The most recent manifestation of that revisionist approach is the dismantling of a monument in Grozny to the victims of the mass deportation of the Chechens and Ingush in 1944 on Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s orders. Historians estimate that of the 485,000 Chechens and Ingush forced at gunpoint into railcars and transported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan, between 30 percent and 50 percent died. In 1956, then CPSU General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev exonerated the Chechen people of the charge of collaboration with advancing Nazi German forces that served as the pretext for their deportation, and they were permitted to return home.
The monument to those who died during the deportation and 13 year exile was erected in 1992 at the behest of then Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Djokhar Dudayev following a campaign by various public organizations and movements. It is largely composed of churts -- the traditional grave headstones that were removed en masse from cemeteries in the wake of the deportation and used for construction purposes. Former local Communist Party functionary Ruslan Tulikov describes in a recent interview how he personally found such gravestones in the foundations of a public building in the town of Urus-Martan, south-west of Grozny.
Churts had also been used in laying the foundations of bridges, and for curbstones. Hundreds were subsequently retrieved and brought to Grozny to surround the centerpiece of the monument, a stylized fist holding a drawn sword in front of a stone carving of an open Koran. A plaque bears the inscription, attributed to Dudayev: "Dukhur dats! Doelkhur dats! Dits diir dats!” (“We shan‘t be broken! We shan’t give way to weeping! We shan’t forget!”)
The news that the monument was being dismantled surfaced only last week. The process is now reportedly almost complete, although verification is virtually impossible given that the site has been surrounded for several years by a 3-meter high fence.
The monument is to be reassembled on a site closer to the center of Grozny, in front of the grandiose Heart of Chechnya mosque, and in the immediate vicinity of another, more imposing memorial to law enforcement personnel killed in the ongoing fighting to contain the North Caucasus insurgency. Visiting that monument earlier this week, Kadyrov explained that the churts were being moved because there was no room to stage large-scale commemorations in the old location, and only limited parking space. Kadyrov apparently did not offer any explanation for the recent disappearance of a second relic of the deportation, one of the railcars in which the Chechens were transported to Central Asia.
Many residents of Grozny are skeptical, however. None of the respondents so far to a poll conducted by RFE/RL’s Radio Marsho believed the Chechen authorities simply wanted to move the monument to a more convenient location. On the contrary, almost half (43.8 percent) thought the republic’s leadership feared the monument could offend visiting Russian officials, while the remaining 56.2 percent thought that as the memory of the deportation is fading (or eclipsed by the cataclysms of the past two decades), Kadyrov and his henchmen assumed they could move it with impunity.
One Grozny resident told the website Caucasus Knot that while many people are outraged by the decision to move the monument, no one dares protest publicly for fear of reprisals. By contrast, a similar proposal in 2008 by then Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiyev to relocate the monument to a site of the city outskirts next to a garbage dump triggered a storm of protest. Parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov met twice with human rights activists and assured them that the monument would not be moved from the city center.
Caucasus Knot also quoted an NGO staffer who denounced the move as “spitting on the soul of our people.” He said the only explanation that springs to mind is that the monument was originally erected under Dudayev, who has been expunged from the official version of modern Chechen history.
Regardless of Kadyrov’s motivation, the transfer of the monument to a new location could result in further damage to the already battered gravestones which are a unique and irreplaceable part of Chechens’ cultural heritage. Tulikov noted that of the thousands that were recovered, only a handful were intact. He also explained what the carving on them tells about the person whose grave they marked: a figure of a woman wearing national costume without a belt signified a married woman with children; in the case of an unmarried girl, the dress is belted. Men’s graves are adorned with an engraved image of the tools of their individual trade.
Kadyrov’s apparent disregard for the monument to the deportation victims is paralleled by his ongoing efforts to downplay the enormity of that crime and its impact on generations of Chechens. Kadyrov has already abolished the formal commemoration of February 23 as the deportation anniversary. Instead, he decreed two years ago that the Day of Memory and Grief should in future be observed on May 10, in conjunction with the commemoration of the anniversary of the death of his father Akhmet-hadji, who was killed by a bomb attack in Grozny on May 9, 2004. February 23 is still observed throughout the Russian Federation as Defenders of the Fatherland Day.
Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus President Ruslan Kutayev was summoned for questioning by police on February 20, two days after convening a conference devoted to the 70th anniversary of the deportation.
Whether any Chechens will attempt to gather at the site of the old monument to mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation remains to be seen.
-- Liz Fuller