Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Stalin Treated Kalmyks Much Worse than Other Punished Peoples, Researcher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 26 – Seventy-nine years ago this week, Stalin deported the Kalmyks to Siberia and Kazakhstan and suppressed their republic in many ways in the same manner as he deported more than 15 other nations during World War II. But a Kalmyk historian suggests that the Soviet dictator treated the Kalmyks even worse than he did the others.

            Elza-Bair Guchinova who has been collecting memoirs of those who were deported for the last two decades says that Stalin treated the Kalmyks worse than the others in three fundamental ways that still casts a shadow on the life of their nation in the restored Kalmyk Republic (

            First, he dispersed the Kalmyks across the regions of their deportation so that there were no centers of Kalmyk life that could support the use of their native language or their culture. That was in sharp contrast to the way in which Stalin treated the Chechens, for example, who were allowed to settle in larger groups and kept their language and traditions alive.

            This meant that the Kalmyks lost their native language far more quickly than did other groups, and because of the Kalmyk tradition of securing as much education as possible, many deportees studied in the only available schools, Russian language ones, and acquired Russian culture as well as the Russian language far more than the others.

            Second, Guchinova continues, Stalinist propagandists spread the word in the areas where the Kalmyks were deported that Kalmyks were “cannibals” and that local people should keep their distance lest they end up on Kalmyk dinner tables. The historian says Moscow did this because few in Siberia in particular took seriously labelling anyone “an enemy of the people.”

            Until the population in Siberia and Kazakhstan recognized that the charge of cannibalism against the Kalmyks was absurd, however, local people refused to help the deportees and that accounted in the first months of this action for a far higher deathrate among the Kalmyks than was registered among other groups.

            And third, again in contrast to Moscow’s handling of other punished peoples, the center worked quickly and hard to pull out of the Red Army not just some but all the members of this deported nation. But fearful of a rising, commanders told the Kalmyk soldiers and officers that they were being sent to the Urals to form a Kalmyk military unit within the Soviet military.

            Most then went willingly, and on arrival, they were greeted with speeches and military bands intended to suggest that the Soviets were going to form precisely what they promised. But within hours, the Kalmyks who had been tricked into going meekly to the Urals were sent not to a military training center but to a concentration camp.

            That added to the sense of betrayal many Kalmyks felt and to their conclusion that the Soviet system was treating them in exactly the same way that the Nazis were treating Jews and Romany, according to Guchinova.        

            One reason Stalin behaved so harshly to the Kalmyks is that he would certainly have  remembered that during the Russian Civil War, the Buddhist Kalmyks were the only nation within the boundaries of what became the USSR that fought entirely on the side of anti-Bolshevik forces (

            Stalin was not one to forgive or forget, and his actions in 1943 may have been about more than the supposed collaboration of Kalmyks with the Germans.

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