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The terror in Tajikistan

An excerpt from Khursheda Otakhonova, Dil mehohad, ki guiamu giram. Dushanbe: Irfon, 2011

Khursheda Otakhonova (1932-2016) was a Tajik literary historian, known in particular for her work on Abdulqassim Lahuti and Sadriddin Ayni. The first part of these memoirs, initially published in Sadoi Sharq during the perestroika era, discusses the effect of Stalin’s purges on Otakhonova’s own family. Her father, Otakhon Musohojaev, joined the Komsomol in 1919 and became a Party member in 1923; he was arrested in 1937. Khursheda and her mother sought shelter in Istarafshan; her father was released in 1944 but was not rehabilitated until 1957. Later chapters cover the author’s experience with prominent intellectuals and literary figures, including Abduqodir Manyezov and Mirzo Tursonzade. 

This selection covers her experience in Istaravshan immediately after her father’s arrest as well as her family life after her father returned home in 1946. In a sense, this is a story familiar to us from other memoirs and accounts of the terror: Otakhonova’s parents joined the Party soon after the revolution, and suffered along with other Old Bolsheviks, pre-revolutionary elites who had worked with the Soviets, and those who joined the party immediately after the revolution. But it gives us what is still a rare first-person account of how Stalin’s terror upended the lives even of those who supported the Soviet project in Central Asia.


From the first days [after arriving in Istaravshan], my mother tried to avoid being a burden on her father, who had only a small pension, and so she went looking for work. Every day she went out to look for work, but wherever she went they would find an excuse not to hire her.

            My mother was among the first women in Istaravshan who took of the veil. She was one of the activists in the city who went among the women to agitate about the harmfulness of the veil and especially to convince women to take part in work that would be useful for society.    

            It was even said that when the chairman of the Executive Committee of the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan, Nusratullo Mahsum, came to Uroteppa (Istaravshan) he had tied a red ribbon on her neck.

            In our family album there is a picture where my mother is among the participants of the third plenum of the City Council of Uroteppa (Istaravshan), which took place on January 16, 1929, and another where is she is among the activists of Kulob on March 8, 1934.

            A month and a half after my father was arrested, my mother was called to appear before the Bureau of the city’s party committee. The night passed but there was no sign of her. My grandfather kept going outside to look for her. Finally, my mother returned. As a wife of an “enemy of the people” she had been kicked out of the Party, and her membership card had been confiscated. My mother could not speak. My sister, who could not sleep from sadness, cried herself to in the cradle. The next day my mother too was numb and did not speak to anyone. She put Aziza in the cradle and told me not to leave her side. If she becomes hysterical, call your aunt, the wife of uncle Islom, she knows our neighbors and will come herself. (17-18)


            [After he returned] my father still carried the label of an “enemy of the people,” and this tortured him. He still believed that this was a mistake and that if he could get just get into the right offices and see the right people his innocence would be established.

            During his imprisonment my father wrote appeals to whoever he could. One of the accusations against him was that he supposedly had a lot of land in Istaravshan. My father wrote to my mother asking her to go to the chairman to confirm that he had only a small yard. He knew our family’s situation very well and could therefore issue a certificate saying that besides that small yard my father did not have anything. My mother soon went to make this request to the chairman, though she had little hope that it would work. The chairman said that “until the baby cried the mother does not give milk.” My mother, surprised, asked what that saying had to do with the accusation. The chairman said that there was a direct connection: if he received a request from above, he would of course send such a certificate.

            After returning to Dushanbe, my father wrote multiple letters to the Ministry of Security and the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Tajikistan. Here is my translation of one of them:

To the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Tajikistan, Comrade Munavvar Shogadoev,  

From the deputy director of sewing factory No.1, Otakhon Musohujaev


I was born in 1901 in the family of a poor farmer and remained in my father’s custody until 1919. In 1919 I joined the Komsomol, and was accepted into the Communist Party (b) in 1923. I worked in various junior capacities: as the secretary of the Komsomol of Istaravshan district, as the director of the department of propaganda and agitation of the district committee, as the director of education for Gharm, as the director of education for Stalinabad, as the deputy political director for the Machine Tractor Station of Oktiabr (Qurghonteppa district), and as an instructor of the agricultural department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan in 1936-1937.

   In 1937, as a result of slanders and false testimony, I was ejected from the party, and the same year a troika of the NKVD accused me of anti-revolutionary activity, sentenced me to ten years and sent me to a labor camp. In 1944 I was released due to ill health and due to my good work before the sentence [чавоб шуда омадам] and now I work in an agricultural office as a director, but this does not satisfy me. I cannot live with this black stain and bad name in my heart and my conscience.  Despite the fact that I feel innocent, this black stain and bad name t has deprived me from the happiness of being a member of the socialist family with full rights. I want to join people of clean conscience in fighting for the happiness and well-being of our fatherland. Therefore I am asking you to allow me to join the fight for a new life, for the truth and honor of our dear party: to review my case again, to clear this stain and to give me the opportunity to feel myself a full-fledged citizen of the Soviet Union.

            I was never shown the judgement of the NKVD troika. I was just sentenced and sent to the camp. Therefore I ask that as you review my case you also request the documents of the NKVD Troika from the republic prosecutor’s office.

                                                                        13 January 1947


My father’s appeal went unanswered. But in 1948-49 my father’s pain became 100 times worse.

            One day I returned from school to find my father’s clothes all over the place and my mother packing them into a suitcase.

            -What happened? I asked, surprised. Is father going somewhere?

            Yes, my mother said. He might be going to Istaravshan.

            Why are you crying? Or did you have a fight with father’s sister?

            No, my mother said. She’s fine, we didn’t talk.

            So why are you crying?

            My mother did not know what to say.

            Tell me the truth, I asked her. I’m not little anymore.

            My mother had no choice.

            Someone said that those who had been sentenced in 1937 would be sentenced again, my mother said. Today there was news that uncle Mustafoqulat was once again being sent to Siberia.

            [Uncle Mustafoqulat] was a comrade of my father and a participant of the Bukharan revolution, a veteran of war and labor, a personal pensioner, who had been arrested in 1937 and returned to Dushanbe in 1946 after completing his sentence.

            My father said that they might come for him that evening and asked that his clothes be prepared.

            At that moment my father came in holding a paper parcel in his hand. As if I knew nothing, he asked me:

            -So, daughter, what was new at school today?

            I didn’t say anything. My mother let him know that I knew everything. My father gave the paper to my mother and said:

            -I bought two pairs of thick wool socks. They say that this time everyone will be sent to Siberia.

            Then, to put our hearts at ease, he added:

            -Who knows, maybe they won’t take me. This is just in case.

            From that day our family had no peace. Every time that the gate opened, especially in the evening, we would all jump. My father would quickly put on his clothes and take the suitcase, which sat ready next to his bed, outside. Sometimes I would forget my father’s situation, but other times it would enter my thoughts in the middle of a lesson. I would hear a dog barking and I would think that right at that moment armed men were taking my father. I would wait for the lesson to end and then during the break would find some excuse to run home and only in our yard would I calm down somewhat.

            My father became completely silent and would get nervous at the slightest thing. My mother tried to ease his pain and to distract him but without success. The illness he contracted during his imprisonment came back. His blood pressure was high and his digestion was poor.

            Luckily my father stayed out of trouble. He was not arrested a second time, but he also never recovered. He often became sick and with all the pain and in sorrows passed away on May 24, 1952.

            There were four of us left when he died: me, a fourth-year student at the university, Aziza – in eighth grade, Mahbuba, who was six, and Matluba, who was 3. My mother was left to shoulder life’s burden on her own. She would skip meals so we would eat, would avoid [buying] clothes so we could have them. (У намепушиду моро мепушонд) She gave all four of us a chance at higher education. When there was a wedding feast each of us would miss our father’s kindness and cry secretly. Sometimes around his children and grandchildren she would reminisce about him and try to inspire us [by talking about] his kindness.

            Five years after my father’s death the Supreme Court of the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan as part of its review on July 8, 1957 recognized that my father was not guilty, and nullified the NKVD troika’s sentence from December 10, 1937. My mother received the following letter from the Central Committee: 

            To Citizen Otakhonova, Hosiyat;

            The commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Tajikistan confirms that, following a decision of the Bureau of the CC CPT, your husband Otakhon Musokhujaev has been rehabilitated.

            November 26, 1957

When my mother received this note she began to cry. My father had waited for this moment for many years. He knew that his innocence would be recognized. Alas, he left this world in despair. (58)


                                    -Translated and annotated by A.M. Kalinovsky