The Sixty Seventh Commemoration of the Chechen Deportation of 1944
Professor Mohammad Shashani, the President of World Chechen Congress, send his article to our editorial staff about the mass deportation of Vainakh people on 23 February 1944.
The world doesn’t know much about the Russian Genocide of the Chechen people in 1944.The details of this monstrosity is contained in a book written in 1970 by Robert Conquest and titled “Nation Killers”. Other North Caucasian people exiled were the Ingush, Charachai and the Balkar.
Stalin and the Communist leadership were worried about a Chechen uprising while the German army was invading Russia during WWII. Therefore, in February, 1943 the Supreme Soviet met and decided to end the Chechen problem once and for all by deporting the whole nation to Central Asia and Siberia and liquidating the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic and populating the Republic by Russian and other citizens of the Soviet Union. The preparation for the deportation took a full year. 100,000 specially trained Army and Security forces were dispatched to every town and village in Chechnya with the pretext of conducting military maneuvers. On the eve of February 23, 1944 all citizens of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic were to celebrate the Red Army Day in the public squares of every town and village. They all gathered and they were in a festive mood. Security forces surrounded each public square and the military Commander read to the citizens of each town the Decree of the Supreme Soviet of deporting the whole Chechen and Ingush people to Central Asia and Western Siberia and ordered them to report to specific deportation centers. The people were shocked and in disbelief, and on every body’s mind was, why? But no answers came from the soldiers except to tell them sternly that they have only 15-20 minutes to get ready. After that all those who were unable to quickly obey the order, i.e., weak elderly, Children and Women, were forced outside. Any sign of resentment shown was punished with death. Any attempt to run- shot to death! Misunderstood order- shot to death! All orders were given in Russian, even though some Chechens didn’t understand it. After the first few days of the carnage, most of the mountains and plains, towns and villages were covered with dead bodies. They were discovered everywhere: in houses, in inner yards, along roads, in the vicinity of villages, and in forests. Russians killed Chechens everywhere: They blew them- up with mines, burnt them, drowned them and poisoned them. Most food products were poured with Kerosene and burnt, but poisoned food was scattered about and mostly starving children fell victims.
The movable part of the population was transported to railway stations and then loaded into cold train carriages and locomotives used for cattle transportation. Over crowded carriages were packed with men, women and children. Hundreds of people were packed into each locomotive. I have talked to some survivors and they said that they had to stand up in the wagons packed like sardines with the windows of the trains boarded up and with no stops for food and hygiene. Many people suffocated and died. Their bodies stayed in vertical positions until the train stopped at its predetermined intervals and then and only then were the bodies taken out and dumped on the side of the railway with no permission to properly bury any of the dead. From the evening of February 23, over-crowded trains headed east to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Western Siberia. The snow covered “Road of Death” which lasted up to 20 days was marked with thousands of Chechen corpses. Within few days, the whole Chechen-Ingush people were deported from their ancestral land to a foreign and unfamiliar land and orders were issued to all governmental agencies not to mention the Chechen people or the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic in their reports and maps of the peoples of the Soviet Union.
On February 29, 1944 Lavrenty Beria, chief of the NKVD secret police who supervised the deportation operation, sent a letter to Stalin informing him that “I report the results of the operation of resettling Chechens and Ingush. The resettlement was begun on February 23rd in the majority of districts, except in some high mountainous areas. 478,479 Chechen people that included 91,250 Ingush were evicted and loaded onto special railway cars. One hundred and Eighty special trains were loaded, of which 159 were sent to the new designated place”. For that heroic deportation operation, Beria and 711 of his cohorts were rewarded with government awards of the USSR.
Once the deportees reached their destination their daily lives were a classical struggle for survival for another day. Each person was assigned a certain village to live in and he couldn’t cross a bridge that connected two adjacent villages without the prior permission from the local police department. Living conditions were extremely harsh and everyone has to feed his family somehow and many people died from starvation and disease. The local populations were ordered not to help the new arrivals in any way. A survivor of the deportation, Nura Tsutiyeva, describes their life after they settled in a town in Kazakhstan after the month long torturous journey. “Thus our grey and monotonous life in an alien land began. Life in a reservation when a person could be sent to prison or into exile, or even further to Siberia, for the slightest offence. If one didn’t report to the Commandant’s office in time, one was punished, if one didn’t put in enough work days, one was punished, and if one traveled without special permission beyond the limits of the village where one has been sent, one received a long sentence in the labor camps. Such were our lives of these thirteen long years”. Afterwards lots of Chechen men were sent to forced labor camps and the Chechens were the major source of slave labor that built highways in Kazakhizstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan through rough mountainous terrains. The elders tell us that when people died in the winter time they couldn’t dig the graves for them because the ground was frozen solid. They used to lay the dead in the snow and when spring came they would bury them again in the ground. Within the first frosty weeks of the deportation more than seventy thousand people died from starvation, cold and diseases, especially Typhus.
It is worth noting that while this was happening; thousands of Chechen and Ingush young men were conscripts in the soviet army and were fighting and dying to protect the Soviet Union from the invading Nazi army. Even these people didn’t escape the carnage. An order was sent to all units that everyone from the exiled nations, whether officers or soldiers should be gathered in one place. Afterwards they were sent to the Gulags in Siberia. But there were some exceptions because many commanders valued the courage and determination of their Chechen fighters and went to great lengths to deceive the authorities and hang on to them. Most of those who escaped in this way fought all the way to Berlin. A unit commanded by the famous Chechen, Movlit Visaitos, was one of the first to break through to meet up with the Americans on the river Elba in May 1945.
The losses among the deportees were overwhelming. It is estimated that some Two hundred thousand Chechen and thirty thousand Ingush died in Exile. Almost every second Chechen and every third Ingush exiled died. What a national disaster for the Chechen and Ingush people!
This is what happened to the movable deported Chechens, but how about the immovables that stayed behind? You would bet that they were treated more humanely!! But I will disappoint you and tell you it wasn’t so. First let me define the immovables according to Russian Communist terminology. The immovables were: the sick, the weak, the Elderly, children and those who couldn’t be transported to the specified deportation centers.
A sample of what happened to the immovables is the events that took place in a village called Khaibakh.The following is an Eye –witness account based on the testimony of Dziyaudin Malsagov who served in the NKVD from 1944 to 1957:
“On February 27, 1944, people from nearby villages were collected in the village of Khaibakh. An NKVD officer ordered all those who couldn’t travel to enter the huge stable saying that the army has put a lot of hay in the stable to make them warm. Elderly, women, children, ill villagers and those who took care of them gathered in the stable. The rest of the local residents were convoyed through the settlement of Yalkhoroy to the village of Galashki and then to railway stations. After the movables left, the gate of the stable was closed. After a while, I heard the order: ‘FIRE’ and the whole building were set on fire. It turned out that the soldiers have prepared the hay beforehand and poured it with Gasoline. When the flames rose through-out the stable, the horrified desperate screams of women and children reverberated through-out the building and the people inside rushed to the gate and broke it open, only to be met with machine gun fire, fired by soldiers standing in front of the gate, and quickly the Exit was blocked with dead bodies and the rest of the people inside were burnt alive. The total people killed and burnt in Khaibakh were Seven Hundred people“. This heinous act was not an isolated incidence because it was repeated in twelve other locations through-out Chechnya. The man who ordered the execution of the immovables was “Sergei Nikiforovich Kruglov” second Rank State Security Commissar of the USSR.
Even the sick in Hospitals didn’t escape the mayhem. In the central hospital of Urus–Martan, Seventy two patients alive were thrown down the precipice, some Ten meters away from the hospital, and then covered with rubbish. In the Galayn Chozh lake area, some six hundred children, women and elderly were executed and their bodies thrown in the lake. Chechens who escaped deportation were hunted down like animals and executed.
The extermination of the Chechen people was not only physical. All memories about Chechens who lived on their ancestral land for centuries were destroyed. Ancient manuscripts, religious-philosophical treatises, ancient manuscripts of Chechens and Ingushs about their origin, literature from private libraries and archives were brought to Grozny from all corners of Chechnya. For several days all these valuable documents were burnt in the city center, in an attempt to burn the historical memory of the Chechen people. In the mountains, centuries-old Towers were dynamited- in the Argun Gorge alone some 300 of them were destroyed. Even ancestral cemeteries were razed to the ground, and the gravestones were used for the construction of various buildings and roads. Such was the satanic monstrosity inflicted on the Chechen–Ingush people.
This is a sample of the atrocities that the Chechen people went through from 1944-1957. Here the question I would like to pose is: What did the Chechen people do to deserve such inhuman treatment? The communist leadership claimed that the Chechen people collaborated with the German army against the Soviet Union during World War II and the truth of the matter is that the Chechen people didn’t even have the chance to collaborate with the Germans because the German army never reached Chechnya. The true reason for the deportation is that the Chechen people revolted repeatedly against the Soviet regime from 1918 to 1939 demanding their independence and freedom and the communist leadership was wary of that. Also the Architects of the deportation had in mind to divide Chechnya among its neighboring provinces.
The Chechen struggle against Russian colonization since the Czarist time has always been for the right to be free and independent in their own homeland, and to exercise their God given right of self determination and independence.
From the preceding presentation it is obvious that the Russian communist regime in Moscow practiced Genocide on the Chechen people according to the Articles of the United Nations Genocide Convention. Article I and Article II of the Genocide Convention reads as follows:
Article I: The contracting parties confirm that Genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under International Law which they undertake to prevent and punish.
Article II: In the present convention, Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such:
a. Killing members of the group
b. Causing grievous bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
c. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
d. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
e. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
It is amazing how the first three of these criteria were practiced and executed 100 % against the Chechen-Ingush people throughout the deportation of 1944. Thus it is GENOCIDE loud and clear. Ironically it is a crime against humanity that Article I of the same Convention was not even considered to be applied to the leadership of the USSR government!!!
Through -out the thirteen years of banishment and the continuous struggle to survive in a hostile and cruel environment, the Chechens didn’t lose hope and kept telling themselves that someday they will go back to the fatherland and build their lives again. They kept their self-esteem and didn’t allow anyone to trample on their pride and integrity. This fact is corroborated by the Noble Peace Prize winner, the famous Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” in his account of the exiled nations and peoples of the massive Gulag. “Only one nation refused to accept the psychology of submission and this applied not to individual insurgents, but to the nation as a whole and those were the Chechens. No Chechen ever tried to be of service or to please the authorities. Their attitude towards them was proud and even hostile. And he continues to say that at the end, the Chechen will to live prevailed”.
After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev became the Chairman of the communist party. Khrushchev in a secret speech on February 1956 at the Twentieth party congress implied that the whole deportation of people was a crime and should be reversed. On January 9, 1957 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR decreed on reestablishing the Chechen-Ingush ASSR.
Upon hearing the decree of rehabilitation, thousands of Chechens started arriving in Chechnya and were shocked to find their homes occupied by strangers. Hook or crook most of the Chechens were able to recover their homes even though some of them had to buy back their own homes. In 1958 a huge demonstration was launched by Russian citizens of Grozny demanding the government to keep the Chechens in exile.
Czarist genocide resulted in the extermination of 35-50 % of the Chechen population at the time. The communist Genocide of the 1944 deportation resulted in the extermination of 50% of the deportees. So far the toll of the two wars waged by Yeltsin and Putin’s so called democratic Russia has reached over 200,000 people killed including 45,000 children and the uprooting of over 400,000 people (according to official Russian reports) from their homes and rendered refugees in Ingushetia, the surrounding regions and Europe. During the war arbitrary arrests, tortures, summary executions and rape by the Russian armed forces were common and rampant through-out Chechnya. These atrocities have been documented and published by International Human Rights organizations. Pierre Sane, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, wrote to PM. Tony Blair of Britain in 2004, “that repeated abuses by Russia in Chechnya included summary executions, arbitrary detentions, direct attacks on hospitals and indiscriminate attacks on populated areas. There is compelling evidence of wide spread torture, rape and beating of Chechen men, women, and children”. International experts estimate that there are about 1,200,000 mines planted by the Russians in Chechnya. There are about 10,000 land-mine Chechen victims, mostly children who lost their limbs and got maimed for life. The Russian aviation conducted thousands of bombing missions in Chechnya during the last two wars, Fourteen thousand Air strikes in the first year of the 1999 war, which resulted in irreparable damage to man, beast, and the environment. Pools of spilled oil covered large areas of Grozny and its surroundings and the environmental damage was colossal. It is estimated that 30% of Chechen territory is environmentally dead. Direct attacks on civilians have no limits. People disappeared because of repeated mop-up operations and kidnappings for ransom of civilians by the Russian forces and the puppet government’s militia. Memorial estimates some 3000 people have disappeared “without any trace” in Chechnya in the last decade.
This is just a brief summary of some of the acts of genocide going on in Chechnya until today… For the last 200 years we have suffered genocide and persecution because we stood up for our beliefs in liberty and freedom. How long will the democratic western world look the other way and pretend that they don’t know what is going on in Chechnya? When will the west and the rest of the world stand up and defend the human rights of a small nation against the aggression of a more powerful colonial nation. Did not all members of the United Nations pledge to honor the Articles of the U.N. that guarantee the rights of people of self determination and protection from Genocide? All we ask these governments to do, is to live up to and execute their obligations under these conventions, that they are signatory to, and follow the lead of the European Parliament that acknowledged in 2004 that the deportation of the Chechen-Ingush people in 1944 was Genocide.
The whole world knows about the on-going genocide of the Chechen people, but they choose to ignore it for their own selfish reasons and thus they are accomplices in this crime against humanity and will be judged as such by history. Is this long suffering the price the Chechen people have to pay because they dared to say: “We rather die fighting for freedom, than live in slavery?”
As much as I abhor the double standard self-serving politics of the democratic countries of today that use United Nations Conventions on Human Rights selectively, when it serves their own purposes, I have to acknowledge the existence of some wonderful and dedicated Human Rights organizations that went the extra mile in monitoring , documenting and condemning many human rights abuses in Chechnya such as: Memorial, Human Rights Watch, The Moscow Helsinki Group, Amnesty International and the Russo-Chechen Friendship Society. Some members and friends of these organizations were cold bloodedly assassinated because they dared to expose the human rights violations in Chechnya by the Russian Army and the puppet regime in Grozny. The Chechen people will always honor the memory of the fallen super heroes like: Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov, Anastasia Baburova, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband Alik Dzhabrailov and Alexander Litvinenko.
This 67th anniversary of the Chechen Genocide of 1944 is a sad day for all Chechen people all over the world and it should also be a sad and dark day for all humanity because on this day, 67 years ago, an immoral beastly regime inflicted gross injustice on fellow human beings. So, in honor of the memory of the tears of frightened children and defenseless mothers and slaughtered fathers, we should demand from our democratic governments to take a stand for our moral values and our Human compassion for the oppressed people to condemn without any reservations the obvious genocide being inflicted again on the people of Chechnya at the dawn of the new millennium .Our governments should insist on the implementation of Article (I) of the United Nations Genocide Convention in Chechnya and save the Chechen people from annihilation.
On the commemoration of this sad day, I salute the brave men and women in Chechnya who are the grandchildren of the victims of the 1944 deportation who are in-turn taking a stand against the new Russian aggression, despite the overwhelming odds, and who are resolute and steadfast in defending with their lives the honor and values of the Chechen people. I also salute all the Chechen people in Diaspora and especially the new refugees in Europe who fled the fatherland for fear for their lives, who suffer in pain wherever they are and stand united to support (by all means) their brethren in the homeland to achieve our common goals of freedom and liberty in our homeland and to keep alive our motto: “WE WILL NOT CRY, WE WILL NOT FORGET, WE WILL NOT FORGIVE.”
Let us hope that this year will witness the end of the long suffering of the Chechen people and that all their suffering and sacrifices for the last 200 years will be crowned, by the grace of God by celebrating soon the rebirth of the independent:
“CHECHEN REPUBLIC of ICHKERIA”
Professor Mohammad Shashani
President of World Chechen Congress