Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 35

Under the heading “The Chechen Refugees in Ingushetia Want to Flee to The Place of Their Stalinist Deportation,” the website Grani.ru reported on November 13 on an appeal sent by 300 Chechen IDP families living in Ingushetia to President Nursultan Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan. A copy of the appeal was also sent to President Putin of Russia. The full text of the appeal was included by the website. “In this fateful hour,” the IDPs began, “when the threat of physical destruction hangs suspended over the Chechen people, we, Chechen refugees from Ingushetia, have decided to approach you as our final hope.” “No matter what bitter memory Chechens possess concerning the Stalinist deportation [of 1944],” the authors continued, “during which a third of our people died, we are forced to announce to you, respected Mr. President, that our present situation (eight years of war, lawlessness and complete anarchy) has been still more difficult than was our deportation.” And the IDPs concluded their entreaty: “Desperation forces us to appeal for our salvation to the Kazakh people, who in those harsh times received us and did everything possible for the Chechens, despite the fact that Stalinist propaganda declared all Chechens to be bandits.”

Commenting on the letter, Akhmet Muradov, chair of the “Vainakh” Association for the Development of the Chechen and Ingush Peoples within Kazakhstan, remarked: “The refugees are living in the tent camps [in Ingushetia] where they have spent the past three winters, and now conditions are being created for them under which they have to choose whether to go again to Chechnya or to move further away from Ingushetia.” Muradov said that he planned to travel to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where, on November 14, representatives of the Chechen diaspora were scheduled to discuss the issue of the refugees with leaders of the Kazakhstani Ministry of Internal Affairs, the procuracy, the committee on national security and the courts. There are now some 12,000 Chechens living in Kazakhstan (total population, 14.8 million).

This appeal by 300 Chechen IDP families was taken seriously by two participants in a program aired by Ekho Moskvy Radio on November 19 (a transcript of the discussion was posted by the website of the human rights organization Memorial [Hro.org] the same day). The two were Sulumbek Tashtamirov, chair of the human rights organization “Sinter” (Ingushetia), and Lidiya Grafova, chair of the All-Russian Forum of Migration Organizations. In the period before the election of retired FSB General Murat Zyazikov as Ingush president, Grafova noted, Ingushetia had constituted “the sole place on earth where a person of the branded Chechen nationality would not be asked his or her nationality.” Now, however, the children of IDPs “have stopped attending school [in Ingushetia], they sit in drafty tents and declare that if a deportation [to Chechnya] begins, then they will set off in the direction of Nal’chik [Kabardino-Balkariya]. This is the practice of psychological terror [on the part of Russia]. And of course [the Russian authorities] want the horror of Ingushetia to be equal to that of Chechnya [for the IDPs].”

Grafova related that the letter to Nazarbaev authored by the IDPs in Ingushetia “has also been signed by Chechen refugees now being pushed out of the depths of Tver [Oblast].” From August 1, she recalled, the Russian authorities “have ceased feeding Chechens who come from Chechnya but continue to feed ethnic Russians who come from Chechnya.” “I think,” Tashtamirov added, “that Chechens do not expect to receive a good life in Kazakhstan but… in the period following the deportation of 1944 they were [officially] registered there, they had a hope for tomorrow, they worked from day to day, they awaited something better, they organized their lives.” Tashtamirov cited the startling development that some ethnic Russian IDPs from Chechnya have also asked to be sent to Kazakhstan, and he provided the full names of five such individuals.

“The people are fleeing,” Grafova continued the Ekho Moskvy colloquy, “not because they hope that there in Kazakhstan, where life is hard, mountains of gold await them. The question simply concerns [physical] survival…. People are living with a sword of Damocles suspended over them.” Both Grafova and Tashtamirov stressed that a full-scale self-deportation of Chechens to Kazakhstan would not by itself signify an improved situation for Russia. “If the Chechens leave for Kazakhstan and there are no Chechens left [in Russia],” Tashtamirov declared, “then the Jews or the Tatars or someone else will take their place as the enemy. Russia right now cannot live without an enemy.” “You know,” Grafova added, “when xenophobia becomes a national idea, it signifies woe not only for the appointed chief enemy, the Chechens, but it also represents an enormous tragedy for the [Russian] nation.”

On November 15, President Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan announced that the problem of Chechen refugees who had asked for sanctuary in his country was a Russian internal affair that should be dealt with by Moscow. He underscored that Russia was “a close neighbor and strategic partner” of Kazakhstan (Agence France Presse, November 15). In justifying such a stance by their country, Kazakhstani officials cited economic factors. “We simply cannot permit ourselves [the admission of Chechen refugees],” the deputy internal minister of Kazakhstan, Ivan Otto, declared, “our budget simply isn’t enough to handle it” (Novaya Gazeta, November 18). Otto did confirm receipt of the letter from the Chechen IDPs. In the statements of Nazarbaev and of other Kazakhstani authorities, there appeared to be at least a hint that if some Western government or governments were prepared to underwrite the enormous cost of relocating and settling the Chechen refugees–and if President Putin were to give his approval to the plan–then Kazakhstan might be prepared to receive them.