The 1930s were marked by tragedies that to this day strike terror and grief in the hearts of descendants of those few who lived to tell their tale. Political repression, collectivisation, dispossession and forced relocation to Siberia was the norm. ‘Death journeys’ were the cruel destiny for millions of residents of the multinational country called USSR. Images of mothers holding their dying babies, dead bodies thrown into rivers, hungry and wretched elderly people and children continue to haunt. There are not enough pencils to fill enough sheets of paper with enough adequate words to describe the horror of these times. Those who survived the hell would come together to meet on the banks of the Angara river. Peasants and Leningrad intellectuals, declassed people and criminals, Muslims and Christians, pagans and atheists, Russians, Tatars, Germans, Chuvash – congregate on the banks of the Angara daily, struggling to defend their right to live in the harsh conditions of taiga.
The trauma of dispossession did not spare my ancestors, who at the time were peasants in Georgia. As a child, I would pester my grandmother, asking her to tell me stories about the old days and what life was like back then. Every evening, when the lights went off I would ask her to tell me about the same thing. I would prick my ears and listen avidly until I fell asleep. It was from my grandmother that I first heard about dispossession, or ‘dekulakisation’. The Kulaks were a category of peasant farmers who owned land and hired labour. My grandmother’s uncle, Piri bey, was from a wealthy family. He and his two siblings, the Julfayev brothers, owned a huge farm with a great number of cattle and with many workers. But the relationship between the workers and their employers was different from that of landowners and serfs. They operated more like one extended family. The Julfayev brothers cared about the welfare of their workers, ensuring that they could provide for their families and helping them out whenever necessary.