Chechen-Ingush delegation to Ordzhonikidze
The threats and vehement complaints of the population finally induced the puppet government of the Chechen-Ingush Republic to inform the central government of the real situation. The opportunity arose when Ordzhonikidze was resting in Pyatigorsk, the health resort of the North Caucasus, in the spring of 1935. The government's delegation was composed of the President Ali Gorchkhanov, the Second Secretary of the Party Regional Committee Vakhaev (no Chechen was ever appointed to the post of First Secretary), Goigov, Mekhtiev, Okuev, two former guerrillas and Civil War companions of Ordzhonikidze: Kh. Ortzhanov and Albert Albogachev, and a few elders, also former guerrillas. They came to Pyatigorsk and were received by Ordzhonikidze with typical Caucasian hospitality. Knowing Chechen-Ingush traditions, Ordzhonikidze was surprised that the former guerrillas had no daggers. When the reason was explained to him, he replied 'A Chechen without a dagger is like a European without a necktie', and promised to raise the subject in Moscow.
At the beginning of the conversation, Ordzhonikidze told his visitors that he wanted to know the whole truth about the discontent in Chechnya-Ingushetia and the measures they recommended to remedy the situation. The representatives reported everything in great detail about the kolkhoz, the machinery and tractor stations, the roads, schools, hospitals and petroleum but they remained silent about the principal grievance, the NKVD. The Chechen-Ingush government knew full well that the NKVD was the main cause of the evil, and that as long as any chekist continued to wield more power than the Chechen prime minister, there could be no improvement. But they were afraid to speak out, and they were right; Ordzhonikidze would soon return to Moscow whereas they would remain at the mercy of their own NKVD. (It should be noted that the NKVD had 400 cadres in the Republic, of which only four were Chechen or Ingush: S. Albagachiev, U. Mazaev, I. Aliev and U. Elmurzaev. Nor did the rank and file of the NKVD contain a single Chechen.)
Ordzhonikidze became indignant when the delegation informed him that saddle-horses were confiscated after the setting-up of the kolkhoz: 'You have been over-zealous, comrades. It is a crime to deprive Chechens and Ingush of their saddle-horses, as the Mountaineers are famous for their horsemanship. No one can outshine their djigits. Yes, comrades, you have been over-zealous,' he concluded. He promised to speak with the 'master' in Moscow and to present the Executive Committee and the Sovnarkom with a set of proposals aimed at improving the situation.
A month after Ordzhonikidze's return to Moscow, the central press published two decrees. The first, signed by the Presidium of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union, stated that 'daggers may be worn only as part of the national costume', while the second, issued by the Central Committee and the Sovnarkom, stated that as an exception to the statutory regulations members of the kolkhoz in Chechnya- Ingushetia were 'authorised to have and to tend their own saddle-horses'.
Although these decisions improved the moral and political situation of the Chechen population, the spirit and methods of Chekist policy in the auls did not change. In Moscow the authorities did not know or rather did not want to know that the causes of the tragedy did not lie in the nature of this population or in its aversion to authority, but in the vicious effects of political provocation. That is why the good intentions of the Soviet government were cancelled out by the subsequent provocations, although after the visit of the Chechen-Ingush delegation to Ordzhonikidze the Chekists behaved more prudently.
The period extending from the end of 1935 to the beginning of 1937 was calm. True, some NKVD officials were murdered, but these were generally old scores being settled. Even the guerrilla movement in the mountains took on a defensive character. It should be noted that it was always the NKVD officials who supplied weapons and ammunition to the guerrillas. The main suppliers, well known in Chechnya-Ingushetia were Semikin, Poghiba and Nikolskii, who were later prosecuted.
The leader of the guerrilla movement for nearly fourteen years was 'Major' Saadullah Magomaev. His orders were that Russian civil servants except the Chekists were to be spared, but that no mercy was to be shown to Chechen-Ingush civil servants if they were communists: 'The Russians are against us because it is their service duty. Honour to men engaged in service but death to scoundrels.'
A famous incident created a sensation in the Republic. In the spring of 1940 Smoltsin, the Secretary of the Regional Party Committee for Industry and Transport, was sent on a mission to the region of Galanchozh, most of which was in the hands of Saadullah's guerrillas He was accompanied by three men and a Chechen Party worker. In the forest, between Shallazh and Yalkhoroy, near the mountain ridge, they were surrounded by guerrillas. The Chekists, understanding the situa- tion, left their horses and fled into the forest, but Smoltsin panicked and was taken prisoner along with his Chechen guide. In view of the prisoners' importance, they were judged by Saadullah himself. At his trial, Smoltsin acknowledged his high-ranking position within the Republic's administration, and stated that he was on a government mission. The Chechen claimed that it was his duty to accompany his chief. The court decided that Smoltsin, as a Russian communist, was to be set free but that the Chechen was to be shot for treason. Smoltsin was released and reached the republican capital safely whereupon he was promptly arrested by the NKVD, this time as a 'traitor to the fatherland'.
Proclamation of the Chechen-Ingush Republic and visit to Stalin's mother
As already stated, all was peaceful in Chechnya-Ingushetia in the second half of 1935 and throughout 1936. As a result of the promulgation of the new Soviet Constitution on 5 December 1936, the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Region was transformed into the 'Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic'. In all the auls the event was celebrated with special popular entertainments. In the course of these festivities, Chechens expressed their gratitude to the authorities who had justified their trust in them by creating the autonomous republic. After the promulgation of the 'Constitution of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR', defining the sovereign rights of the people, this gratitude turned to enthusiasm. The establishment of the Republic was interpreted by the majority of the population, especially the intelligentsia, not only as an extension of the people's rights but also as a long-hoped-for end to the despotism of the NKVD.
Women shared in the joy of the population. Chechen women did not usually take part in politics and public life but on this occasion, in the spring of 1937, they sent a 'women's delegation of the Chechen-Ingush Republic' to Tbilisi, led by Aminat Islamova. Their aim was to speak to Keke Dzhugashvili, Stalin's mother, to express their gratitude towards her son for his 'fatherly care for the Chechen people'. The delegation brought rich gifts of local handicrafts. Keke received the delegates in great style in the former palace of Vorontsov-Dashkov. To their warm praises of her son she replied: 'My wish is that every mother should have such a son.' She assured the Chechen women that she would ask her son to continue his 'caresses' to the 'brothers Kistebi' (the Georgian name for Chechen-Ingush). The 'caresses' and the real meaning of 'Stalin's constitution' were revealed to the Chechens and Ingush during the summer in the course of a grandiose Chekist military operation executed throughout the Soviet Union: Ezhovshchina, an epidemic of persecution, originated by Ezhov, which spread to the Chechen-Ingush mountains, on a scale that no human imagination could have conceived.
General operation of 1937
The 'General Operation for the Removal of Anti-Soviet Elements' was carried out on the night of 31 July-1 August 1937 throughout Chechnya-Ingushetia. People listed by the NKVD were transported in lorries to the republican capital, Grozny. First, the two NKVD prisons in Grozny were filled: the 'inner prison' for the hardened counter- revolutionaries (about 1,000) and the 'external prison' to which about 4,000 people were sent. Others were jailed elsewhere: 5,000 in the central garage of Grozneft, 3,000 in the club bearing the name of Stalin near Bashirov mill, and 300 in the premises of the Republic's militia. During that night inJuly and in the ensuing months, nearly 14,000 men were arrested, representing 3 per cent of the Republic's population. Naturally, the 'citizens' rights', so emphatically stressed in both the Soviet Constitution and of that of Chechnya-Ingushetia, were shamelessly violated during the arrests and sentencing. The prosecutor signed one order of arrest for all the accused and all of them were condemned after one and the same trial conducted by an 'extraordinary troika' of the Chechen-Ingush NKVD: Egorov, First Secretary of the Regional Committee; Dementiev, the NKVD chief; and Porubaev, the special prosecutor of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR NKVD. All were sentenced in compliance with the NKVD recommendations, some to death, others to concentration camps. It is impossible to say exactly how many were shot, but every night there were mass executions in the cellars of the NKVD to the accompaniment of the roar of motor-cars outside.
As it would have been impossible to carry out the death sentences pronounced by the troika within the assigned time, a special 'execution hall' was established for the extermination of large groups. It was situated in the northern part of the NKVD building facing the Sunja river. The Chekists called it the 'relay chamber' because the doomed prisoners taken there were told that they were being sent to Siberia by 'relay-stages'. The relay chamber was made of reinforced concrete and hermetically sealed from the outside world. Revolving firing positions were fitted into the walls and the ceiling from the exterior. The bodies were carried off in lorries under cover of darkness, and taken to a mass grave in a forest at the foot of the Goriachevodskaia mountain.
As a result of this operation, thousands of Chechens and Ingush joined the guerrilla groups. In the regions of Galanchozh, Gudermes and Kurchaloy, guerrillas killed the chiefs of the regional NKVD sections. In September, they derailed a military train between Grozny and Nazran.
At the beginning of October 1937, Shkiriatov, candidate member of the Politburo, President of the Party Collegium of the Central Committee and Ezhov's deputy, came to Chechnya-Ingushetia with a large Chekist staff. An enlarged plenum of the Chechen-Ingush Party Committee was summoned to meet on 7 October in the Lenin House of Culture in Grozny. Besides the members of the plenum, the meeting also comprised leading city and regional workers who had been personally invited to take part. In the course of this plenum Shkiriatov ordered the arrest of all the Chechen members of the Regional Party Committee, and they were arrested immediately in the plenum hall itself. Shkiriatov's orders were then extended to all Chechen-Ingush official workers from the President of the Republic down to the President of the selsoviet (village councils). Throughout October and November all the secretaries of the Party regional committees were arrested, as well as the President of the Republic A. Gorchkhanov. Also arrested were the presidents of regional executive committees, of which there were twenty-eight, almost all the presidents of rural councils, and the kolkhoz and Party members who had organised them. In the course of the liquidation of the 'bourgeois-nationalist henchmen', civil servants of government, urban, regional and rural institutions were also arrested.
The general psychology of these arrests was clearly expressed by the chief of the regional NKVD of Gudermes, Gudasov, when one of his somewhat inexperienced assistants asked him ingenuously 'How can we arrest a man if we have no evidence against him?' He replied: 'We can always find evidence provided he wears a Caucasian hat!' We may also note that among the twenty-three chiefs of the regional NKVD there was one Chechen, Goitiev, who was arrested during this campaign. Chechens who had been living outside the Republic were also indicted. They included D. Tokaev (member of the Central Committee of the Azeri Communist Party), Kh. Oshaev (Director of the North Caucasian Mountain Pedagogical Institute), M. Omarov (instructor of the North Caucasian kraikom) and Idris Ziazikov, who was still serving time from a previous conviction.
Arrests continued up till November 1938, when the case against the 'bourgeois-nationalist centre of Chechnya-Ingushetia' was ready. 137 people, all formerly responsible cadres of the Republic, were prosecuted under various clauses: bourgeois-nationalism, counter-revolution, insurrection, Bukharinist-Trotskyist anti-Soviet terrorism, espionage and sabotage. In legal terms this meant that they were tried under Article 58 of the criminal code: (1) treason to the fatherland; (2) preparation of armed uprising; (7) detrimental activity (vreditel'stvo); (8) terrorist acts; (9) subversion; (10) anti-Soviet propaganda; (11) membership of an anti-Soviet organisation; (14) sabotage.
According to the prosecution, the centre developed this widespread counter-revolutionary activity in alliance with other nationalist centres of the North Caucasus: Daghestan, Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay and Adyghe-Cherkessia. The prosecution also claimed that the objective was to 'establish a North-Caucasian federal republic under the protection of Turkey and England'. To coordinate their activity with that of other national republics, the bourgeois-nationalist centres of the North Caucasus were supposedly in contact with the 'Muscovite internationalist centre' through their representatives, Korkmasov and Samurskii for Daghestan, Oshaev, Avtorkhanov and Ziazikov for Chechnya-Ingushetia, Takoev for Ossetia, and Kurdzhiev for Karachay. For the Party affiliation and education of the arrested members see the accompanying Table.
PARTY AFFILIATION AND EDUCATION OF SPECIAL ARREST
Period then a member of Bolshevik Communist Party of the USSR
Until 1917 2
Over 40 20
Higher Special 10
The following conclusion that can be drawn from this table are, first,
that all the arrested members of the 'bourgeois-nationalist centre'
belonged to Stalin's school (with the exception of eight people
belonging to Lenin's Guard); secondly, that the great majority (82 people out
of 137) were under thirty years old (that is of Komsomol age); and thirdly
that over one-third (52 men) had been educated in a communist VUZ
(Higher Educational Institution) and Stalin's KUTVa (Communist
University of the Workers of the East).
The surreal character of these confessions is best highlighted in the 'sincere statement written in his own hand' by A. Salamov, former vice-president of the Republican government. He confessed that Britain had sent, via Turkey, the following material to help the uprising: fifty guns for mountain use, 1,000 machine-guns, 200,000 rifles, 5 million cartridges, and 10,000 shells and grenades. Moreover, Britain had also promised to support the uprising from the air. As Salamov could not possibly have had any knowledge of where such weapons were buried, he continued to be tortured.
Finally, when the accused appeared for court-martial at the North Caucasian military district, only one man out of the 120 survivors pleaded guilty, mullah Ahmad Tuchaev. The others declared that the crimes of which they stood accused were a fabrication and that their confessions were false. They displayed their scars, their broken teeth and their injuries (one of them had been castrated during the interrogation). They declared that their confessions had been made under torture in the hope of hastening either judgment or death. There was no evidence, material or otherwise, to support the accusations other than the confessions. Since all the accused but one had recanted the charges, it would have been logical to postpone the case and order further investigations but the Court was aware that those it had to judge were guilty only because of their nationality and maybe of excessive trust in the ideals of Lenin and Stalin's national policy. The first group were sentenced on the basis of Tuchaev's deposition. A. Salamov, A. Gorchkhanov and Tuchaev himself were sentenced to death. It was then that the secret of Tuchaev's confessions was revealed: from his death cell he sent a petition for reprieve to Kalinin stating that he had confessed to the crimes because the NKVD had promised to liberate members of his family and spare his own life.
Moscow commuted the death penalty for the three men. Others were given a shorter term of imprisonment; for others the sentences were confirmed. The 'terrorist group' were liberated by the court-martial. As to the 'cultural-ideologists', the court did not judge them. They were left to the NKVD administrative court. The liquidated government cadres were replaced by imported officials who neither knew the language nor had any idea of the customs and history of the people entrusted to their care. The link that existed between the people and the authorities was broken when the intelligentsia was destroyed. Chekists were given the monopoly of authority in the Chechen-Ingush Republic, which was to be liquidated five years later.
Chechens banned from the Red Army
By the start of the Second World War the Chechen-Ingush Republic was deprived of its leadership, and the nation crushed and deeply resentful. Nevertheless, when the Soviet authorities issued a call to fight for the Fatherland, the Chechens and Ingush supplied two divisions of volunteers, one active and one reserve.
Before the Revolution, there was no obligatory military service in Chechnya-Ingushetia. However, a number of Chechens served as individuals in the Tsar's army and provided some brilliant officers. There were two Chechen generals. One of the latter, General of Artillery Erikhsan Aliev, commanded the second West Siberian Corps from 1901 to 1905.
During the Russian-Japanese war he became Commander-in-Chief of the whole Russian front, replacing General Linevich who had left the army.
In the First World War the Chechens supplied a regiment each to the Wild Division, famous for its bravery in the Carpathian battles. Russian Guards officers deemed it an honour to serve in this Division commanded by the Tsar's own brother, Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich. The Wild Division was the first to fight the Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd during the famous Kornilov campaign.
After the German invasion in July 1941, the Soviet government did not aUow the Chechens to create their own native formations. When mobilised, they were incorporated individually into Russian detachments. Since they did not speak Russian, they served as 'mute soldiers', and commanding officers forced them to eat the same food as the other soldiers: pork. This detail was largely responsible for the mass desertions from the Red Army and for the Soviet government order that Chechens were not to be accepted into the Red Army and that those already serving were to be dismissed. However on the advice of General Supian Mollaev, Colonel Abadiev, Major Visantov, Captain Akhtiev and others, the Soviet government allowed the Chechen-lngush Republic to incorporate volunteers into military formations. Two divisions were formed. One was incorporated into the southern front soon after the Red Army had evacuated Kerch. The commander of the southern front, Marshal Budenny, deployed two divisions in Krasnodar; one of them was the newly-arrived Chechen-Ingush division, and the other had just arrived from Kerch after a precipitate retreat. Inspecting the troops, Budenny said to the Russian division: 'Look at these Mountaineers. Their fathers and grandfathers, under the leadership of the great Shamil, fought bravely for twenty-five years to defend their independence against tsarist Russia. Let them be an example to you and show you how one fights for the Fatherland.'
But neither the active nor the reserve Chechen-Ingush divisions were accepted into the Red Army. They did not even have an official serial number. They formed a 'Wild Division' indeed. Their uniforms were supplied by the Chechen-Ingush Republic, which also provided them with rations. Encouraged by Marshal Budenny's praise, the officers asked him to accept Chechens within the regular formations and to arm them properly - the only weapons the division had were swords and, occasionally, rifles of various makes. Many went barefoot. Budenny promised to think about their request. While the Marshal was thinking, the Germans crossed the Don and the Chechen-Ingush division found itself, without tanks or artillery support, confronted by the fury of the Germans advancing towards Stalingrad. On 4 August 1942, German tanks rolled over the bodies of many soldiers from this division. A few were taken prisoner, while others, together with the general staff, succeeded in breaking through the German lines and retreating. Despite the collapse of the whole southern front, the Chechen-Ingush population was blamed for this defeat.