Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Remembering the Chechen Deportation

From The Chechen Times - February 23, 2005

Today marks the 61st anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechen nation to Central Asia. This deportation fueled the Chechens’ collective sense of historical grievance, and is an important but often forgotten factor behind the ten year standoff between Moscow and the legitimate Chechen leadership. The Chechens have a 300 year history of sporadic resistance against first Tsarist, then Soviet, and now Russian power.

In 1942-43 the German army briefly occupied the north Caucasus, and the collaboration of a small number of Caucasians resulted in the Soviet government’s denunciation of entire nations as traitors and «tools of the Nazi invaders." On 23 February, 1944, the entire Chechen and Ingush population of the region — an estimated 425,000 people — was loaded up in train cars bound for Central Asia. Each family member was permitted to carry 20 kilos of baggage, leaving the rest of their possessions and all of their property behind.

During the journey itself, perhaps half (some estimates are even higher) died, primarily of exposure. The period of exile is considered by Chechens to be an attempt by the Soviet government to wipe out the identity of an entire people. Their property was turned over to Russian «settlers»; buildings and historic sites were destroyed. Chechen gravestones were reportedly used to pave the streets of Grozny.

It was not until Khrushchev’s 1956 de-Stalinization campaign that the Chechens were permitted to return to their homeland. The estimate number of people deported was between 1.4 and 1.7 million.

Such treatment helps to explain Chechens’ embitterment. In a 1991 interview with Radio Liberty, the Chechen emigre political scientist Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov noted that the Chechen push for independence from Russia was simply a «revolt of the children in revenge for the deaths of their fathers and mothers during deportation and exile, [and] a protest of the whole people against the continuing domination of the old structures…." At the same time, Avtorkhanov called upon both sides to prevent the conflict from spiraling into another «Caucasian War."

Four years later, it is obvious that such pleas have fallen on deaf ears. After 250,000 civilian casualties, cities and villages destroyed, people are not surprisingly less than sympathetic to the Chechens on this somber anniversary.

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