Spring 2006 (14.1)
Mass Deportation to Siberia
"No More Tears Left to Cry"
Murtuz Sadikhli (1927-1997)
passages that follow are based on the true-life experiences of
the author - Murtuz Sadikli - and his family as described in
the book - Qan Yaddashi (Memory of Blood). Murtuz was eight years
old in 1937 when his entire family was exiled from the Nus-Nus
village in the Ordubad region of Nakhchivan - the non-contiguous
part of Azerbaijan separated by Armenia - to a sparsely populated
region in Kazakhstan near the Chinese border. The journey took
39 days with the prisoners stuffed into railroad cars under nightmarish
Documents indicate that during the 10 - day period between August
5-15, there were 1,957 people in Nakhchivan arrested and exiled.
Murtuz was one of an estimated 70,000 Azerbaijanis who experienced
the horrors and injustices of life in exile during Stalin's regime
[mid 1920s to 1953].
In 1991 - a few years before his death - Murtuz published the
bitter memories from his diary as "Memory of Blood".
The eight other family members who were exiled along with Murtuz
in 1937 included Grandfather Rezagulu (1863-1941), Grandmother
Gulsum (1867-1966), Uncle Hamid (1918-1989), Father Zeynal (1903-1991),
Mother Firuza (1906-1987), older brother Yusif (1925-1998), himself
- Murtuz (1929-1995), and his younger brothers Sadikh (1934-)
and Razi (1937 - he died that year in infancy). The family returned
to Azerbaijan in 1953 only after Stalin's death.
Sadikhli's book - Qan Yaddashi (Memory of Blood) Baku: Yazichi
Press, 1991, 208 pages. ISBN: 5-560-00693-9. These passages appear
for the first time in English. Translated from Azeri into English
by Aisha Jabbarova. Edited by Betty Blair.
For a description of the harrowing journey from Nakhchivan to
Kazakhstan (the first chapter of Murtuz' book), see "Exile
to Kazakhstan: Stalin's Repression of 1937" by Murtuz Sadikhli.
AI 7.3 (Autumn 1999).
We - more than 40 families - were settled into the attic of a
long building. First, my father carried our things up there.
Finally, we climbed up the narrow ladder. It was so dark up there.
And there in the darkness, we went to bed with hungry stomachs
- without any tea or bread. My eyes were closing anyway. I don't
even remember why I was so tired.
Today when I think back on our situation, even the thought of
40 families stuffed into the attic of that grain warehouse horrifies
me. How were the girls and young brides who had followed the
rules of Shariat [Islamic law] all their lives ever able to tolerate
this? This meant covering themselves with veils in the presence
of men who were not family members, and never taking off their
"The only person
who seemed not to have changed was my grandfather who still managed
to smile at us every morning and tell us fairy tales, which always
ended with brave men being victorious. But he, too, must have
been suffering inside and just appeared to be happy to keep our
- Murtuz Sadikhli,
from "Memory of Blood", reflecting on his childhood
when his entire family was exiled to Siberia.
I woke again in the wee hours
of the morning. My God! How many rats and bats! Apparently those
creatures pitied us that first night. They did not gnaw away
at anybody's mouth or nose. It wasn't worth getting angry. We
had not been brought there to have fun. Even the Commandant himself
had referred to us, saying: "In the worst scenario, they
will die, so let them die. Let the world lose 100,000 Turks.
It doesn't matter. Anyway, they breed quickly."
The Commandant was afraid that our number would increase. He
was obsessed with the thought that one day Turks would unite
and oppose the government. He even thought that Turks were able
to find a place to run away. Later I discovered that we were
30 km from the Chinese border.
But in the attic, torn sacks were lying all around. There were
rats - each one bigger than the other - behaving like domestic
cats. They were even coming up to us. They weren't afraid.
The mice used to snuggle together at the foot of our mattresses.
Moonlight would appear through the small door in the attic. That's
when I could begin to understand how many inhabitants there were
in the attic in addition to my family. Bats would fly in and
out of the door like bees.
The older people organized to clean up the attic. Under my grandfather's
instructions, one group of women cleaned the attic. The rest
began the preparations to bake lavash - thin flat bread.
Despite the fact that people had no furniture, at least they
had brought some kitchen utensils - a concave metal disk on which
to bake the lavash, and a samovar. And there was some flour and
Very soon the kettles were boiling, the samovar was smoking,
and some fires were made in the yard. That's where the women
did the most essential work. Some were making dough, some were
roasting meat, and some were cutting noodles. I don't know why,
but this scene reminded me of wedding preparations back in our
Again the men were called away somewhere. After a while, we discovered
that the Commandant had called them in order to divide them into
brigades so that everybody could start to work the very next
day. Everyone was assigned a task according to his age and strength.
The youth were assigned to load and unload things, including
water. Two of the men were quite pleased with their assignment.
They had to bring water from wells and carry it in wheelbarrows
to those who were working on the farm and in the fields. My grandfather
was assigned as a guard.
Only one of our people returned late from Commandant's place.
My grandfather told us that there was something fishy about that
man. He had warned everybody to be cautious and not speak openly
in his presence.
turned out, grandfather was right. The Commandant had appointed
him to a position under him and had given him a horse. It turned
out that many people were victims of that man's treachery. After
all, he knew how to undermine each of us.
Settlement of prisoners
In the spring of 1937, we were told that we would have to move.
The new place, which was situated in the outskirts of the sovkhoz
[From Russian (Sovetskoe khoziaistvo), a Soviet state-owned farm,
in contrast with kolkhoz, which is a collectively-owned farm]
settlement, was like a basement. Someone had emptied out all
of the furniture.
Left: Murtuz Sadikhli (sitting on the
floor to the right) with his family, one month before they were
exiled to Kazakhstan near the Chinese border in August 1937.
Nine family members were gathered and hauled off in railroad
boxcars, including his grandfather and grandmother. The family
was from the Nus-Nus village of Nakhchivan. The trip took 39
The walls were damp. There was only a little light inside. We
cleared the place of cockroaches and bugs, and then scrubbed
it down. We even whitewashed it, but we couldn't get rid of the
mice. It's true that mice are not as horrible as rats, but still
they made us feel queasy.
Anyway, we had no choice but to sign a "peace agreement"
with the mice - for three months. Scarcely had we made an agreement
with them and started to feel a bit comfortable when we were
informed that we would have to move again.
For the first time in my life, I was preoccupied with uneasy
thoughts. We had been forced to leave our country [Nakhchivan],
so why didn't they leave us alone?! Why did they turn us out
from attic to basement, and then back again to an attic?!
Even my father and mother got depressed. Their personalities
started to change. They didn't pay as much attention to us children
any more to understand what was going on with us - like, what
we were eating and how we were getting along. It was as if such
things just didn't even occur to their minds.
The only person who seemed not to have changed was my grandfather.
He was still smiling at us every morning and telling us fairy
tales, which always ended with brave men being victorious. But
he, too, must have been suffering inside and just appearing to
be happy in order to keep our spirits high. Only God knows how
much he suffered or as we say, "How black was the blood
that was flowing inside him."
It seems to me that these thoughts about moving were totally
pre-occupying and torturing me - like, I was saying good-bye
to childhood. I wasn't yet nine years old.
All these things convinced me that there was no such thing as
truth in the world. My own world consisted only of my family
members and me. And the world outside consisted of two kinds
of people: those who oppressed, and those who were oppressed.
It seemed to me that the world had created such villains just
so that they could oppress humble people. Of course, I didn't
realize that there were millions of people like us in the world,
and that the villains' troubles were no less than ours. You see,
they were also overwhelmed with fear because they also had children,
relatives and dear ones.
There were a number of farms, located three to four kilometers
away from the settlement. In one of those farms a very terrible
accident took place. Though half a century has past since it
happened, I still get frightened and my hair stands on end when
I think back on it.
One family from the Shakur region of Nakhchivan lived there.
The head of the family was an uncommunicative man of about 40,
45. He was hard working. He loved his family. He was greatly
respected by his neighbors and he understood agriculture well.
B's younger son came running to our barracks. His eyes were full
of tears. He burst out crying: "My mother has been murdered!"
And then he ran off. Some of the men ran after him, following
him back to the farm. We followed, too. No one was in the yard,
but there was the acrid smell of the burnt meat in the air. We
called out to the residents, but there was no reply. Who could
have thought what was burning in tandir [an oven which was built
outside of bricks and mud and shaped like a beehive]? No one
paid any attention to the black smoke with its sickening odor.
We went inside the cabin. The head of the family was sitting
there leaning against the wall. His hands were trembling. Blood
had splattered on his hands and face. He was in a daze, oblivious
to everything around him. He didn't recognize anyone. With great
difficulty, the men tied his hands and feet.
Everybody kept looking for the body of the dead woman. They searched
in the attic, the sheep pen, the orchard. It never occurred to
anyone to look inside the tandir.
Whatever had happened between that man and his wife, no one knew.
But it was clear that the man had lost his mind. Life had become
so unbearable that he had gone crazy. Why else would he have
killed the mother of his children? Shortly afterwards, he was
seated in a car being taken to the district center. His hands
and feet tied. We never saw him again. The number of people who
became mentally ill was on the rise. Some of them even committed
B's orphaned children moved into our barracks. We sheltered and
looked after them. Later, we learned more of the story from one
of his children: "After my father had taken an axe and hacked
my mom to pieces, he lunged at us, trying to kill us. We hid.
From behind the fence, we watched him drag mother's body out
of the house, shove her into the tandir, fill it with wood and
set it on fire."
I can talk for a long time about the days we spent in the barracks.
Actually, this place was a palace compared to the attic and basement
where we had stayed before. But it also had its disadvantages.
The bugs were eating us alive, especially during the numbing
frosts of the winter months. It was impossible to heat the room.
Bugs would multiply as soon as you heated the room.
We used to burn coal. The room would be filled with the fumes
from the coal that we burned in our homemade stove. Many people,
especially Azerbaijanis, died from those coal fumes. They weren't
used to coal, having never used it for heating before. How could
they know how to handle it? The bugs never came out as long as
our lamp was burning. But the minute it was turned off, those
bloodsuckers started crawling all over us. That's why we tried
not to switch the lamp off. My father didn't like that. I used
to see how father would come from work so tired, and then turn
around and run to work early the next morning.
"By the autumn
of 1944 not a single old man from the Caucasus was still alive.
Those old people carried with them the traditions of our nation
to the other world. Those old people were the strings - so precarious
and fragile - that tied us to our past. I don't remember when
the last old man died or where we buried him."
- Murtuz Sadikhli,
from "Memory of Blood", reflecting on his childhood
when his entire family was exiled to Siberia.
Had it been our decision, we
would never have gone to bed simply because of those bugs. Mother
forced us to crawl under the blanket. We used to wake up at least
once each evening and beg mother to light the lamp and take revenge
on our enemies. But she usually rejected our pleas. In order
not to awaken father, she would whisper from under the blanket:
"What kind of men are you? Afraid of bugs?" She would
point to my father and say: "Isn't he a human being, too?
But he doesn't say a word."
Those two statements were enough to make us tolerate the situation,
to sleep in the company of bugs, scratch our skin until morning,
and run to school so sleepy the next day.
We didn't know how to get rid of the bugs. We used to clean the
floor and beds with paraffin and throw hot water on them. Nothing
worked. It was the middle of the winter. The temperature was
-30 degrees C (-22 F). Some said that we should leave the doors
open for 10 to 12 hours to kill the bugs. My grandfather convinced
them that keeping the door open would not only kill the bugs,
but the children as well.
Partitions between the rooms were made of plywood but they were
full of cracks. I could hear my neighbors' snores - well, not
just snores. The disgusting stench coming from the other rooms
made your head spin. How could we blame the women? How could
we tell them to take their children outside in -30 degree weather
just to go to the toilet? There was only one toilet located a
distance of 100 meters from the barracks. People used to stand
in a long queue in front of it. Everybody, even our "God"
Yudin used to have to wait his turn.
We were living like that because we were condemned to live that
way. What could we do? To make a long story short, we who had
been exiled had reconciled ourselves to such a life. The bloodsucker
commandant Yudin was even more ruthless than the bloodsucker
bugs. Since we tolerated Yudin, we had to tolerate the bugs,
But the men kept dying off in the process. A year and a half
later, most of the men above the age of 50 had passed away in
that foreign land. Almost all of them had died suddenly. This
was very strange. My grandmother used to say: "The hurricane
of fate blew out the men, just like candles. "What to do?
Their graves are left in Kazakh lands. May they rest in peace.
The hardships that began at 7 o'clock in the morning didn't end
until long after the sun set. That was the way we passed those
days, months and years.
Nothing changed for us in 1944. Like the others who were living
there in exile, we were all subordinate to Yudin, the commandant.
As a state official, he had the authority to do anything that
he wanted. Everything - even our fate - was in his hands. The
director of the sovkhoz, old Kazakh Semirechye, had merely a
formal title, no authority. Most of the brigade leaders were
men who had been exiled there in the middle of the 1930s.
Commandant Yudin was like a wild animal. He had broad ruddy face
and thin eyelashes. His eyes pierced like thorns. They said that
nearly every day he would walk from one end of the village to
the other, peeping in at the doors to see what the "Enemies
of the People" were talking about and to find out if they
were gathering together in the evenings. Anyway, he was suspicious
Everybody knew this about Yudin - the Kulaks [a pejorative term
extensively used in Soviet political language, originally referring
to relatively wealthy peaasants in the Russian Empire,] who owned
larger farms and used hired labor.
The peasantry was tenatively divided into three broad categories:
bednyaks (poor peasants), seredniaks (of medium wealth), and
kulaks (rich farmers). In addition, there was a category of batraks,
or landless agriculture workers for hire (farm hands).
After the Russian Revolution,
Bolsheviks considered only batraks and bednyaks as true allies
of the proletariat. Serednyaks were considered unreliable, "hesitating"
allies, and kulaks were seen as class enemies by definition.
At first, being a kulak cariied
no penalties, other than occasional mistrust from the Soviet
authorities. During the height of Stalinism, however, people
identified as kulaks were subjected to particularly harsh measures.
[Wikipedia, March 29, 2006] (wealthiest class of peasants), Turks,
German, Japanese "spies", "saboteurs", "Enemies
of the People" and those who were blamed for the assassination
of Kirov [Sergey Mironovich Kirov (1886-1934) was a Bolshevik
revolutionary and Soviet communist who was murdered, probably
by Stalin himself, but for which thousands were arrested and
sentenced] including Azerbaijanis, Russians, Ukrainians and Byelorussians.
In 1944, I was in the eighth grade. Our school was situated in
the center of the district. The shortest route was three km but
if we went by the highway, it was 6 km. When we walked to school,
the snow in the winter and mud in the autumn used to come up
to our knees.
There were just two of us. Other children our age had already
quit school. Some had dropped out after the fourth grade, some
after the sixth or seventh grade. School had only eight grades
so it was impossible to pursue further studies. Some parents
would say: "Why should our children study if they won't
be accepted into technical secondary schools? They won't even
be allowed to peep through the doors of the institutes. We weren't
even allowed to take driving courses. The auto school was located
in the center of the region about 30 km away.
But never in his life would Commandant Yudin agree to let the
children of "the Enemies of the People" go to the center
of the district. It was impossible to change his mind. All requests
were categorically refused with one sentence: "It's prohibited".
There was another reason why children my age weren't able to
continue their studies. It was so easy for them to expel us from
school. The teachers would give us bad marks and put our names
on the list of "weak pupils".
General education laws did not apply to the children of the "Enemies
of the People". So those children couldn't study language,
history, and geography; in short, any subjects closely related
to language. How could we learn a language? To study foreign
languages, one had to attend secondary school. Though we had
been living in the settlement for four to five years, most of
the children of my age couldn't even speak fluent Russian. And
they had forgotten their mother tongue as well. Their bad Russian
was of little use.
We studied in the Turkish class up to the middle of 1939. (Let
me mention that even one of the streets in our sovkhoz was called
Turk Street. In that street were living Azerbaijanis from Darband,
plus Avars, Tabasarans, Chechens, Byelorussians .
The only textbook that had been published in the Latin script
[In the 1920s, there was a movement adrift in Azerbaijan to rid
themselves of Arabic script. See Arabic or Latin? Reform from
the Price of a Battleship: Debates at the First Turkology Congress
hosted by Baku in 1926", AI 8.1 (Spring 2000). Search AZER.com]
was called Turk language. We were not yet aware that the Cyrillic
alphabet had become official for our languages.
We didn't know that there would be a transition from Latin to
Cyrillic in Azerbaijan. In our camp, there were Avars [a native
ethnic group living in the Caucasus], Chechens [constitute the
largest native ethnic group originating in the North Caucasus
region. [Wikipedia, March 29, 2006], Lezgis [are an ethnic group
who live mainly in southern Dagestan and northern Azerbaijan
who who speak the Lezgi language. [Wikipedia] March 29, 2006],
Tabasarans [Tabasaran language: Lezgi subfamily of the northeast
Caucasian languages. Tabassaran is an ergative language, remarkable
for its case system (nouns have about 48 cases). The verb system
is relatively simple; verbs agree with the noun in number, person
and (in certain dialects) class. [Wikipedia: March 29, 2006]
and three or four Azerbaijanis. The only memory I have related
to this international school was the photo that we had taken
I could understand all my lessons from school quite well. The
only thing I couldn't figure out was how the world could tolerate
all this injustice. Meanness was everywhere. You were humiliated
and outraged everywhere you went. Like our parents, we children
were not able to rid ourselves of the cruel burden of our fate.
Why? What had we done? What was our crime? I couldn't find answers
to these bewildering questions.
"The Human Being: The Term Sounds So Proud". Such slogans
were hanging around everywhere. You could hear songs about "The
People", "Homeland", "My Dear Homeland Is
Vast", "Stalin Is With Us", The Hero Timoshenko
[Semyon Timoshenko (1895-1970), Soviet military commander, who
led the war effort against Germany during the first years of
the war] Is With Us".
I used to think to myself why is it that this "dear one"
(the Homeland) wasn't helping us. Why had that "dear one"
scattered us across the wasteland of this vast country? I used
to ask myself thousands of such questions.
In fact, I used to be jealous of children my age, who had quit
school and stopped studying. It had been a long time since they
had read anything and had seen the children who lived in the
district. We didn't even have the right to leave this small territory,
which was only three to four km in diameter.
Map showing where the Sadikhli
family was exiled and forced to settle during Stalin's Repressions
in 1937. They were from a village in the Ordubadi region of Nakhchivan,
Azerbaijan, and were transported to Kirov, Kazakhstan (close
to the Chinese border). Nearly 2,000 villagers shared this fate
and were gathered up in the short period of August 5-15 that
year. The tortuous journey which took 39 days was made in cattlecars.
They were able to return to Azerbaijan only after Stalin's death
in 1953-16 years later.
I wanted so much for other Caucasian children to be in our class
with whom I could share my sorrow - to turn to when I felt troubled.
But the other children in the district could not understand me.
We had nothing in common. Our problems were different. There
was a time when I envied even the blind and stupid ones. They
didn't see or understand anything; therefore, they were not plagued
with these questions.
I don't even know how to explain my feelings during this period.
I caused a lot of trouble for my parents. That's why half a century
later, I still feel ashamed. For example, I remember once that
they had bought a new suit for me for the May holiday. I had
refused to wear it and told my parents: "The only thing
I want is to die."
Flushed with anger, my father had walked out of the room; my
mother had started to cry. My grandfather was not alive. But
I'm sure if he had been, he would not have beaten me, but rather
would have tried to find a way to my heart. He often used to
say: "Only a donkey should be beaten and then, only when
he is stubborn."
They say that even grief is like joy. They used to tell us that
God was fair and that He saw everything. They said that if He
could bear things, we also must bear up.
"A human being is born free!" "Human being"-how
proud this word sounds! I had read such things from books and
understood that such a concept of "human being" was
not the same as our people in the sovkhoz had been branded when
they called us - "Socially Dangerous Elements", abbreviated
as "SDE". But you had to control your feelings and
act like you didn't care about it, although you boiled inside
wanting to resolve these differences.
As a 15-year-old, I was seeing the world - not as an artist -
but as a photographer. Everything I saw wounded my pride as a
human being, broke my heart and poisoned my consciousness. I
grew up in the midst of all these the tragedies.
Above: Posters in Stalin's Era: (1) "For
People's Happiness!" (Za narodnoe schast'e!) by V. Ivanov
(1909-1968) in 1950. (2) "Long Live the Equal-Rights Woman
in the USSR, an Active Participant in the Administration of the
Nation's State, Economic, and Cultural Affairs!" (Da zdravstvuet
ravnopravnaia zhenshchina v SSSR, aktivnaia uchastnitsa v upravlenii
gosudarstvom, khoziaistvennymi i kul'turnymi delami strany!)
by M. Volkova and N. Pinus (1938). (3) "We'll Arrive at
Abundance" (Pridem k izobiliiu) by V. Ivanov (1949). (4)
"We'll overcome drought too" (I zasukhu pobedim), by
V. Govorkov (1949).
By 1944 the population in the settlement had nearly doubled.
During the first days of the war, exiles from Western Ukraine
and Byelorussia [Belarus] were brought to our settlement. There
were many Polish, and Polish Jews who had been deported from
Leningrad. Also there were many Estonians and Latvians, along
with the soldiers who had fought in the Great Patriotic War [World
Fifty-four Balkar [a Turkic people of the Caucasus. In 1944,
Stalin accused the Balkars of Cabardino-Balkaria of collaborating
with Nazi Germany and deported the entire population. The territory
was renamed the Kabardin ASSR until 1957, when the Balkar population
was allowed to return and its name was restored. Wikipedia, April
3, 2006] families were settled into our clubhouse in the spring
of 1944. Only God knows how so many families were able to live
in such a tight space. People came from Magadan [City in Siberia,
founded in 1933, as port on the Sea of Okhotsk. During the Stalin
rea, Magadan was a major transit center for prisoners being sent
to labor camps, especially to Kolyma. The operations of these
vast and brutal forced-labor timber snd gold-mining concerns
were the main economic driver of the city for many decades during
Soviet times. Wikipedia. April 3, 2006] who were not allowed
to go back to their Homeland. Such people were temporary residents
in our settlement. There were Caucasians among them. Everyone
was trying to find a cabin rather than live in the barracks.
Our teachers used to talk about justice and humanism. We read
about it from our books. So what? Were we not seeing what was
happening to the Balkars right in front of our eyes? We saw what
tricks they were playing on them. Later I learned from the official
source that 37,713 Balkars were exiled from the Caucasus in 1944.
But a year later, only 32,819 of them were still alive. That
meant that more than 5,000 of them had died in a single year.
By the spring of 1944, the entire Soviet Union had been "cleansed
of Fascists". The news from the Soviet Information Bureau
made us happy. It was obvious that victory was near. The news
said that rehabilitation works were underway in Northern Caucasus,
Ukraine, Ukraine, and Byelorussia. Workers were needed everywhere
to cultivate and plant the soil.
But with the exception of some elderly men and young boys, not
a single man was alive. Even the hardest work was being done
by women. War has its own rules. It had killed most of the men
in our society.
Let me say a few words about the elderly people. The old ones
who came from Balkar weren't able to survive even until summer.
Our own old people were able to tolerate three or four more years.
They endured cold winters and hot summers. In addition to the
severe climate and psychological impact, there were other reasons
that killed off our old people and men. They didn't dare look
into the eyes of women and children because they felt so guilty.
They couldn't cope with harsh reality of exile. And things like
this mowed them down like grass - not only the old men, but the
younger ones, too.
"You're not a
child. I can't stop you, but neither can I encourage such a venture.
You know the situation very well: in nine years, only two people
have successfully escaped from here. They have yet to be found-dead
of alive. It's up to you. I have no tears left to cry"
- Murtuz Sadikhli's
mother when at age 17, Murtuz told her that
he wanted to try to escape the prison camp and return to Azerbaijan.
By the autumn of 1944, not a
single old man from the Caucasus was still alive. Those old people
carried the traditions of our nation with them to the other world.
Those old people were the strings - so precarious and fragile
- that attached us to our past. Granted, not all of those who
were exiled were angels. There were thousands of disagreements.
Nerves were often strained. But the word of a single old wise
man was able to put an end to everything. I don't remember when
the last old man died or even where we buried him.
Occasionally, former criminals and robbers would show up in our
sovkhoz. They didn't need our help. They were used to living
quite well in prison and carrying out robberies, stealing bread
from the "political prisoners".
Sometimes people with no place to live and no job showed up.
At first we thought they were beggars and we tried to give them
a hand, but they wouldn't accept it. They didn't want anything
from anybody. As it turned out, they wanted to die here and for
someone to be able to bury them. We often found people like that
at the entrance to the settlement or in front of the grocery
Doorstep of Death
Once I saw a rather dark-skinned boy sitting under the tree next
to the shop. His eyes were closed so I had no idea whether he
was asleep or awake. His one foot had swollen so much that the
hem of his trousers was torn; his open wound had become infested
with worms. I went up to him and saw that he was moaning.
But the language he spoke was native to me. I heard familiar
words from his tongue. I choked with sorrow. I called the children
of my age. They came. One rushed home and brought hot milk and
bread. We raised his head so that we could get him to drink the
milk. He was acting like a baby and wouldn't drink it. I told
him that we were also from the Caucasus and asked him to drink.
Only after that did he open his eyes and look up at my face.
We were so happy. He couldn't lift himself, his swollen foot
wouldn't move. One of the guys brought a handcart, set him in
it and took him to the cabin near by. It soon became a habit
in our settlement to give a hand to such people. We children
also knew what to do when we came across such needy people.
Our people saved many "political prisoners" from death,
bringing them back from the doorsteps of death. That young boy,
who I can never forget, whispered something to me.
It became clear for me that there was a place called Ganja in
my Homeland and that he was from there. He had been arrested
because of a song. The interrogator "had proven" that
the song he had been singing was the anthem of Musavat government
[declared independence from the Russian czar on May 28, 1918,
and established the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. Azerbaijan's
independence lasted only 23 months until the Bolsheviks took
power on April 28, 1920]
"What anthem was this?" I asked him several times.
"It was an ordinary folk melody-just ashug music,"
the boy replied half jokingly. I asked him to copy it and give
it to me. He agreed. I saw him writing in Latin, but didn't say
anything. Though it was very difficult for me, I could read it
and I learned the song by heart. This was the first poem I had
ever memorized in my mother tongue. Maybe that's why I still
The angels became satisfied with Javad khan,
One cannot erase the written destiny,
Fighter confessor wasn't aware,
And didn't get any help from Shaki-Shirvan.
The men are dead, only women
Ganja's land is covered with blood.
Azeri version of the
In the summer of 1946, when I was 17, I made up my mind to return
to my Homeland [Azerbaijan]. I wanted to make the place comfortable
for the return of my parents and my brothers. That was my greatest
wish at that time. I couldn't believe that I would ever be able
to accomplish a greater goal in my entire life.
Most of the exiled people had reconciled themselves to the life
they were living. Destiny had broken their hopes and turned them
into mill horses. Akhundov [Mirza Fatali Akhundov (1812-1878)
prominent Azerbaijani prose writer, dramatist, and philosopher]
writes about mill horses. He says that a mill horse moves in
a circle from morning till evening, eating barley and chaff in
the evening. He settles down a little bit and in the morning
he gets collared and starts moving again. That's how he spends
his whole life. Akhundov compares obedient people to mill horses.
That's true, those nine years in exile had turned most of us
into mill horses. There were some who couldn't endure those tortures
and committed suicide. Perhaps, it's natural for a person who
has worked 14-16 hours a day over nine years and who is deprived
of any rights and has lost all hope, to take such step - to sin
against God by committing suicide. But still I don't justify
their action: one must tolerate the situation and hope for tomorrow.
It's easier to write about those things today, but back then
we youth knew that we were being deprived of our human rights.
We decided that we should find a way to leave. I even told my
mother about my intentions. It was in the spring of that year.
I had to take my mother to a doctor in the center of the district.
She had injured her finger during work, but had not paid attention
to it. Three days later it had become dark and swollen. The medical
attendant of our Sovkhoz settlement looked at the wound, swabbed
it with iodine and ordered her to be taken to the district center.
As far as I know, there was no other medicine there except for
iodine. While we were there another person entered the room,
complaining of an earache, and the medical attendant swabbed
it with iodine.
With great difficulty, we were finally able to see the doctor.
He held my mother's swollen finger in his hand and told us that
it was already too late. Then he called another doctor, showed
him my mother's finger and whispered something to him. Then the
second doctor whispered something back to the first one, after
which the doctor turned to me and said: "We'll have to amputate
Of course, he would have whispered it into my ear had he known
that my mother understood Russian. You see, none of the Turkic-speaking
women knew Russian back in those days, but my mother knew several
languages including Russian. Though she didn't understand the
term "amputate", she had understood that things were
bad. She became pale. Her eyes filled with tears and she turned
to me: "It seems they're not able to cure me. Is that right?"
"It seems the wound has festered, mom. It's dangerous. It
could infect your whole body."
But I didn't dare explain "amputate" to her. I felt
sorry for her. But she understood what we were talking about.
She suddenly turned her face to the doctor and replied in fluent
Russian: "A man without an arm is an invalid; a woman without
an arm is not a human being." She glanced at me after saying
that. I could see that she had shocked the doctors with her clear
"We should applaud a Turkish woman who speaks Russian,"
said one of the doctors and only after this did they prescribe
medicine for her. They warned her: "You must know that this
wound is dangerous."
Afterwards, no matter how much pain she suffered, mother never
went to the doctor again. She was afraid that they would cut
off her hand.
Slowly, her wound healed, but she lost movement in it. However,
she soon learned to wash clothes and dishes, and even to write
with her left hand.
I Want to ESCAPE
But there we were together. Her old wound was aching that spring
evening. She wasn't able to sleep because of the pain. In order
not to disturb us, she went out into the yard to cry. My heart
couldn't stand it. I knew that she was a brave and courageous
woman. I simply did not want to leave her alone. I thought I
could make her forget the pain and feel better by talking to
Anyway, I was used to telling her all my secrets. We were very
close. Of course, she herself had created such an atmosphere
between us. She guided me in everything after grandfather's death.
She used to ask me questions every day. I felt she was interested
in every little detail that concerned me. She would ask me about
my teachers and was very curious about my relationships with
my friends. Though she knew that I would be deprived of the right
to continue my education after finishing school, she used to
ask me about my future plans and goals. It made her sad to know
that I was aware of everything, especially the documents that
were blocking my way. So often she didn't let me finish my sentences.
She knew everything I was going to say. We have an expression:
"A mother's heart is with her child". I was sure that
her heart was always with me.
That spring evening we had a long talk. We spoke about everything
burdening our hearts.
That night my mother shared her worries about Aunt Aybicha who
was a Balkar. She hadn't gone to work because she was ill. Commandant
Yudin had secretly imprisoned her. Aybicha's children had burst
into tears looking for their mother. Crying "Mother! Mother"
throughout the streets of the settlement, they searched for their
mother until the morning.
I don't know what Aunt Aybicha's 14-year-old son did to the Commandant,
but I heard that Yudin beat him unconscious.
Another reason why I couldn't forget that night was that we heard
the news of one more old man's death. We heard he hadn't passed
away yet, but that he was on his deathbed. If I'm not mistaken,
it was the second time I had seen a person dying. Everybody felt
sorry for him-not because he was dying, no! But, rather, because
he couldn't die. One of the old men from Chechnya said to take
some soil of his homeland and put it under his nose so he could
As I discovered, some people had brought soil from their homeland
with them in 1937. The most amazing thing was that the man who
was on his deathbed soon passed away after he smelled the soil
from his homeland. He died very quietly.
My mother never forgot that man's death. Once that old man had
told me a fairy tale a boy who ran after the Sun and found his
Homeland. I told that failry tald to my mother and said that
like the boy in the fairy tale, I would run after the Sun and
reach my Homeland.
My mother became pensive for a while. "What to do? You're
not a child. I can't stop you, but neither can I encourage such
a venture. You know the situation very well. In nine years, two
peoplw have successfully escaped from here. One was Habib; the
other Zakir Zakir Ashrafoghlu. You know them both. They
were from Shukur."
My mother continued: "They have yet to be found dead
or alive, you nust understand."At first I thought my mother
wanted to stop me, but then she added: "Come what may."
And she admitted that I had always been a person with luck.
My mother concluded: "I have tolerated all these misfortunes
for you. I have no tears left to cry. It's up to you." Then
she reminded me of my grandfather's wish. As it turned out, my
grandfather had told my mother not to let the children stay here.
My mother: "There is no one to look at your face as we have
no relatives left there any more either. Your grandfather Taghi
is dead. His sons must have died in the war."
Poster Left: "Beloved Stalin Is the People's
Happiness!" ("Liubimyi Stalin-shchast'e narodnoe!")
by V. Koretskii (After the Soviet victory in the war, 1949).It had been a long time since we had
stopped corresponding with our relatives in the Caucasus. I don't
remember who wrote the last letter - them or us? I only remember
that my father used to write in Arabic script, and we would receive
the letters in Latin. Then they informed us there was no one
left who knew Arabic and asked us to use The Latin alphabet when
writing our letters. But my father was not able to learn the
alphabet. And so that's how our relationship with our relatives
in the Caucasus was broken.
Note: The rest of the book develops
the turns and twists in the efforts that Murtuz made to return
to visit his Nakhchivan village, only to realize that no one
knew his family anymore except his grandfather for whom they
still held enormous respect.
Murtuz Sadikhli's book - Qan
Yaddashi (Memory of Blood) Baku: Yazichi Press, 1991, 208 pages.
ISBN: 5-560-00693-9. These passages appear for the first time
in English. Translated from Azeri into English by Aisha Jabbarova.
Edited by Betty Blair.
Deep appreciation to Murtuz Sadikhli's daughter Nargiz for the
preparation of these passages and background information.
Murtuz returned to Azerbaijan
and continued his education, earning a doctor of philological
sciences and professor and the Honored Literary Worker in Azerbaijan.
For more than 20 years he served as head of the Chair of History
of the Russian Literature at the Azerbaijan Pedagogical Institute
named after M.F.Akhundov (now Slavic University).
He was a member of the Writers'
Union and the Chairman of Comission "Vijdan" (Conscience),
a Cultural Foundation for the investigation into the events of
Another of his books, "The
Tragedy of Mammad Amin Rasulzade's Family", was published
after Murtuz's death by the literary magazine, "Azerbaijan".
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