Staunton, February 23 – Today, as they have done each February 23rd for the last 69 years, Chechens and Ingush will pause to remember Stalin’s deportation of their peoples in 1944 – and they will do so despite Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s effort to postpone the commemoration until May 10th lest it interfere with the closing ceremony of Putin’s Olympics.
On this date in 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of the entire Waynakh people, 480,000 Chechens and 97,000 Ingushes, from their North Caucasus homelands to Central Asia, ostensibly because they were collaborating with the Germans although more than 40,000 were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. (On returning home, these soldiers were deported too.)
In the course of the deportation, more than half of these people were killed or died as a result of ill-treatment. And although they were allowed to return home during Khrushchev’s thaw and although Moscow ultimately condemned this act, the 1944 deportation not surprisingly has shaped the attitudes of the Chechen and Ingush nations.
Since Gorbachev’s time, they have been able to mark this date with meetings and even with monuments to the victims. But not this year. Because Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled the closing ceremonies of the Sochi Olympiad on this date, Chechen officials wanted to make sure that remembering this tragedy wouldn’t get in the way or spark any protests.
Consequently, and in complete disregard for history or the feelings of his own people, Ramzan Kadyrov ordered that the commemoration would not take place on the real anniversary but rather would be moved to May 10 when it could be combined with a commemoration of his father, Akhmat Kadyrov, who was buried on that date in 2004.
Chechens had already been offended by the current Chechen leader’s approach to the deportation anniversary. In 2008, he announced plans to move the deportation monument that had been erected in 1992 from the center of Grozny to its outskirts and erected a high fence around it. In February 2014, its complete dismantling began.
Not surprisingly, given that there is no Chechen family which did not lose someone during the deportation, most Chechens are angry, especially since the memorial featured a listing of the villages that Stalin’s forces destroyed and a call “never to forget” the tragedy (wordyou.ru/v-rossii/pamyat-ne-slyshit-prikazy-sverxu.html, islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/31212/, nazaccent.ru/content/10696-memorial-zhertvam-stalinskoj-deportaciii-chastichno-perenesli.html and islamrf.ru/news/russia/rusnews/31228/).
Many Chechens say that Ramzan Kadyrov has wanted to destroy the monument because it was designed and built by Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first president of Chechnya-Ichkeria, and because in the minds of many people there, the monument is also to the Chechen resistance against the Russian invasion of the early 1990s.
The current Chechen leader has not limited himself to the destruction of the monument in his efforts to wipe out this memorialday and to curry favor with his Kremlin patron. Three days ago, his police detained Ruslan Kutayev, president of the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, when the latter was taking part in a conference on the deportation (nazaccent.ru/content/10720-chechenskogo-aktivista-zaderzhali-posle-provedeniya-konferencii.html).
There is no question that with their police powers, Moscow and Grozny can destroy monuments or block meetings. But neither such actions nor efforts to promote a “common history” will wipe out the memory of the crimes against humanity the Soviet government committed against its own people.
Instead, they will only ensure that, as its own slogan put it, “no one will forget and nothing will be forgotten.”