselves from within. A person must have principles, and he
must live according to those ideals."
-- Yilmaz Akhundzade,
son of poet Ahmad Javad who was killed in 1937
What is the meaning of this
term: "Enemy of the People"? How can a person be such.
And yet this is what the government accused millions of people
of being. And it was a very effective way to isolate the family
from its vast network of relationships. Other people were often
afraid to make any associations with the family when a member
was arrested-just at the time when the family needed more, not
One can be a friend of the people. One can love his nation. But
no one can be the "Enemy of the People". The term is
an artificial creation of Soviet ideology. Who can be the enemy
of his nation? No one. This term doesn't have an analog anywhere
in the world.
Such situation created an atmosphere of extreme tension and fear.
In those times, people were even afraid to talk about politics
or the government even in their own home, even among members
of their own family. Today, there is still evidence of these
things in some people's characters. Now we are free and the most
valuable asset of independence is that people are able to express
their thoughts and feelings freely. In his poem "Mountains"
Ahmad Javad wrote: "Don't bend down mountains, Those who
bend, won't live, they'll die."
In those times, people did bend. They did yield. And in the process,
they destroyed themselves from within. A person must have principles,
and he must live according to those ideals. One has to be strong
and fight for his rights. There will always be problems; one
must find a way to cope with them.
Our fathers who founded the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic grew
up under very difficult conditions but if they had not struggled
for our freedom then, this nation would not exist today. If those
people had not established the republic, then Azerbaijan would
have been divided into many pieces and been absorbed into Armenia,
Russia, Georgia and Iran. Azerbaijan would have become a little
village. But those people dared to announce to the world that
such a State as Azerbaijan exists. They established that entity,
printed money, tried to establish an infrastructure - an education
system, university, army, and industry. Then they had to turn
it over to Russia.
Russians accepted our nation as a state and kept our republic
in tact until the end. It's true that they gave our nation a
lot of grief during those 70 years; but at the same time, they
helped us keep our independence during those years. We had our
own language, literature, Academy of Sciences, writers. I'm not
talking about the ideology of our writers, but at least we did
What do I think about Stalin? To me, he's the "No. 1 Enemy
of the People". How can a person with only elementary education
govern a country of 300 million people? It's so difficult to
solve any problem on a governmental level even when the person
is ten times smarter than Marx. How did Stalin manage to hold
the people together?
He couldn't. That's why he killed so many of them. He had to
kill the intelligentsia so he could rule the uneducated. He had
only one way - to kill and destroy. And so he ruled by brute
force. Half of Azerbaijan was in prison. I'm not even talking
about those who were sent to Siberia. Obviously, those who dared
to raise their head were arrested or shot.
The people weren't able to stop Stalin. Maybe if everyone had
united together, they could have done something, but the people
who surrounded Stalin were also villains. Even the wives of Molotov
and Gaganovich - Stalin's colleagues - were put in prison. What
kind of leadership would do that? Only a criminal can do such
And Mir Jafar Baghirov? To me, he's even worse than Stalin. Baghirov
was not able to do anything against Stalin. He either had to
destroy himself, or work with Stalin. He had not other choice.
In the administrative offices around Baghirov there was no single
Azerbaijani - they were all Armenians and Georgians - Grigoryan,
Markaryan, Barshov, Yemilianov, Toparidze. These were the people
who were determining the fates of Azerbaijani people. They had
a quota on how many people to send into exile and to kill. They
had to fulfill that plan. If fewer had been killed in Azerbaijan,
then an order would have come from Moscow saying, "You are
not denouncing a sufficient number of the "Enemies of the
These days some people defend Baghirov and say that despite the
tens of thousands who were killed, he saved the Azerbaijani nation
from being exiled to Siberia. But I don't believe that. There
is no proof. Let those people provide the evidence - the proof
- that Baghirov actually did save our nation. Show me those documents.
Show me Baghirov's signature.
Stalin was such a determined person that, no one under any condition
could make him change his mind or go back on his word if he had
already determined to do something. It would have been impossible.
So I am not convinced that Azerbaijanis were saved from being
sent en masse to Central Asia by Baghirov. No, basically, he
conscientiously carried out the will of Stalin. That's all.
Ahmad Javad's Poetry:
Who am I?
I Won't Remain Silent
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