Official Grozny Fails to Mark 70th Anniversary of the Chechen Deportations

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 42

Chechen Deportation bumper sticker in Grozny (Source: Caucasian Knot)

For the first time in recent memory, there was no official commemoration of the deportation of Chechens in 1944. The government’s scandalous refusal to mark the 70th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens to Kazakhstan was quietly condemned by many people in Chechnya. Those who attempted to disregard the unofficial ban on marking the deportation day paid a high price. On February 20, the president of the international organization the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, Ruslan Kutaev, was detained in Chechnya. Earlier, on February 18, Kutaev had held conference in the village of Gekhi on the 1944 deportation of the Chechens. According to Kutaev, he and other organizers of the conference were invited for a talk to the leadership of the republic after the conference was over (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/238585/).

The Chechen police accused Kutaev of illegal drugs possession. Reports also suggested that the Chechen activist was tortured with electric shocks and beaten up. Despite documented pleas to save him from Kadyrov’s minions, chances are low that the Russian authorities will do anything to rescue him. The only thing the activist is really guilty of is holding a conference about the national tragedy of the Chechens against the wishes of the Chechen leadership (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/inquests/62495.html).

From February 23 to March 9, 1944, the Soviet government rounded up the entire population of Chechens and Ingush and sent them to Kazakhstan in an operation codenamed “Chechevitsa” (Lentil). An estimated 485,000 people were sent into exile. The Soviet government accused the Chechens and Ingush of mass desertion, refusing to be drafted in wartime and a conspiracy against the Soviet government. The Chechens and Ingush, who are closely related, were allowed to return to the North Caucasus only in 1957, after Stalin’s death in 1953.

The deportation was an extremely traumatic experience for Chechens, as practically every family experienced a loss. At the same time, the 1944 deportation served as a rallying point for the Chechen people in their conflicts with the Russian central government. Ironically, February 23 is an official Russian holiday, Russian Armed Forces Day, so the collision between the Russian national holiday and the Chechen tragedy and identity was even greater. The deportation of peoples was a taboo topic during the Soviet period and it now appears to be returning to that status, although Kadyrov promised to shift the celebrations of “all victims” to May 10, when Chechnya will commemorate “all victims, regardless of their political views or role in the history of Chechen people” (http://instagram.com/p/kw-VJJiRtN/).

Despite the conciliatory note in Kadyrov’s statement, it is unlikely that Chechnya under his rule will commemorate the victims of the two Russian-Chechen wars in the 1990s and 2000s, “regardless of their political views.” Just before the 70th anniversary of the 1944 deportation, the Chechen government ordered the demolition of a monument to the victims of that historical event. Again, Kadyrov promised to shift the monument to a more prominent place in Grozny and recast it as a monument to all victims. Some observers, however, have pointed out that the new monument was dedicated mainly to slain police officers (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/25274546.html). The Chechen authorities tried to move the monument back in 2008, but a public outcry caused them to back off (http://www.novayagazeta.ru/inquests/62495.html).

In 2014, the government decision produced much less of a backlash, which is probably a reflection of the consolidation of Kadyrov’s personality-driven regime, along with the murders of human rights activists in Chechnya after 2008 and the resulting atmosphere of fear. In addition, Kadyrov himself may be under mounting pressure by Moscow, which is increasingly guided by Russian nationalism.

Ingushetia shifted its commemoration of the 1944 deportation from February 23 to February 24. Some observers said the most likely cause for the hesitation of Chechen and Ingush authorities to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of their people was that they were afraid of irritating Moscow, which did not want tragic events of the past to spoil the closing of the Olympics in Sochi. Both Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Ramzan Kadyrov happily celebrated the day of the Russian army, antagonizing a few of their compatriots (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/25274525.html).

In Ingushetia, unlike Chechnya, people still can openly express their indignation in the media without risking their lives (http://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Regions/m.225285.html). In fact, the government in Ingushetia unveiled a new monument dedicated to the victims of the 1944 deportation (http://www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/ingush/1770989.html). This contrast makes Kadyrov look especially bad to his fellow countrymen, because ethnic Chechens and Ingush are so closely related and were deported at the same time.

Ramzan Kadyrov had, until now, tried to position himself as the defender of Chechens in the Russian Federation. Of course, the Chechen leader regularly also expressed his utter loyalty to Moscow, but he also tried not to ignore the opinion of his people. Kadyrov’s refusal to honor the victims of a Chechen national tragedy could mar his public image in the republic. Even though public protests are highly unlikely in the tightly-controlled republic, Kadyrov’s credentials as the father of Chechen nation have certainly been undermined.