NALCHIK, Russia -- Balkars in Russia's North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria are marking the 77th anniversary of their mass deportation to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
Balkars are a Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim ethnic group that numbers an estimated 110,000 people.
Prayers in the region's mosques on March 8 were dedicated to those who died during their deportation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan between 1944 and 1957.
The head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Kazbek Kokov, Prime Minister Ali Musukov, parliament speaker Tatyana Yegorova, and other top officials took part in a commemoration ceremony for deportation victims in the regional capital, Nalchik, on March 8.
In a statement, Kokov called the deportation "a monstrous crime" and "blatant injustice."
"We all share the pain of that day, remembering the victims of arbitrariness and lawlessness. We express compassion to the relatives and loved ones of those who did not make it back to their homeland," Kokov said.
About 38,000 Balkars, more than half of whom were women and children, were deported on March 8, 1944, to Central Asia by Stalin's regime, which accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Those who survived deportation were able to return to the North Caucasus in 1957, after the Soviet Union's Supreme Council restored the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).