Our Society 8 october — 16:25

'Fictitious Ivanovka' on Baku shelves, so Azeri Daily went and saw real collective farm: What's happening? (Our special report)

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BY EYNULLA FATULLAYEV, MURAD SAMADOV, IVANOVKA VILLAGE, ISMAYILLI DISTRICT

Ivanovka is not just an ordinary settlement, this village has a special ethnocultural significance -- the largest Molokan community in Azerbaijan settled here two centuries ago. And until recently, the Nikitin collective farm was considered a kind of safe haven, an oasis with a well-established, unique and far from politics way of life.

However, a unique situation has developed with the only collective farm in Azerbaijan. After the death of the legendary Nikolai Vasilyevich Nikitin, six chairmen were replaced, who brought the collective farm to bankruptcy. Each new manager, together with his retinue, sought to improve their own well-being, and today practically nothing remains of the once prosperous collective farm-millionaire. Everyone took part in the active plundering of Nikolai Nikitin's inheritance -- periodically replaced heads of the Ismayilli district, collective farm chairmen, and at the same time ordinary collective farmers. Everyone tried to snatch something. It got to the point that in 2019 the collective farm was officially on the verge of bankruptcy -- it had no funds left for a new spring sowing.

Baku residents can ask a fair and natural question: if the collective farm has collapsed, then why at every step in the capital markets we are offered meat and dairy products from Ivanovka? It turns out that all the products on the Baku shelves, which are passed off as Ivanovka ones, are fiction, deception and fraud of buyers. All these food products have nothing to do with the true Molokan Ivanovka...

The editorial staff of Azeri Daily could not remain indifferent to the alarming signals coming from there.

And here we are in the legendary village of Ivanovka, which popular rumour in recent years has named in honour of the decorative villages of the favourite of Empress Catherine the Great, who left an indelible mark on the historical memory of the Molokans -- the Potemkin village.

Today Azeri Daily has paid a visit to the Chairman of the Nikitin Collective Farm Vasily Ivanovich Novoseltsev.

Vasily Novoseltsev is the new chairman of the collective farm

Vasily Novoseltsev is the new chairman of the collective farm

- Not only did the collective farm collapse and went bankrupt, in addition to everything else, a split occurred in the legendary Ivanovka: into supporters and zealous opponents of the collective farm. Is the future of Nikitin's moribund brainchild uncertain? What's going on here?

- Apparently it is beneficial for some that the collective farm ceases its activities. I do not agree with the replicated fabrications that the collective farm has ceased to exist, and all its lands are sold out. Those who are in favour of dissolution do not work on the collective farm. And our collective farm is like an eyesore for them. They say that the collective farm has been plundered and sold out. But when I took over as chairman in 2015, the collective farm was in a deplorable state. Then there were big debts and a decline in animal husbandry, plant growing, viticulture, a problem with the fodder base. We had to sell our livestock to cover our debts. A crisis began in crop production, because there were no funds for development. There were huge problems with agricultural equipment -- there was no money for a new one, and we had to be content with outdated ones. There were only 9 units of agricultural machinery left on the collective farm!

Traditionally, the main income of the economy was viticulture. I found a gloomy picture -- the grapes did not bear fruit and dried up.

- Is it because of irrigation problems? They say there was no water, especially in summer.

- First, because of the problems with irrigation. Second, the grapes were planted in 1956... Therefore, the indicators of the collective farm began to be underestimated in all sectors. In addition, there was no money to buy fuel and lubricants. There was wage arrears, for 9-10 months we could not pay money to people. We had a big debt for electricity, and debtors were periodically disconnected from the grids. And this left a negative imprint.

And 2018 was a dry year, we barely harvested. We couldn't even provide for ourselves...

- Surprisingly, after the collapse of the USSR, the process of decentralisation began, the disintegration of agricultural structures throughout the post-Soviet space, but this catastrophe bypassed Nikitin's oasis -- your collective farm. On the contrary, the 1990s -- the most difficult years for the rest of the country -- became a period of unprecedented growth, development and even prosperity for your collective farm. Nikitin and further Minnikov managed not only to preserve, but also to increase the previous conquests. And during the golden age of the Azerbaijani economy -- the magnificent oil decade -- the degradation of your collective farm began and all previous gains were lost. But why? After all, the period of economic growth of the country should have given a new impetus for development, right?

- The main reason, in my opinion, is the frequent turnover of the collective farm management. The collective farm chairman changed almost every two years. And gradually our economy began to decline. Each collective farm chairman became the sovereign owner of the village and first of all tried to fill his pockets. And when the standard of living began to fall, ordinary people also began to steal.

Our collective farm did not immediately reach such a deplorable state. In the beginning there was a strong economy, and people earned several times more than in other villages of the country. Nobody even wanted to hear about land reform.

- You are a native of this village. Everything happened before your eyes. Why was there a change of leadership so often? Even after Nikitin's death, your collective farm was the main supplier of high-quality meat and dairy products to the country's markets. Everything was going well, people were happy, the collective farm's indicators were amazing... And suddenly everything collapses. Agree, it doesn't happen like that?! We want to understand the cause of the systemic collapse.

- It is difficult for me to answer this question now. The then leadership should be aware of the reasons that led to the collapse of such a strong economy. It didn't happen overnight! The slow process of disintegration lasted for about 10 years, the economy was slowly sliding into the abyss. The crisis began in 1998.

- After Nikitin?

- Nikitin died in 1994. This was the Minnikov period. And the decline began already then -- in all yields. And in 2005, under the new manager, an attempt was made to revive the economy and even a tendency for growth was outlined, but after 2-3 years the crisis began again, which could not be stopped in subsequent years. And this deepening crisis continued until 2015. At the same time, a significant outflow of the population from the village began. There are almost no young people left. Most of the village is retired and displaced.

* * *

Forced digression

The history of the collective farm begins in 1936. It was first named after the legendary hero of the civil war, Klim Voroshilov. The inhabitants of the village of Ivanovka joined the collective farm named after Voroshilov, one might say, unanimously. But war broke out with Germany and almost all men of working age went to the front. Of the seven hundred recruited to the front, 400 returned, many of whom were seriously wounded. The recovery period took place in very difficult conditions. Only after a decade had passed, the collective farmers of Ivanovka were able to restore the economy to the pre-war level.

After returning to power, Heydar Aliyev did not allow the legendary collective farm to be disbanded. Aliyev and Nikitin, 1970s

In 1953, the economically weak, still in ruin, it was headed by Nikolai Vasilyevich Nikitin, who was then only 27 years old. The outstanding personal and business qualities of the young chairman, his authority, soon brought the collective farm to the forefront throughout the USSR.

Since 1958, the collective farm, which received a new name -- it was named after Kalinin -- becomes a millionaire. Nikolai Vasilievich worked as chairman for more than four decades, and all this time the farm was at the forefront. He, in modern terms, diversified production, he even had his own airfield, asphalt and brick factories. The merits of the chairman were appreciated -- Nikitin's awards were innumerable, and the main one was the title of Hero of Socialist Labour. He confidently walked to the second cherished star, but did not have time, the country collapsed. Nikolai Vasilyevich Nikitin passed away in 1994, and from that time began a long and sad story of the decline of the collective farm.

In 1996, a land reform was carried out in Azerbaijan, collective farms were abolished, and their land was transferred to private ownership of villagers. However, the residents of Ivanovka did not want to say goodbye to their advanced collective farm and, together with their new chairman, Grigory Minnikov (formerly Nikitin's deputy), turned to the country's President Heydar Aliyev with a request to keep their production association in its former form. To which the head of state replied that if all the farms in the country worked like the Nikitin collective farm, then there would be no need for land reform in the country at all. Thus, a one-of-a-kind collective farm has survived in Azerbaijan, which does not fit into the country's legislation in any way. This rural joint venture still has virtually no legal documents, apart from a strange piece of paper called State Act on Permanent Use of Land by Collective Farms No.592639. In legal terms, the collective farm still exists only under the behest of National Leader Heydar Aliyev. Such is the legal incident.

The collective farm was a unique economic oasis in the post-Soviet space

* * *

- What is the current population of the village?

- 2700 people.

- And how many of them are involved in the collective farm?

- Depends on seasonal work, which involves from 560 to 600 people. There are 350-400 permanent residents of the village on permanent work in the collective farm.

- And how many of them are Molokans?

- I do not have accurate statistics. You can contact the executive authority. They have the data.

- Approximately?

- Half.

- And apparently there are no young people among them?

- Well, young people mostly work on agricultural machinery. And in car garages and viticulture, residents of retirement age are mainly involved in the work. People over the age of 50.

* * *

Forced digression

We are walking around Ivanovka... And yet the people here are special, good-natured, hospitable and overly naïve. What immediately catches the eye is the almost complete absence of young people on the streets and a huge number of houses with a 'For Sale' sign. The Russian population of the village continues to leave. Young people go to study in Russia and often never return. On the benches near the houses, mostly old people and, surprisingly, young healthy men sit. If on a collective farm a man sits at the porch of his home, it means that there are genuine problems with employment here...

Only old people were left on the collective farm. And the youth are leaving

* * *

- It turns out that Ivanovka was divided in its attitude to the collective farm into two parts: cautious supporters and zealous opponents of the collective farm. What are their arguments? And what do you think about the future fate of the farm?

- Of course, I am a supporter of continuing the activities of the collective farm. And I do everything in my power to make the collective farm live, stand on its feet and develop. In the 1990s, the collective farm had a stormy social life, many meetings, debates, reporting conferences were held, and proposals to distribute land to private ownership, as in all of Azerbaijan, were crushed. Minnikov asked openly -- do you want to split up? And most of the population was in favour of preserving the collective economy. Each of the collective farm members wrote a handwritten statement with a request to preserve this form of farming. That is, the discussions have been going on since then. And yet, most of them were in favour of the collective farm. We must preserve this tradition and restore the glory of the old days.

- But the activities of the collective farm are not regulated by law. Private ownership of land has been established in Azerbaijan.

- Why not? We report to the Ministry of Agriculture. I agree that our previous charter is outdated and a new legal document is required.

- Look, you have 4 thousand hectares of arable land that is idle. What is the point of keeping the collective farm?

- 5200 hectares. And in recent years, the land has not been idle. An upswing has begun since 2019, which gives rise to great hopes. In the same year, we reached a sensational performance -- 33% of the wheat harvest! In 2018, the collective farm went bankrupt, and we practically suspended our activities. But we tried in every possible way to save the collective farm by contacting various government agencies, primarily the Ministry of Agriculture. We didn't even have a seed fund -- what kind of upcoming sowing could we talk about? But then a person appeared who was ready to finance us.

- Why a person and not the state?

- From 2016 to 2018, we applied for subsidies and loans, but were refused.

- Why refused? When was the last time you applied to the Ministry of Agriculture under the state subsidy program?

- Both in 2018 and in 2019.

- How did the current Minister, Inam Karimov, react? Didn't he help?

- He visited Ivanovka and got acquainted with the state of the collective farm, with the state of affairs in all branches. It was with the support of I. Karimov that the Ministry of Agriculture built a plant for cleaning and calibrating seeds.

- So there is state support?

- Oh sure. The Ministry of Agriculture offered us a model, which somewhat alarmed us. Funding should have been opened, but 70 per cent of the harvest would go to them, and 30 per cent would remain with us. And in the event of force majeure or non-fulfilment, due to one reason or another, of obligations on our part, the land of the collective farm had to go to an LLC, which was created with the participation of the Ministry. So I and the board members disagreed.

- When you took over the collective farm in 2015, how many cattle were there?

- 1800 heads.

- Some local residents claimed that the figure had been 3 thousand.

- Not true. There are documents. There were 3 thousand in 2005.

- And how much is left now?

- 400 heads.

- Locals claim 200.

- No, 400.

- And where did the rest go?

- I told you, they were sold to cover wage arrears and other debts of the collective farm. In 2014, we faced serious problems with the food supply. We then completely lost the poultry industry. Only now we are working on the revival of this industry. Pig breeding was already on its last legs. But over the past year, we have ensured development in this area. It's hard, but we are moving forward. When I took office, the debt to the state was 1 million 700 thousand manats. There were problems with paying salaries and taxes.

- I'll ask you directly. Why did you decide to take over the collective farm, which was in such a dire situation?

- Apparently, youth and energy took over. For me, the revival of the collective farm is a matter of honour and memory of our ancestors. I am a graduate of the Azerbaijan Agricultural Institute. And from a young age I connected my life with Azerbaijan and with our collective farm. And my children will live and work in Ivanovka. No matter how pompous it sounds.

* * *

Forced digression

In Ivanovka, the remains of the asphalt and brick plants are eloquent witnesses of decline and devastation.

Nikitin was a real business executive. When asked why keep an asphalt plant, he always replied that the collective farm should be self-sufficient. The villagers themselves repaired their roads. And now what was left of the asphalt and brick plants was simply handed over for scrap...

And abandoned vineyards everywhere. Dozens of hectares of perennial grape plantings have been uprooted, and what is left gives the impression of long abandoned, unkempt plantings.

This is what remains of the former brick plant

And these are the remains of the asphalt plant

The collective farm was plundered... and left

* * *

- The meat and dairy products produced in Ivanovka do not even meet the needs of the villagers. An absurd situation has developed -- the villagers are forced to buy milk and food in the stores and markets in the neighbouring districts. And in Baku markets and stores they tell us fables about dairy products from Ivanovka... (We laugh)

- Yes, unfortunately it is so. Some companies and factories manufacture products under the Ivanovka brand, although these products have nothing to do with our village. Since 2009, the supply of food from the village has been suspended.

- Why didn't you file a complaint with the now abolished State Committee for Standardisation?

- We did.

- Pointless?

- Alas. Stores selling false products were closed. But in the markets it is still for sale. This is more difficult to deal with. The markets sell buffalo milk and goat cheese from Ivanovka, although the collective farm has never produced such products. All this is done clandestinely. We sent an appeal again and want to restore the lost brand of products from Ivanovka again.

- Will the current state of the collective farm and production volumes allow you to provide the market?

- We are planning to build a workshop for the production of meat and dairy products and will gradually expand. We do not yet have the funds to build a large plant, but we hope to attract private investment.

- In the good old, but forgotten times, there was a shop of the village of Ivanovka on Torgovaya Street in Baku. But then the store disappeared. They say it was sold.

- Yes it's true. I said that there were debts of the collective farm. The store was sold in 2009.

- For 150 thousand manats?

- No, for 900 thousand manats. Yes, it was a well-known store among Baku residents. Then we sold our second store for 500 thousand... But now the collective farm, as I repeated, is getting back on its feet. And God willing, in the very near future, we will again restore our stores in the centre of the Azerbaijani capital.

- It remains for us to wish you a speedy revival. We sincerely hope that someday in Baku we will again meet the best products from the village of Ivanovka on the shelves of new stores.

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