Thursday, March 8, 2018

Balkar Deportation Anniversary Highlights Reach, Limits of Turkic Solidarity within Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 8 – On this date in 1944, Stalin ordered the deportation of the Balkars from the soon to be suppressed Kabardino-Balkar ASSR to the wilds of Central Asia. Of the 37,000 loaded into unheated cattle cars on that date, 5,000 died over the next two years.  Only in 1956 were they allowed to return to their homeland.

            The Balkars have never forgotten that horrific action, one especially infuriating because they were accused of treasonous links with the Germans even as many of their member were fighting in the Soviet army and even being decorated for their heroism.  And once public commemorations became possible in the 1980s, they have had public memorials each year.

            This year is no different, but one of the most important aspects of the story of the deportation of this Turkic nation is seldom told: the attitudes of other Turkic peoples of the Russian Federation toward what happened to the Balkars, an indication of the strength of Turkic solidarity within that country.

            Journalist Ramazan Alpaut provides a valuable contribution to the understanding of that relationship today by publishing on the Idel Realities portal of Radio Svoboda of comments by Turkic and other peoples in the Middle Volga region about whether they were marking this anniversary and displaying solidarity with the Balkars (

                A Bashkir activist of the Bashkort Organization says that Alpaut’s question is somehow “incorrect.” “Naturally those crimes which the Soviet regime carried out against the peoples of the USSR have no justification … Out organization also condemns such actions … But at the same time, March 8 is International Women’s Day.”  Naturally we give preference to that. 

            Galishan Nuriakhmet, the vice president of the All-Tatar Social Center, in contrast says that Tatars must show solidarity with the Balkars. “The Balkar people are a Turkic language people. Kumyks, Nogays, Balkars, Karachays and Tatars are practically one people. We support the Balkars.”

            The repressive policies which led to the deportation of the Balkars in 1944, he says, continue; and therefore it is important to work together to oppose them.

            Ilya Alekseyev, an activist for the Chuvash Social Center, also says that International Women’s Day takes precedence. (The Chuvash are Christians but speak a Turkic language.) “About the tragic dates of the Turkic peoples almost no one knows anything in Chuvashia,” he says. People are “integrated in the Russian culture of holidays.”

            As for himself, he continues, he would very much like that “Chuvash mark certain Turkic memorial days, but this isn’t likely to take a mass form.” Activists like himself will do so as possible, but not most Chuvash.

            Alpaut also spoke with Vladimir Kozlov, the vice president of the Mari organization Marii Ushem. (The Mari are Finno-Ugric rather than Turkic but they live intermixed with Turkic groups.)  Kozlov says that few Maris know much about the deportation of the Balkars. Neither in the past nor in the present do the schools talk about this.

            But he says the fact that the Balkars mark March 8 as a day of sorrow means that others should not be celebrating another holiday as they have been doing.  According to Kozlov, “the absence of solidarity in such questions among the peoples of Russia has led to a situation in which each has to deal with its problems on its own.”

            It would be better if they worked together and showed solidarity, Kozlov says.

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