Sunday, December 16, 2018

Moscow Puts Book by Avtorkhanov on Extremist List

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 16 – The Russian government has now put Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov’s The Empire of the Kremlin (1988) on its extremist list, apparently because it treats the USSR as a colonial enterprise and offers a different interpretation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact than the Kremlin ideologists prefer.

            The SOVA monitoring center says that “the book does not contain nationalist rhetoric, aggressive appeals … nor justifications of Nazism;” but it does offer the émigré historian’s thoughtful discussion of how Moscow ran its empire, something that the powers that be there cannot tolerate (

            Avtorkhanov (1908-1997) was a remarkable man. As Grani points out in its report on the new ban, he served as a Bolshevik functionary in Chechnya in his youth, was arrested and tortured in 1937, exonerated in 1940, fled into the Chechen mountains but was soon caught and sentenced to another three year term, only to be freed again in 1942 (

            The Soviet organs tasked him with killing a friend of his childhood, Khasan Israilov who had led an armed uprising against the Soviets; but instead of doing so, Avtorkhanov entered into cooperation with him, then fled across the lines and worked for Germany’s North Caucasus National Committee during the war.  In 1945-1948, he was confined to a DP camp.

            Between 1949 and 1979, he worked as a professor at the Russian Institute of the US Army in Garmisch, writing a large number of books many of which still help to shape how specialists view developments in the Caucasus and the nature of the Soviet system.  Among the most important are Technology of Power and Origins of Party Rule.

In 1979, he retired; and in the 1990s, he spoke in support of Chechen independence. In 1997, he died.

Last month, on the centenary of his birth, a group of his admirers organized a conference in Munich dedicated to his memory. The author of these lines had the honor of speaking to it via Skype. Below are my words on that occasion:

Remembering Avtorkhanov and Reaffirming His Ideals

Paul Goble

Conference on Centenary of Abdurakkhman Avtorkhanov
November 10, 2018

Thirty-five years ago, on June 6, 1983 as a junior State Department bureau of intelligence and research analyst on soviet nationalities, I had the honor of organizing and hosting Abdurakhman Avtorkhanov in the Bureau of European Affairs conference room where more than 50 senior officials from around the US government came to listen to this great man.

That meeting was important for me for personal reasons, but much more so for political reasons then and political reasons now, with the last being perhaps the most significant. Today, I’d like to briefly discuss each of them with you.

            A decade before that event as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I prepared a seminar paper on Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other nations during World War II. In the course of preparing it, I read the 1958 volume of the Institute for the Study of the USSR entitled Genocide in the USSR as well as Avtorkhanov’ss 1952 classic, Narodoubisstvo v SSR. The latter title is usually translated as genocide in the USSR, but Avtorkhanov told me that it had a far broader meaning and was better translated as “killing people.” 

In my paper, I referred to the NKVD’s effort to hide the fact that it had missed four Crimean Tatar villages by loading every man, woman and child in them into garbage scows and taking htem out into the Black Sea before bludgeoning them to death. My professor, one of the leading Sovietologists of the time, said that as bad as the Soviets were, they wouldn’t have done that.  He was wrong as Avtorkhanov confirmed to me in our conversations in June 1983 – and as the archives showed after they were opened at the end of Soviet times.  In fact, as the great Chechen leader said, Moscow’s minions have done far worse.

In the 35 years since that time, I’ve never forgotten those words about the evil the Soviet system represented. They stayed with me every day of my career at the State Department, Radio Free Europe, the Voice of America, and now in retirement as a blogger at Window on Eurasia. Indeed, I am proud to call myself his students and can say that in many ways I owe my career to Avtorkhanov, both his books and his remarks.

But neither then nor now am I important. Avtorkhanov however was and is. His talk at State was important because it reminded his audience that fighting communism wasn’t enough; one had to fight Russian imperialism as well. That is something many found difficult to accept because it was a larger challenge and carried with it challenges that few wanted to shoulder. But in 1983, it was a subject that was in the air.

Eight months earlier at his Guildhall speech in London, President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “the evil empire.” Many didn’t want to accept that or at least the evil part.  But Avtorkhanov argued persuasively on the basis of his personal experience and expertise that Reagan was right on both counts, that the West had to join with the peoples of the Soviet empire to defeat it and give all of them the chance for a better and independent life.

Avtorkhanov thus helped turn the tide in Reagan’s direction – the meeting gave him a rare standing ovation at the end of his talks – and helped set the stage for the end of the USSR in 1991 and the continuing struggle with Russian imperialism since that time. 

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