novel "Underground Rivers Flow Into the Sea" deals
with repression and exile-an experience all too common for Azerbaijanis
as well as millions of others residing throughout
the entire Soviet Union, especially during the Stalinist era
[1924-1953]. At that time, someone could be identified as an
"enemy of the people" not just for criticizing the
government, but also for being a prisoner of war or for having
relatives living abroad or innumerable pretenses. If a friend
or relative were singled out, you also could be in jeopardy of
losing your job, your apartment, your Party membership. Worse
yet, you could be imprisoned, exiled or executed.
Photo: Mehdi Husein, 1954.
The narrator in the novel is Samira Aydin, a young engineer.
Her husband Modhad has been exiled because he had been captured
and taken prisoner by the Germans during World War II. Simply
being married to him causes her to lose her job, her apartment
and her membership in the Communist Party. In this passage, Samira
has been hospitalized for heart problems and doesn't understand
why the doctors won't let her go home. They simply are trying
to "beat the cruel KGB system." Unfortunately, they
Mehdi Husein shows how many of those who were obliged to "do
their job" also had a conscience and a human side to their
personalities. They themselves also mourn their own imprisonment
within the system.
Flow Into the Sea
from the novel)
I followed the
doctor into the room. "Saida Khanim," I said, "I
think I should leave the hospital right away."
It was so difficult to persuade her to change her mind.
"I told you already, and that's that! I don't think that
you should leave now. Otherwise, you'll be sorry."
"Sorry for what?"
"For leaving the hospital. Don't you understand?"
"No, I don't. Why do you hide the reason from me as if it
were a military secret?"
The doctor sighed deeply: "Samira Khanim, why do you cause
us both trouble? You're asking something from me that's impossible.
I don't have permission to release you."
The doctor's eyes were full of tears.
"They're hiding something from me," I thought.
I headed off to the office of the Head Physician, but he told
me the same thing, "Don't insist, Samira Khanim. I am the
worst person in the world if you cross me..."
Later, I understood that these people were aware of some sort
of foreboding disaster and wanted to shield me and my children
On the day I finally left the hospital, Saida Khanim was standing
at the door of the ward. She wanted to keep me in the ward as
long as possible.
I remember her words when she shook my hand goodbye: "My
friends and I tried so hard. But it was impossible." So
they were forced to release me from the hospital.
When I arrived home and met my children who had come home from
school, something weighed heavily on my heart. My mother-in-law
was not home. My daughters did not welcome my return. It seemed
to me that they were afraid even to look at me. No matter how
many questions I asked, they didn't answer.
In the evening
Badirnisa, my mother-in-law, returned. As soon as she saw me,
she scowled. "Why did they release you? I went to Saida
Khanim the other day and asked her to keep you there as long
as possible. Maybe it could be forgotten."
"What could be forgotten?"
"It's not unknown to God so why shouldn't you know as well?
The other day two agents from the KGB came and asked for you.
I told them you were in the hospital. They said, 'OK. We'll come
back again another day. But don't let her leave Baku.'"
The old woman started to weep. "What do they mean by this?
They have arrested the children's father. Somehow we tolerate
this. But what do they want from their mother? They sent him
into exile because he was captured by Germans. OK. We understand
this. He was guilty and they have punished him. What does his
wife have to do with this? Why is she to blame?"
She wanted to continue but was interrupted. A knock at the door
startled us. I asked rather hesitatingly, "Who is it?"
Someone I didn't know came in. It seemed as if the muscles of
his skinny cheeks were made of clay and his eyes, of glass. If
he had not moved his lips, it would have been difficult to believe
that he was a living being. With a trembling voice, he asked,
"Are you Samira Aydin?"
"You must come with me."
He took a folded piece of paper out of his coat pocket. I knew
it was about me.
He said, "Please, an order is an order, citizen Aydin.1 You must come alone.
Leave your children with relatives."
"What if I want to take them with me?"
"There is nothing written in the order about them."
"But what if I want to take them? Are you recommending that
I not take them or is this an order?"
"There is nothing written about them in the order, nor was
there any verbal instruction concerning them. It is best if you
don't take them."
He suddenly realized the softness of his tone and turned back.
Being sure that nobody could hear him, he turned his face to
me: "I don't have the right to say this, but I will. I,
too, am a human being, I, too, have children. It will be great
trouble both for you and your daughters."
Everybody's eyes were full of tears except mine. Rahila, the
younger of my two daughters, was already crying. Kamala hugged
my neck. I tried to calm them. "Come on, girls. I know it
will be very difficult for you. But remember: your father and
I are not guilty. Show respect to your grandmother. Study hard.
We all owe our government very much. We have to pay this debt
throughout life. Whether or not you are hungry and thirsty, it
is not because of us."
The man was looking aside. I asked him, "What can I take
"Clothes, I mean, a dress, a jacket, a coat-something warm.
Take some food. If you have money, take some money."
My mother-in-law started rummaging in the corner. She made a
bundle and put it on the bed. Wrapping the rest of her money
in her handkerchief, she gave it to me. I took the bundle and
put my old coat over my arm. I felt like I had to tell her something.
"Until now I had hoped that they would release Modhad [my
husband]. But I was mistaken. Take care."
My neighbors were waiting for me in the corridor. All of them
were old women. Each one was holding something. Some were offering
money, some, food, and some, warm clothes.
"Take it, Samira!"
"Take it, daughter!"
"This is all I can give."
"I can only put my hope in this ring. Take it, maybe it
will be of some use in a strange land..."
I was taken to the seashore, to the pier where all of the passenger
ships were moored. The place was congested with people. I turned
my face to the man who had brought me. "Please tell my family
where I have been taken."
"OK, I will, citizen Aydin!"
"Please do, so that my mother-in-law and children won't
get into trouble when searching for me."
"All right, I'll tell them."
"Where are they taking us?"
"To Central Asia." 2
"If you tell them the place I'm being sent to, I'll be deeply
indebted all my life."
At that moment a man passed by and greeted the agent who had
brought me to the ship. Suddenly the agent's face took on a stern,
cruel look that was opposite his kind expression earlier. He
waved his hand in the air and shouted: "Who do you think
I am, citizen Aydin?" And then he stepped aside and whispered
his last words, "OK, I will."
The ship gave a long mournful blast. They untied the thick rope
from its iron moorings. The man who had delivered me looked around
trying to appear casual though he was actually very attentive
to every detail. With a slight gesture of his hand that only
I could perceive, he wished me a safe trip, then went back across
the pier and disappeared into the crowd.
1 A person who was considered an "enemy of
the people" was addressed as "citizen" rather
than "comrade", the esteemed form of address during
the Soviet period. UP
During this period, many people were exiled to lesser populated
regions of the Soviet Union, especially to Uzbekistan, Kazakstan
and Kyrgyzstan. Sometimes entire ethnic communities, such as
Meskhetis, were relocated there by railroad box cars against
their will. UP
by Jala Garibova
(7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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