Spring 2005 (13.1)
of Genetics Under Stalin
Left: Dr. Aghakhan Aghabeyli with his grandson
now Dr. Farid Alakbarli, the author of this article.
had a deep quarrel with geneticists and, as a result, many of
them were imprisoned or even shot. According to Communist ideology
there was no such thing as superior genes. These illusions were
promulgated by Soviet scientist T.D.Lisenko, who convinced Stalin
that he and his colleagues could develop new productive breeds
of animals and plants based on Marxist-Leninist theory.
Lisenko insisted that Mendel and Morgan were capitalists and
had created false deterministic theories about genes and chromosomes
to disprove that the human race could be changed by special training
and ideology. Lisenko countered by saying that genes and chromosomes
had nothing to do with heredity. His theory was very primitive
and asserted, for example, that if a cow were well fed and healthy,
this would enable the offspring to be fat and productive. Good
soil, ample watering, good agricultural techniques were sufficient
enough for developing new breeds. Long-termed biological selection
based on genes and chromosomes was not necessary.
For Lisenko, selectionists and geneticists were liars, anti-soviet
capitalists and "Enemies of the People". In this way,
Lisenko sought to rid himself of competitors - the famous Soviet
Famous Soviet geneticists such as Professors Vavilov, Koltsov,
Serebrovski and others followed the scientific approach and were
branded as Mendelists-Morganists. They scoffed at Lisenko's primitive
ideas, calling him "the clown of science", "crazy",
and "ignorant". Little did they realize how dangerous
it was to be so critical of him. Nobody believed that a time
would come when he would garner enough power to terrify all geneticists
in the USSR.
Lisenko (smirking in center) surrounded by a group of scientists,
including some of his opponents and some of the former students
of Serebrovski who was killed by Stalin. Note the portrait of
Stalin. Professor Aghakhan Aghabeyli (first from left).
in 1931 as a PhD student in Moscow (third from right). First
from left was his professor (wearing beret), the world-reknown
geneticist Professor Serebrovski who was shot by Stalin later
in the 1930s.
By gaining favor
with Stalin, Lisenko gained control of all agricultural science
throughout the country, including all scientific institutions,
universities and laboratories related to biology, genetics and
Stalin embraced the ideas of Lisenko and it wasn't long before
he had Serebrovski and Koltsov shot to death. Vavilov was imprisoned
and died of dysentery. Hundreds of other genuine geneticists
and selectionists suffered during the Repression as well [especially
during the year 1937].
Nor did Dr. Aghabeyli escape censure. As a former student of
Serebrovski, he had published a book in 1933 entitled, "A
Short Course in the Genetics of Animals". This was the first
genetics text that had ever been prepared in the Azerbaijani
language. It consisted of a compilation of lectures that Aghabeyli
had given at Ganja Agricultural University. In 1937, the KGB
questioned Aghabeyli, accusing him of having written a Mendelist-Morganist
book which was branded as "anti-Soviet" and of collaborating
with Professor Serebrovski, who was known to be an "Enemy
of the People".
The KGB warned Aghabeyli not to give any more lectures based
on Mendelist-Morganist theories. They threatened that if he disobeyed,
he would be arrested immediately.
And so it was that up until Stalin's death in 1953, Professor
Aghabeyli along with many other Soviet geneticists were not allowed
to say a single word about the scientific role of genes or chromosomes
for fear of being arrested.
Dr. Farid Alakbarli
is the grandson of Dr. Aghabeyli. Farid works at the Institute
in Baku and has two doctorate degrees - one in Historical Sciences
and the other in Biology. His own specialty is medieval
medical manuscripts in the Arabic script. To read about the life and scientific
contributions of Dr. Aghabeyli's wife, Khadija Aghabeyli, see
Era - Growing Up in Baku's Old City" (AI 12.3, Autumn 2004). Search
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