The Chechens and the Ingush
DURING THE SOVIET PERIOD AND ITS ANTECEDENTS
Written by: Abdurahman Avtorkhanov and Andrei Kolganov
On 15 January 1939 "Izvestia" ( Russian newspaper -AD) published the following information from the official Soviet news agency TASS (today knows as Itar-Tass -AD) in the article 'Quinquennium of Chechnia-Ingushetia' (Grozny, 14 January):
Five years ago, on 13 January 1934, two Caucasian peoples, endowed with a kindred language, culture and life-style, united to form an autonomous Chechen-Ingush oblast. On 5 December 1936, this oblast was transformed into an autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia is that of a decade long bloody struggle by a freedom-loving people against colonisers and the national bourgeoisie--the mainstay of tsarism. During the years of the Soviet regime Chechnia-Ingushetia was transformed beyond all recognition. By government deed, over 400,000 hectares of land were turned over for permanent use to the Republic's kolkhoz. 92.7 percent of peasants' properties were unified into kolkhoz. An important petroleum industry was founded. New petroleum-producing regions were discovered: Malgobek and Gorskaia. Two refining plants and an engineering plant, "Krasnyi molot" [Red Hammer], were built. Food processing and chemical engineering, in particular, together with both light and cottage industries, were newly created.
The culture of the Chechen-Ingush people, national in form and socialist in content, has flourished sumptuously under the sun of
Stalin's Constitution. Before the Revolution, Chechnia-Ingushetia possessed just three schools. Today over 118,000 children are attending 342 primary and secondary schools. The higher education institutions--technicums and workers' universities--train hundreds of
engineers, technicians and teachers every year. All these results have been achieved in the course of a stubborn struggle against the enemies
of the people: Trotsykists, Bukharinists, bourgeois-nationalists, who are endeavouring to snatch from the workers the gains of the Great
October Socialist Revolution.
Many Chechens and Ingush, incited by German agents, entered voluntarily into formations organized by Germans and, together with
German armed forces, rose up in arms against the Red Army. Obeying German orders they formed gangs in order to attack the Soviet
government from the rear. A large section of the population of the Chechen-Ingush Republic offered no resistance whatsoever to these
traitors to the fatherland. For this reason the Chechen-Ingush Republic is
being liquidated and its population deported.
It is true that at the beginning of the hostilities the Germans captured, along with a 5-million-strong Red Army prisoner-of-war population,
a few dozen Chechens and Ingush who later formed into a company within the framework of the North Caucasian Legion (in the summer of
1945, this company was handed over by the British to the Soviets in the region of Hanover). But it is in the first document quoted above that we
find the key phrase revealing the reason for the deportation: "The history of Chechnia-Ingushetia is that of a decade-long bloody struggle by
a freedom-loving people against colonizers...." It is only thanks to this phrase that we can establish the historical truth.
According to the Soviet Union's Constitution of 1936, the territory (krai) of the North Caucasus consisted of the autonomous regions (oblast)
of Cherkessia, Adyghe and Karachay, and the autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics of Kabardino-Balkaria, Northern Ossetia, Chechnia-
Ingushetia and Daghestan. The Chechen-Ingush Soviet Republic occupied an area of 15,700 square kilometers with a population of
700,0V0. At the time of the deportation, which affected all Chechens and Ingush living in the Caucasus (including those resident in Daghestan and
Georgia), and taking into account the normal increase in the population, this probably amounted to one million people. The Republic dealt mainly
in agriculture, stock-breeding and the petroleum industries. Chechnia-Ingushetia was the second most important petroleum-producing area in
the Soviet Union. At the start of the Second World War its average annual production was between 3 and 4 million tonnes.
In the eighteenth century, Peter I undertook a campaign to annex the whole of the Caucasus, but was forced to withdraw after suffering a
serious defeat at the hands of the Mountaineers and the Azeris in 1772. Russian expansion in the Caucasus was renewed under Catherine II; her
commander-in-chief, Suvorov, directed this new campaign, which provoked the first organized resistance of North Caucasians operating
mainly from Chechnia and Daghestan. In 1785, Mansur Ushurma, a Chechen from Aldy, assumed the title of imam of all the Caucasian
Mountaineers, a move which effectively united all the tribes of the North Caucasus: the Chechens, the Ingush, the Daghestanis, the
Ossetians, the Cherkess and the Kabardians. For a time, Catherine considered the idea of ending the war against the Mountaineers by
concluding a treaty of independence and friendship with them, but the intervention of Turkey on their side put an end to this plan. While
admitting the possibility of Caucasian independence, the Russian government was not prepared to turn the country over to Turkish domination, and fighting continued more bitterly than ever. Finally, the
movement came to an end when Mansur was captured in Anapa together with Mustafa, the Turkish Pasha.
Officially, the Caucasian war ended in 1859, when the active army in the Caucasus was increased to 300,000 men. In the summer of that year
the new Commander-in-Chief of the Caucasian forces, Field-Marshal Prince Bariatinskii, had at his disposal a large concentration of fresh
forces and modern military technology which enabled him to defeat Shamil. He was able to issue a triumphant note: "Gunib is taken, Shamil
is made prisoner, I congratulate the Caucasian army." In 1864, the last component of Shamil's independent government, the Cherkess state, fell to the Russians.
I declare in the name of the Emperor:
(1) that the Russian government leaves you forever absolutely free to
profess the faith of your fathers.
The original was signed by Bariatinskii.
However, fearing new revolts in the Caucasus the tsarist government decided to exile large groups of Chechens, Daghestanis, Ossetians
and Cherkess to Turkey. These deportations took place in 1864. The
procedure was harsh and there were many victims--also many protests in the West.
Twenty-eight leaders of the revolt, including Ali-Bek Haji, aged twenty-three, Uma Zumsoevski, aged seventy, and Dada his son, a guards officer, were court-martialled. The presiding general asked if they considered themselves guilty under the laws of the empire. Ali-Bek Haji replied on behalf of his companions: "It is only before God and the Chechen people that we consider ourselves guilty because, in spite of all the sacrifices, we were not able to reconquer the freedom that God gave us!" They were sentenced to death by hanging. Before the execution the condemned were allowed to express their last wish. Uma Zumsoevski said: "It is hard for an old wolf to witness the slaughter of his puppy. I ask to be hanged before my son." The Tsar's court was not generous enough to grant this favour to the old man.
The struggle of the Mountaineers for freedom and independence became an important issue in Europe. Marx and Engels wrote in their famous Communist Manifesto: "People of Europe! learn to fight for freedom and independence from the heroic example of the Caucasian Mountaineers." Russian writers such as Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy immortalized their struggle, condemning at the same time the cruel and inhumane methods of their Russian conquerors.
It is important to stress two characteristics of the social development of the Chechen-Ingush people which contributed to the intense conflict between the forces of the conquerors and the conquered. First (different in this respect from many other Caucasian regions), Chechnia and Ingushetia had never experienced either class antagonism or despotic government. Although the cultural-political development of the Chechens and Ingush had reached the same level as that of other Caucasian people (culture developed there on the basis of Arabic script), it knew no feudalism. Every Chechen and Ingush considered himself "uzden" (a freeman). Legal equality was an ancient law in this society.
Chantre, a French author, wrote in 1887:
"At the time of their independence, the Chechens formed several separate communities placed under the rule of a popular assembly.
Today they live as people unaware of class distinctions. They are very
different from the Cherkess whose gentry occupies a very high place.
This is the essential difference between the aristocratic Cherkess state
and the wholly democratic constitution of Chechen tribes. It is this that
determined the specific character of their struggle.[. . .] The equality among the population of the Eastern Caucasus
is clear-cut. They all possess the same rights and enjoy the same social
position. The authority with which they invest their tribal chiefs
grouped within the framework of an elected council is limited in time
and power . . . Chechens are witty. Russian officers nicknamed them the French of the Caucasus.
After the declaration of rights promulgated by the Russian Revolution of 1917, the First North Caucasian Congress set up the Central Committee of the Union of the North Caucasus and Daghestan in May 1917. This Central Committee was to act as the provisional government of the North Caucasian independent state. In September of that year, the provisional constitution of the newly-formed state was ratified by the Second Congress. On 11 May 1918, after the Bolsheviks had seized power, the North Caucasian state declared itself entirely independent from the Russian Federation. Its status as such was recognized by Germany and Austria-Hungary and by Turkey, with which the North Caucasian Republic concluded an alliance on 8 June 1918. Its most important political figures were President Tapa Chermoev, the chairman of parliament Vassan-Giray Jabagi, the minister of foreign affairs Haidar Bammate and the ministers Pshemakho Kotsev, Abdul Rashid Katkhanov, Ahmet Tsalikov, Alikhan Kantemir and Aytek Namitok.It was not the Bolsheviks but Denikin who dealt the first blow to the North Caucasian Republic. The White Russian movement--the "Voluntary Army"--began its operation in Cossack territory in the North Caucasus. It was favorably viewed by some Mountaineers as a military and political movement directed against the Bolsheviks, but disillusion set in when its anti-national aspect became apparent. With the slogan "for one indivisible Russia", Denikin decided to subdue the Caucasus. He considered the Mountaineers' desire to organize their political life as they saw fit as equivalent to "national Bolshevism", which he deemed it his sacred duty to eliminate; hence his policy of burning down the auls and exterminating the rebellious Mountaineers.
After having dealt with serious resistance in Kabarda and Northern Ossetia, Denikin penetrated the territory of Chechnia-Ingushetia with the intention of breaking down the opposition of the Chechens and Ingush. He burned dozens of the largest centres of Chechnia-Ingushetia to the ground, including Ekazhevo, Dolakovo, Alkan-Yurt, Chechen-Aul, Ustar-Garday, Gudermes, Gherzel-Aul and Staryi-Yurt. The only result was to arouse a universal desire for revenge among the Chechen and Ingush population and to unite them. This is the reason why, instead of concentrating his forces against the Bolsheviks during the Moscow campaign, Denikin was forced to draw on his best detachments to fight against the Mountaineers. Indeed, he himself acknowledged later that no less than one third of his forces were kept busy in the Caucasus. The objective was to extinguish the "seething volcano"--his own words when describing Chechnia-Ingushetia in his Description of the Great Trouble.
The independent Republic of the North Caucasus fell, and Denikin became a rather anxious master of his conquest. This was hardly
surprising since already in September 1919, after the August revolt in Chechnia-Ingushetia, Sheikh Uzun Haji had liberated the mountains of
Daghestan, Chechnia, Ossetia and Kabarda. The Sheikh then proclaimed the independence of the North Caucasus once more and established the "North Caucasian Emirate".