The art of Aardakh is the visual art from the immediate and indirect sphere of influence by the Soviet terror, originated from the mid-1920s to the end of the 1990s in the Soviet Union or in the areas occupied by Soviet troops. The art of Aardakh comes from a political territory, does not pay tribute to a virtuoso idea, its subject is nothing great, sublime, too often the not very distinctive artistic talent is noticeable. Artistic genius is in this art not even important. It does not stand in the art history so important tradition of the Renaissance or antiquity. From a work aesthetics cannot be spoken in most pictures. Presumably, this is the main reason why both the art trade and the museums beyond the historical presentations do not adequately consider this art. More important is their humanistic claim. I avoid the term testimony, it is usually diametrically opposed to the claim of a work of art. This forgotten art of Aardakh lies in the archives of Nazran or Norilsk, in the depots of many regional and time-specific museums in Magas or Magadan. This particular art is sometimes even derogatory referred to as depot goods. This abuse reveals the critic who is unwilling to abandon the usual art standards and approach the artistic objects with the necessary sensitivity. The art of disaster always reflects personal responsibility.
Picture by Ayshet Daurbekova
Picture by Bagaudin Sagov
Picture by Kh.A. Imagozhev
Picture by V.V. Bizhovsky
Apti Bisultanov: You cannot separate what’s happening in Chechnya and talk about politics here and about civil life as well as art there. We have no professional politicians – Zakayev is an actor, I am a poet, our former president Yandarbiyev was a poet; two friends who died next to me in the trenches were excellent artists. A very popular singer had his legs torn off right next to me – we did not make a decision for power, but a decision of conscience. I always say: we Chechens do not need followers of the Chechens, we need followers of the truth. And in this world, I am on the side of the truth. I know, for you in Germany and in the world today that sounds archaic – but there are values, if you betray them, you’re a nobody.
Is there only one truth in this conflict – or more?
It’s easy to choose the truth in this conflict. They speak as if there were only two sides: occupiers and resistance. According to the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, however, they are dived into the »Westerners« supporters of the moderate President Maskhadov, »Arabs« – followers of Islamization – and small groups fighting for personal revenge. I admire Ms. Politkovskaya for her courageous reports, but here she tries to be too smart. Which war against occupiers was ever uniform? You have to see the core of the conflict. Our people have not been deported because of Al-Qaida! Certainly, some fight for revenge, some fight for other goals, some in the name of Allah, – but only because the occupiers came to Chechnya and turned it into a concentration camp. If you ask if the Chechen society is radicalized and tends to extremism – for sure! That’s obvious. What else remains for a man besides religion? Where is law and order, where is the law of nations? Europe does not do anything, it does not even tell Putin that this is bad, what happens there! But one thing I assure you is that in the end Europe will have to solve the problem anyway – the sooner it does that, the better.
What were your literary role models when you started writing in Chechen?
During the deportation, all Chechen poets were either shot dead, or imprisoned, or sent to the camp for up to twenty years. The literature was almost completely destroyed. Afterwards came people who wrote in completely unnatural Chechen and nobody wanted to read what they wrote, but they had apartments, dachas, as well as membership of the Soviet Writers‘ Union. And then our generation came, the generation »Prometheus«.
Why Prometheus? We founded a literary club in Grozny. If you consider – that was the heyday of socialism, and we found a club that seeks a synthesis with the international, European contemporary literature, with the modern age. The club was banned. But for me, there is a tradition that every artist can go out of – folk art. This applies to all artists, even the modern age. I was lucky enough to grow up in the mountains, with a grandmother who was over one hundred years old. I was very inquisitive and memorized many poems, in Chechen and Russian, even before I went to school. Later in »Prometheus« I was influenced by poets like Rimbaud and García Lorca, poets from Peru to Chile like Gabriel Mistral and Cesar Vallejo.
What about Mandelstam or other Russians?
Of course also Mandelstam and Pasternak, they are both real, great Russian poets. Obviously, everything came to me in the form of the Russian language, in Russian translations etc. Russian culture has influenced me a lot. But we oriented ourselves to the West. Like Mandelstam and Pasternak, too. The task of the poet is to get to a place where no one was before him. This was said by the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky, and his words may also be applied to the poetry of Apti Bisultanov.
Before the war, Apti Bisultanov worked as an editor and lecturer, and during the first Chechen war, he remained a poet. However, when the second Chechen war broke out in 1999, he did not want to be a victim again, but joined the partisans. Only through these events he was drawn into politics, which takes the time for his actual work, says Bisultanov. »But that’s my life. The most important thing is that I am natural and sincere, but I would love to spend my entire time on Art for the remaining days of my life.«
The suffering of the Chechen people, the wars of centuries, the deportation under Stalin and finally the tragedy of the present war – these events are the subject of many poems by Apti Bisultanov. For example »Khaibakh!« a poem about the Khaibakh Massacre on February 27,1944 during the Operation Lentil (the mass deportation of Chechen nation to Central Asia and Sibiria on February 1944). As it was impossible to convoy deportees to the railway stations on the plain due to a snowstorm, 700 villagers, including women and children, were locked in the stable and burned alive, while those trying to escape were shot.
I know nothing, not where head or foot
A beak gnaws away at my heart
Sharp claws force out a scream
My song resounds over ruins
Soft tissue oozing from spine
No pain remains, no fear,
Wings fanning ash
Echoes catching cries:
»Khaibakh, ach, Khaibakh, ach, Khaibakh!
Bodies – people, animals – burning!
Prayers for the dead burning!
Graves of our fathers burning!«
I must stand – am nothing but bones
Must walk – my knees are crushed.
Rocks towering form a dungeon
Shadows flickering enclose me:
»Who is your father? His name?«
»Leave me be, ghosts of the dead.
Would you shatter my skull?«
Gradually the ghosts assume form.
My grandmother used to say
if you see your childhood three times
you will live a long life
My father saw his childhood twice
The first time when he went to war
through the carriage window
he saw it there on the platform
It had come from his mountain village
all the way to say goodbye
The second time he saw it
was when soldiers
marched him off to exile
He turned and saw it
on the edge of the village
too scared to come with him another step.
Later it hid
in an old defence tower with the wild doves
But NKVD soldiers blew up the tower
and it died
The third time
returning from exile
when they weren’t allowed home to the mountains
my father left his family on the plains
and went in search of his birthplace
On his way back
but he could not see his childhood
Then he understood
that one doesn’t always have
to want to live so much
I was small and didn’t take his point
But now I think I understand
his all too early death
I only saw my childhood once
When I went to war
I turned around
and saw it at the gate
too scared to come with me another step
Bombs tore up the streets
with timid terrified children
it went to hide in a cellar
But a valiant pilot dropped a bomb on the house
My son never saw his childhood
He went to war as a child.
Ilman Yusupov is a well-known Chechen poet who was born in Kazakhstan after his family was deported by Soviet government in 1944. The death of Stalin in 1953 led to a loosening of the control regime. The repressions went back, but the status of the exiles changed nothing at first. Only three years after the death of the dictator, on July 16, 1956, the restrictions imposed by the special status on the exiled were lifted by decree. However, the right to return to home was not granted at that time. When thousands returned home on their own, the Central Committee of the Communist Party on 24 November 1956 decided to allow the peoples to return and restore the national territories.
In 1970 Ilman Yusupov was graduated from the Mahketinsky High School in Chechnya. Between 1972 to 1977, he studied in the Faculty of History at the Leningrad State University in Russian city Leningrad (nowadays Saint-Petersburg University) and graduated it in 1977. Afterwards he worked as a teacher of history and social sciences in Chechnya between 1978 and 1993. In the same term, he worked also as the Principal of High School. He served as a deputy editor of «Marshonan Az» (Voice of Freedom) newspaper from May 1993 to August 1993. And in August 1993, he became the editor of a literary and art magazine «Orga» (Argun). During the first Russian-Chechen war, he was a member of editorial board of government newspaper «Ichkeria» that was released in secret ways in Vedeno until 1995. In September 1996 he was appointed as the First Deputy Minister of Education and Science in the government of the President of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria of Aslan Maskhadov.
He began to writing very early when he was 13 years old; and his first poem was published in 1969 by a popular literature newspaper «Leninan Nek» (Lenin’s Way). Since 1980s he has been publishing regularly in various literary magazines. In 1991 his first volume of poems appeared «Zamanan Mazlaga» (Apiary of Time). In 1997, his second poetic collection «Dönallin Mäzhdig» (Mosque of Resistance) followed his first publication. In 1999 his third volume of poems appeared: «Iesan Ghu» (Well of Memory). The poems here are dedicated to the victims of the deportation under Stalin. Since 2005, Ilman Yusupov has been living in Sweden, and in 2006 he participated in poetic festival in Härnösand town. He has translations of his verses into the Swedish language. The name of his book in the Swedish language is «The Chechen Hearth». His poems translated into English, Spanish and Russian too.
The graveyard expands more and more each and every day
A dozen of graves are added to an old tombstone.
The mattock of death daily weeds amid those lying in clay
Always keeping an eye on the tillage of life, on its own
The jar of my fate will break in flinders some day
Breaking suddenly off the wonderful dream of my life.
Learning the death ABC from inscriptions on tombstone plates, so to say.
I shall have to make up my last will while I am alive.
I often come to the graveyard and stop deep in thought:
The last trace of my life will break on this spot.
My flesh will become tasteless food for this land, and I,
Along with my soul, will become a delicious meal for the sky…
The Breath Of The War:
The breath of the war is touching the smoking skyline,
Bloody rain is falling on the burning forest expanse.
Mortal foes turn to ashes the homes of the country of mine,
Mothers, hunched up with grief, weave shrouds for their sons.
The memory springs slake the thirst of the stone roads of war,
And in honour of freedom, give out the herbs alms of spray,
Straining the tempered thread of the fight ever more
The centuries threaten the foes with the sword of gazavat*, to-day.
The mountains call one another, so the echo is hoarse
Hordes of enemies trample the sacred land of fathers of ours
The towers of ancestors call this place Nokhchicho, as a matter of course,
Reading the letters of courage with the eyes of loopholes in the towers.
*Gazavat – holy struggle for freedom.
Lonely evening, old mom, tearful eyes, graveyard, tombstone –
There they are the gloomiest words of Chechen mother tongue.
Twilight darkness falls dragging worry and anguish along
From which lonely evening will creep out for someone alone.
Filling with memory moments the handful of salutary prayer
An old mother pays due in excess to the time somewhere there.
It seems that the tearful eyes are, if you do some hard thinking,
Writing characters gripped by bitter sobbing and weeping.
There are village graves with their lances of churts* in hand
That gripe in their bellies those who have trodden the sunny land.
Every lonely evening an old mother is crying in cemetery, and
Her tears spill over on the back of a grave, hunched and bent…
*Churts – tombstones
The wasp always flies around choosing only the ripest pear,
The grey-haired dandelion opens its arms to the piercing blast.
Yesterday’s state of reality hasn’t yet gone very far from there,
And tomorrow’s troubles already jostle the present day’s fuss.
Boring and bothering, the frog gives a croak in the swamp
Looking for happiness lost in the rustling bushes of cane,
The instants, my lines, never written, depart, very prompt,
Leaving unspoken regret on the tip of my fountain pen…
Nokhchicho! You will hear my whisper, I know.
When I breathe my last on the final verge, and
Merging with the steam of silence, I’ll go
Rising over the peasant’s arable land.
When they lay me to rest, your azure blue sky
Will hang over graveyard with its eyes, all wet.
My unfinished songs about you will bitterly cry
When, for the very last time, I breathe in your scent.
I softly and silently say to you my goodbye
Raising my breast in the last throe and moan.
My churt** will be the shining moon in your sky
And that on the earth will be a mountain stone.
But where shall I put the banner of your calm:
Hang it on clouds, or take it along to the burial spot?
Remember, I carried it, like a child in my arms,
Caressing and fondling it with most ardent thought…
*Nokhchichoh – Chechen name for Chechenya.
**Churt– a tombstone.
Chechen Land, every trace that I leave on your soil is fair,
I should like to turn them into food to feed all your roads;
Year in and year out, my body is striving to be light as air,
So it might not, willy-nilly, cause pain with its loads.
He who’s performed the ablution with water from your waterfall
Can hear the voice of your light calm though his ears are shut.
I will take your wind in my arms, like a cat rolled up in a ball,
And I need your hailstorm to grind it in the mill of my heart.
In spring I will throw the log of your sun into the stove of my breast,
In summer, let your doctor, the rain, make an injection into my brain.
In fall, on a thread of cranes I will string the beads of soul in my chest.
In winter I‘ll make a song lace from the grey-haired yarn of your haze.
You have always shared your sinless assets with me, and hence
You know I don’t squander the gifts you send from above,
With the marble of your crescent I am building a blest happy fence,
And with gravel of your stars I am paving the road to my love.
When, death, like a wolf, creeps up to me, and puts out my brain
Remember always, I, too, will want to have this for my own:
The twines of your grass to bind the black neck of my grave,
The white hands of your fog to wash the inscription on tombstone.
Lonely night, aged mom, tearful eyes, graveyard, tombstone –
There they are, the glomiest words of Chechen mother tongue.
Twilight darkness falls dragging worry and anguish along
From which lonely night will creep out for someone alone.
Filling with memory moments the handful of prayer
The old mother pays overtax to the time somewhere there.
The tearful eyes are, if you do some hard thinking,
Writing characters gripped by sobbing and weeping.
There are village graves with lances of churts* in hand
That gripe in their bellies those who have trodden the sunny land.
Every lonely night an old mother’s crying in cemetery, and
Her tears spill over on the back of a grave, hunched and bent.