Azerbaijan International

Winter 2005 (13.4)
Pages 90-91

Charkaz Aliyev
Stalin's Purge of 1937-1938:
When Friends and Family Disappear Forever
by Fizza Aliyeva, his wife

In truth, there's not a single Azerbaijani who was left untouched by Stalin's purges of 1937-1938. Fizza Aliyeva, alone, had 12 close friends and members of her family shot to death, including her husband at that time. When it happened, she was a young wife, only 20 years old, and already with the responsibility of two children. Here she describes the impact of those years on her life - the isolation and fear that enveloped everyone everywhere.

Some researchers suggest that as many as 70,000 Azerbaijanis lost their lives while Stalin was in power. Though the number of casualties seems impossible to comprehend; perhaps, it really is not exaggerated especially if one takes into account that Western historians estimate between 20 and 40 million people, both Soviets and prisoners of war, lost their lives to the Gulag prison system during Stalin's reign.

Those years - 1937 and 1938 - were terrible years. People called them the years of Stalin's Repression. In my family, we had 12 close friends and relatives who were shot, including my husband (The list of relatives and friends of Fizza Aliyeva who were shot in 1937-1938. Fizza lost 12 friends and close relatives during this period, including her husband and her brother.

She was left to care for two daughters by herself at the age of 20: (1) Charkaz Aliyev, husband, was arrested April 22, 1937 and shot the night of January 5, 1938 ; (2) Jabbar Aliyev, brother, was shot on July 5, 1938; (3) Ismayil Rezayev, 62, cousin, was shot on September 26, 1938; (4) Bakir Chobanzade, professor at the Azerbaijan Pedagogical Institute, shot on January 28, 1937; (5) Heydar Vazirov, relative; (6) Faraj Kangarlinski, husband's friend, shot on October 28, 1937; (7) Mammadkhan Mammadkhanov, friend, who was head of the Central Executive Committee, shot on January 5, 1938; (8) Bala Afandiyev, mother's cousin, one of Azerbaijan's first revolutionists, shot on January 7, 1938; (9) Rashidbey Mehmandarov, friend; (10) Balabey Alikhanov, husband's friend; (11) Israfil Ibrahimov, mother's cousin; (12) Ismayil Alikhanov, 48, a relative, shot on March 9, 1938).

I was only three years old when the Bolsheviks took control of Azerbaijan [1920]. Now I'm getting old and have arteriosclerosis and so I forget things quickly. Sometimes I can't even remember what I was talking about just 10 minutes earlier but it's curious how things that happened many years ago are very clear in my mind - as if they just happened yesterday.

I was born in Nakhchivan in 1917. Actually, twice we officially changed the date of my birth in my passport. The first time was when I got married. I was only 15 years old at the time. But we wrote that I had been born in 1915 so that it would appear that I was 17 years old.

Then we changed the date a second time indicating my birth year as 1919. The reason was that after my husband was arrested in 1937, the KGB started following me. It seems they wanted to arrest me, too. They had stamped in my passport that my husband was an "Enemy of the People". So, close friends and relatives advised me to officially change my date of birth again to protect myself.

That's not all we changed. My real name is "Fizza", but "Firuza" appears in my passport. We changed my father's name in my passport, too. He was a bey [meaning a "land owner" in the pre-Soviet period]. That title alone would have denied me the chance to get a high school education. So we registered his name simply as "Baghir", not "Baghir bey".

Back in those days, it was fairly easy for us to change our passports because we had fled as refugees from Yerevan (Armenia). My father Baghir bey was from the region of Gazakh in northwestern Azerbaijan, close to the Georgian border. My mother was from Yerevan [Armenia]. When the Armenians started killing Azerbaijanis early in the 20th century, my father understood that Armenians and Azeris were being killed on both sides.

That's when we moved south to Nakhchivan. My father died the same year that I was born - 1917. There were five of us children.

In 1937, my husband Charkaz Aliyev was working as head of the Barda Executive Committee. On April 22, 1937, the NKVD came and arrested him at home at 2 o'clock in the morning. (The NKVD, in Russian, stands for "Narodniy Komitet Vnutrennix Del" which means National Committee for Internal Affairs, which was the forerunner of KGB). At the time, I was at my mother-in-law's house. I didn't know anything had happened. When I returned home in the morning I found an official stamp had been posted on our house. It was a brown piece of paper with an official stamp on it. Though I was only 20 years old, I already had two daughters at the time. Tamilla was three years old and Hafiza, six months. The NKVD confiscated everything we had in our house. Everything had been taken.

I tried to find out what had happened. They told me that my husband was an "Enemy of the People" and had been arrested as a Trotskyist. So I took my two daughters and headed to Baku because my brother Jabbar (1901- ?) was working there in the prosecutor's office. But after my husband was arrested, they arrested my brother, too, simply because they were related to each other. They took my brother from his home on Husi Hajiyev Street and accused him of conspiring together with my husband. Then the NKVD started following me.

It seems that the reason why my husband Charkaz was arrested was that he had confronted Mir Jafar Baghirov, the First Secretary of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan and Stalin's "right hand man". They were at a meeting together. Baghirov insulted Soltan Majid Afandiyev who was the Head of the Supreme Council. My husband could not stand it, and he stood up and said that Baghirov should not insult someone in front of so many people. Baghirov asked if he was acting on behalf of Soltan as his lawyer. He replied that he was not a lawyer, but a true communist. Baghirov told Charkaz that he would take care of him later.

Three days later Soltan Majid Afandiyev was arrested. Then a week afterwards, my husband was arrested, too. So many other arrests followed. My husband was taken to the basement of NKVD where they carried out tortures on the prisoners. There prisoners were beaten, their teeth and fingernails pulled out. Like so many others, he was accused of being an "Enemy of the People". He was killed a few months later. I didn't know about my husband's death when it happened. I thought that he had been sent into exile. I used to take parcels to the prison in the NKVD building down by the sea.

The repercussions of these arrests in our family were enormous for me personally. For example, whenever my daughters would get sick, I could not take them to the hospital. In their birth certificates, there was a stamp indicating that they were children of an "Enemy of the People". So we were not able to use those birth certificates as identification to receive treatment. I had to use the papers belonging to my older brother's children just to get my children admitted to a hospital. That was such a dreadful period for us.

I myself was interrogated a few times. Once an Armenian prosecutor entered the room, took my passport and asked if I were from Yerevan. I said "yes". He asked me if I knew Armenian. I did know it quite well. He told me that I was very beautiful and that I should not talk with the other prosecutors that were coming because one of them was a Jew and the other one was a Russian and they would humiliate me and take me down to the NKVD basement. Instead, he invited me to his room. I was cradling my sick daughter in my arms and told him that I couldn't come. He wanted me to sign a paper saying that the 12 people who were on the list were "Enemies of the People". He asked me if I knew those people. I said "yes". He told me that if I knew their names that it meant that I, too, was an "Enemy of the People". He insisted that I sign that paper.

Only once did they let me meet my husband before they shot him. He was sitting in front of me. We weren't allowed to talk. He had no teeth. He looked so bad. The KGB officials demanded that I sign a paper saying that he was a Trotskyist, which had been organizing a group to kill Stalin. I refused to sign it.

Then one of them took his gun and gave me a blow on my head and threatened to take me to the KGB basement [where tortures were carried out]. They wanted to arrest me for being the wife of a Trotskyist. They put me under house arrest. I could not leave my house at all. It wasn't until February 4, 1938, that they lifted those restrictions and only because I had an infant. I was lucky because so many women had to go to prison with their kids. They said that my husband was an "Enemy of the People". I told them that my husband used to be a shepherd and he had worked hard for every position that he held. How could he be an "Enemy of the People"?

He was a true communist. He was a very honest person. He never took bribes. We had a very nice family; he loved our daughters. Back in those days, they killed so many innocent people accusing them of things they did not do.

None of my relatives could come to my house. They didn't even acknowledge me when they saw me on the street. In their eyes, an "Enemy of the People" was like someone with an infectious disease. They treated me like even if I said "hello" to them, they would get infected. All of my neighbors knew that I was the wife of an "Enemy of the People". No one would even look my way.

I eventually remarried and changed my last name so that they would not arrest me. I waited for my husband to come back but he didn't. When I asked the KGB about him, they told me to wait for a letter from my husband. But no letter came. I remarried in 1950. It wasn't until 1956 (three years after Stalin's death) that I found out about my husband's death. That was when they sent his rehabilitation papers. They had killed him in 1938-18 years earlier. This was when I first learned of it. All those years, I spent not knowing what had happened to him.

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