Spring 2006 (14.1)
Will Ring Out
Editorial: Azerbaijan's Literature of
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
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?
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
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 AZER.com: 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:
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
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"
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
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
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.
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 AZER.com
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.
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
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,
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
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
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