February 23: Chechnya’s Holocaust
Even though many decades have passed, the Second World War is still an unanswered question for the Chechen people, and this historical burden inevitably impacts the continuing development of Chechen society today. Though the current Russian government is eager to emphasize recent peaceful developments, the image of the Chechen as “the enemy,” originally created by the Communists, is alive and well within the country today. Historians, politicians and journalists have created thousands of works that are filled with deliberate lies that portray the Chechens as a people and the entirety of Chechen history in a truly terrible light.
February 23 is one of the most tragic dates in the history of the Chechens and the Ingush. Until the Russo-Chechen War of 1994, the Chechens were a small ethnic group relatively unknown to the rest of the world, living in the northern foothills of the Caucasus, one of the most remote corners of Europe. On February 23, 1944, the Chechens were exiled from their ancestral lands and deported to Siberia and the northern regions of Kazakhstan. The entirety of the Chechen nation was accused of collaborating with the Fascists, even though unknown to Russians and Europeans alike, the Chechens only knew about the Fascists from the movie screen and the wartime news reports. The frontlines of the German advance stopped in Mozdok, in Northern Ossetia, never reaching Chechnya. Therefore the Chechens not only were unable to collaborate with the Germans, but also never truly saw any of them .
The Chechens were deported en masse, only excluding a few hundred men who managed to escape to the mountains at the last moment and who over the years tried to extract a vengeance for the deaths of their people through constant attacks on local Soviet institutions. The Chechen deportation, the most massive of all Soviet deportations, took place over the course of only a few days. However, in that period, during the middle of winter, almost 400,000 men, women and children were loaded into cattle cars and shipped to various locations, thousands of kilometers away. The victims were only allowed to take three days’ worth of rations and spent a horrifying two or three weeks on the road. Thousands died every day and the bodies were simply tossed out of the cars at every railroad station. Death quickly claimed the weakest the elderly and the children. According to the official Soviet figures, roughly a third of the whole Chechen nation perished during the thirteen years of exile, though independent researchers have suggested that essentially every second Chechen died during the Soviet government’s terrible crime against part of its own populace.
Many Chechens had in fact fought on the front lines of the Soviet war against the German aggressor. Thousands of Chechens died on the field of battle, with many becoming war heroes. The long list of Chechen war heroes includes the first men to reach the fortifications of Brest, where over two hundred Chechens fought for their country. To name a few Chechen soldiers of note: Khanpasha Nuradilov died in Stalingrad having killed over 900 Germans; Movlad Bisaitov was the first to meet the Americans on the Elbe; Hakim Ismailov was one of the men who raised the Soviet flag over the Reichstag; and Alavdi Ustarkhanov (Andre) fought with the French Resistance. Yet all of these men died in obscurity, deliberately hidden or sometimes killed, so that their very existence could not be used as an accusation against the Soviet regime in later years.
Fifty years later, on February 24, 2004, the European Parliament suggested that the “deportation of the whole of the Chechen nation into Central Asia on February 23, 1944, as ordered by Joseph Stalin, was an act of genocide” . Today’s Chechens cannot help but compare themselves to their countrymen that lived during the deportation. Even today, Russia, having unleashed this latest war, has caused every tenth Chechen to be killed, every third to flee the territory of the republic and another ten percent to seek refugee status in Europe, trying to escape the regime that hunts them today, just as they had in the past. In the Chechen republic, over ten thousand are wounded, several thousand are invalid children (many lacking limbs), and nearly 20 percent of the population is suffering from illness and requires medical aid.
In 1944, the Chechens stood accused of cooperating with the Fascists, but in this war, their fault lies in being in league with the forces of international terrorism. Grozny, a city of 400,000, was wiped off the map while the leaders of those countries supposedly championing human rights stood by and applauded. People were killed everywhere and in all possible ways, while all of European society watched in confusion as the might of the Russian rulers was directed against women, children and the aged, all of whom were deemed terrorists. It is alarming that the people from the generation that survived the deportation say that living in Chechnya today is more frightening than the terrible years of 1944 to 1956.
Today, in pseudo-democratic Russia, in accordance with the wishes of the Kremlin, Potemkin villages are being built. What can a couple dozen new houses and several hundred kilometers of newly paved roads do to change anything in war-stricken Chechnya? What can it do to change the oppression led by the Kremlin? The applied lessons from the Soviet school of forcefully creating “loved and respected” leaders, widespread threats and endless pressure cannot solve the problems of Chechnya’s society! These problems are ignored and sacrificed to the ambitions of certain leaders, leaving them to burst forth in the form of mass disturbances at the smallest opportunity.
It will probably take another fifty years for the international community to call things by their real names and agree that Russia has committed war crimes against the Chechen people, a people that suffered two military campaigns that left 100,000 dead and several hundred thousand crippled and traumatized. With Europe concerned over the fate of Kosovo today, it seems necessary to remind the Europeans that Chechens are also residents of the European continent who have fled their war-torn home to come to Europe, instead of heading East and who made a conscious choice to embrace European values . To push them away today and to reject them as non-Europeans would be a crime that would need to be explained by European leaders.
1. Grechko, A. A. Bitva za Kavkaz (Battle for the Caucasus), Moscow, Voenizdat, 1967. p. 86.
2. Committee of Foreign Affairs. A resolution of the European Parliament regarding relations between the Russian Federation and the European Union, February 24, 2004.
3. Data shows that close to 100,000 Chechens may live in Europe today, making them a powerful force free from Russia’s influence. Most diaspora communities live in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Poland.