Caretaker at a Russian Cemetery
by Rit Nosotro
First Published:: 2003
Sir, what is your name?
How old are you and where were you born?
I was born September, 1938 and am 65 years old
I was born in Karakalpak, Uzbekistan
Can you tell me more about your childhood, youth and background?
My father worked as a driver his whole life, fought against the Nazis in 1941 through 1945. Well I studied and finished school, then in earned a degree in the technology. Served in the Soviet Army for three years, I am glad I served in the army, it taught me some things... after that I finished college as a historian.
How did you live in during Soviet times?
Well, I worked as a teacher, assistant and then finally as the director of a school. I am in a way happy I am a History teacher, even though the pay right now is really low compared to other salaries as it always has been. But I still receive great pleasure teaching students.
How about after the collapse of the Collapse?
I have worked as a teacher for forty years and since the collapse of the USSR I have worked at the Belorussian Embassy.
What is this cemetery all about?
This is our pain, the pain of our republic. Because under this memorial monument lie the bodies of men that could have brought great benefit to the nation. It is the intelegencia, I will give the name of a few, Yosup Abdrahmanov, Baynalee Isakiev, Tarakov Aytmatov, Kaysim Teenistanov and many others. What do I have to say about this, these people, if they had lived, they could have brought much good to the nation. They were at an average of 33 to 37 years old, at which age they could have helped the State
Did you know anyone who was taken and who disappeared? Or did
you hear of such things?
Well I knew my Mathematician teacher well [in school] and his [last] name was Hakimov. But you know, when they can skip a class kids a re happy right? Well that’s how it was with us also. He was a great teacher and had been in the war [World War II against the Germans] on the battlefront and as a result of an war-injury, could not bend one of his legs. At that time it was custom for the soldiers from the War to keep wearing their uniform and my teacher had a special medal for serving exceptionally well on the battlefront. We were all very proud of our teacher and that he had fought in the war, but one day some people in civilian clothes came to our school and took him away. We didn’t understand anything then and enjoyed the extra time to go play basketball and so on but when one of us asked about our teacher in Mathematics, somehow he is missing, the director told us that he had gone to a place from where none return. That’s how it was then.1
What did you think of the secret police? Did you then imagine
that these type of things were happening?
In those years, we only started hearing rumors, but when Stalin died in 1953...at least by 1956 there was a backlash and at least then we already understood what had happened. And of course, those years were very scary, -what I want to say is that during the years of the Great War (WWII) soldiers threw themselves onto machine gun pits and took the blows of grenades and bombs with words of "Praise be upon Stalin", "Long live Stalin" and for our country and for Stalin" and then they hear of these things [atrocities] and of course there was some confusion and mixed feelings but personally, my parents, family and I all were not affected by the "elimination of intelligencia". We were part of the working class.
What were the relations toward the KGB? Well they were the police, peace-keeping force, so there were varied sentiments, but I never got in trouble with them. Well there was a period when the former KGB president took power that was Anthrope and he strongly tried to return to the tight knit security and control of the Stalin era. But because of this not everyone loved him and it didn't work out.
Who was your favorite Soviet leader?
Of all the Soviet leaders I would have to say my favorite was the leader of my youth, of course that was Stalin.
What did you think of /about God during this time?
You, with our bread and butter we were taught that God does not exist. And for forty years that’s what I taught my students also, that there is no God, that He's a myth, that religion is opium of the nations, but as a Muslim2 I respect that too. It kin of makes sense that I honor the Muslim faith and have read the Qur'an as well as visiting [the village's only church] Lutherans a couple times to see what it is about because as a historian I need to know this kind of information. But personally, I believe and don't...
What do you mean yes and no, you believe he exists or you believe
that belief is healthy for the society?
Well honestly when mullahs [Islamic teachers] come and just read [recite for the dead-almost dedication] these verses in Arabic, I wish they had it in an understandable language. Like the Lutherans here they speak in English and it is immediately translated into Russian so both English speakers and Russians can understand.
But personally I can never really read the Qu'ran in Arabic and so though I knew some of the context, that was all. Of course we still celebrated the Muslim holidays with my parents and family. But like 80% of my age group, in the former [Soviet] Union don't believe. I do not understand those that yesterday said that God does not exist and is a myth yesterday and today are putting on the chormas [Muslim robes] and are reading the Qu'ran.
Where were you at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union?
Was it a shock when Kyrgyzstan declared independence?
I remember '91 very well. In 1991, on September 1st I was still teaching nearby but when people started protesting against Gorbachov in 1920 in August, it was painful for me to watch. And then the Soviet Union started falling apart, starting with the uniting of the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia….Then the Central Asian country’s [leaders] also gathered in Ashkabad, Turkmenistan. And it was very scary and painful to see this division. You see my parents and all my relatives are buried in Dagistan, and I cannot go visit it without a lot of papers that of course I don’t have. So even though I was born there and so on, I still can’t go there, and it wasn’t like that in the Union if you wanted you could travel. So for me it was and will be a hard hit against me.
What did you think of it? What was the sentiment of the people
towards the whole breakdown?
Well I think at least 90%, to be safe, were shocked, confused, “What should I do, how should I act, what happens next?” We didn’t understand it. We had a solid salary; we would go to the hospital, and never thought about having to pay [free]. You had to buy your own medicine but it was at a large discount. We paid pittins for rent and utilities. Like right now, for gas, electricity, heating, the sum price is atrocious. Our pension is small, for example I receive 1000 som a month [average pay for teachers (an estimate of $20)].
When did people find out about this cemetery and when did the
killings take place?
The shootings were executed in 1938, November 5 and 8. But the general public, via TV, radio and newspapers, started finding out in June 1991, after 53 years. Then of course there was a big deal made about it, excavation and plenty of attention. …History has frequently been rewritten and was like that when [right after] Stalin was in power. The constitution was called Stalin’s constitution, like does your [American] constitution named after someone? It was someone’s personal, like it means something, all the leadership role and so on but that’s not everything. Right? Of course
What difference do you see now from the Soviet Union and is the condition better or worse than from Soviet times?
I want to say that, simply, that the simple people, the working class, the farmers, factory workers ext., they lost many things, but the worst of all, they lost a confidence of what will tomorrow [the future] holds. Materially a lot was lost also. The factories closed up, no work, no pay. I am glad for my pension and this job at least, but I am a person needed by the nation, to teach students and inform people [very humble]. But I knew a good specialist of a factory, and all of a sudden the factory closed up and he had no where to go…and became a hobo.
What special events and/or wars affected you personally or changed
something that was personal to you?
Personally, I have lived my life for the nation, so what affects me is what affects the nation. Well first of all, the collapse of the Soviet Union, terribly affected me. And the Osh events, and now this March 24 event, shocked me, and greatly affected me and my family. And also today and yesterday, what’ happening in Uzbekistan. …
How would you compare and describe the difference between the
collapses of the Soviet Union with the recent revolution here?
It’s all linked; it came from the collapse of the Soviet Union that this revolution came from. We used to be united family, I remember Tashkent, when they was the terrible earthquake there, and then Ashkabad, Turkmenistan in 1948, three years after the war [WWII], I remember now all the humanitarian aid and construction aid that flocked to those scenes practically the whole Soviet Union aided them. And Tashkent has almost completely rebuilt, and the relations between cultures (of contries) was much better now.
I have seen and heard about tensions now in some of the [Kyrgyz]
cities against Russians and foreigners in general, how would you compare
that with right after the collapse of the S.S.S.R.?
Yes, of course, there was some of that then and now. I have seen and heard the comments directed at me, even though I ignored it. It hurt though being told I should go back to Russia. Of course under the Soviet system we didn’t have that, well if any, it wasn’t much.
Well do you think it is linked, I mean it seems to be a larger upset towards foreigners right after the revolutions? Yes, there is some of that too right now among the politics. It comes any time after any cataclysm or movements. The darker faces surface to the top and try to stir up trouble against other nationalities. It is always been like that and probably will always been like that. And then there is also cross-religious trouble. You have probably heard of the Uzbek group IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), they think that if all foreigners are driven out, then the Muslim Caliphate will be restored. But as history has shown and Iraq is showing, even with a united Muslin nation, among the Sunni and Shiite, there is still fighting, THERE IS NO PEACE
What is your stand now about God and how (if at all) do you think
he has affected the things we've talked about. What can I say?
I see all the bloodshed and fighting between the governments in Palestine. If God is, how does he allow all of this bloodshed? Why do children die of starvation after they have come into existence. …If this belief in Allah, or God, will go to use, people will clean up their acts, the cultural oppressions of others would stop, and stop the persecutions and killings then that’s good. I would believe in God if I saw that. So far I don’t see that, its just getting worse and worse, all the theft, rape, killing, I just don’t understand if Allah or God exists, then why wont it stop, like whats happening in Uzbekistan, planes screeching, bodies strewn…its scary.
Well thank you for your time.
A 2 minute 30 second mp3 file of this interview may be heard
1This man lived and now lives in the same small village as Ravil Hussein, he is 91 years old now. What happened was that he had fought at the front lines and unfortunately been captured. The Germans captured him and sent him to one of their concentration camps. He didn’t intentionally get captured, their group was surrounded and he was captured, I mean its natural and was essential for survival. And after the war and he was freed by the American forces he returned back to the Soviet Union. He started teaching again until he was taken to the Russian Concentration Camp. What get to me is he is no longer is considered a war-hero. He lost his documents and because of his experiences, he does not get the same treatment the other frontline fighters get.
2He comes from a Tatar family and so is culturally Muslim even if not religiously. He also mentioned outside of the interview to respect what religions help with promoting moral truth, stimulating love among people ext.