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Kazakhstan: Chechens Mark 60th Anniversary Of Deportation

Kazakhstan is considered a second homeland by the many Chechens who were deported by Josef Stalin from the Caucasus to Kazakhstan in 1944. While Kazakhstan's established Chechen community today marks the 60th anniversary of this tragic event, RFE/RL reports on efforts by Kazakh authorities to block the flow of new Chechen asylum seekers fleeing their war-torn homeland.

Prague, 23 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- From 23-24 February 1944, nearly half a million Chechens and Ingush were systematically gathered together on Josef Stalin's order and transported in freight trains to the vast plains of Kazakhstan. Others were taken to mountainous Kyrgyzstan and the Siberian taiga.

Stalin justified the move by saying the two Caucasian nations had collaborated with the invading German army.

It is estimated that about 50 percent of the deportees died within the first year of their forced resettlement, succumbing to cold, disease, and hunger.

A second wave of Chechen migration to Kazakhstan began when Russian troops entered Chechnya in 1994 to prevent Grozny from seceding from the federation.
Ahmed Muradov leads Vainakh, an organization for Chechens in the southeastern Kazakh city of Almaty. "Although so many years have passed, our elderly still have tears in their eyes when they remember those who helped them when they were in Kazakhstan," he said. "And they always say that Kazakhs who were living in the villages where [Chechens] were deported reacted to the situation with humanity."

It was only with the Soviet thaw under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that Chechens were permitted to return to the Caucasus and the charge of mass treason against them was dropped.

A 1957 decree cancelled the ban on the return of Chechens and Ingush to the Caucasus and reconstituted the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic.

Thousands of Chechens, however, stayed in Kazakhstan and became Kazakh citizens after independence in 1991.

Amanchi Gunashev, a leader of the Chechen diaspora in Almaty, is one of them. "When I was a 1-year-old boy I was deported to Kazakhstan with other Chechens and Ingush," he said. "We've been living here in Kazakhstan since that time. Today the number of Chechens and Ingush who decided to stay is 75,000. All of them are Kazakh citizens."

Gunashev says Kazakhstan's ethnic Chechens are well-integrated members of society. "Like all ethnic groups, we enjoy all the rights guaranteed by the constitution. And together with Kazakhs, we are today a part of the great Kazakh nation."

A second wave of Chechen migration to Kazakhstan began when Russian troops entered Chechnya in 1994 to prevent Grozny from seceding from the federation. In the chaos that ensued, more than 12,000 Chechens made their way to Kazakhstan to seek out relatives and friends.

The second war in the Chechen breakaway republic, which began in 1999, has pushed an even greater number of them to seek asylum in Kazakhstan.

The Chechen asylum seekers of the past decade, however, have met with a cold reception from Kazakh authorities. Most importantly, they are denied refugee status -- something that would undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that Chechnya is returning to normal.

According to the terms of the Minsk Convention, the former Soviet republics enjoy visa-free relations.

But Chechen refugees say they are being denied the registration papers that would enable them to reside in Kazakhstan, and live in constant threat of deportation back to Russia.

Moreover, their uncertain status means they are unable to find employment or enroll their children in school.

Many Chechens say they have suffered arbitrary persecution and arrests, particularly in the wake of events like the 2002 hostage crisis in Moscow, which vilified Chechens in the eyes of many Russians.

The United Nations refugee agency in Almaty declined to speak to RFE/RL about the situation of Chechen refugees, noting their situation is still "fragile."

(RFE/RL Kazakh Service Director Merhat Sharipzhanov contributed to this report.)

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