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“You are here too?” Memories of Growing up in the Streets of Sovetski

Overall in Sovetski, my family lived in two houses. My grandma’s house was on Fuzuli street, which we referred to as “Shakhskiy” street (King Street). My grandma was the oldest person in our family, so all my relatives would gather around her occasionally, asking her opinion regarding different matters. The other relatives lived on Mustafa Subhi street. A lot of folks didn’t even know who Mustafa Subhi was, unless you asked the older generation (he was a Turkish communist martyr). Coming from a noble family line, my great-grandfather was a well known and respected scholar and cleric. Back in the day almost all the neighbors knew who we were. We even have our family tree in the Museum of Manuscripts, a 17 meters long old document dating back all the way to the XII century.

Mustafa Subhi street in summer 2016. These are 360 degree videos, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

Our family residence on Mustafa Subhi was always a centerpiece in the tales of my grandfather and grandmother. My grandfather was still six when his mother walked back from the street telling him that the war with Germany is finally over. In the yard, there was a mulberry tree, and my mother, my cousins, I used to walk around and eat from the tree. During our frequent family reunions, on the far corner of the yard, there’d always be a boiling samovar, and guests would come together and sit on the porch around the table as one of my parent’s cousins would pour fresh tea and boiling water, smelling slightly smoky, into the traditional pear shaped “armudu” tea cups. My uncles and aunts would sit, talk loudly, laugh, drink tea and share the current events, as I would run around the yard playing with my cousins and second cousins… The yard was small, but as a kid I thought it was gigantic.

The yard on Mustafa Subhi. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

Back in the days of my great-grandfather’s grandfather, this yard and two story building was purchased, which fell under the category of a certain freehold, called “Mülk”. Now, among other structures, renovated a few times in the XX century, it looked like all the neighboring small houses and one could hardly tell the noble origins of this location.

A cat walks across the roof above the house on Mustafa Subhi. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

When my great-grandfather was arrested during the communist purges and sent to Siberia (he was an upper class educated nobleman who was also a muslim cleric – the classic enemy of bolsheviks; he survived the exile and returned), the first floors of the property had to be leased, so there would be other people coming and staying there. Neighbors around the area changed constantly, especially around the Second World War when many refugees came and settled in the area temporarily. But despite this some neighbors stayed. My grandpa still remembers the nicknames of his childhood friends and neighbors – one had a nickname “the clay-pot” (“gorshok”), presumably because of a bowl-cut haircut he received sometime that looked ugly. Remembering their real names and last names would take a second, and bring back some bittersweet memories.

A group of kids meet in the street as the sun begins to set. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

The neighbors there – some were good, others not so much. Neighbors would lend each other extra chairs and tables if one of them was going to have a big birthday party or something. Everybody knew each other, so at the very least there was a strong sense of security. If some kid decided to walk somewhere, the word would quickly reach the parents, so they’d be aware where the kid went and whether he was going to play until late and miss dinner or not. Of course, missing dinner would most likely result in some sort of punishment, perhaps in becoming grounded of play, but at the moment fetching the playful kid from the other side of the mahalla most likely seemed too much of a hassle for tired parents who had just returned from their work.

The author reminisces on playing in the narrow back alleys of Sovetski

At my grandma’s place in Shakhski I’ve spent many years playing with my older cousins (my grandma’s oldest son and his family lived with her in the house). One of my earliest memories are the wooden brown floors that were replaced when I was around 4 years old. My father worked nearby, and frequently he would visit his mother and older brother, read a magazine, take a nap and then come home. Sometimes, we would both happen to be at grandma’s, and every time he’d see me there, my dad would get surprised: “you are here too?”.

Of course I was.

The author outside his grandmother home in March 2016.

I played with my cousins, fought and laughed over silly things. Kids being kids. We would sit on balcony and watch the passerby pedestrians, lay on corridors and watch the ceiling, talking about any topic imaginable. The entire upper right wall of corridor consisted from windows, so one can imagine how sunny and well-lit the corridor would get in the summertime. For me, it was the happy memories of sunshine piercing through the glass window, which I miss a lot, and tiny pieces of dust floating in its light – dust that rose from nooks and crannies of an old house when kids jumped and chased each other, causing disturbance. In the yard of Shakhski street, there was a big fig tree. In the summer, going upstairs to the third floor where my grandmother's house was kind of a trouble if the branches of the fig tree weren’t trimmed well.

The view from the author's grandmother's building in March 2016. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

Once, as a kid I was climbing the stairs (I was around 6), and I saw the neighbor’s dog watching me from the window and barking. I barked back at the dog, the neighbor looked out and yelled at me. I felt bad, ran and told to my mom. They all listened and laughed at me, and I started laughing with them too, because it all felt silly. Even in the hardest times of our family, that house was the main gathering point, where the entire clan would meet and assure each other that we will pull through the troubles and hardships, just like their parents and grandparents did.

The streets around the author's grandmother's house in March 2016. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

As the years went by, the neighbors started moving out, moving away. It was one or two neighbors at a time, some would die, others would go abroad to make money. But the process was very slow, and we wouldn’t really notice it. Once the houses were marked for demolition, we all brushed it off – people die and fade away, but the old sturdy houses of good bygone days stand tall, right?... Right?...

I went abroad to study. Once I returned, I saw the neighboring houses gone. The ruins of a yard that was marked for demolition scarred my heart, as I could still imagine our neighbors sitting on that abandoned balcony, drinking tea and gossiping. The walls painted in light blue, a color known by few as “Soviet Melancholy” looked sad, brooding. The buildings of old were gone. My grandmother died before the demolition too. For my family, for my clan, this demolition was an end of an era.

What remains of the streets around the author's grandmother's house in the summer of 2016. This is a 360 degree video, click and drag on it to change the angle and view.

We still meet frequently and my uncles and aunts still tell jokes. All we have now, are the great memories of Sovetski, a legendary area that housed tenacious and kind residents of pre-Soviet and Soviet Baku.

You can explore more of Sovetski at

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