From the time of antiquity it has been said that death levels all things. Quite a communistic sentiment you would have thought but in death, as in life the Soviet Union had its own hierarchy. I am minded of this because I spent most of yesterday poking around the monument of Sergi Kirov and two cemeteries a short walk from my home.
Dating from 1939, the Kirov monument was classically Soviet. Kirov, a national Hero, posed on huge plinth, facing seaward. His face severe, his body athletic, gesturing to the future. Beneath the statue was a marble hall, full of friezes celebrating the victory of Socialism, outside a stage for musical and dramatic performance and above, a teashop with a clear view across the Caspian. Kirov then was in the first rank of Soviet citizens, honoured by a grateful nation.
In the second rank of Azerbaijani Soviet dead, are those good and great citizens celebrated in the Avenue of the Honoured Ones. Some are Generals, some are politicians but many are the writers, painters, poets and thinkers who helped to define the country. As you would expect, the Generals are in uniform and the politicians in sensible suits, their images inscribed into slabs of granite. These figures have a chance to live forever in the minds of the ordinary people who are able to walk amongst the trees along well maintined paths to see them in their glory.
A five-minute walk away is the large, municipal cemetery at the junction of Malbuat Prospect and Badamdar Highway. Here, ordinary Azerbaijanis have been buried for a century. Not for them marble halls or spacious, landscaped parks with broad paths. No here, the graves are as tight packed as sardines in a tin. There is often no room between the grave plots, so to get to one, you must walk over another.
The cemetery is vast, perhaps a mile long and three-quarters wide. The area I spent most of my time in was given over to the once substantial Jewish community of Baku. Many have emigrated abroad, especially to Israel, though the local community is still numbered in their thousands. Most of the plots are uncared for, either because their families have died out or moved away, leaving the area desolate.
Now, at the end of Winter, is was difficult enough for me enter but in summer, large areas would be impenetrable. Many of the grave markers gave me food for thought; the soldier marked by a simple five-pointed star, the broken gravestone with the hebrew inscription but the most poignant of all was the single stone marking six deaths from the same family.
Two brothers and sister, all in their early to mid twenties died in 1942. Another brother, the eldest died in 1943 and both parents perished the following year. What was their story? How did they meet their end? Someone must have survived to have erected such as substantial memorial but who?
It is often said that history is written by the winners. Certainly Kirov will be remembered even if his statue has been removed and his memorial lies in ruins but who will remember the little people, the ones who worked so hard to create the Socialist dream and paid the ultimate price?