The Great Terror took place in the Soviet Union over the years 1936 to 1938 when the ruling Communist Party ruthlessly purged the country of ‘disloyal elements’, imprisoning, exiling or killing millions of its citizens – 400,000 were expelled from the Party and one million souls alone are thought to have perished.
Set against the backdrop of the chaos caused by the aftermath of the Civil War, the disastrous collectivisation of the farms, fear of war with Germany, and divisions within the Party itself, the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered a purge of everything he saw as a threat to the nation. Politicians, officials, intellectuals, teachers, soldiers, writers, poets, actors, musicians, even kulaks, tradesmen and lowly peasants… no one was safe from being denounced and taken away to an unknown fate.
Under constant surveillance by the feared NKVD secret police, forerunner of the KGB, co-workers, neighbours and even families informed on each other, desperately hoping it would not be them next. Everyone feared that midnight knock on their door, denounced anonymously on false charges. Show trials based on confessions extracted after torture resulted in executions or banishment to the gulags where many of the unfortunate victims languished until they died. Many were secretly executed in prison, their bodies buried in mass graves.
Like the other republics of the Soviet Union, the people of Azerbaijan were not spared any of Stalin’s Terror. Indeed, for a tight-knit society with a comparatively small population, the evil of the Terror Years was catastrophic and with far-reaching consequences for every one of its citizens. Over the course of 1937 in Azerbaijan 22 People’s Commissars, 49 secretaries of district committees, 29 chairmen of district executive committees, 57 directors of factories and industries, 95 engineers, 110 soldiers, 207 council and trade unionists, and 8 professors were arrested. Almost all of them were shot. As a result, for political crimes in 1937 only, by the decisions of the Troika, 2,792 people were sentenced to death and 4,435 people to long terms of imprisonment.