1940 - Israilov's insurrection


The guerrilla movement which had survived for the previous twenty years in the mountains of Chechnya and Ingushetia gained momentum during the war. The Soviet government decided that this was due to German support. The movement was led at the time by well-educated and politically sophisticated people such as the lawyer Mairbek Sheripov and the writer Hassan Israilov. This allowed the NKVD to accuse the guerrillas of being under German orders although the Germans did not once send weapons to the insurgents even when they were at the frontier of the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Only spies and propaganda material crossed the border, a normal activity in wartime. Most important, Israilov's insurrection had already started in the winter of 1940, when Stalin was still an ally of Hitler.

During the previous decade the leadership of the insurrection had gradually passed from the mullahs and sheikhs to a new Soviet-educated generation, well able to understand the intricacies of Soviet colonial policy in the Caucasus. Soviet and Party chiefs could only make a career in the Caucasus on one condition: their complete ideological and practical support for Stalin's colonial policies against their own people. Many agreed to engage in this labour of treason and collaboration that spelt disaster for their nation, although it did not save them ultimately: the Soviet authorities dealt with their staff in the same manner as Soviet intelligence dealt with its burned-out agents: having absorbed what they had to offer, it destroyed them. But there were others who rejected the tempting prospects of an illusory personal career and preferred to lead their people in their difficult, indeed almost hopeless struggle for freedom. Such were the young nationalist leaders Hassan Israilov and Mairbek Sheripov.

Hassan Israilov was born in 1910 in the village of Nashkhoi in the Galanchozh region, Chechnya, the youngest of six brothers. In 1929 he finished secondary school in Rostov, and the same year, when already a member of the Komsomol, he joined the Communist Party. However, he did not take an active part in politics and devoted himself entirely to his passion for literature. He wrote poetry and plays, and became a permanent correspondent of the Moscow periodical Krestianskaia Gazeta (Farmer's Newspaper). His articles, vigorous and spirited, dealt with a single subject: the plundering of Chechnya by the local Soviet and Party leadership. Compelled to narrate the truth (as far as this was possible under Soviet administration), Israilov expertly criticised Soviet laws while seeming to defend them from the abuses of the local administration. Naturally, such a literary career could not remain unpunished. In the spring of 1931, he was arrested and condemned to ten years' imprisonment for counter-revolutionary slander and 'connections with a gang'. Three years later he was freed and reinstated into the Party after it had been proved that some of the officials he had denounced were indeed guilty. After his release, he went to Moscow to study at the Communist University of Workers of the East (KUTVa). Two books he had written in prison were published.

In Moscow Israilov gradually abandoned poetry for active politics. Together with other Chechens, he sent a declaration to the Soviet authorities, stating that 'if the government persisted in its policy the unavoidable result would be a general popular uprising'. They asked for a change of policies and demanded the dismissal of Egorov, the First Secretary of the Party Regional Committee, and Raev, the People's Commissar for Internal Affairs. The Soviet government sent this declaration to the local authorities and as might have been expected it resulted in a second arrest for Israilov and his friends. However, when at the beginning of 1939 Raev and Egorov were themselves arrested 'as enemies of the people', Israilov was set free again.

In January 1940 Bykov, the new secretary of the Regional Committee, summoned Israilov and suggested that he should present a petition for his reinstatement into the Party. Israilov promised to think about this. A week later, the obkom received the following answer: 'For twenty years now, the Soviet authorities have been fighting my people, aiming to destroy them group by group: first the kulaks, then the mullahs and the "bandits", then the bourgeois-nationalists. I am sure now that the real object of this war is the annihilation of our nation as a whole. That is why I have decided to assume the leadership of my people in their struggle for liberation.' He continued: 'I understand only too well that Chechnya-Ingushetia, indeed, the whole of the Caucasus will find it difficult to get rid of the yoke of Red imperialism. But a passionate faith in justice and the hope that the freedom-loving people of the Caucasus and of the world will come to our assistance inspires me in this enterprise which you may consider foolhardy and senseless but which I believe to be the only possible path. The brave Finns are proving that this great empire built on slavery is devoid of strength when faced with a small freedom-loving nation. The Caucasus will be a second Finland and we will be followed by other oppressed nations.'

The insurrection spread. At the beginning of February 1940, Hassan Israilov was in control of Galanchozh, Sayasan, Chaberlo and part of the Shato region. The guerrillas' weapons were captured from the punitive detachments. After most of the mountain regions had been cleared of the Bolsheviks, a national congress was convened in Galanchozh. It proclaimed the establishment of a 'Provisional Popular Revolutionary Government of Chechnya-Ingushetia' with Israilov at its head.

The agreement between the Soviets and Finland dealt a blow to Israilov's morale. However, he did not lose hope that other Caucasian nations would support him or that Stalin would be eliminated in the course of the war. When the Soviet-German hostilities began, the span of Israilov's insurrection widened, aiming to liberate the whole of the Caucasus and proclaim its independence.

In February 1942, when the Germans were near Taganrog (500 km. from Chechnya-lngushetia), Mairbek Sheripov, the brother of a renowned Chechen revolutionary hero, led an insurrection in Shato and Istumkala and joined Israilov, thus uniting the general staffof the rebels.

Being aware of the methods used by Rosenberg and Himmler in 'liberated Ukraine', they published an 'Appeal to the Chechen-Ingush People' in June 1942, stating that Caucasians would receive Germans as guests only on condition that they recognised Caucasian independence. For its part the general staff of the German army in the Caucasus issued a special order to the troops underlining that the German soldier had to behave in a way that was different from that accepted in the Ukraine and other Soviet regions. Another noteworthy declaration was that of the North Caucasian National Committee to the Ostministerium at the end of 1942 to the effect that if 'the liberation of the Caucasus meant the exchange of one coloniser for another, then the Caucasians would only consider this a new stage in the national liberation war'.

During the war, the Bolsheviks' rearguard operations were much more deadly than their action in the front line. As is well known, in 1941-2 Soviet military aircraft were completely inactive in the front line against the enemy. On the other hand, they bombed their own rear savagely. In the spring of 1942, there were two Soviet air-raids over the Chechen-Ingush mountains. In some auls (Shato, Istumkala and Galanchozh) the number of dead was greater than that of the living. While Stalin shelled his own people, not a single German had set foot on Caucasian soil, and when the Germans finally came to the Caucasus in the summer of 1942 they never penetrated into Chechen-Ingush territory.

It is of course understandable that the Chechens and Ingush, who had been methodically exterminated by the Soviet authorities, should have held the latter in profound contempt. Still, not all the population took part in the insurrection. One could imagine that women, children, the very old, Chechen-Ingush communists, officers of the Red Army and the privileged categories of the Republic such as NKVD agents were not guilty of crimes against the Soviets. Nevertheless, Stalin faithfully executed the orders of Nicholas I to exterminate the Mountaineers, albeit after a delay of more than a century an unprecedented happening in the history of war. All Chechens and Ingush, Balkars and Karachays were deported from the Caucasus in 1943-4. For years nothing was known about where they had been sent, or if any of them had survived somewhere in Siberia or Central Asia.


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