Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2003 (11.3)
Pages 8-9

Readers' Forum
Sisters Meet - Half A Century Later

I live in California. My half sister, who has the same name as I do - Eleonora Borisovna - and whom I had never seen prior to the summer of 2003, lives in Baku. We had so desperately wanted to meet for decades, but the Soviet Union always kept us apart. In fact, for the past 45 years, we had even lost touch with each other.

The story begins in World War II. Like many who fought in the war, our father Boris Ivanovich Kantemir became a prisoner of war in Germany. My father knew that if he returned to the Soviet Union, he would be executed. Strange as it seems, that's what Stalin did to prisoners of war - executed or exiled them.

The fact that my father was a descendant of a noble family also complicated his return. His ancestry automatically made him a member of the bourgeoisie and branded him as an enemy of the people. Our great, great, great grandfather Dimitri Konstanovich Kantemir was Prince of Moldova (1685-1693) and Imperial Chancellor to Peter the Great of Russia. In the 1730s, his son, Antioch (our great, great, great uncle) became the Russian Ambassador to England and later France.

Above: (Left) Eleonora No. 1 in the 1930s. Her father Boris Kantemir carried this photo in his pocket many years. It eventually led to the reunion of his two daughters more than 60 years later.

After the Bolsheviks took power in Baku in 1920, they executed many of the families who were of nobility or who had wealth. Sadly, my father witnessed his own father being shot right in front of his eyes. My father was a teenager at the time. His father's only crime was that of being a descendent of nobility. That's when my father realized that he must flee Baku or risk the same fate. He left for Austria via a long tortuous route. My sister, an infant at the time, was left with his mother in Baku.

So after the war, my father remained in Germany and remarried. But father never forgot his other daughter. He always carried her baby picture in his shirt pocket close to his heart. The first Eleonora had been born in 1938. When I came along in 1947, father gave me the exact same name-Eleonora Borisovna.

Left: Two half sisters with the same name - Eleonora Borisovna - met in Baku this past summer (Eleonora No. 1 far left and No. 2 in blue). Their father had fled Baku after the Bolsheviks killed his father. The two Eleonoras had lost contact with each other for nearly 45 years. This was the first time that Eleonora No. 2 had ever been in Baku.

After Father left Baku, he did not know that his Mother, Maria, would be exiled to Siberia. It didn't matter that she had served as a nurse on the Russian front. We don't know when it happened. One day she just disappeared.

Nothing was ever heard from her again. One day my father received a letter from his cousin, telling us that his mother had died 10 years earlier. I still remember my father holding the letter in his hand and crying. I was about 7 years old at that time. That's when he told me that there was another Eleonora Borisovna. I guess he thought that I was old enough to understand such complicated things in life.

Eventually, Father and I immigrated to America. Because of the political situation in the Soviet Union, there was little communication between our family and the other Eleonora. Eventually, we totally lost contact with each other. Silence followed for 45 long years and naturally we faded from each other's lives.

Then one day, Azerbaijan gained its independence [1991] and the doors opened. In 1999, I received a letter directed to my old address in America. Written in English on the envelope was the plea: "Please help me find my lost relative." Somehow, that letter miraculously found its way to California where I now live.

Letters resumed. Telephone calls. My sister and I both dreamed of the day that we would meet. But there were more obstacles. She was refused a visa to enter the United States. Again, we were afraid that everything would be lost. We had so hoped that she would get to come here to usher in the new millennium. But on New Year's Eve 2000, sadness filled our hearts, not joy. Dreams and hopes were crushed again! All we could do was hope for a miracle to happen - and it did!

Finally, I made up my mind that I would travel to Azerbaijan. Many people had warned me not to go there. "It's too dangerous," they told me. "The people and the country are in turmoil. It's not safe anywhere!" But nothing could hold me back from meeting my long lost sister. I had to find her. Fortunately, it turned out that those warnings weren't true at all: the country wasn't anything like people had described. I felt very safe when I arrived in Baku this past July.

The flight between Los Angeles and Baku is nearly 24 hours door-to-door. I was so surprised how easy it was to get a visa there in the airport when I landed and how friendly the airport immigration officers were. That first impression of warmth and hospitality remained the entire visit in Azerbaijan. Everyone was friendly and treated me as a close friend and family member.

As soon as I passed through customs and collected my luggage, I started looking for my sister. There was such a crowd; I couldn't find her. Then she stepped out to meet me. Words can't describe the feeling. We hugged and hugged. Tears of happiness streamed down our faces - the two Eleonora Kantemirs! I began to see that other people in the crowd were crying, too. It turns out that they were my sister's dearest friends and their families.families. They had come to welcome me. What wonderful people-these people of Azerbaijan! They accepted me so quickly as one of their own. As my sister doesn't speak English, we spoke together in Russian, which I had not forgotten from childhood.

In those three short weeks, I grew to love the culture and people of Baku. I was introduced to what for me was exotic food and music. My favorite foods are gutab, rice pilaf, kabab, and, of course, Azerbaijani beer."

We wandered through the historical city of Baku-and visited Baku's landmark, the Maiden's Tower and surrounding fortress walls. My sister showed me Old Baku ("Ichari Shahar") where our father used to buy Russian "pirogi" from her mother before they married.

We walked along the Boulevard down close to the sea and sat at outdoor cafes, drinking tea and watched the people strolling under the moon lit skies down by the Caspian. We went swimming in the Caspian and I gathered seashells for my daughters back home.

I was invited into the homes of so many people. I love to dance and so I quickly learned the graceful movements of Azerbaijani folk dances. I even began to pick up some Azeri words. But, most importantly, I was able to celebrate my sister's 65th birthday! It was a dream come true!!

My sister and I discovered so many ways in which we're alike. We both look like our Father. Our voices are quite similar to each other's. We even think alike and share similar tastes. Her friends call her "Ella" - short for Eleonora - exactly like my friends do.

Our Father, who died in 1982 here in the U.S., had wanted so much to go back to Baku. Finally, after so many years, I managed to go in his place. Because of the visit, I feel so close to the people and country and now understand why my father loved Azerbaijan so much. Now I consider it my country and people, too.

And that photo that Dad used to carry in his pocket? Well, I have a copy of it now and so does my sister. Our big wish is for my sister to get a chance to visit me here in the United States. If that happens, we want to go together to visit the grave of our Father whose longing for Baku brought us together.

Eleonora Borisovna Kantemir (No. 2)
Hacienda Heights, California

Back to Index AI 11.3 (Autumn 2003)
AI Home
| Search | Magazine Choice | Topics | AI Store | Contact us

Other Web sites created by Azerbaijan International
| |