Exile: How they were deported
The following is an unemotional account of the deportation by a student who witnessed it:
In 1943 I arrived from Kokand to Grozny with the Petroleum Institute which had been evacuated to Kokand in 1942 at the time of the German attack.
No real kolkhoz had been established in Chechnya though members of Zagotzerno [grain production], of Zagoskot [livestock production], and even kolkhoz presidents were present in the auls. It seemed that the peasants remained independent.
Gangs were active in the mountain auls. After the liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush Republic, the newspaper "Groznenskaya Pravda" wrote that since the establishment of the Soviet government, the gangs of Chechnya-Ingushetia had killed nearly 20,000 Red Army troops and Party members.
During the war, when the Grozny Military School was evacuated to the Chechen mountains, the guerrillas killed 200 students.
At the end of 1943 there were rumors in the city of the projected deportation of Chechens and Ingush, but these rumors were mere whispers. In the second half of January and the first half of February 1944, special detachments of the NKVD began to arrive in American Studebaker lorries. The newspapers published an appeal to the population: 'Let us make an example of our roads and bridges', and 'let us help our dear and beloved Red Army in its manoeuvres in the mountains!' Thus the army occupied the mountains and each aul was supplied with its own garrison.
Then came the day of the Red Army: 23 February 1944. In the evening the Red soldiers built blazing fires in the village squares and there was singing and dancing. The unsuspecting villagers came to see the festivities. When they were assembled in the squares all the men were arrested. Some of the Chechens had weapons and there was some shooting. But resistance was rapidly eliminated. The men were locked up in barns and then a hunt began for those who had not gone out. The whole operation was effected in two or three hours. Women were not arrested but were told to pack their belongings and get ready to leave the next day with the children.
At the same time, in Grozny, students and housewives were mobilized. In the evening of 23 February, the director of the Institute came to the students' quarters and told us to assemble at 6 a.m. near the building of the Institute. We were to take some extra underwear, and food for three days. The students of the Pedagogical Institute also showed up. When we had assembled near the Institute we saw many Studebakers half-filled with Red Army soldiers. Then, according to a carefully prepared plan, we were stationed among the auls by groups of twenty to thirty men. When we arrived in the auls we were surprised by the silence. Half an hour after our arrival the lorries were filed with the men arrested the previous day and the women and children. They were then transferred to freight cars in Grozny. All Chechens and Ingush, without exception, were taken away. The Daghestanis were left: there were seven or eight of them in our aul.
The students' task was to take care of the farms until the arrival of immigrants from Kursk and Orel regions. We had to assemble and feed the livestock, store the grain, take care of stocks, and so on. Things were different in the mountain auls: after the livestock had been evacuated, the auls were set on fire in order to deprive the 'bandits' of their means of subsistence. For days one could see auls burning in the mountains. At the same time, an amnesty was promised to those who had escaped to the mountains if they returned. Some of them did return but they were also deported.
According to other eye-witnesses, groups of Chechens and Ingush were immediately shot. It was only the men, women and children whose loyalty inspired no doubts even in the NKVD who were deported. Only women were allowed to take some hand-luggage.
The journey was no less tragic. The men transported in prison freight cars were deprived for days not only of food but even of water. Because of these privations and the lack of medical care (the freight-cars were so full that people were sitting on top of each other), there were mass epidemics. Jewish refugees from Central Asia reported that typhus had already started on the journey, killing half the prisoners.
The authorities tried to localize the epidemic to the Chechens and Ingush in order to get rid of them in a 'natural' way. The local population were strictly forbidden to help the dying by giving them food, water or medicine. Even simple displays of humanity were forbidden under threat of arrest. The present writer's efforts to discover even an approximate percentage of the Chechens and Ingush who had died or were executed in the course of this nightmare proved to be in vain. Eye-witnesses sometimes quoted such a high figure that one refused to believe that so frightful a slaughter could have happened. However, none of the witnesses I interviewed spoke of less than 50 per cent deaths.
The motive given by the Soviets to justify the deportation as collaboration with the Germans during the war was ridiculous. As already mentioned, the Germans never penetrated the territory of the Chechen-Ingush Republic during the War, and since the Chechen- Ingush were never enrolled in the Red Army, they could not serve in Vlassov's army. As to the government's claim that anti-Soviet detachments were active deep within Chechnya-Ingushetia, this is absolutely true. As the Soviet government was well aware from the experience of the Russian empire, armed resistance against a foreign conqueror was an old-established tradition in those parts long before Hitler or Stalin appeared. Indeed the Imamate of Shamil fell only sixty-three years before the installation of the Soviet government. It was for their secular unjust pursuit of freedom and independence that the Chechens and Ingush were destroyed and their republic was liquidated. On a small stretch of land in the Caucasus two worlds came face to face: a colossal police despotism and an enclave of true human aspiration. The struggle between good and evil, between democracy and totalitarianism, was being enacted in the Caucasian mountains for decades while the outside world remained largely ignorant and indifferent. Furthermore, the strategic position of the Caucasus made it imperative for the Bolsheviks to finish the task which the tsarist conquerors had left unfinished: to create in the Caucasus a new colonizing force combining military and police functions and incorporating subjugated natives who would be obedient in defending Soviet imperialist interests.
The annihilation of the Chechen, Ingush, Karachay and Balkar people marked the beginning of a grand operation of destruction and deportation of all the Caucasian populations. A number of Daghestanis, Ossetians, Kabardians and Cherkess were also deported and replaced by colonizers. Daghestan and the Georgian shore of the Black Sea were in jeopardy too, and group expulsions in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia served to liquidate the remaining nationalist elements. The Bolsheviks thus managed to drive the first serious wedge in the relations between the peoples of the Caucasus. The wealth of the region (petroleum, zinc, manganese and other minerals) further added to its misfortune. The Soviet administration nationalized these riches and transformed them into centres of hard labour for the local population, the colonizers acting as slavers. This provoked further hostility between Russians and Caucasians.
Exile and return
Thus the history of Chechnya-Ingushetia was written off for thirteen years. How did the Chechens and Ingush behave during their exile? According to Solzhenitsyn's observation in Kazakhstan, 'Only one nation refused to accept the psychology of submission.' This applied 'not to individuals, nor to insurgents, but to the nation as a whole: the Chechens . . . They alone in the Dzhezkazgan camp endeavored to support the Kengir uprising.' He noted that 'no Chechen ever tried to be of service or to please the authorities. Their attitude towards them was proud and even hostile.' They despised the natives and deportees who submitted to the authorities, plundered cattle, and 'respected only rebels'. He further remarked that 'the strange thing was that everybody feared them and no one prevented them from living as they liked. The authorities who had owned the country for thirty years could not force them to respect their laws." Thus it was only as regards plunder that Chechens were faithful to Marxism-Leninism. As prescribed by Marx they 'expropriated the expropriators', or more simply, according to Lenin's advice they 'plundered the plunderers'. But not even Stalin could force them to obey his laws.
In the course of the 20th Congress, Khrushchev, presumably on the initiative of Mikoyan who had formerly been in charge of the North Caucasus, rehabilitated the Mountaineers and the Kalmyks. On 9 January 1957, the autonomy of Chechen-Ingush ASSR was re-established. There were indications that, up till the end, the Soviet government considered as justified the deportation of the peoples it allowed to return to their fatherland, namely the Chechens,Ingush, Karachays and Balkars, and these nations are periodically reminded of this. 'Witnesses' among the Chechen-Ingush are produced who argue that Stalin was right to expel them from their homeland. One such witness was Bokov, awarded the title of 'Candidate of Historical Science' for his efforts. Bokov sought to prove that Stalin's deportation had saved the Chechens and Ingush from a worse fate - Hitler's genocide. He made extensive use of a forged document claiming that the Wehrmacht had issued an order on 8 December 1941 stating: 'When Grozny, Malgobek and other regions have been taken, we will be able to introduce the needed garrisons into the mountains without difficulty. When the region is sufficiently pacified, all the Mountaineers will be exterminated. The population of the mountains is not very large so that about ten of our Sonderkommando will be able to annihilate all the males in a short time.' The implication was that the 'evacuation' saved the Chechen and Ingush population from total extermination by Hitler.
Bokov made a brilliant career in his Republic. First nominated to the post of Second Secretary of the obkom, he later became President of the Republic and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Republic. When "perestroika" was already well under way, the journal Kommunist (no. 2, 1988) commissioned him to write an article, and this appeared with the title 'How to Form Internationalist Convictions'. Although he did not dare to reproduce the forged Wehrmacht document a second time, he repeated the old accusations against his people, adding 'The Chechens and Ingush are expanding the sphere of activity of Islam, opening new mosques, stubbornly preserving "reactionary traditions", deliberately observing religious festivals, and exciting local nationalism as a result of which Russians are running away from the Republic.' He also says:
The Great Patriotic War was a severe ordeal for all the nations of the USSR. The sons and daughters of the Fatherland defended it with weapons in their hands . . . However, the real face of anti-Soviet elements was also unmasked . . . Traitors and enemies of the Soviet authorities were active here [in Chechnya-Ingushetia]. They formed terrorist gangs, committed acts of sabotage and murdered Party and Soviet activists . . . Their dirty crimes were among the causes of the tragedy which befell the Chechens and Ingush their mass expulsion from their homeland. Yes, there were traitors, indeed there were many of them.
As might be expected of a true internationalist, Bokov addresses dithyrambic praises to the 'elder brother'. With a crude lack of sensitivity, the Kommunist article claims that 'Russian people are displaying towards the Caucasian population the care that an older brother might take of a younger one' (p. 90), a statement as tasteless as dancing the lively "lezghinka" at a funeral. North Caucasians were driven to certain death in special camps in Kazakhstan where half of them died of hunger, cold and typhus. One more instance of such care and the North Caucasians would now survive only in our memory, as was the fate of the Ubykhs and Nogay Turks, exterminated during the conquest of the Caucasus.
On 17June 1988 "Komsomol'skaia Pravda" published an interview with a Moscow economist, Professor Ruslan I. Khasbulatov, a native of Chechnya-Ingushetia (at the time of going to press Chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet), which we quote below. The interview highlighted the shortcomings in national relations in the North Caucasus:
'I spent my childhood in the extreme north of Kazakhstan, in a small village called Poludino where Chechens were transported in February 1944 as 'special emigrants'. The village was multinational. Besides my mother, two older brothers and my sister, there were a few families from our village to which we were related, together with some thirty Volga German, Korean and Tatar families. The majority nationality was Russian. We lived there for ten years, during which time I do not recall a single national conflict despite the fact that we were deportees. Why did we not suffer the same violence in this remote village as we did from the state? Judge for yourself: since I was five or six years old, I tried to help my mother and family like the other boys. My mother was working as a milker in the kolkhoz. As for me, I did what I could like the others: I drew water from the well, watered the cattle, cleaned the cowsheds in the winter, looked after calves in temperatures of minus 40 C, and so on. Everybody in the village was in the same boat-equally poor-with hardly enough bread to eat. Wages were notably low . . . The mothers of other boys worked side by side with mine and they also sweated blood. They were Russian, Kazakh, German and Korean. My first teacher, Vera Vladimirovna, walked 5 kilometers every day to come to our house. Why did she do it for a boy from a 'criminal' family when she could easily have avoided it? Remembering her, I realize that she was giving us a lesson in internationalism and kindness. My memory of superiors is associated with two sergeants and the president of the kolkhoz. They were severe but just. They did not victimize my mother on the contrary they encouraged her by saying she was the best milker. Naturally this was equality among beggars but it was enough to avoid national conflicts.'
Interviewer: 'What else besides economic problems causes outbreaks of nationalism? What is the nature of such outbreaks?'
Khasbulatov: 'There are many causes. I cannot attempt to analyse them all. However, it is important to maintain a Leninist approach and never, whatever the circumstances, make a whole nation into a scapegoat. This has been overlooked by our provincial Dantons and republican Robespierres. They incriminate entire nations while putting beyond the reach of criticism the 'leadership' whose foolish acts offend national pride.
'Take for example "Groznenskii Rabochii" of 26 January 1988 reporting on a plenum of the Party obkom. The plenum was convened to discuss "perestroika". Instead of analysing the present situation, the newspaper turned to the 'troubled times' of the tragic year 1944, describing at length how the enemy the Chechens and Ingush stabbed the Red Army treacherously in the back, the numbers of gangs and rebels, their weapons and so on. Even I, though I never lived in Chechnya-Ingushetia, find this disagreeable reading. How much more so would those who live in the Republic?
'Let us settle the question of the "gangs". They appeared as a result of the fabrications of Beria, Stalin and their local parasites. Thus was created the criminal idea of the "guilt" of the nation and its collaboration with the enemy. But truth prevailed and the people were fully rehabilitated. However, thirty years have passed and rumors about gangs are still being spread. They have acquired a life of their own as local militants push their dishonest articles in the central press. I believe this 'firing' campaign to be a recurrence of local Stalinism aimed at browbeating and frightening. Could this be the reason why the local Chechen and Ingush leaders are pathologically scared of being accused of nationalism? They cannot and do not want to use their native languages in the press and television. They are even proud of this deficiency. Needless to say the [local] Russian leaders are totally ignorant of the native languages. One must assume then that Comrade Kolbin, who learned Georgian when serving in Georgia and later Kazakh, had more time on his hands than the bureaucrats of Chechnya-Ingushetia.'
In another interview the Russian scholars L. Drobizheva and Iu. Poliakov in "Izvestiia" (22 March 1988), noting that in the Soviet Union 'we are past masters at hiding the truth regarding the nationality problems', reveal that it is possible to write about 'Chechen and Ingush gangs' and the way they had 'treacherously betrayed the Red Army', but not about the re-establishment of the Republic since this would necessitate a mention of its previous liquidation. Even in the period of "glasnost" and denunciation of Stalinism, people who claimed to be internationalists wrote incredible nonsense about the Chechens and Ingush. Stalin, who is accused of all sins, be they his own or those of others is loudly justified for deporting the North Caucasians. One could almost say that a second genocide, this time a spiritual one, was taking place up to the late 1980s. It was implied that since time immemorial, the Chechens' favorite pastime was to butcher the Russians, and sadly the Russians believed it. N. Startseva explained why in an article in "Literatumaia Gazeta" on 3 August 1988, entitled 'The National Disease': 'People of various nationalities: Russians Ukrainians, Armenians, Tatars live side by side with the Chechens and Ingush but know little about their concerns. They are deprived of the possibility to learn about the traditions, culture and the day-to-day problems and existence of the natives.' She wrote further
Literature unmasks Stalinism and uncovers the psychological mechanism that forced people to believe that which seemed unbelievable, as well as the process by which they persuaded and deceived themselves ... It is natural to look for a plausible explanation ... Thus G. Murikov in his review of A. Pristavkin's novel "Nochevala tuchka zolotaia" writes in the Leningrad review "Zvezda" (no. 12, 1987):
'Children were brought to the rich and fruitful lands of the Caucasus . . . made available after the expulsion of the Chechens.' Why were they deported? Murikov replies: 'Mass collaboration with the Germans and treason a most heinous offence were the reason for such a radical act.' Naturally some succeeded in hiding. And thus a movement similar to that of the Basmachi flared up.
Startseva's refutation was logical: 'Before justifying Stalin's decision which caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, it would do no harm to look at military maps of the Caucasus for 1942-4 which would clearly show that the territory of Chechnya-Ingushetia had never been occupied. This in itself is reason enough to exclude the possibility of "mass collaboration" with the enemy.' She concluded: 'I was impressed by the words of the poet Hussein Satuev whom I met in Grozny: "There must be truth. Our people have experienced the hideousness of the personality cult. We are still crying on our stones. Why should we die twice? When lies are written about a nation it dies again." ' She ended with a question which may not be answered for a long time to come: 'Has everything been done to rehabilitate those who returned from exile and to give them equal opportunities to develop creatively like other nations?"
The Central Committee decree of 25 June 1946 which justified the genocide of Stalin and Zhdanov a posteriori was a mockery of historical facts. Stalin himself, writing for Pravda in 1918, praised the revolutionary spirit of Chechnya led by Aslanbek Sheripov, the commander of the Chechen Red Army killed by the Whites in 1919 during the battle of Vozdvizhenskaia. These facts are well known to historians. General Denikin, as mentioned earlier, wrote that during his advance on Moscow he had been forced to leave one-third of his army in the Caucasus because the Chechens and Ingush had concluded an alliance with the Bolsheviks. Stalin disappeared long ago, yet the new thinkers of the Kremlin, who are perfectly aware that Chechens and Ingush did not and could not collaborate with the Germans, still encourage the propagation of Stalin's concepts on 'counter-revolutionary nations'. As a result the younger Russian generation knows nothing about the history of the non-Russian peoples or for that matter about its own.