February 23 marked the 64th anniversary of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s mass deportation of the Chechen and Ingush people to Central Asia. Prague Watchdog reported on February 23 that ceremonies in memory of the deportation were held that day in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Moscow and several European capitals. Kavkazky Uzel on February 23 quoted Ingush human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov as saying: “I believe that it is the duty of the entire nation to remember the terrible ordeal that fell to our people’s lot—hunger and cold that took half the Ingush people; hostility on the part of the local population in the places of exile; the stigma of being a ‘traitor nation’, even though thousands of Ingush gave their lives in the victory over the German fascists. The country must remember this so that nothing similar is ever repeated. At the moment I cannot say that this is so. The present time is also not peaceful and quiet for the Ingush. But a similar tragedy must not be repeated. My father lost his parents and sister in the deportation. Thus the deportation meant that I never had the opportunity to see my grandfather and grandmother.”
Kavkazky Uzel quoted Madinat Albakova, a resident of the Ingush village of Kantyshevo, as saying: “I was a young girl during the period of the deportation. And I remember that day very well. Not only that we were driven from our own homes like a herd; we were not allowed to take necessities with us, even for sustenance. We were driven into freight cars, in which, I think, present-day people would not survive. We were accompanied everywhere by extremely unsanitary conditions. When someone in the car died of hunger or cold, the body was thrown out of the car into the snow, so that the entire route of our movement was strewn with bodies. It was a terrible ordeal for the Ingush, since burying someone according to Islamic rituals means so much to us. Our people were humiliated for no reason. But we withstood it; we lived in hope of returning.”
Kavkazky Uzel also quoted an anonymous local human rights activist in Ingushetia as saying: “The preparations for carrying out the deportation were carefully concealed. NKVD troops who were brought into Checheno-Ingushetia were disguised in regular military uniforms. They told people that the troops were gathering for a large-scale exercise in the mountains. The local residents, who didn’t suspect anything, generally received the troops cordially. The deportation operation began at dawn. Families were given no more than an hour to pack their belongings; the slightest insubordination was thwarted with the use of weapons.”
One of those deported, Bashir Zangiev, told Kavkazky Uzel: “Those were terrible days. I was seven years old at the time, and I remember certain moments, albeit vaguely. Early in the morning, soldiers rapped out our door and ordered us to get dressed quickly and follow them. We were allowed to take only what was most necessary. With rifles aimed at us, were stuffed into freight cars unfit for transporting people. Any attempt to run away and you were shot without warning. We traveled for several days. The cars were unbearably cold. The train stopped at some stations, but we were not permitted to get out, even for emergencies.” Zangiev said that those deported were given practically no food, fuel or medical care and that thousands of people, particularly children and old people, died along the way from the cold, hunger or disease. According to Kavkazky Uzel, those who survived the deportation were, upon their arrival in Central Asia, divided into small groups, placed in semi-destroyed barracks or sheds and forced to live under a very strict regime that did not permit them to leave their immediate area.
According to Kavkazky Uzel, some 387,000 Chechens were deported in February 1944. While, according to official documents, 90,000 Ingush were also deported, the real number of Ingush deported exceeds 134,000, the website reported. “More than 50,000 of them died en route from hunger, cold and disease,” said Maryam Yandiev, head of the Ingush branch of the Memorial human rights group. He added that also taking into consideration how many people were not born because of the deportation, it has to be considered a “demographic catastrophe” for the Ingush.
Other groups in the Caucasus were also victims of Stalin’s deportations in 1943-44: according to Memorial, 101,000 people were deported from Kalmykia; 70,000 from Karachaevo-Cherkessia; 37,000 from Kabardino-Balkaria. In addition, 100,000 Meskhetian Turks and other ethnic groups in the Caucasus were deported.
Prague Watchdog on February 23 reported that in a survey taken in Ingushetia about the deportation, 73 percent of the respondents said it has still not been erased from the memory of the Ingush people while 14 percent said it has more or less been erased from their memory (according to the website, the latter were aged 20-25 and predominantly female). Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said the deportation had had a personal impact on them while only 15 percent said they had not been affected.
Most of the respondents said that the perpetrators of the crime against the Ingush people were Stalin and the Soviet state, while other put the blame on “anyone who signed up,” Soviet secret police chief Lavrenty Beria, “the former and the present government”, the Ossetians and Russia.