This is the 65th anniversary of the deportation on orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin of the entire Chechen and Ingush population of the (subsequently abolished) Checheno-Ingush ASSR -- estimates range from 496,000 to 650,000 people -- to Kazakhstan and Central Asia on suspicion of collaboration with Nazi Germany.
Up to half of them died either on the journey -- in unheated cattle wagons -- or in the harsh conditions in which they were forced to live.
Almost exactly 12 years later, in late February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev admitted in his landmark secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that the Chechens, Ingush, and other deported peoples -- including the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetians and Balkars -- were not guilty of the treachery Stalin imputed to them.
The following year, the survivors began the long journey home.
This year, as every year, the deportation anniversary has been marked with prayers at mosques in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and with both spontaneous and officially stage-managed commemorations.
Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov began his address pegged to the anniversary by stressing that February 23 also marks "one of our country's brightest holidays -- Soviet Army Day."
He went on to point out that contrary to Stalin's expectations, the deportation did not lead to the extinction of the Chechens, or their assimilation. On the contrary, the Chechens faced up to adversity with dignity, and drew strength from their faith in a "bright future."
Kadyrov went on to draw an implicit comparison in terms of the human suffering caused between the 1944 deportation and the two "bloody wars" of the past 14 years, and concluded that "today there is no alternative to peaceful development," a veiled warning to those who still sympathize with, or abet, the radical Islamic resistance.
In neighboring Ingushetia, President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov struck a somewhat different note.
Although himself a career army officer, he did not mention Soviet Army Day. He stressed that the Ingush survived the deportation "largely thanks to the disinterested help of other peoples: the Russians, the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz."
Yevkurov too resorted to the "bright future" image that is a throw-back to Soviet ideology, but he linked that faith in a bright future to the place occupied by the Ingush people within "the single family of peoples of great Russia."
At the same time, like Kadyrov, he stressed that exile did not result in the loss of the Ingush language, culture, and national traditions. And he expressed grief for the individual victims ("our fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters") who did not survive.
Yevkurov made no mention of one of the lasting consequences of the deportation: the redrawing of the North Caucasus map that detached Prigorodny Raion from the Chechen-Ingush ASSR and incorporated it into neighboring North Ossetia.
At Yevkurov's insistence, Ingushetia's parliament last week passed in the second and third reading a draft law enumerating the republic's municipalities that makes no mention of Prigorodny Raion. Ingush nationalists have branded that move an unforgivable capitulation.