were used to control dissent immediately after the Bolsheviks
took over in 1920; Stalin was already a leading party figure
at the time. After Lenin's death in 1924, Stalin became head
of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until his death in
1953. Though Stalin is credited with many reforms, especially
in the industrial and agricultural realms, he created a very
repressive atmosphere. According to archival sources, from 4
to 5.5 million people in the USSR were arrested in 1937-1938
and from 800,000-900,000 of them received the death penalty.
The others, in nearly all cases, went to prisons or labor camps
from which few ever returned.1a
Above: Political cartoon depicting
fear to speak openly. Political cartoonist: Gunduz.
Maybe They'll Give
It All Back
A Short Story
This story tells
the plight of a rather pathetic group of old men whose tremendous
wealth was seized when the Bolsheviks captured Baku in 1920.
Each day these men gather and scour the newspaper for any sign
or indication suggesting that the imposed foreign government
will soon be toppled. They cling to the hope that, perhaps someday
and hopefully soon, they will regain a portion of the land and
property that was confiscated.1 They constantly reassure
each other of the possibility that someday "they'll give
it all back." See Oil
Architecture in AI 6.4.
The author seems to be teasing his fellow compatriots as well
as sympathizing with them. Mammadguluzade [pronounced mam-mad-gu-lu-ZAH-de]
was the editor of the highly influential journal "Molla
(1906-1931) which was esteemed for its political and social satire.
Mammadguluzade also wrote "The Postbox" in this issue,
which pokes fun at the modernization process.
Four or five years ago, while strolling along the Boulevard 2 in summer, I often came
across the following scene: four Moslem 3 men sitting beneath the trees in an obscure place
on the Boulevard near Seaside [Sabil] Street. One of them would
be reading the newspaper while the other three listened intently.
One thing piqued my curiosity: these guys always seemed to be
looking around suspiciously as if they were criminals, guilty
of something, or as if they were afraid of someone or waiting
for somebody. Then I got acquainted with them and found out what
was going on.
One day, I can
even remember the date-June 12, 1923-I was looking for a well-known
Azerbaijani actor named Balagardash 4 [pronounced bah-lah-gar-DASH]. I called at his
home but couldn't find him. Then I went to the Boulevard, hoping
to find him there. As it was a workday, there were only a few
people there. I was walking along the shore for quite some time,
when I turned toward Tram Street. In the distance, I could see
those four men that I had seen before, sitting there in their
customary place. I wanted to turn back. To tell the truth, I
was suspicious of them.
Right: Typical turn-of-the-century
architecture built during the Oil Baron period.
Balagardash had seen me from a distance and came up to me. Before
we started talking, I pointed to those four guys and asked whether
he knew them. After looking at them carefully, he laughed and
said, "Aha...Uncle Molla, let me introduce you."
But I balked, "I don't want that."
Balagardash looked at me steadily and said, "I assure you,
they're worth it. You should get to know them."
At first I hesitated, but my actor friend pulled me by the arm.
We went up to them. One of them got up and called Balagardash
by name. We greeted one another, then they all stood up and offered
their seats to us. We sat down.
Balagardash introduced me: "This is my dear old friend Uncle
Molla Nasraddin. I'm sure you've seen his humorous magazine and
smiled while reading it."
They all looked at me attentively and said, "Yes, of course."
One or two
years ago, these friends sitting here were all men of property,
but now they're in search of pennies just to buy cigarettes.
turned to me and introduced them in the same way: "Molla,
you rascal, just look at the treachery of this world. One or
two years ago, these friends sitting here were all men of property.
But the Soviet government has taken everything away from them.
Now these poor guys are in search of pennies just to buy cigarettes.
Oh, what a wretched world this is!"
Balagardash introduced these "poor guys" one by one:
"Haji Hasan from Baku used to own 14 caravanserai 5
137 buildings before the October Revolution, 6
but the government has taken all these from him and he's living
in a very bad situation now.
"The one sitting next to him is Umudbeyov 7 from Sabunchu 8 - you may have heard
about him; there's hardly a man in Baku who doesn't know him.
His annual income from oil alone was half a million.
"The one sitting here reading the newspaper is the well-known
son of the millionaire flour merchant Talafkhanbey. 9
You may have heard of him as well. His father owned steamships
and flour mills in every major Russian city."
I had seen him down at the docks.
"And the one sitting here next to me is my old friend. He's
the same Ganja 10
land owner Haji Sultan who was 'roaring' like a lion during Nikolai's
and who lashed Martinov, the top city police official, in the
street so hard that the crack of his whip was heard all the way
to St. Petersburg. Even after that event, they haven't been able
to subdue Haji Sultan. You must have heard about him."
finished his speech and then addressed himself to those who were
sitting near him, whispering to one of them: "Haji Hasan
Agha,12 don't be overcome by
grief. I assure you, they won't be able to keep it, they'll give
I asked Balagardash what he meant by saying, "They won't
be able to keep it. Just who wouldn't be able to keep what?"
My actor friend replied, "Uncle Molla, 13
what date is it today? Isn't it June 12? Remember, but just between
us (he lowered his voice). It seems 'our friends'14 are in trouble. The
English have been very aggressive these days. They've put Chicherin
15 in a very awkward situation
and are telling him that either he must pay back his debts or
Above: Staff of "Molla
Nasraddin", a journal of political and social satire, 1906-1931;
(l-r) Alaskandar Jafarzade, Jalil Mammadguluzade (editor), Aladdin
Afandizade, Soltan Majid Ganizade, Olmar Faig Nemanzade and Gurbanali
Sharifov. National Archives.
I saw that my new acquaintances were obviously delighted with
Balagardash's words; it was as if he had brought wonderful news.
I kept silent as I had just been introduced.
Balagardash addressed them again, "Mr. Talafkhanbeyzade!
seem to have something new! I see that you are looking very attentively
at that newspaper. Tell us what you know and don't worry about
Uncle Molla. Read to us, please, what is new there?"
After looking around, Talafkhanbey asked me carefully, "Uncle
Molla, have you heard today's news?"
I asked, "What news?"
He said, "Aren't you aware of the note that the English
government has sent to Moscow?"
"No, I didn't know about it."
Talafkhanbey again took a crumpled newspaper out of his pocket.
It was the Baku local newspaper "Rabochi" (Worker).17
Balagardash went over to Talafkhanbey and whispered, "Don't
be afraid, there's no one to be afraid of around here. Read the
Talafkhanbey started reading the newspaper: "In the English
Parliament, one of Lord Curzon's representatives named Matrush
inquired of the Lord, 'How is the English-Soviet relationship
developing these days?'
"And Lord Curzon had answered, 'Until the Soviet government
reaches a satisfactory conclusion about the Czar's debts to the
English government, the hope that the tensions in English-Soviet
relations will be eased seems very remote."
One of them remarked cheerfully, "Did you hear that? I tell
you, it won't last long!"
Balagardash was speaking in a poetic way just as he used to do
on stage, "I bet it will last 'til the second month of autumn.
Won't last more than that."
All of them agreed, repeating in a low voice, "InshallahGod
willing, God willing!"
We sat there for about half an hour, and after discussing some
questions of this nature, we said goodbye to one another, repeating,
"Inshallah, God willing."
In this way, I became friends with those four counter-revolutionaries.
As they knew that the government had taken 4,000 dessiatinas
from my family, they took me to be their fellow sufferer. That's
why they didn't keep any secrets or news from me. Sometimes when
I happened to meet them on the Boulevard, they would greet me
with great affection, offer me a seat and we would have a friendly
I can't say that I was particularly fond of their company, but
I was amused by the strange and fascinating news they always
came up with. For example: The troops of the Polish government
have overstepped the Soviet boundaries and occupied some Soviet
cities. The English battleships have reached Arkhangelsk.19 The Entente Alliance
is pressuring the Soviets. There are large secret riots going
on in Moscow itself...
One day my friends saw me on the Boulevard and suggested that
I join them: "Come on, Uncle Molla, maybe you have some
news for us?"
I told them that I knew nothing except that which was written
in the papers.
Umudbeyov wanted to say something but he looked about and said
nothing. Three or four noisy schoolboys were passing by. After
one more glance around, Umudbeyov asked me, "Uncle Molla,
don't you detect any signs or innuendoes after reading those
"I don't know what you're talking about," I replied.
Umudbeyov took a crumpled newspaper out of his pocket-it was
again from the Rabochi newspaper. He started reading: "Serebrovsky,
the director of the Azerbaijan Oil Company, is leaving for America
to buy some newly-invented drilling machinery to install here."
I told him that as far as I understood, there was no hidden message.
Umudbeyov grinned and suggested the following: "Uncle Molla,
Serebrovsky is not going to America to buy drilling machinery;
he's going there to sell the Baku oil fields to the American
His other three companions agreed with him and asked me, "What
do you think about that?"
"Nothing," I said flatly.
I'll never forget my latest meeting with these four men who were
always complaining about their fate. On that day my actor friend
Balagardash and I decided to take a stroll down the Boulevard.
We met in the alley and then walked awhile along the Boulevard
and decided to sit down somewhere. In the distance, we saw those
guys sitting in their usual secret place and talking about something.
Balagardash laughed and coaxed me over to them. I complied. We
went up, greeted one another as usual, and sat down.
The first item of news that day was that Lord Curzon had delivered
a new ultimatum to Chicherin. The second was that English battleships
were sailing to Batumi.22 Supposedly, the ships
would blockade Batumi and that's why the Batumi residents were
already emigrating to Turkey.
After some talk of this kind, Balagardash and I got up to leave.
We said goodbye to one another. Shaking my hand, Haji Hasan said,
"God is merciful, maybe they'll give it all back."
Those words had become deeply embedded in my mind as they were
the primary point of reference in our relationship. After we
parted and turned up an alley off the Boulevard, my actor friend
Balagardash started snapping his fingers, leaping up and down
in the air, and singing just as he used to do on stage:
"Maybe they'll give it all back,
Maybe they'll give it all back."
We left the Boulevard and separated at Fountain Square,23
smiling. Balagardash called back to me. I turned to look over
my shoulder and heard him once more saying, "Maybe they'll
give it all back." I went back to my apartment, grinning
all the way home.
already lost hope, and everyone in a situation similar to mine
for a job. There were times when I and my four acquaintances
were waiting impatiently, hoping that the 4,000 dessiatinas of
my family's land would be given back along with the millions
and the oil fields belonging to my four Boulevard acquaintances.
We've been waiting for a long time...but nothing has happened.
We meet every day to talk and discuss the items in the newspapers
with the hope of discovering some slight hint or indication.
We ask those who come from Europe and Turkey if they are going
to help us solve these issues. "Wouldn't it be fair if Agha
bey or Jahangir Khan got at least 1,000 dessiatinas of land back
out of their 10,000? Or if Musa Naghiyev's heir 24
got 5 or
10 buildings of the 237 that the government had taken away from
his grandfather? Then the poor heir who is not used to working
would not be in so much trouble and so disgraced among his people."
To make a long story short, I often met with my associates. We
had friendly chats together and cheered each other up by saying
that hopefully one day we would achieve our goal. With God's
help, we would all be given back the property that had been confiscated.
"Maybe they'll give it all back." Those were our daily
But today the Soviet government has still not been toppled. My
four friends and I are already so disappointed that we are no
longer waiting for our 4,000 dessiatinas of land, 117 buildings,
14 steamers and oil fields to be given back. Poets like Vahid
have memorialized our troubles in their verses, composers have
written music, and singers perform the following song at every
"Maybe they'll give it all back,
Maybe they'll give it all back."
And the youth snap their fingers to keep the rhythm of the beat.
1a [Introduction] Robert C. Tucker, "Stalin
in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941." (New York:
Norton, 1992), 474. Up
text] When the Bolsheviks came to power in Baku, all real estate
property was confiscated. In most cases, the large mansions of
the Oil Barons were split up into numerous small apartments.
Only the most luxurious residences were converted into museums
or preserved intact for governmental functions. Up
refers to the wide walkway along the sea in downtown Baku. Today
it is still one of the most popular places to relax, stroll and
meet friends, especially in evenings. Up
At the turn of the last century, the term "Muslim"
was often used to differentiate Azeris from Russians or foreigners.
These days, the term "Azerbaijani" or "Azeri"
is more likely to be used. Up
in Azeri means "younger brother". The author has carefully
chosen all the names of his characters in this story. Up
are similar to motels but with provision for pack animals (camels,
mules and horses) to eat and rest in the enclosed courtyard at
Revolution refers to October 24-25, 1917, when the Bolshevik
Party seized power in Russia and set up the Soviet regime. Up
Umudbeyov is a name comprised of word roots that mean "hope"
(umud) and "wealthy landowner" (bey) plus the Russian
suffix (-ov) indicating "son of". Up
Sabunchu is one of the suburbs of Baku. Up
is made of root words that mean "talaf" (wasted), "khan"
(ruler), "bey" (wealthy merchant or landowner). Later
in the story, the suffix "-zade" is added which means
"son of" in Azeri. Up
Ganja, an ancient city, is located in the north-central part
of the country. Today, it is the third-largest city in Azerbaijan.Up
II of Russia (1868-1918), the last Russian czar, was generally
considered inept and autocratic. The Bolsheviks overthrew and
killed him and his family in 1918. Up
The terms "Haji" and "Agha" are polite forms
of address for men. "Haji" refers to someone who has
made the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, where Mohammad the founder
of Islam is buried. "Agha" means "Mr." and
is usually followed by the first name among Azeris living in
what is now the Republic of Azerbaijan. The tendency is to follow
with last names among Azeris living in Iran. Up
Molla refers to the author, who edited a magazine called "Molla
The character Molla Nasraddin refers to the legendary sage believed
to have lived in Turkey in the 13th century and who made humorous
commentaries on fundamental issues relating to human nature such
as social injustice, class privilege, selfishness, cowardliness,
laziness, ignorance and narrow-mindedness. [See the article in
AI's Folklore issue, "Molla Nasraddin,
Comic Sage of the Ages,"
AI 4.3, Summer 1996]. Up
"Our friends" refers to the Soviet leaders. Up
Chicherin refers to Georgi Vasilievich Chicherin (1872-1936),
the skillful Russian diplomat who conducted Soviet foreign policy
with Europe from 1918-1928. Up
would translate literally as "ruined son of a wealthy ruling
land owner." Up
Rabochi - one of the most prominent Russian language newspapers
in Baku. It is still in existence today, nearly 80 years after
the story was written. Up
Dessiatina is a measure of land, slightly larger than a hectare.
One dessiatina equals 2.7 acres. Up
Arkhangelsk is a Russian city located on the coast of the North
Entente was an Anglo-French alliance against Germany. Up
Rockefeller refers to John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), U.S. industrialist
and philanthropist, who founded the Standard Oil Company which
monopolized the oil industry in the U.S. in the early 20th century.
Batumi is a major seaport in Georgia off the Black Sea. Up
Fountain Square, located a few blocks from the sea in downtown
Baku, is still one of the main parks today. Up
was allegedly the wealthiest of all Oil Barons in Baku at the
turn of the last century. He is remembered for constructing the
extraordinarily ornate building which currently houses the Presidium
of the Academy of Sciences. [See Oil
in the Architecture issue, AI 6.4, Winter 1998]. Up
Vahid (1895-1965), a famous poet, was known as the best Azeri
ghazal-master of the 20th century. Ghazals are a form of poetry
with a particular rhyming pattern. Up
(7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.