Afon Bekmurzov in the Ivdellag Labor Camp. 1944 The future poet and writer Afon Bekmurzov was born in 1918 in the North Ossetian hamlet of Kamunta, the highest in Russia. In 1937, he enrolled in the Department of Literature of the K. Khedagurov Teacher Training Institute in what is now Vladikavkaz. On June 22, 1941, he was arrested for refusing to cooperate with NKVD.1 The republic’s Supreme Court, without a single witness, sentenced Afon to seven years of imprisonment “for anti-Soviet agitation.” He didn’t have time to take his last examination before graduation.
That was followed by a failed escape from the camp, injury, interrogation, torture, hunger, and… poems. At night, the young GULAG prisoner would write about freedom, love and suffering. When he returned home, the poet hid the poems high in the mountains. They lay in the family vault until 1988.
In the 1970s, in the special card index of Ossetia’s KGB, Bekmurzov was listed as a “dyed-in-the-wool anti-Soviet type.” He is the author of fifteen books of poems, short stories in Russian and Ossetian, and children’s books.
A. Bekmurzov underwent sixteen difficult operations (“But, like a phoenix, I am alive”). Until his last days the researcher of the problems of totalitarianism didn’t lose his close look at what was going on. As Vice-Chairman of the North Ossetian Association of the Victims of Political Repression, he did a lot to preserve the historical memory of the Ossetian people. The writer passed away on July 16, 2007, several months before his ninetieth birthday.
We first met in the early 1990s, when Russia felt a hitherto unfamiliar air of freedom. I had just graduated from high school and entered the Moscow State University Journalism department. I was seventeen, he was seventy-three. What could unite us? Absolutely everything! God brings people who are close in spirit together, and age doesn’t matter here. His ironic, though not at all cynical, view of the world, youthful ardor, living sense of humor, love for poetry and desire to study—this was infinitely close to me. “You and I are the same age,” Afon once said.
Sometimes I asked myself how a person who had gone through the seven circles of hell (his seven years in camps), lost a leg (which the guards stabbed with bayonets after his unsuccessful escape attempt) and seemed to be morally destroyed, how he preserved such a love of life, a nobility that is rare in our times, and such a beautiful, not at all senile face. I found the answer in a modern poem:
When time, rustling with years,
Reaches its limit,
The soul comes out on the face
And lights it up.
Over his long life he participated in and witnessed many striking events, from a vision of St. George to a meeting with Nikita Khrushchev.
We wrote down this talk many years ago. Afon, then seventy-eight years old, reflected on Russia’s past and the reasons behind the Russian tragedy of the twentieth century. His wise words are still relevant today.
—To write poems in a Stalinist camp one must be a strong person…
—I did it secretly and handed them to a civilian who came to work in the camp. She risked a lot. She would have gotten into trouble if my notes had been found in her hands. One day, in a moment of despair, I dozed off and saw St. George on horseback. He pointed towards the mountains and I saw my native village. Waking up, I realized that I would survive and return home. That vision supported me throughout those years, and it still strengthens me today.
—While you were in prison, did you realize what the cause of what had happened to you was?
—In the camp I was enlightened thanks to the wonderful environment—decent and intelligent people who served their terms under Article 58,2 for “anti-Soviet agitation”, like me. They explained to me that the root of all evil wasn’t in Stalin; it was the ideology of Communism-Bolshevism. For all his Asiatic cruelty, Stalin was just a faithful disciple of Lenin, and here propaganda spoke the truth. He continued the Marxist-Leninist course, carrying it to the point of absurdity, but inevitable absurdity inherent in the doctrine. The inmates would say that the acronym “USSR” could stand for “Stalin’s death will save Russia” (in Russian). But the salvation was in something else.
—Why didn’t the Communists want citizens to be well provided for?
—A life of abundance means independence. An independent person thinks independently, which posed the greatest danger to the government.
—Recently, some historians have suggested that the famine in the Volga region and elsewhere was triggered artificially. Do you agree with them?
—The leaders of the Revolution saw that only violence could ensure their political future. To bolster their terror they provoked an artificial famine, the scale of which surpassed all human comprehension. The first wave of the famine was in 1921-1922, claiming six million lives. The second wave was between 1930 and 1933, reducing the population by seven million. This enabled them to carry out a larger goal—to paralyze the whole of Russia with terror, depriving the people, stunned by an unprecedented disaster, of the will to resist. The artificial nature of the famine was evident from the fact that the population was dying out in the most fertile provinces. The richer the harvests, the more the government robbed the population, depriving it even of seeds to sow.
—How many people were repressed throughout the Soviet regime?
—According to archival data, between 1917 and 1953 fifty million people were shot, dispossessed, exiled, deported. These unprecedented figures have no analogy in history. Nowhere else has the government waged a war against its own people so consistently. Neither the pharaohs, nor the Persians, nor the Ottomans humiliated human dignity to such an extent or destroy their own populations on such a scale.
Millions of prisoners of the GULAGs built cities, mines, bridges and railways, twelve to fourteen hours a day, toiling without any pay. The most severe, hitherto unseen form of slavery reigned in Russia.
These political prisoner slaves died of cholera, infectious diseases, scurvy, dystrophy and from beatings. I served in the Ivdellag Labor Camp in the Urals, and due to malnutrition we had to eat mice, rats and dead dogs. In confinement, I developed echinococcosis and lost my left lung.
The GULAG is a graphic example of the State shadow economy. Under Lenin and Stalin, the worth of the labor carried out by prisoners amounts to hundreds of trillions of dollars (according to the prices of the 1940s).
—Another tragic subject is the Revolution and the Church.
—Implementing the Decree on the Separation of Church from State, the builders of Communism killed 200,000 clergymen and “separated” several hundred thousand more from the State to camps. They crucified priests and monks on the Royal Doors in churches, strangled them, made pillars of ice out of them, pouring cold water on them.
In the early 1920s, under the pretext of helping starving residents of the Volga region, Church valuables equal to 2.5 billion gold rubles were confiscated. However, as the President of Russia’s Commission for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Repression found out, only one million was spent on the purchase of food; the rest ended up in foreign accounts of the Communist Party leaders or was sent “for the needs of the world revolution.”
—So, there were only mercenaries?
—Among the rank and file of the Party, there were many honest and gullible people who took all the proclaimed slogans seriously. But in the acts of the top brass, we saw only cold self-interest and cynicism.
There was nothing sacred for the leaders of the Revolution. After the fourteen-year-old Volodya Ulyanov [Vladimir Lenin’s real name] had trampled on the cross worn around his neck, he became a beloved son of Lucifer and until his last breath performed a special mission with his accomplices—the destruction of Russian culture and the dehumanization of the people. Now historians are finding more evidence that he was associated with the German secret services.
In 1936, when the Party proclaimed “the dawn of Communism” from the housetops, Stalin authorized the use of biased interrogation methods (torture) with respect to persons who had reached the age of twelve. Children were sent to camps for political reasons! I served several months in Ordzhonikidze (now Vladikavkaz) in the NKVD basement at Butyrina Street. There was a teenager in the next cell. He couldn’t understand what he was being charged with and wept all the time, “I want to see my mother! Let me go to my mother!” I still can hear his voice in my mind.
—What was the reason for such unmotivated cruelty?
—During my interrogation I saw a book describing medieval torture on my investigator’s table.
I struggled to find the inner logic in the conduct of the Bolsheviks for a long time. Having done away with their open and potential opponents, the Bolsheviks proceeded to shoot and imprison millions of people who had nothing against the Soviet regime. I came to the conclusion about the religious and mystical nature of Bolshevism. Murders had ritual significance—they were human sacrifices. The cult of false icons, images (and later monuments) of the Soviet leaders, to whom people went to worship, was established. The writings of the “founders” of the doctrine replaced the Scriptures. The leaders themselves became the “deities” for people. Their appearance caused purely religious ecstasy. In fact, they were “priests,” a narrow circle of initiates. All the attributes of a pagan religion were present.
Lenin’s mummy in the center of the capital is a semblance of holy relics. They placed it in the “mausoleum,” or rather a ziggurat, modelled on the pagan temples of ancient Mesopotamia.
The very idea of a “bright (Communist) future” was adopted from Christianity. The nation sinned, believing the false prophets, succumbing to the devil’s temptation—to build “Paradise on earth” without God. But there can’t be Paradise without God! [The slogan] “He who is not with us is against us” is a pitiful parody of the Gospel by a former seminarian. “He who doesn’t work, neither shall he eat” is a direct plagiarism from St. Paul’s epistle.
It’s hard to say to what extent the Bolsheviks understood what they were doing, but I have no doubts about the fact that Russia was at the mercy of infernal, demonic powers for seventy years.
—The regime of the post-Stalin period was more civilized.
—As of January 1, 1953, over twenty million people were in labor camps. Khrushchev freed them.
Of course, the Stalinist scale repression was subsequently not repeated. But there were psychiatric hospitals, a lack of freedom of speech, informing, surveillance. We all lived in one big camp that we called the “Socialist camp.” To leave the USSR, you needed an “exit visa.” But this is nonsense—it is impossible to explain this to developed countries.
All the Party leaders, from Lenin to Andropov, were obsessed with the delusional idea of world domination. The USSR was preparing for a war with the USA, wishing to introduce the Communist regime all over the globe.
There is reportedly an underground city for over 10,000 people under the Vorobyovy Hills near the Moscow State University building complex. It has everything for an adequate life for several years. There are similar underground shelters in other places too. Not a single ordinary Communist knew about it. The top brass hoped to hide in those “cities” during a nuclear war, and no one cared about us, naïve Soviet people.
—You managed to visit the Kremlin where you were received by Khrushchev…
—I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found myself in his office and shared my emotions with him. Guess what he said to me! “If someone ever tells you that I am busy and cannot meet with you, know that I simply have no desire.” After that audience, North Ossetia was allowed to publish my prose and poetry. But I never became a member of the Writers’ Union, I was not of the “right” spirit.
—What do you think needs to be done to prevent those dark years from returning to us?
—First of all, we need to analyze and comprehend what happened to our people. How and why were we captured by vampires? How did we become serfs? The nation must draw the right conclusions from this seventy-year “Babylonian Captivity.” Forgetting our dark past means a threat to repeat it!
The beginning of any therapy is a correct diagnosis, and awareness of oneself as a sick person. Our society came out of the Soviet era with serious diseases.
—The main one is slave psychology. We must realize that bondage is a sin, a disease of the soul. Christ says: I call you not servants… but I have called you friends (Jn. 15:15). Having abandoned our history and culture, we bowed to the beloved children of satan. We have exterminated the best people of the country (including Ossetia), the flower of the nation—writers, priests and all those who made up the gene pool of the country. When the moral compass is lost, evil spirits and mutants come out in the person of informers and snitches. Alongside the apples and pears, groveling, hypocrisy, lies, cruelty and envy flourish. These diseases remain with us. The descendants of informers and slaves unwittingly carry the disfigured genes of their ancestors. Do you remember the film “Repentance” by Tengiz Abuladze? The spiritual act, and hard inner work of repentance is necessary. Our ancestors abandoned the faith of the Alans3—Orthodox Christianity; but we, modern Ossetians, must return to the faith that the Alans had chosen for their people even before Kievan Rus’ did. Otherwise our nation will not survive. In Ossetian, Christ is “Chirysti,” which can be translated as “He who was ill”—He who was ill for our sins.
I recently leafed through a huge volume from the archives, a criminal case against several of my relatives from Kamunta and Galiat. They were decent people, hard workers, who labored from dawn to dusk. All of them were convicted under Article 58 as “enemies of people.” I was both laughing and crying while reading the indictment: “They perniciously hindered the mating of cattle.” What farce, what a violation of the elementary principles of legal proceedings, a mockery of the human personality! After almost sixty years I found the names of the people whose fault it was that my relatives were convicted. The informers were people they knew, maybe friends, who bore the same surname, which, for obvious reasons, I won’t disclose. That is horrible. Who are their living descendants? Are they trying to live not by lies4 to atone for their ancestors’ sins? Do they think about this?
I’ve hated slavery from a young age. I am happy to have lived to see the time when everything has been called by its name.