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A Tajik student in Moscow during the 1950s

Naim Iakubov, Dorogu osilit iduschii. Dushanbe, 2004.


Naim Iakubov (1934-2016) was a Tajik architect and urban planner who was for many years the rector of the Polytechnic Institute in Dushanbe. His Russian-language memoir, Dorogu osilit iduschii, covers his childhood and education in Stalinabad/Dushanbe in the 1940s, higher education in Moscow during the 1950s, and his work at Dushanbe’s Polytechnic Institute in the decades that followed. The memoir also discusses his family at some lengths, as well as the careers of his students and colleagues.

This excerpt is drawn from chapters concerning his time in Moscow, which coincided with the years of the Thaw. Note that while he recalls his time in Moscow fondly and generally speaks warmly about his teachers and fellow students, the memoir also reveals that even for someone like Iakubov the experience of being a Central Asian in Moscow was not without its challenges. As Iakubov himself acknowledges, his education would have been much more difficult had he not already attended a Russian-language high-school in Dushanbe. Even still, he occasionally faced teachers who refused to believe he was actually capable of doing the work required.


It was the end of August 1953. I had completed the entrance exams for central [Russian] institutions of higher education. The state commission led by the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Tajik SSR Mirzo Rahmatov[1] announced that I would be enrolled in the V.V.Kuybyshev Engineering and Construction Institute in Moscow.[2] My childhood dream had come to pass – I would be a construction engineer.

            The preparations to go to Moscow did not take long. The whole family prepared me for the road. My younger brothers looked at me with some jealousy. Their brother was going all the way to Moscow! My mother was somewhat sad. She always guarded her children against some ill fortune. My father was more reserved and gave very fatherly advice and instructions. He said: “Son, you have interesting studies ahead of you, you will make new friends and find new mentors. Moscow is a big city with many temptations. Be careful. Don’t disappoint yourself and us. May you have a good journey!”

            On the platform at the railroad station there were many people who had come to say goodbye. A large group of students was leaving the republic for Moscow and other cities, all of them accepted outside the normal competition to institutes in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, etc. The trains were very comfortable back them. We all travelled in several train cars with sleeping compartments, all at the government’s expense. Accompanying us was A.A. Arbobov, a representative of the republic’s Gosplan and a friend of my father’s who came from the same region.

            The trip was long – 5 days and nights. These five days and nights we spent talking about the future – the universities where we would study – although we knew little about them.

            At each station we would jump up from our seats and look out the window, whether it was day or night…and finally Moscow, the city of my dreams, the city I had been thinking about all the previous days. (41-42)

            This was the beginning of my wonderful student life, the most romantic [time] in a person’s life, a period of mastering one’s future professions, a period of becoming an individual with one’s own joys, difficulties, and occasional adversity.  … (44)      

            The most important thing was that I was warmly welcomed by our [student] cohort, which mostly consisted of Muscovites and Leningraders from intellectual families, most of them the children or grandchildren of architects and engineers. This happened first of all because I was able to communicate easily with them in Russia. Indeed, my pre-university education was no worse than that of most of my cohort. Quite unexpectedly I was elected as PROFORG[3] for my cohort, a position I kept for the whole five years of study….

            Student life gradually found its rhythm, and though I missed my home, my parents, and my younger brother, I was helped by the whole atmosphere which surrounded me, my friends and classmates, and the young men from my region with whom I remained close even in the final years of study…There were four of us in our dorm room, Abdurashid, Surat Rahimov, and Kamchibek from Kyrgyzstan. They taught me very useful things about everyday life studies, and so on. We lived “communally” and usually we pooled our resources (v skladchinu) to eat. (47)

            Somehow, I did not have normal relations with the teacher for projective geometry (nachertatel’naia geometriia, an engineering subdiscipline). Despite the fact that I completed all of my assignments on time, and even though all of my comrades who checked my work said I was doing it right, this teacher never believed that I was doing it myself and kept saying to me “go back to your aul.”[4] This continued until the middle of December 1953. I was growing desperate and was even starting to think that maybe I should just go home. But that would be so shameful! Nobody would understand! And here I had a stroke of luck: the teacher for some reason left his work at the institute. I don’t know why, and it’s not important. I went to the dean to explain the situation. I was told to go to the professor who was head of the department, M.A. Kniazkov. After looking over my work, he asked me several question, noted down that I had completed the work, but then asked: “Young man, why did you not submit this work to your own teacher?” At this point I told him directly: “He told me to go back to my aul.” He was silent for a moment, and then he clapped me on the back and said: “Don’t be upset. Anything can happen, we’ll see each other at the exam.” My happiness, and that of my whole cohort, knew no bounds. I am not writing this to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that in my student life I only had one such incident. Rather, it is to underline how important [proper] understanding between students and teachers is in in the educational process, how important the support of comrades is in such difficult moments, as well as their understanding of the difficulties that a person is facing. (50-51)


[1] Mirzo Rakhmatov (1914-1998) was a Tajik party and state official. As Chairman of the republic's Supreme Soviet, he was the formal head of state for the republic in the 1950s. He later served as ambassador to Yemen and Mauritania. See his memoir: Na diplomaticheskoi sluzhbe (Dushanbe: Irfon, 1991).

[2] The V.V. Kuibyshev Moscow Institute for Engineering and Construction (popularly known as MISI), founded in 1922, was the leading Soviet institution of higher education for architecture, construction engineering, and related fields. It is currently known as the Moscow State Construction University and has the status of a National Research University.

[3] А proforg (profsoiuzniy organizator, or union organizer) was elected by a cohort and represented the cohort within the university-wide student organization. See Benjamin Tromly, Making the Soviet Intelligentsia: Universities and Intellectual Life under Stalin and Khrushchev (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 41. 

[4] An “aul” can refer to a seasonal settlement used by nomadic people or a more permanent settlement; in some cases it is used to denote a large extended family. Note that the term is most commonly used in the North Caucasus and it not generally used among Uzbeks or Tajiks. The teacher’s use of this term suggests a tendency to lump together all migrants from the “Soviet South.”