The Preface to the book of the poems by Batyr Berdyev
We can live our life, create a family, have children, plant a tree, build a house, not knowing who we will become in extreme circumstances, those requiring determination of will, mind, and even—daring, right? Batyr Berdyev learned that about himself.
It took me a long time to write this introduction to the poems Batyr Berdyev wrote in prison, and not because I am not a literary critic—Batyr was not a poet; he himself wrote that from prison…
Reading through what Batyr wrote, I found it really difficult to find the words to express my feelings of melancholy and despair, along with the feeling of helpless rage. Melancholy and despair at the impossibility of using common words to describe the condition of those who are aware that they are foreveryes, that is basically it: forever immured in a prison cell without any hope of seeing their relatives and loved ones. Helpless rage at concrete people, the current leadership of Turkmenistan-cowardly, base, and cruel. They had every opportunity to end this crime, which the previous regime had started, to stop the inhuman treatment of dozens of people who were imprisoned in total isolation from the outside word, and to stop the suffering of their relatives. However, they have done nothing for these long intervening years; they have not even acknowledged the problem. Because of this, they bear full moral and legal responsibility for this ongoing, cruel, crime.
It took me a long time to pluck up my courage to decide to write about Batyr—and not only about him. Among the disappeared in Turkmen torture chambers are a lot of people I know, including my good friend, Boris Shikhmuradov. That is why I think about them often…
Boris Shikhmuradov introduced me to Batyr Berdyev, who took his place as Minister of Foreign Affairs. We only met a couple of times. I remember him as very sincere, emotionally open person, cultured in his internal, spiritual orientation. One felt in him undissipated energy to act, which he hoped to realize in his home country after several years of working in Vienna.
Of course, Batyr was a romantic…this can be seen by reading from the lines of his prison poetry—tragic, soul searing, and, simultaneously, radiant.
The touch of my lips on your lips,
Your hands on my hands:
Vienna, the Hilton, our meeting
And the Christmas markets.
… My life has not been righteous,
But your holiness has saved me…
Of course, anyone reading these lines in Russian would recall the poetic daring of Sergey Esenin! But, knowing in what moldy, damp, sunless walls these lines were written, you strain your feelings to understand. That daring fills the lungs, lets you breathe, and stirs the memory of an immured prisoner….
Plus, I will say this: I am not sure that the rakish, loving, and tragic Russian poet Esenin could have stayed that way in the conditions in which the Turkmen diplomat Berdyev suddenly found himself to be a tragic, but radiant, poet.
Batyr did not have illusions about his future, although he also did not lose hope for a happy ending. A month after his arrest, on January 7, 2003, he wrote to his beloved wife Bakhar:
I am guilty here before you,
Thrice guilty before our son:
Guilty of orphaning his future,
Guilty of being an inept father,
Guilty that I could not prevent
The pain of unexpected tragedy…
He also wrote bitter words to his only son Rakhmash:
And I haven’t been able yet to tell you
Why Giordano Bruno stepped into the flames,
How genes and protons were discovered,
And how it is hard to live in this world with honor…
I do not know how Batyr’s son grew up. He must have become, in the 15 years since his father’s arrest, a grown man. But, I want to believe that the parting words of his father, “live in this world with honor” were life’s blood to him.
I also do not know if Batyr Berdyev, a well brought up, European style well-educated diplomat in the secular tradition, was a believer, a churchgoer, as they say. But I cannot read these lines, written to his wife, without emotion:
«God manifests Himself in love. For me, you are love itself, you are a very particle of that divine light of purity of soul, which once flared on this earth, and which is passed from generation to generation not by the mind, but by the heart, not through knowledge, but through feelings; without which the human race would have long ago been extinguished; without which there would be no history and no future».
Someone will say that here an eastern sensuality, imbibed with mother’s milk, guides Batyr’s hand, and will, of course, be right. But, very likely, that would be inadequate. It is possible to love, as it is called, without leaving home, without getting out of bed….and it is also possible while doing things that will make the world better and give it a chance at a future.
We can live our life, create a family, have children, plant a tree, build a house, not knowing who we will become in extreme circumstances, those requiring determination of will, mind, and even—daring, right?
Batyr Berdyev learned that about himself. The price of his life. And we also know and will remember him, fearless and gentle, smart and strong-willed, loving and beloved, dreaming of a better world for his country.