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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Remembering Russia's Chechen Genocide

Paul Goble reports:

February 23rd was the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s deportation of the Chechens and Ingush from their homelands in the North Caucasus to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide in which more than half of those sent east lost their lives and one that lies behind many of the recent tragedies in that part of the world. But instead of marking this event in a way that ensures that it is properly described and will never happen again, Russian officials and the international community have ignored this crime against humanity, leaving it unlike some other acts of genocide to be remembered by those who were its immediate victims or their descendents.

Except for a few news reports about what the Chechens and Ingush were doing and passing references to this genocide in more general stories about the region, the only comment generated by a Google News search today was a letter to The Times of London. This current neglect is triply unfortunate. First of all, it allows the current Russian government to continue its repression of the Chechens, Ingush and other “persons of the Caucasus” by relying on the false but widely believed charges that they fought or wanted to fight on the side of Hitler and thus deserved and deserve what they get.

In the last 50 days alone, Russian nationalist skinheads have killed 28 non-Russians, many of whom are from the North Caucasus, a figure that is twice as high as the one for the same period in 2007 and greater than the annual numbers of such murders in 2004 and 2005. While the Russian authorities have occasionally moved to suppress this plague, it continues at least in part because many Russians who would never think about killing “persons of Caucasus nationality” nonetheless believe that such people are less deserving of protection than others, often on the basis of memories of Stalin’s charges against them. Second, this neglect makes it impossible for these Vainakh peoples to develop relationships with Moscow and the rest of the world that are based on something other than anger about what has been done to them and what the Russian authorities have not been prepared to compensate them for.

As one human rights activist in Ingushetia pointed out on Friday, the failure of Moscow to acknowledge and apologize for the deportation – even though the Russian Supreme Soviet did once admit that those events were a “crime” – continues to enflame Chechen and Ingush life. At a meeting in Grozny yesterday, Chechen officials pointed out that “as a result of the deportation died almost 70 percent of the Chechens,” a figure higher than most Western estimates and one that means that crime continues to touch almost all residents in that republic. One example of this: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has promised to help some 4,000 Chechens in Kyrgyzstan, who include both those deported and their descendants, to finally return home, something most other Chechens did after the death of Stalin.

And third, it is perhaps especially unfortunate because despite the contributions of scholars like Robert Conquest to the study of the 1944 tragedy, a large amount of new information has emerged that shows that Soviet actions in the North Caucasus were both more cynical and more racist than even most Western researchers have suggested. Much new research, including full texts of hitherto classified Stalin-era documents and statistics, is available. But particularly striking are the findings summarized in a new pamphlet issued by a Memorial researcher.

In a work entitled “The Deportation of the Ingush. Falsifications and Genuine Causes,” Mar’yam Yandiyeva provides a wealth of new information about that event and its pre-history, information that demonstrates the collaboration charges Moscow made against the Ingush and Chechens were spurious. On the one hand, she recounts, as early as 1934, Sergei Kirov, the Communist Party leader whom many view as a positive counterpart to Stalin and whose own murder in December of that year, opened the way to the Great Terror, responded to the complaints of Chechens and Ingush with truly chilling words. He said that these mount peoples “are by their genes counter- revolutionaries and anti-Soviets and that it is necessary to teach them a lesson.” Just what that “lesson” would be was shown in 1944, 1994, 1999, and even now on the streets of post-Soviet Moscow. And on the other hand, Yandiyeva reports, “already at the start of 1940” – 18 months before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union – “the USSR General Staff concluded that in the event of war,” it would be “strategically” important for Moscow to adopt “’special measures’” for the “unstable” southern regions of the country.

Those statements demonstrate that Stalin’s actions in 1944 were not a response to anything that the Chechens, Ingush or others might have done in the war but rather that the war provided the Soviet dictator and his regime with an opportunity to do what they had long wanted to. The full text of Yandiyev’s study is currently available on a website that Moscow has been trying to shut down. But even that is a good thing because – and this is perhaps the clearest indication of the world’s neglect of this genocide – she was able to print only 100 copies of her work.

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