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Chechens Seek Ways To Circumvent Ban on Commemorating 1944 Deportation

Chechens open their gates in commemoration of Deportation Day on February 23.

Seventy-four years after the event, the deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush peoples to Central Asia on orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin remains a contentious issue.

For one thing, Russians nationwide seem increasingly inclined to lend credence to the rationale cited at the time for that move: that the population of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic had collaborated with the advancing Nazi German Army in 1941-42, and was thus guilty of treason. (Nikita Khrushchev exonerated the Chechens and Ingush of that charge in his legendary "secret speech" to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in March 1956, paving the way for the return of the deported peoples from exile.)

In addition, both the Chechens and some Ingush resent the stance taken by their respective leaders with regard to commemorating the deportation. For decades, that commemoration took place on February 23, the anniversary of the day the mass deportation got under way, which was designated the Day of Remembrance and Mourning. Then in 2012, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov decreed that since February 23 is a national public holiday -- Defenders of the Fatherland Day -- it was inappropriate to celebrate the deportation anniversary on that date. Instead, Kadyrov issued orders that the deportation anniversary should be celebrated on May 10, which happens to be the date on which Kadyrov's late father, Akhmad, was buried in 2004 following his death in a terrorist bombing on May 9.

The perception that Kadyrov ranked his father's killing as a tragedy equal in significance to the deaths of the estimated 100,000 Chechens who perished during the deportation or in exile triggered widespread resentment among the Chechen population. So too did Kadyrov's assertion in 2014 that some Chechens, whom he did not identify, bore part of the blame for the deportation.

A Chechen police officer stands guard in front of the memorial for Akhmad Kadyrov, the father of current Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, in Grozny in July.
A Chechen police officer stands guard in front of the memorial for Akhmad Kadyrov, the father of current Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, in Grozny in July.

In line with Kadyrov's edict, no formal commemoration of the deportation took place in Chechnya this year. The news site Caucasian Knot, however, reported that Chechens were resorting to social media to share suggested ways to circumvent that ban, including distributing alms in memory of those who died and symbolically leaving the gates to their yards open, which is traditional practice when a household is mourning the death of one of its members.

In addition, some Chechens who live close to the border with the predominantly Chechen-populated Novolak district of neighboring Daghestan were reportedly among an estimated 1,500 people who gathered there for formal prayers in memory of those who died during the deportation and ensuing 13 years in exile.

Kadyrov did, however, post on Mylistory a statement pegged to the February 23 anniversary affirming that it was the Chechens' "true faith," courage, and devotion to their homeland that enabled them to survive. (That assertion is problematic in light of Kadyrov's concerted efforts over the past decade to redefine what constitutes "traditional Chechen Islam."

Chechen parliament speaker Magomed Daudov for his part, in seeming ignorance of the nature of Stalin's tyrannical regime, posted a statement implying that if at that time the Chechens had had a national leader of the caliber of Akhmad Kadyrov, he would have been able "to defend his people."

By contrast, in neighboring Ingushetia some 10,000 people participated in an official gathering on February 23 to commemorate the victims of the deportation, and an estimated 1,000 households opened their courtyard gates in a sign of mourning. But this year republic head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who in 2012 had equated the deportation with genocide, posted on Instagram an anodyne and muted statement in which he hailed the centenary of the creation of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army and argued that the deportation anniversary should not "prevent us from remembering our heroes...who participated in strategic battles."

Some Ingush activists openly deplored that shift in emphasis. Magomed Mutsolgov, whose Mashr organization offers legal advice to people whose relatives are believed to have been abducted by or otherwise fallen foul of the law enforcement agencies, was quoted as suggesting that Yevkurov was seeking simultaneously both to save face vis a vis the republic's population and to demonstrate his loyalty to the federal authorities by playing up the importance of the national holiday.

Criminalizing Revisionism

Yet despite their equivocation, the Chechen authorities reject unequivocally revisionist attempts to justify the deportation. One week prior to the anniversary, the Chechen parliament submitted to Russia's State Duma a draft bill criminalizing any deliberate effort "to distort the truth" about the history of World War II.

Former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov, who himself experienced the horrors of the 1944 deportation as a small child, countered that initiative with a far more nuanced and sophisticated counterproposal to criminalize any attempt to justify the deportations -- an argument that could be construed as directed against Kadyrov personally.

Citing archive documents, Khasbulatov examined in some detail the factors that influenced the timing of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush and the role played by Stalin's henchman Lavrenti Beria. He further convincingly debunked the myth of Stalin's alleged genius as a military strategist, while at the same time paying lip service to what he called the dictator's ‘'outstanding contribution" to the history of the U.S.S.R.

In that context, Khasbulatov condemns Stalin's post-World War II humiliation and destruction of Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov and other brilliant military commanders who inflicted major defeats on Nazi forces, stressing Stalin's compulsive self-aggrandizement and his despicable treatment of men to whom he owed a huge debt. Both traits have a more recent parallel in Kadyrov's sidelining of Sulim Yamadayev and Said-Magomed Kakiyev, commanders respectively of the elite East and West battalions that were directly subordinate to Russian Military Intelligence. Those military formations played a key role in the defeat of Chechnya's pro-independence president, Aslan Maskhadov, in the 1999-2000 war.

In the early 2000s, Sulim Yamadayev was one of Akhmad Kadyrov's most trusted advisers. He was assassinated in Dubai in March 2009. Adam Delimkhanov, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma and is close to Ramzan Kadyrov, is suspected by the Dubai authorities there of having masterminded Yamadayev's killing.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.