Azerbaijan International

Spring 2006 (14.1)
Page 15

Always, Voices Will Ring Out
Editorial: Azerbaijan's Literature of
Stalin's Repressions
by Betty Blair

The West likes to pride itself as being the catalyst that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. Clever strategizing on their part, they insist, is what precipitated the downfall of this gigantic behemoth, making them "the winners" in the Cold War that had raged for nearly half a century. The U.S. media still glorifies President Ronald Reagan for his hard-line stance against Moscow's government and for his calculated arms race, which, they claim led to the inevitable bankruptcy of the USSR.

But Azerbaijanis and millions of others who lived in the Soviet Union at that time tell another story. They say that the Soviet system simply imploded in upon itself - as all rotten systems throughout history have done and will continue do. The Soviet Union disintegrated as a political force primarily because of tragic flaws inherent within the system, rather than from external pressures or influences. Essentially, the Soviet government - built primarily upon illusions, lies, injustices, lack of individual freedom, gross violations of human rights, and misunderstandings about human nature in relationship to the issue of ownership - disintegrated and putrefied from inside. And that's why people lost confidence and belief in the system, which hastened the process.

So, what does all of this have to do with this issue of our magazine that features the small body of recent Azerbaijani literature describing Stalin's repressions, and which is being published here in English for the first time in the nation's history?

Simply put, if the citizens had truly been aware of the extent of the horrors and injustices that were taking place, and had taken a stand against them; undoubtedly, the country would have collapsed much sooner.

Anne Applebaum in her Pulitzer prize-winning history "Gulag" writes: "In the course of the Soviet Union's existence, at least 476 distinct camp complexes came into being comprising thousands of individual camps, each of which contained anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of people (page 4).

Did the Soviet people ever imagine that the Gulag was so huge? Had people not been so isolated, and had the consequences of sharing such knowledge not been so life threatening, you can be sure that the Soviet Union would have collapsed long before President Reagan could ever have laid claim to such fame.

One wonders if there had been an Internet in place at the time, even under tight surveillance, whether the Soviet Union would not have succumbed much earlier. Could it really have survived nearly half a century more after Stalin's death if the real truth had been known?

As Aydin Vahidov observed: "The greatest thing we gained from Stalin was our thirst for freedom." Seven years Aydin labored in exile simply because during his university years he belonged to a group advocating the right to use Azeri in official public discourse. [Search AI 13.4, Winter 2005].

So how did the Soviet Union manage to keep this sinking ship afloat for so long? The literature describing the repressions during Stalin's era provides insight into this phenomenon which essentially consisted of intimidating and inducing fear among the populace. Based on the scant literature that has emerged in Azerbaijan and from the 20 or so interviews that we did in preparation of these past two issues of the magazine, certain patterns emerge that show how effective Stalin was in countering any opposition to his clutch of power. If one were to write an instruction manual based on this literature, describing the techniques they used, it might look like this:

Instruction Manual for Stalin's would-be Secret Police
1. Select a victim. Any person will do, especially when there are quotas to meet. After all, it's easy to concoct and manipulate the "facts" to convict anyone.

Be especially on the lookout for dissident voices - those who have the tendency to be outspoken, especially the intelligentsia. Be alert for those who have mastered language and symbols. Writers are more dangerous than artists and musicians. (Azerbaijan Writers' Union identifies nearly 30 writers who were executed or who died in exile).

If possible, find a way to utilize artistic people for your own propaganda purposes. It's also permissible to target individuals against whom you hold personal grudges, or of whom you are jealous. Don't forget women who have tried to fend off your sexual advances.

2. Surprise the victim. Show up under the cloak of darkness, around 2 to 3 a.m. in one of those notorious black cars, known as "Black Ravens". In the wee hours of the morning, the victim and his family are easily disoriented and confused, making it less likely that you'll meet with resistance. It also reduces the possibility of neighbors witnessing the scene or rushing to assist.

Alternatively, you can target victims at work or at school in broad daylight. The trick is to persuade them to act like you are closest of buddies, and to walk right through the crowd together. Surprisingly, you'll find most of them quite compliant. You can lead them like a lamb.

3. If you arrest someone at his residence, ransack the place. Psychologically, it is very unsettling to watch someone pilfer through your belongings. Confiscate anything that looks suspicious or which could be used as "evidence" against him.

4. Understand that trials are mere mockeries. A "troika" of three judges can accuse a victim of anything, especially when the accused person is not present at his own trial. You can count on family members not being there either; you don't have to inform them of the date of the legal proceedings. "Trials" rarely last beyond five to ten minutes. Victims who do not agree with the verdict before hand almost always will give in and sign anything when they are tortured.

5. While victims are in custody, forbid or, at least, limit communication between them and their loved ones. Soldiers captured on enemy territory during the war are totally forbidden to write home for the duration of their exile, which is usually eight years or more. For others, the rules may vary. At some camps, allow free reign, or restrict communication to one letter per month, or two letters per year. Of course, all correspondence will be read and censored prior to being sent out. In certain locations, where translators of minor languages are difficult to find, demand that all communication be done in Russian, even if the victim is uneducated and doesn't know Russian.

6. Forbid diaries or even notes. For example, years later, Azerbaijani writer Ahmad Jafarzade admitted to penning down some of his ideas: "While in the prison camp [Siberia, 1953-1956], I found a piece of paper and from time to time, I would write down my thoughts with a small pen that I hid between the padding of my quilted cotton jacket. As it was impossible to write in the camp, I would write in the forest while cutting trees, or digging in the permafrost or traveling by train. I then hid my notes inside my blanket. I so much wanted to send my writings out..."

7. Regarding families that are left behind. If necessary, evict the remaining members of the family from their home so that they will be stripped of their familiar surroundings and basic essentials for life.

8. Demonize your victim. Brand him as an "Enemy of the People". Ostracize and shame him. Threaten others who attempt to aid or even associate with such scum and their families, including their children. This technique is very effective in a society, which is totally dependent on social networks as their lifeline - relatives and friends. Create an atmosphere of fear. The more you intimidate, the more power you hold.

9. Reduce economic possibilities. Create such a stigma around those who are arrested, executed, exiled or imprisoned so that other family members, relatives or associates fear for their own position and jobs. Plant obstacles in the path of the children as they try to pursue higher education or a promising career path.

10. Spare no pains in breaking up the institution of marriage and family. If a husband is repressed, don't stop there. Go ahead and arrest the wife, too. Don't allow the spouse to gain communal support or sympathy. If the woman has two or more children, give her the option of divorcing her husband so that she can clear her name and stay to care for her children. Make it look as if she has a choice. If she stubbornly resists and insists on remaining married, pack her off to prison or exile for a minimum of eight years. Drop off her kids at an orphanage. That's why we have such institutions.

11. As the children, especially the boys, become old enough - like 18 or so - arrest them, too. This can take place months or even years after the father has been arrested. Don't send these youth off to war, even if they beg to go because the conditions in the camps are even less tolerable than the front line. A child of an "Enemy of the People" cannot be trusted. He could sabotage war efforts.

12. Reward those who report and spy on others. Praise Pioneers such as Pavlik Morosov, a lad of 14, who denounced his own father to Stalin's secret police. Encourage everyone to report suspicious behavior or any "counter-revolutionary activities" that they see for the good and protection of the nation. Make people afraid to confide in one another. Break the generational continuity so that parents don't share knowledge even with their children.

13. Among Turkic-speaking peoples, such as Azerbaijanis, Turkmen, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, Tartars and others (groups which just happen to be traditionally Muslim in the Soviet Union), confound relationships by introducing a new alphabet. Insist that everyone write with the new script (Cyrillic instead of a modified Latin or Arabic script). Make Russian the official language. Rusify the education system. Block career paths unless citizens achieve fluency.

14. Prisoners who survive their sentences in prison or hard-labor camps may be given additional sentences.

15. Prisoners who become too ill or who don't recover from torture sessions may be released to go home. Let them die there.

16. Forbid prisoners who have been released from settling back in major metropolitan centers, even if that is the only home that they've ever known. For example, don't let prisoners settle back in Baku (there were some exceptions to this rule).Allow only 24 hours for prisoners to greet family and friends and make arrangements to move at least 101 kilometers distance from such centers. This will break social networks and discourage people from sharing and confiding about personal experiences.

17. Forbid the publication of any memoir or literary work, which admits to, or reveals, the nature of the Gulag prison system.

Climate of Fear
And on and on. Did these practices succeed in intimidating the public? You bet they did. Why else would no single memoir appear, at least in Azerbaijan, for nearly 45 years after Stalin's death? Only after the Soviet Union dissolved have a few volumes surfaced. But, by then, most prisoners had died, or had moved on with their lives and didn't want to be reminded of that black page in history. Inevitably, memories fade.

To our knowledge, only one work - a novel - was published in Azeri during the Soviet period. Mehdi Husein wrote "Underground Waters Flow Into the Sea" (Yeralti Chaylar Daniza Akhir, 1966) based upon some of the life experiences of Samaya Huseinova. Page 94.

Mehdi gave an account of life in exile four years after Solzhenitsyn came out with his Nobel Prize-winning work, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich". As ironic as it may sound, Khrushchev supported Solzhenitsyn in the publication of "One Day" in order to elevate himself politically and to discredit Stalin. And despite Solzhenitsyn's fame, not a single other work of his about the camps was ever published until 1990 when the Soviet Union was beginning to crumble.

There aren't many memoirs about the Gulag prison experiences written by Azerbaijanis. We suspect you can count them on the fingers of your two hands, and just barely. Absolutely nothing has been translated into English to our knowledge except for our own work in Azerbaijan International magazine [Search and].

Azeri Repression Literature Since Independence

However, the literature that we found does provide valuable insight into the conditions of the camps, and life in Baku and the villages at that time.

In 1991, Azerbaijani writer Murtuz Sadikhli came out with "Memory of Blood" (Qan Yaddashi) describing the mass deportation of his family and nearly 2,000 others from villages in Nakhchivan. Page 76.

In 1993, the late Ziya Bunyadov, Academician and Member of Parliament, shocked Azerbaijanis with "Red Terror" (Qirmizi Terror). Bunyadov was the first person ever to do research about Stalin's repressions in Baku's KGB archives.

Mirza Baghirov then published his father's memoirs, which had been penned in the 1970s about the Siberian camps at Kolyma. Ayyub Baghirov's "Bitter Days in Kolyma" (Gorkiye Dni Na Kolime, Russian, 1999). Page 62.

Then Gumral Sadigzade published "My Unfortunate Brother" (Manim Nakam Gardashim, 2002) about Jighatay, who passed away at age 24 after becoming ill with chronic diseases in a labor brigade in Dagestan.

After the death of Shukur Habibzade, his wife Sayyara quite unexpectedly discovered a somewhat fictionalized prison memoir among his manuscripts. She edited and published it as "Reformatory House" (Islah Evi, 2003). Page 88.

The same year the Jafarzades came out with "We Jafarzades" (Biz Jafarzadalar, 2003), which included memoirs of Ahmad who had been exiled in Kolyma. Pages 24, 32, 37.

In 2005, Gumral Sadigzade's husband, Aydin Huseinzade edited "Independence Poet Ummugulsum" (Istiglal Shairi Ummugulsum). This is primarily a collection of the letters between Gumral's mother Ummugulsum and her four children and the niece who was caring for them. Page 52.

So Few Memoirs Published
Relatively, speaking, there truly are not many published memoirs that came out of the Gulag experience, not only from Azerbaijan, but from across the entire Soviet Union, especially when one considers that, perhaps, as many as 20-30 million people were subject to these unjust cruelties.

Go to any Western university library such as UCLA (University of California - Los Angeles) and compare the number of memoirs in English that have been written about the Gulag of the Soviet Union with the Holocaust in Germany. You're likely to be surprised how few Gulag memoirs there are. When it comes to Azerbaijan, there's nothing.

The greatest defense private citizens have against the onslaught of a cruel and troubled world is the shield of truth. It's like a psychological flak jacket. And each personal memoir adds to this armor. Each description of what the situation was really like strengthens the resolve of readers to stand against injustices. And, in turn, each person armed with truth becomes part of the defense against the barrage of lies that enable such horrific behavior and abuse to take place.

It seems throughout the course of history, voices will always ring out - voices that are lucid, eloquent and credible. As kids, they used to tell us: "Truth will out!" It seems they were right.

If truth always does win out, then we are left with only one major concern: "When?" and "How long does it take to form a choir?" Every memoir, every poem, every short story, every novel, every drama, documenting the truth of human experience becomes part of this life-embracing, death-defying process.

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