Spring 2006 (14.1)
Targeting the Arts:
Son of an "Enemy of the People"
Ogtay Sadigzade (born 1921), distinguished
portrait artist, is one of very few Azerbaijanis who are still
alive today who survived imprisonment in Stalin's Gulag labor
camps. In 1941, at the age of 20, he was exiled to South Central
Russia for five years. His only crime: being the son of an "Enemy
of the People".
But he wasn't the only member of his family to suffer. His father
Seyid Husein, a writer and member of Azerbaijan's intelligentsia,
was executed in 1938. His mother Ummugulsum was exiled for 7.5
years (1938-1945) and returned home so weak that she died shortly
afterwards. His brother Jighatay was sent into exile as a battalion
worker to Dagestan. He got tuberculosis and also we sent home
where he soon died at the age of 24.
Here Ogtay reflects on some of his experiences and how it shaped
his thought and art. See other articles in this issue related
to his mother Ummugulsum, which include several entries of her
prison diary, her poems, and letters to her children.
I was born in 1921 in Khizi, a village near Baku. My father and
mother, Seyid Husein (1887-1938) and Ummugulsum (1900-1944) had
just married when the Bolsheviks took control of Azerbaijan's
capital in April 1920. Since Father was a close relative of Mammad
Amin Rasulzade (Mammad Amin Rasulzade was the leader of the Musavat
Party, which established the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR)
in May 28, 1918.
The ADR collapsed after 23 months when the Bolsheviks took power
in Baku on April 28, 1920) who led the Musavat Party which was
in power when the Bolsheviks came, he feared for his life and
took mother and went into hiding in Khizi. Three months later,
father returned to Baku only to be arrested by the NKVD (NKVD:
(from Russian) Narodniy Komitet Vnutrennix Del, which means National
Committee for Internal Affairs. The NKVD became the forerunner
of the secret police agency of the KGB). They held him for two
months. It was the first of three times that he was arrested.
When he was arrested for the third time in 1937, I was 16 years
old. Actually, I wasn't home when it happened. I was in Novkhani,
one of Baku's suburbs at the "bagh" (Azeri for "summer
house") of Mammad Amin Rasulzade. They had just arrested
Rasulzade's son, Rasul, there. He was only 18 years old. So I
returned to the city to tell my family. Father was at our summer
house in Shuvalan, another suburb by the sea. At the time, he
was 50 years old. They said that they were taking him to some
meeting. My sister Gumral was five years old at the time but
she remembers that our brother Toghrul asked Father when he would
return. "The day after tomorrow", he had replied. At
first they believed him. Mother wasn't at home at the time. My
aunt, who was there with the children, started to cry and said
that he would never come back. She was right.
Left: Ogtay's classmates in fifth grade, 1932. Clockwise
(standing from left): Ogtay Sadigzade, Hajiagha Hasanzade, Aghareza
Hasanzade, Habib Habibzade and Ali Ahmadov.
I never saw my father
again. Two years later they told us that father had been given
a 10-year sentence but it wasn't true. It seems they had already
shot him, almost immediately after they arrested him although
we never learned the specific circumstances around his death.
In 1943 after the war had started, one of our family members
wrote a letter in Gumral's name to the NKVD and then they called
She was only in third grade at that time. They asked her what
she wanted. "Where's my father?" she asked. They told
her that she would get a letter from him after 1948. Imagine,
telling you to wait for five years before you would hear from
What could we do but wait? But the letter never came. It wasn't
until 1956 that we received his rehabilitation papers. There
they had written that he "died" on February 6, 1938,
not that he had been "executed".
I couldn't believe my father had been arrested. I thought there
must be some misunderstanding because he had never committed
a crime. He was a writer, critic, publicist, and educationist
- not a criminal. Not an "Enemy of the People," as
they claimed. But this was only the beginning of series of executions
of Azerbaijan's intelligentsia. Later on, they arrested other
major literary figures such as Mikayil Mushfig, Ahmad Javad,
Husein Javid, Boyukagha Nazarli and Taghi Shahbazi.
And then four months later, they came after mother. We were afraid
that might happen as the agents had already come for some of
the wives of other prominent writers. So we made plans that my
aunt, Mammad Amin's wife, would come and stay with us in case
mother was taken. That way we four children wouldn't be left
alone. But before we could arrange anything, the NKVD arrested
my aunt and exiled her along with her entire family to Kazakhstan.
It was about midnight when the agents came for mother. Again
I was in shock. The state wanted to put us in an orphanage, but
Sayyara, our cousin, wouldn't let them. She came and took care
of us. She was 22 years old, only five years older than me, the
oldest child. Suddenly, her life was turned upside down and she
had the responsibility of taking care of us four children, ages
five to 16. Actually, even though Sayyara was our cousin, my
family had adopted her several years earlier because they wanted
a daughter, and Gumral had not yet been born.
Left: Portraits of some of Azerbaijan's well-known writers
who were executed by Stalin. Clockwise from bottom center: Prisoner
No. 1113: Husein Javid (1882-1941); No. 1286: Seyid Husein, the
artist's father (1887-1937); No. 11??: Mikayil Mushfig (1908-1937);
No. 2369: Idris Akhundzade (dates unknown); No. 2109: Abbas Mirza
Sharifzade (1893-1938); No. 1280: Panah Gasimov (1881-1939);
No. 169. Yusif Vazir Chamanzaminly (1887-1943); and No. 1112:
Ahmad Javad (1892-1937). Portrait oil painting by Ogtay Sadigzade.
Ogtay and his mother Ummugulsum together spent 13 years in exile
in prison camps. Ogtay's father Seyid Husein was executed. This
painting is on display at the Husein Javid Home Museum, inside
Baku's Institute of Manuscripts.
So Sayyara knew us well as she had lived with us as a member
of the family. She felt that it was her duty to take care of
us. Under normal circumstances, she would have married and started
her own family during those years. She missed that chance and
didn't marry until she was in her 60s. She did her best for us
and tried to comfort my mother in prison and exile, promising
her that she would never leave us. What could she do? We have
always been eternally grateful to Sayyara for dedicating herself
to us in those difficult years.
After they took mother, I only saw her again - but just once.
They kept her in Bayil prison for a while. After several months,
she had visitation rights so we were able to go and visit her
one time for half an hour. I think it was in May. We waited outside
the prison for such a long time. There were so many people.
I remember the terrible stench. The smell was so bad. We met
with mother in the corridor. It was such a difficult moment for
us children and for her as well. Gumral, my little sister, was
only five years old. Mother couldn't recognize her because she
had lost so much weight. Of course, mother told us not to worry
about her and that she was fine. We also told that we were fine.
None of us could say what we really felt. How could we? What
could we do for each other when our hearts were so heavy? And
later when we wrote each other, it was much the same. We wrote
about general things. The letters were censored so we couldn't
write much. Naturally, we didn't want to worry each other.
I was very young back then - really just a child. We all kept
thinking that everything would be better soon. And then in 1941,
I myself was exiled as a son of an "Enemy of the People".
It would be five years before I returned home; but by then, mother
had already died at home in 1944.
Actually, my family didn't tell me about mother's death. It's
a practice in this part of the world not to disclose about someone's
death when you are alone and far away from your family. When
I returned from exile, I looked forward to seeing her. My family
had kept it a secret from me that she had died. I kept writing
letters to her, not knowing that she had already passed away.
Mother's death was the worst thing that ever happened in my life.
Nothing can be compared to the devastation that I felt when I
returned home from exile to find that only my younger brother
Toghrul and sister Gumral were all I had left. My father, mother
and brother were all dead.
My Own Arrest
Actually, when they came for me, it wasn't an arrest in the usual
sense of the word. World War II officially started for us in
the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941. On June 9, the NKVD [forerunner
of KGB] came for me. I was 20 years old at the time.
I received a notice to go to the army. I didn't go to the military
office; they came for me the next day. I was working at the Nizami
Museum of Literature at that time, showing some of my work. They
came and took me right in the middle of my evaluation - right
in the middle of the day. They told me that they were taking
me to the military service but I soon learned that they were
shipping me out to a hard labor camp. I was the son of an "Enemy
of the People". It didn't matter that they had already killed
my father and that they had already sent my mother to exile in
Left: This is a "zemlyanka - the barracks for prisoners
where Ogtay Sadigzade used to live while in exile in Altai, in
the North Arctic region. The buildings were built three feet
underground for warmth. Sketch by Ogtay Sadigzade, made especially
for this interview. Ogtay was exiled there for five years. The
conditions were so bad that he and some friends begged to go
to the war front, but were not allowed because they were "political
They took me along with
others for a month and a half of military training. Then the
war started and everything changed. The Germans who were living
in the Caucasus around Shamkir and Khanlar in Azerbaijan were
exiled to Altay along with us. Later they were separated from
For the first three months, we stayed in Nasosniy Station near
Sumgayit, not far from Baku. We helped to build a military airport
runway. We had a difficult time. The food was adequate but the
working conditions were terrible.
There was no shade. We had to work all day under the blazing
sun. Our job was to crush stone and mix it with cement. We used
to work 18 hours a day - from the dawn to dusk.
After that, they sent us to Georgia, to Kabuleti near Batumi
for three months (September to November 1941). There we built
trenches so that tanks couldn't pass. At the end of November,
they sent us to Sochi [Georgia]. Again, we were assigned to digging
Left: "Cosetta", an Illustration for Victor
Hugo's "Les Miserables" by Ogtay Sadigzade (1963).
On exhibit at the Azerbaijan State Museum of Art.
Then we returned to
the port of Baku, but I didn't have a chance to stop by home
to see my family. Little did I know that I would never see my
mother again. They shipped us out from there. We had no idea
where they were taking us. There were 5,000 of us on board that
ship. There was no place for so many people, so I was among those
who had to stay on deck in the midst of a snowstorm.
For the first time in my life, I could hardly keep myself from
crying. We had no idea where we were going or when we would be
back, or even whether we would be coming back at all. The ship
left Baku at night and arrived in Krasnovodsk (Today this city
is called Turkmenbashi. It is located on the Krasnovodsk Gulf
of the Caspian Sea, and its population is primarily ethnic Russian
and Azeri - Wikipedia: April 25, 2006) the next morning.
Then we were put on a train. Again I didn't know where we were
going. We were headed for the Garagum desert (The Karakum Desert,
also spelled Kara-Kum and Gara Gum ("Black Sand") is
a desert in Central Asia). Six or seven hours later, the train
stopped at the station. When I got out, I realized that there
was no end to the train. It was very long. Maybe, more than 1,000
people. Each wagon carried about 30-35 people. They had built
two levels of shelves in each of the wagons. That's where we
On our train, it was only men - young men from all over the Soviet
countries - Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Georgians, and there were
also Bulgarians, Hungarians and even some Greeks. There were
only a few Russians.
Eventually, we reached Tashkent (Tashkent is the current capital
of Uzbekistan). They let us bathe there. I wish they hadn't.
After leaving the bathhouse, I realized that I was full of lice.
It seems all the clothes were piled together and that's how my
clothes got infected. It was a situation which plagued me for
four years. I never could get rid of the lice.
Finally, we arrived in Rubsovsk, a provincial city in the Altay
region (Altay region is in South Central Russia) of South Central
Russia. When the war started , the government had intended
to build a military plant here for producing tanks. But when
the war started tapering off, they decided to convert the factory
into manufacturing tractors instead. Everyone who had been exiled
to Rubsovsk took part in the construction of that plant.
We lived under very difficult conditions in "zemlyankas"
(Russian, for "underground huts"). These barracks were
mostly dug out underground. They were about three meters high
and housed 250 people. The walls were wooden, the floor was mud.
There were only two small windows. There was no heater and no
electricity. We used oil lamps. In the mornings, we would wake
up to find the walls inside covered with frost. The only telephone
in town was at the post office.
Lack of Food
As it was wartime, our greatest problem was lack of food. We
stayed hungry all the time. I constantly craved bread. Hunger
has a way of changing a person psychologically. When you're hungry,
you can think of nothing except food. You forget about all the
greater goals and principles that you have been taught. You are
consumed with only one thought - food. And even when we had enough
food, even when our stomachs were full, we were never satisfied.
They used to feed us potato skins. The actual potato itself was
sent to soldiers on the frontline. They used to make mashed potato
skins for us or baked pudding (he laughs). We had bread, too.
But what bread! It was impossible to eat. It looked more like
mud and tasted very sour. I have no idea what it was made of.
It was like glue. Sometimes, there was no choice but to eat it,
and I would get heartburn.
Soviets would ration the bread: 800 grams forgood
workers who exceeded their quota, 500 grams for those who met
their quota, and only 300 grams if you didn't work. Usually,
we were given nothing more than bread. I got into the habit of
Right: Collection of Ogtay Sadigzade's works.
Text by Gulrana Gajar. 1984.
I would save a portion of bread from the morning for dinner in
the evening. In addition to bread, sometimes there was kasha
[plain boiled wheat]. But it doesn't take long to break the habit
of eating kasha [meaning it's not very tasty]. We were always
Let me tell you a story about food. One day when I was returning
from work to the zemlyanka, I saw a Moldavian carrying some sugar
beets. He told me that about four to five kilometers from the
city there was a field of sugar beets. They used to harvest them
by digging them up and spreading them out on the ground during
cold weather. That would cause them to sweeten.
So one night, my friend and I took some sacks and went in search
of the sugar beets. It was the end of November. As we were going,
a strong wind blew up - they call such winds "buran"
(in Russian, it means "snowstorm" or "blizzard").
Those winds are so violent that you can barely stand up against
them. They hit you in the face and you can barely see anything.
After a long search, we finally located them. It was just a field
but there were sugar beets as far as you could see. We gathered
as many as we could - four sacks full. Then it got dark. As it
was desert and there were absolutely no landmarks, we didn't
know in which direction to start walking back. We walked for
a long time. Despite how windy and cold it was, we were sweating.
Then we started to get really worried that we might be lost and
we would freeze to death.
Then an idea crossed my mind. When we had headed out in search
of the field, the wind had been beating us from behind. Now that
we were returning, it was still behind us. So we figured we were
heading in the exact opposite direction that we should be.
We were so exhausted by the time we arrived back at the zemlyanka
early in the morning. I couldn't take a step further. But the
sugar beets saved us that winter. We would go and collect them
there from the desert. When you cook them, they taste much like
pumpkin: they're very sweet. Because of their high caloric value,
they saved us from starving. We continued to collect them for
a year and a half more. After that, they placed a guard there
in the field and we were afraid. Severe hunger continued until
1943. Towards the end of that year, America supplied us with
dried eggs, sugar cubes and other products.
Clothing was also a problem. Because of the war, there was a
shortage of everything. We were given only trousers and a "telogreyka"
[Russian, meaning "body heater", meaning a thick cotton-padded
jacket]. Fortunately, the cotton padding did quite a good job
of staving off the cold. We wore it both in summer and winter.
Our shoes were made of thick felt. It kept our feet warm, but
whenever they got wet in winter, you were in real trouble. Your
feet would freeze. The climate was continental: very hot in summer
and very cold in winter.
Then in 1943, some aid came from America - some second hand clothes
and boots. I got a pair of boots and warm underwear. That was
Bathing was also a problem. There was only one bathhouse in the
entire city. To bathe, we had to sign up in advance and go there
as a group. Can you imagine, we only got to bathe once every
three or four months. I remember that once our turn came at three
o'clock in the morning. And so we walked there - about three
kilometers distance. It was so cold, like -43 degrees Celsius
[-45 degrees Fahrenheit].
They used to try to sanitize our clothes against lice. They would
steam our clothes under high pressure. Sometimes they didn't
have enough pressure and our clothes would get soaked. We would
return to our barracks wearing wet clothes under our coats in
such extreme cold weather. Most people got sick. Even some of
the strong guys did. I'm surprised that I didn't because I've
never been especially strong. There were no doctors.
At 6 o'clock, we had to wake up. Our work place was three kilometers
distance from the barracks. We had to be at work at 8 o'clock.
We would walk there; it would still be dark outside. Then we
would have lunch in the cafeteria at 12 noon. We would return
again for dinner at 7 o'clock at the same cafeteria after work.
We used to work 10 hours a day without a single day or weekend
off. There were no breaks until 1944.
In the beginning I had been involved at the factory digging the
hard ground, preparing the foundations of the building. I had
grown up as a "house kid". My parents had not allowed
me go outside much to play in the streets and alleys. After all,
keep in mind that it was in the early 1920s and life was quite
brutal and tumultuous back then. Physically, I wasn't very strong.
When I started working in the labor camp and assigned to digging
the ground, it was really hard for me. I couldn't even hold a
shovel. It was so hard to dig into that frozen ground. Gradually,
I got used to it. Those years Altai witnessed some of the coldest
temperatures in their history. The temperatures would go down
to -43C (-45F). It was extremely cold even for them.
After a while, I succeeded in finding another job. As I am an
artist, they were eager for me to work in that capacity. The
Soviet government could not live without painters. Their propaganda
was being carried out with the help of artists. There's no doubt
in my mind that art saved my life. After I started my new job,
my living conditions were very different. They even gave me a
studio. My job was to draw portraits of the leaders, make posters,
and political cartoons. It sure was a lot easier than digging.
Besides, I liked it.
Once I was commissioned to draw 40 different portraits of Stalin.
I had no other choice but to do it; otherwise, they would have
sent me to the military tribunal. Those were the days that if
you dared to slightly criticize Stalin, you could land in trouble.
I became so professional in drawing portraits of Stalin that
I could sketch him very quickly. I wasn't trying to express anything
about his personality. It just had to look like Stalin. For me,
it was like drawing a still life or a landscape, like drawing
from a template. We didn't have any paint so we could only use
two colors - red and black-red from women's lipstick and black
I had studied art at the art school in Baku named after Azim
Azimzade (Azim Azimzade was one of Azerbaijan's first professional
artists. He was famous for satirical sketches that exposed social
conditions, especially the wide gap that existed between the
rich and poor at the beginning of the 20th century) and then
I was sent into exile so I never got the chance to complete my
studies in Moscow or Leningrad. After I returned home from exile,
my family's financial situation prevented me from continuing
my education. Although I have received many titles and commissions,
I never received higher education.
The aim of my whole life has always been art. I never wanted
to be anything except an artist since I was a kid. The five years
that I lived in exile was a tremendous education for me in art.
My experiences in exile had a profound affect on the way my art
developed. Such experiences leave deep imprints even if one isn't
conscious of them, both enriching the human being psychologically
and broadening one's world vision. The artist needs to see many
things. The more he sees and experiences, the more his creativity
develops, especially portrait artists. Human characters have
always interested me.
Perhaps, I should have been a psychologist, instead of an artist.
In the camps you got to know so many different types of people
- both good and bad. I met thousands of people in exile. Everyone
had a different character, and everyone came from a different
world, a different reality. To be a portrait artist, you have
to be able to reveal the inner personality of a person. The eyes,
the movements of lips, shape of the face - they all reveal the
true inner nature of a person.
In addition to life in exile, I would say that my art developed
because of just plain hard work. Painting requires a lot of persistence
and determination. You have to work like a dog. It's 10 percent
talent and 90 percent hard work. Nothing is possible without
Museums and classical books also shaped my art. If you want a
professional education in art, you have to read a lot. An artist
has to know something about everything. I read so many of the
Western classics while I was in exile; for example, Dickens,
Shakespeare, Balzac, Victor Hugo, and even some of the American
writers. They had a library in the camp and I read everything
I could get my hands on. Later I had the chance to visit a number
of European countries. There I visited many museums.
Only later in 1944 did they allow us to rent rooms in some of
the private apartments in town. That's when I began to work as
an artist and my living conditions started to improve.
(1920s to 1950s) were such an absurd period in our history -
not just in Azerbaijan, but the entire Soviet Union. The atrocities
that were committed can't even be compared to Hitler's. They
were much worse. Hitler went after his political enemies, but
Stalin destroyed his very own intelligentsia - the strength of
Azerbaijani artist, who was exiled to a slave labor camp for
five years simply because he was the son of an writer
who had been falsely accused of being an "Enemy of the People"
I rented a room in the home of a woman, who lived with her daughter-in-law
and two grandchildren. For the rent, they preferred wood to heat
the place, not cash. To find wood was such a major problem for
them. At first when we arrived in Rubsovsk, the people were very
suspicious of us. They called us "Chyorniy Boyets"
(Russian for "Black Warriors") because we were dressed
The local population consisted mainly of women and children,
as all of the men had been sent off to war. After the camp authorities
allowed us to live in separate private houses, the attitude in
the community towards us totally changed and they grew to respect
us. When they got to know us personally, they realized that we
weren't bad people. They even tried to help us-most of us were
Azerbaijani, but there were Georgians, Armenians and prisoners
from other nations as well.
About 25-30 percent of the prisoners were former criminals -
some of them had committed serious crimes. The government sent
many of these "criminal prisoners" to the front, but
not ones like me, which they categorized as "political prisoners".
They considered us to be dangerous. We begged to be sent to the
war front rather than live the horrible life in the camps. There
was a commission to review every person's history but those who
had a parent whom they considered to be an "Enemy of the
People" were never sent to the war. They didn't trust us.
When it came to language, actually, Azeri was like an international
language there. There were so many Turkic-speaking people-Ajars
(Ajaria (also known as Ajara, Adjaria, Adjara, Adzharia and Adzhara)
is an Autonomous Republic of Georgia, in the southwestern corner
of the country, bordered by Turkey to the south and the eastern
end of the Black Sea - Wikipedia: March 30, 2006), Bessarabia
(Bessarabia or Bessarabiya (Basarabia in Romanian, Besarabya
in Turkish) was the name by which Imperial Russia designated
the eastern part of the principality of Moldavia annexed by Russia
in 1812. In 1918, Bessarabia declared its independence from Russia
and at the end of World War I, it united with the Kingdom of
Romania. The USSR annexed Bessarabia at the beginning of World
War II - Wikipedia: March 30, 2006), Tatars (Tatars is a collective
name applied to the Turkic people of Eastern Europe and Central
Asia. Before the 1920s, Russians used the name Tatar to designate
numerous peoples from the Azerbaijani Turks to tribes of the
Siberia. Tatars live in the central and southern parts of Russia
(the majority in Tatarstan), Ukraine, Poland and in Bulgaria,
China, Kazakhstan, Romania, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
They collectively numbered more than 10 million in the late 20th
century - Wikipedia, March 30, 2006) and Turkmen (Turkmen is
a name currently applied to two groups of Turkic peoples. The
ending of the name has no relation to the English words "man"
or "men". Historically, all of the Western or Oghuz
Turks have been called Türkmen or Turkoman, but nowadays
the term is usually restricted to two Western Turkic groups:
the Turkmen people of Turkmenistan and adjacent parts of Central
Asia, and the Turkmen people of northern Iraq - Wikipedia, March
30, 2006). Most of the Armenians could also speak Azeri, as did
Georgians. Of course, the local people spoke Russian, and it
was in exile that I learned Russian.
I did write letters to my family but most of them have been lost.
The government didn't put any restrictions on how many letters
we could write. We could write as often as we wanted, but we
had to write in Russian; otherwise, the chances were slim that
the letters would get through. After all, they were censored.
It used to take about two months for letters to reach their destinations.
Those last three or four years when I was in exile, I used to
keep a diary, but I can't find it. I think it must be lost somewhere
in our place in Ichari Shahar [Old City] where my niece lives
It's very important that the new generation realizes how difficult
it was back then. Only when you compare life today with life
back can you realize how easy it is now. I'm not saying that
there aren't a lot of difficulties today, but comparatively speaking,
it's much better now. People had so many problems during Soviet
period. Everything was a problem. So many things were not available.
One day you couldn't find meat. The next day, no sugar. We should
appreciate our life now no matter what problems we have to deal
with at the moment.
The Soviet system was a fraudulent system. Everything was based
on lies. Although our country has a lot of problems at the moment
I am hopeful that these problems will be solved in the near future.
There is still corruption and bribes, and nobody is taking measures
to prevent this. Financially, we are living better now than during
Soviet times. But there are still problems. Corruption should
Excuse my language, but Stalin is the worst rascal of all. The
interesting point is that millions of people were so blind and
didn't realize it. People were like sheep. They believed in him;
they thought he was God. For example, my cousin Husniyya had
so much faith in him even though her family suffered so much.
When he died in 1953, she went crazy.
She couldn't believe that God could die. She went psycho. The
world turned upside down for her. She was nearly 50 years old
at that time. Husniyya could not believe what they said about
Stalin after his death. She was totally lost and didn't know
what to do for about two years.
So many people in my family suffered because of Stalin. My father
was killed, and my mother was arrested, my brother died in exile,
cousins were arrested and killed, my aunt's family and my uncle's
family were sent into exile, but still Husniyya was convinced
that these people were truly guilty.
No one was able to stop Stalin from doing all these evil things
because his organization was so strong. Nobody could counter
him. Ninety percent of those millions of people who were arrested
were totally innocent. There was no reason to arrest them. But
nobody dared to say anything because everything - the army, guns,
and power - were in his hands. The system was based on denouncing
others and spying on them. The system was so false; it had to
collapse in on itself - to implode. And that's exactly what happened.
The system rotted from inside.
But Mir Jafar Baghirov (Mir Jafar Baghirov was the First Secretary
of the Communist Party in Azerbaijan; in other words, "Stalin's
right hand man" in Azerbaijan) was even worse; he was a
vile person. At least Stalin had some principles; Mir Jafar did
not. He did things to oblige and please Stalin.
A few years ago, a film was made about Mir Jafar. It was a rather
amateurish thing. To tell you the truth, I didn't like it very
much. Several people were interviewed: some people criticized
him, while others praised him, insisting that he had many positive
sides. But it's not right to call him a good person just because
he gave some people apartments.
In the end, they showed footage of Baghirov's trial that took
place after Stalin's death. However, in general, the film depicts
Mir Jafar as a hero at the trial. He admitted to making mistakes
and said Armenians had deceived him but, in my opinion, he was
a totally corrupt person.
The film tries to show that Stalin wanted to deport all Azerbaijanis
to Central Asia, and that Mir Jafar persuaded him not to do it.
But consider how difficult it would have been to deport four
million people. Stalin would have had to recall half a million
soldiers from the army just to guard such a mass deportation.
Furthermore, where are the documents to prove such a deportation?
It's so important that our young people should feel responsible
to their own people and to the nation. The state is based upon
education, the army and the tax system. Without them, the state
could fall apart. These things are not strong in our country;
the youth should not be under any delusions. They should be conscious
and alert, and able to distinguish between what is good and what
Stalin's repressions (1920s to 1950s) were such an absurd period
in our history - not just in Azerbaijan, but the entire Soviet
Union. The atrocities that were carried out can't even be compared
to Hitler's. They were a lot worse. Hitler went after his political
enemies, but Stalin destroyed his own intelligentsia.
It's impossible to compare Azerbaijan's intelligentsia of 1930s
and 1960s with the present day. We have declined in every sphere.
For us to reverse this trend would probably take at least two
generations. The problem is we don't have good teachers. To create
an intelligentsia, you need good teachers and you need to create
an environment in which intellectuals can flourish. At present,
these conditions don't exist: we neither have such teachers as
models, nor the cultural milieu to nurture and foster them.
Back to Index AI 14.1 (Spring
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