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Balkars In Russia's North Caucasus Mark 75th Anniversary Of Deportation

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Kazbek Kokov, acting head of Kabardino-Balkaria, meet at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence in September.

Balkars in Russia's North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria are marking the 75th 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 acting head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Kazbek Kokov, called the deportation "a monstrous crime."

"On that day we all feel pain, remembering the burden of deprivations and bitterness of losses the Balkar people faced then and honor innocent victims of the arbitrariness and lawlessness," Kokov said in a statement on March 8.

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.