Staunton, February 23 – Seventy-two years ago today, Stalin on the invented pretext that Chechen and Ingush collectively collaborated with the German invaders deported almost 500,000 men, women and children of those two Vainakh nations to wilds of Central Asia, an event that continues to define the fate of both.
But while Chechens, Ingush and all those who care about human rights will recall this event around the world, there is one place where it won’t be marked: in Chechnya itself. There since 2011, Ramzan Kadyrov has blocked any commemoration lest it conflict with the Russian holiday, the Day of the Defender of the Fatherland, and instead required that Chechens in Chechnya mark a memorial day on May 10, the anniversary of the death of his father.
Russian journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza who did stories on the Chechens in the 1990s says that commemorating February 23rd is “the only thing that can unite the people” of Chechnya and thus Kadyrov’s ban on such measures and the arrest of those who seek to remember this event is a horrific mistake (kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/278046/).
While there will not be any public events in Chechnya, others are taking place elsewhere. In St. Petersburg last night, there was a meeting devoted to the anniversary in the Akhmatova Museum. The Chechen diaspora in Norway also has scheduled a session for today. And other groups of Chechens in Russia and elsewhere are marking this event.
Naima Neflyasheva, a specialist on the Caucasus at the Moscow Institute of Africa, says that Russia’s and Chechnya’s decision to mark the Day of Defender of the Fatherland instead of to commemorate the anniversary of the deportation is a mark of “a lack of respect and a sacrilege.”
“We have a large multi-national country, in the history of which there have been complicated and dramatic periods. This requires a special delicacy, wisdom and responsibility of the authorities in the setting of memorial dates and calendar holidays,” she says, adding that “the calendar must work to integrate citizens” rather than to divide them.
“It we live in one country, then we must be glad together and grieve together,” she says. “The defenders of the Fatherland deserve to have their own holiday, and in the calendar there are enough days to make a choice, particularly as in the history of the Russian army there are many worthy and significant events” worth remembering.
But marking that holiday in a way that overshadows the anniversary of the deportation is wrong in a double sense. On the one hand, she says, commemorating the deportation should never be treated like a holiday. And on the other, acting as if the deportation never happened or is unworthy of being remembered is “a sacrilege.”
Other Chechens and Ingush agree with her. Among those Kavkaz-Uzel cites are Mairbek Vachagayev in Paris, Israpil Shovkhalov in Moscow, and Akhmed Buzurtanov in Nazran. Said Muskhadzhiyev in Maikop says that what is especially wrong is that the holiday Moscow has ordered has changed its name so many times.
Abdulla Duduyev in Moscow says he is certain that marking February 23rd as a holiday rather than as a memorial day “deeply wounds people who are guilty of nothing” and that as for himself, he “will not celebrate February 23” as Moscow and Grozny want because “this is the day of the greatest and unprecedented tragedy of two peoples, the Chechens and Ingush.”
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