Azerbaijan International

Spring 1998 (6.1)
Pages 52-53

Reviving the Memory of Silenced Voices
Khudadat bey Rafibeyli - Doctor and Govenor

by Azad Sharifov

Rafibeyli Khudadat, Javahir KhanomEven though Khudadat Rafibeyli was once quite famous in the province of Ganja in Azerbaijan, his name is seldom mentioned today. His story is part of the history that was "erased" when the Soviets came to power. Documents that recently surfaced tell of a compassionate doctor and a prudent administrator who was summarily crushed by the Soviet regime in 1920. His story is like that of many Azerbaijani heroes who never appeared in Soviet history books.

Photo: Khudadat Rafibeyli and his wife, Javahir Khanim.

Sooner or later, time puts everything in perspective, and names that seem to have vanished forever come back to us-names that authorities tried to delete from the memory of our nation. Even though these names were condemned to be forgotten, they have somehow survived in spite of all prohibitions and restrictions. They've survived, thanks to those who have kept the memories of their heroes alive.

If it weren't for such people, we'd never have been able to revive the good name of Khudadat Rafibeyli. Materials about Rafibeyli have been resting for years inside dusty archives. They reveal the wide variety of activities in which this man was involved. Only recently did it become possible for these papers to "speak."

Who was Khudadat Rafibeyli? We know that he was from the province of Ganja in Azerbaijan and was the son of the respected Alakbar bey Rafibeyli. He was one of the first surgeons in Azerbaijan to receive his diploma. We also know that Rafibeyli was the Minister of Health and Social Care during Fatali khan Khoyski's government and that he was the provincial governor of Ganja. Even with these facts, however, we know little about this man. This little bit of information seems to reveal a legend.

Medical Training
"I swear not to dishonor the class I am now joining." In the spring of 1904, Khudadat Rafibeyli graduated from Kharkov Imperial University and spoke these words as part of his faculty oath, having passed all of his examinations. He spent the next three years as an intern at the surgical hospital of the university.

Those three years passed very quickly: hospital rounds, surgeries, patients, conferences and other duties. His wife, Javahir Khanum, came to visit him from time to time, which helped make his life more interesting and gave him a diversion from his work. He liked taking her around the city, showing her his favorite sights and introducing her to his friends and colleagues. Perhaps his nostalgia for his city grew into true homesickness after Javahir's visits, for Khudadat loved and missed his family and his city very much.

Practice in Ganja
After completing his medical training, Rafibeyli returned to Ganja as an experienced and skillful doctor. He was soon appointed Director of Elizavetpol's City Hospital No. 6. [Elizavetpol is the name for Ganja during the Soviet period.] He was one of those rare doctors who could be disturbed at any time of the day or night. He often treated patients who couldn't pay him, and often left money for these patients to buy medicine.

Additionally, Rafibeyli founded the Elizavetpol Medical Society, which offered free medical treatment. Epidemics of cholera, typhus and dysentery occurred often in Ganja, killing hundreds of people every year. Treating so many patients must have been exhausting for the doctor, and certainly must have consumed much of his time.

It was during this period that the lack of public health services became acutely noticeable. Hospitals, doctors and medical assistants were scarce and technology was underdeveloped. Dr. Rafibeyli's hospital was so overloaded with work and patients that after finishing his day's work at the hospital, he often tended to patients on his own time.

Later, as Minister of Health and Social Care, Rafibeyli organized fundraising efforts to rid the province of these epidemics. He introduced a parliamentary bill that sought government aid, which included medical services for refugees. Here's an excerpt from his parliamentary speech:

"At this moment, there are only 33 medical centers for the entire population of our villages and village outskirts. If we consider that the number of our rural population is about 2,500,000, then we have only one doctor for every 76,000 people. This situation is complicated by the fact that during these last few years, tens of thousands of refugees from Armenia and the Zangezur region have flocked to other regions of Azerbaijan. And if we take into consideration the fact that refugees are people who have lost their homes and their morale, exhausted by constant hunger and lacking such basic necessities as clothing and shelter, it becomes clear to see how they are the group most easily subjected to a variety of epidemic diseases, and the group most likely to spread these diseases. This is why it is necessary to organize ten temporary groups for a period of six months, and to localize them in places where refugees are most concentrated."

Leader of the People
In May of 1919, Ganja wasn't a tranquil province. The Revolution started in 1917, and in 1918 Khoyski's government retired, with Rafibeyli retiring as well from his position as Minister of Health. At that time, the province of Ganja covered almost half of the entire Azerbaijan territory. It was a time of anxiety: peasant agitation, robber gangs and general anarchy throughout the entire territory. The people of Ganja needed a leader, and they decided that that leader was to be Rafibeyli.

One can almost see the crowds, flowing from all parts of the city toward Zardabi Street where the Rafibeylis lived. Led by "agsaggals" (in Azeri, this means "the white-bearded," and refers to older people who have life experience and wisdom) and representatives of the local clergy, the townspeople sent a representative to try to convince Rafibeyli to be governor of their province. When dusk fell, the people were still waiting. When the representative finally returned, he admitted that his efforts to persuade Rafibeyli hadn't been successful.

The townspeople tried persuading Dr. Rafibeyli many times, but each time he refused. Only when their requests became demands and Khudadat's father reluctantly got involved did Rafibeyli finally submit to the people of Ganja. He still wanted to maintain his medical practice, however. He agreed to be governor on one condition: he would treat patients in the morning, and if there were still time in the afternoon, he'd tend to the business of the province.

Ethnic Conflict
From the first days of his administration, Rafibeyli discovered the difficulties of ethnic conflict. The province was full of refugees from Zangezur and Armenia who needed medical and financial assistance. Trying to prevent an Azeri-Armenian conflict in Ganja, Rafibeyli increased the number of police in the Armenian section of the city. He also spoke with representatives from the Armenian population and guaranteed their security. Indeed, at that time, no serious conflict occurred.

Rafibeyli did everything in his power to resolve the conflicts that erupted in the Armenian villages of Garachinar and Chaikand when the Armenian population refused to recognize the Azerbaijani government. He sent diplomats to the region with an appeal for peace, but when the delegation arrived, they were killed by militant extremists. It was after this struggle that Azerbaijan was forced to send troops to the region, and only after this did the Armenians agree to submit to the Azerbaijan government.

Resignation and Arrest
Soviet power was established in Baku on April 28, 1920. The next day, Rafibeyli resigned as Ganja's provincial governor. The last document he signed as governor was this appeal to the people of Ganja: "Upon my resignation as provincial governor, I consider it my moral responsibility to express my sincere gratitude to all province workers for their dedication. I hope that in the future these same people will fulfill their duties loyally for the welfare of the Azerbaijan Republic." It was signed, "Governor Rafibeyli."

Rafibeyli was taken away unexpectedly. It was May 12, 1920, the twelfth day of Soviet occupation in Ganja. The territory was seething and the people were anxious. Thousands had gathered at the railway station when Rafibeyli was being taken to Baku by Soviet officials.

Abbas Karimli, a former teacher from Ganja, was present when Rafibeyli was taken away. He described the scene: "Rafibeyli was walking down the street escorted by three Red Army soldiers. He wore a black hat, a black raincoat and leaned on a walking stick. As usual, he looked straight ahead as he walked... An elderly man broke from the crowd and ran up to Rafibeyli and offered him money, but Rafibeyli refused. He said, 'Thank you, but I don't need any money.' Then the elderly man informed Rafibeyli that 400 armed riders were expected from Shamkir and were planning to assist the people of Ganja in freeing him. But Rafibeyli said, 'I can't consent to that. Don't disgrace my name. Don't disgrace the name of our town, our origin, my father. Don't shed blood. They can't charge me with any crime.'" An armed group of Armenians joined the Red Army escorts and refused to let the people of Ganja go any further. Rafibeyli left for Baku.

False Accusations
Rafibeyli was charged with several offenses including the "pursuit of Bolsheviks," (meaning that he supposedly oppressed the Bolsheviks, antagonizing them and refusing to allow them to establish a Soviet government in Azerbaijan). He was also charged with membership in the Musavat Party. Rafibeyli wasn't a member of the Musavat Party or any other political party, and refused to acknowledge the charges against him.

The most grievous offense made against him was the arson of Armenian villages. Several village peasants signed Rafibeyli's denunciation, among them: B. Shakhnazarov, A. Sarkisov, O. Vartanov, A. Kevorkov, E. Kevorkov, A. Akopov and M. Arutunov. One of the peasants, Bigas Shakhnazarov, commissioner of the Upper Ajikand village in Ganja, made this statement:

"About a month ago, under the Musavat government's orders, local Muslims offered Armenian villages a chance to surrender arms voluntarily. Then they started to bombard the village of Garachinar, with other civilians entering the upland part, as well as other villages. They arrested me along with other commissioners, took me to Ganja and threw me in jail without any questioning. We were insulted and beaten."

The denunciation was dated May 12, 1920­the same day that Rafibeyli was arrested. There hadn't been enough time for any charges to be verified, much less any time for written and signed denunciations. Furthermore, most of the villagers were illiterate. The denunciation was handwritten legibly, which makes its authenticity questionable. Rafibeyli's denunciation was signed clumsily, and in a different handwriting from that of the document.

Under questioning, Rafibeyli denied all charges against him, saying, "I am not guilty of the charges." Had the people of Ganja been asked to testify in favor of Rafibeyli, they would have come by the thousands to his defense. But there wasn't a serious investigation and there wasn't a trial. There wasn't even an official verdict. Khudadat Rafibeyli was taken to one of the islands in the Caspian Sea and shot to death. Case No. 298 was never closed.

A Family Separated
Rafibeyli was only 43 years old when he was murdered. He left a wife and three young children: Kamil (11 years old), Rashid (9 years old) and Negar (7 years old). Javahir Khanum feared for her children's safety. She and the children were forced to move from town to town. Respecting his mother's concerns for his safety, Kamil moved to Iran in 1929, and later to Turkey. Rashid moved to Russia, while Negar, who later became a famous poet, moved with her mother to Baku.

In the 1970s, I worked in Ankara as a correspondent for the newspaper "Izvestiya." I had the chance to meet Khudadat Rafibeyli's son, Kamil, who had become a doctor like his father. Kamil never said a word about the hardships and the difficulties in his life, and never uttered a bad word against anyone for having been forced to leave his country.

He was very happy because on that particular day, Negar had come to see her brother. They had not seen each other for 38 years. I didn't feel comfortable asking Kamil questions just then. He hadn't seen his sister for so long! And at the time, I wasn't sure if I'd ever have the opportunity to share the story of this remarkable family. I decided I'd just share in their joy.

I hope that this story somehow fills in the holes in our history and serves to remind us of the debt we owe to the name of Khudadat Rafibeyli - a debt of honor.

From Azerbaijan International (6.1) Spring 1998.
© Azerbaijan International 1998. All rights reserved.

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