This week marked the 60th anniversary of the Chechen people’s deportation to Kazakhstan–one of the most atrocious acts of one of history’s most atrocious governments. Even if the two Chechen wars of the last decade had not taken place, the events of February 1944 would stand as a continuing test of Russia’s willingness to come to terms with its Soviet past. So far Russia’s post-Soviet leaders have mostly failed that test; it would not be an exaggeration to compare some of their statements, and selective silences, with the phenomenon of “Holocaust denial” still found among some anti-Semites.
On the other hand, brave members of Russia’s reformist intelligentsia continue to voice truths that the country’s leaders do not want to hear. A powerful example was last week’s issue of Moskovskie novosti, which reprinted a 1944 secret police report documenting the scale of the atrocity and the callousness of the Soviet bureaucracy. The weekly also published an article by Vladimir Kiveretsky on the village of Khaibakh, which the events of February 1944 literally erased from the map of Chechnya’s southern highlands.
The secret police of the Soviet NKVD (later renamed the KGB, and more recently the FSB) herded some 700 people into that village for deportation to Kazakhstan. Heavy snows made it impossible to move the Chechens any further by road; they were told that an airplane would take them the rest of way, and were ordered to spend the night in an unheated stable.
On the next day the secret police set the stable afire. Among those burned alive were a 110-year-old man and his 100-year-old wife, and also two babies–twin boys born in that very stable the previous night.
In 1990, at the height of the “perestroika” reforms, the authorities appointed a joint Russian-Chechen task force to conduct a criminal investigation into this decades-old mass murder. The task force confirmed the details and even established the names of some of the murderers, whom the Stalin regime had honored with state awards for heroism. It then transmitted its case file to the military procuracy in Rostov-on-the-Don. It has apparently done nothing since that time.