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Reader's Forum
Homo Sovieticus
Summer 2002 (10.2)

Thanks for your new site - - "Celebrating the Legacy of Azerbaijan's Great Composer Uzeyir Hajibeyov". It has recently stimulated considerable discussion about the political circumstances under which Hajibeyov (1885-1948) carried out his creative activities, especially as new anecdotal evidence has come to light about political threats to his life.

As it turns out, Hajibeyov's life during the Stalinist years (1924-1953) was not as rosy as one might imagine, even though he was later appointed as a member of the All-Union Congress to represent Azerbaijanis in Moscow. It's known now that on at least two occasions, Hajibeyov was at serious risk of being arrested. People say that Uzeyir even used to sleep in his day clothes, fearing that a dreadful knock at the door would come in the middle of the night; his was a common fear that characterized the years of Stalin's repression.

It shows us how difficult and tragic Uzeyir Hajibeyov's life really was. But this tragedy was not experienced by him alone. It was shared by all of the educated people in the USSR. During Stalin's rule, no Azerbaijani intellectual could sleep soundly at night. The official Soviet ideology considered intellectuals as "class enemies," just like capitalists. The expression "rotting intelligentsia" and slogans like "The intelligentsia are servants of capitalists," were widespread. Members of the intelligentsia could never be sure that they wouldn't be arrested and executed, even if they were numbered among the most vocal and loyal communists.

Hajibeyov, like many other Azerbaijani intellectuals, came from a family of "beys" - landowners. This title alone was enough to categorize him as a "class enemy". In addition, his younger brother Jeyhun (1891-1962) had gone to Paris as an interpreter and journalist with government representatives of the newly organized, independent, short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920). Jeyhun had justifiably been afraid to return home when the Bolsheviks captured Baku in 1920. He settled in France for the rest of his life, separated from his home country. So when Jeyhun was stuck in France, he used every possible media outlet he could to expose the evils of the Soviet system. This hung like a terrible threat over Uzeyir, no matter how sympathetic he might have been to his brother's activities.

During this period, hundreds of Azerbaijanis were arrested, exiled or executed as "foreign spies" simply because they had relatives living abroad. The old Soviet "ankat" (job application) used to ask: "Do you have relatives living abroad?" Soviet people feared to write: "Yes".

Sometimes I marvel that Uzeyir managed to survive. How was it that he somehow escaped arrest in 1937 at the height of Stalin's Repression? The mere presence of Jeyhun in France was enough to have had him shot at any time! It's a real wonder that he survived.

I'm afraid that we as young people will never truly be able to comprehend Hajibeyov or other Soviet intellectuals of this period. Perhaps they didn't even understand who they were themselves or what they believed. The crushing Soviet System influenced and changed their psychology completely and turned even the most brilliant among them from "Homo Sapiens" to "Homo Sovieticus". The permanent fear and horror, dictatorship and control in all spheres of life forced people to live constant lies. They had to lie if they were to survive. So, the lie became the norm in Stalin's Soviet Union. Words and thoughts did not coincide with deeds. They were afraid to admit the truth about the Soviet system, even to themselves in their hearts. Under strong pressure of Soviet propaganda, they were so confused that they did not know anymore what to think or what to believe.

I believe that Hajibeyov was able to withstand this pressure, but to some extent he also became "Homo Sovieticus" like nearly every other Azerbaijani intellectual who lived during those 70 years of Soviet rule. Why? Because, if anyone wanted to survive, they were forced to declare every day: "Long live the Communist Party! Lenin is our dear leader!" How could such a person not turn into Homo Sovieticus in the end?

So, we see what great psychological and moral harm the Stalinist system caused the Azerbaijani people. Fear, lies, corruption and intrigue penetrated into every sphere of life. Soviet authorities encouraged people to betray and spy on their friends, colleagues and relatives. Many people could not distinguish between "good" and "evil" in their lives.

Unfortunately, this tragic legacy of the Soviet system has not disappeared from modern Azerbaijan completely. The older generation - of whom there are hundreds of thousands - have still not forgotten the horrors of Stalin's days. The Stalinist and Soviet habits and customs and way of thinking have not disappeared. Many people still are not accustomed to speaking the truth and thinking freely. And so it is that we the Azerbaijani people and all other peoples of the former USSR must pass through a long period of time until we are able to rid ourselves of this legacy of the past. It won't happen overnight.

Farid Alakbarov

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