February 23 was the 65th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s deportation of the Chechen and Ingush—accused by the Soviet dictator of collaborating with the Nazis—to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Kavkazky Uzel reported on the day of this year’s anniversary that all of Chechnya’s mosques would be marking the anniversary with religious ceremonies and prayers in memory of the victims of the 1944 deportation and that ritual sacrifices would also take place across the republic, with the meat from sacrificed animals donated to poor families.
In Ingushetia, several thousand people, including representatives of public organizations, government officials—among them Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov—representatives from Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria, and ordinary residents of Ingushetia, gathered in the former Ingush capital, Nazran, to mark the deportation anniversary. According to Kavkazky Uzel, a telegram from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was read to the gathering, in which the Russian head of state expressed his regret and condolences for the deportation.
The government of Ingushetia’s website, Ingushetia.ru, posted the text of Yevkurov’s address marking the deportation anniversary. In it, he said, among other things, that the Ingush people today are “living and creating in a single family of people of Great Russia, with confidence in a bright future.” The Ingush survived the period of deportation and exile “in large part thanks to the unselfish help of representatives of other people: Russians, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz,” Yevkurov said. “We will never forget that help.”
Kavkazky Uzel quoted Fatima Oligova, a resident of the Ingush village of Kantyshevo, who was 19 years old during the February 1944 deportation: “We were lucky we were a well-to-do family,” she told the website. “We had a lot of live-stock —sheep, buffalo, horses and cows. A majority of the soldiers who took us away didn’t [sic] allow people to take anything edible with them. But you sometimes ran across good people among them. And that happened to us. We were able to slaughter three sheep, the meat from which helped us a lot later on.” Oligova told Kavkazky Uzel there were 14 members in her family at the time of the deportation, including eight daughters, three sons, her parents and her father’s second wife; and that her father had some savings. “But many Ingush families had neither money nor animals, and they died,” she said.
According to Kavkazky Uzel, witnesses said that on February 23, 1944, the start of the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush, Soviet security forces gathered all the males together in certain places, such as collective farms, fearing they might mount an armed resistance to deportation. After that, everyone was driven on trucks to the freight cars. Survivors recall that it was a cold day, with wet snow falling. “Three or four families wound up in one carriage” Fatima Oligova told the website. “There wasn’t [sic] a single family that didn’t have someone who died. People died en route, [or] immediately after arriving at the place of exile, [or] two or three years after their arrival, of various diseases—for example, typhoid fever.”
Oligova said that when someone died en route to their place of exile, their body would be buried in the snow at a train stop. “Thousands of people died from hunger and cold,” she said. “When we arrived in Kazakhstan, they didn’t assign us anywhere; all of the Ingush were assigned to the expanses of snow. We had on galoshes but the snow went above our knees. The Kazakhs refused to take us into their homes. Only thanks to the persistence of my father, we ended up under the roof of one Kazakh home. It was awful.”
On February 23, the official website of Chechnya’s president and government, Chechnya.gov.ru, quoted Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov as saying in an address marking the 65th anniversary of the deportation that the Chechens and “many other nationalities” were victims of Stalin’s “anti-national” policy in 1944, but that despite deportation and 13 years of a “cruel ordeal in inhumane conditions,” the Chechens “defiantly” survived without losing their “national pride or belief in the triumph of justice.”
Today, the Chechen Republic is going through a “period of revival” in which “instability, deprivation and human suffering” are a thing of the past, Kadyrov said. “As guarantor of the constitution of the Chechen Republic, of the life and security of the citizens of this region, I will do my best to ensure every home lives in prosperity and well-being.”
At the same time, Kadyrov said that he plans to introduce legislation in Chechnya’s parliament creating a holiday marking the Chechen people’s return from exile in 1957. “We don’t have the right to forget the tragic dates in the history of our people, but it is no less important to remember the periods we connect with the triumph of justice, and one such day is the day of the return of our people after 13 years of exile in Kazakhstan and Siberia,” Kavkazky Uzel quoted Kadyrov as saying on February 24. “I hope that the [parliamentary] deputies and society support my proposal and that on our calendar, along with the tragic dates, another national holiday will appear.”
A group of around three dozen human rights activists held a demonstration in Moscow on February 23 marking the anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush. Kavkazky Uzel reported that the activists, who included members of Memorial, the Anti-War Club, the Committee for Anti-War Actions and the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, held placards reading (among other things): “Chechnya, Forgive Us,” “The Tyranny of Kadyrov is a New Act in the Tragedy of the Chechen People,” and “An Empire Means Constant Terror Against Your Own People.” The website also reported that five young Ingush attended the demonstration but asked not to be photographed or interviewed.
The separatist Chechenpress website on February 24 published the text of an address given by Akhmed Zakaev, prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) in London on February 19, in which he called the deportation “one of the bloodiest and cruelest pages in the history of Russian-Chechen relations.”
“It was on that day 65 years ago that the entire Chechen people, numbering a half million people, were evicted from their homeland and deported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan—including my family,” Zakaev said. “As we know, the pain of the loss that the Chechens endured in that distant past turned out to be by no means the last, and unfortunately, our struggle continues up until now, in the tragic present. The truth is that the Kremlin’s tactics today are more sophisticated, but the results are the same: the resettlement and persecution of the Chechens continues [sic] by means of new methods that are less obvious, but no less cruel.”
An open letter published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper on February 23 noted that the deportation anniversary has been designated “World Chechnya Day” and added that today, 65 years later, “the Chechen people are still suffering.”
Noting that then-Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Chechnya in 1999, following the Russia’s first military intervention in 1994, resulted in “the displacement of several hundred thousand refugees and the death of another 100,000 civilians,” the letter stated:
“The Kremlin now claims that the war is over and that there is peace and stability in the region. The reality is that the intensive bombings have been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression which has eroded civil society in Chechnya and suppressed any open and democratic voice. Visits are carefully choreographed for western journalists and dignitaries. They do not see the daily realities of Moscow-imposed Ramzan Kadyrov’s rule.”
The letter further stated that the “facade of stability” in Chechnya is dangerous and that the only way to establish lasting peace is through free and fair elections, like those that took place in 1997. “On this World Chechnya Day, we urge President Medvedev to find a genuine political settlement that will finally put an end to an entire people’s suffering,” the letter concluded.
Among the signatories were Ivar Amundsen, director of the Chechnya Peace Forum; Malcolm Rifkind, a British Member of Parliament and former Foreign Secretary; Glen Howard, president of The Jamestown Foundation; and André Glucksmann, a French philosopher and writer.
According to the Memorial human rights group, during 1943-44, 485,000 people were deported from Chechnya and Ingushetia, 101,000 from Kalmykia, 70,000 from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and 37,000 from Kabardino-Balkaria, along with 100,000 Meskhetian Turks and other people who were deported from the Caucasus.