NALCHIK, Russia -- Balkars in Russia's North Caucasus region of Kabardino-Balkaria have marked the 73rd anniversary of their mass deportation to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
Prayers in the region's mosques on March 8 were devoted to those who died during the deportation to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan between 1944 and 1957.
The head of Kabardino-Balkaria, Yury Kokov, called the deportation "a criminal act by the [Soviet] regime."
In a statement on March 7, he said that all residents of Kabardino-Balkaria "share the bitterness of loss and honor the memory of the victims of all political repressions."
Balkars are a small, Turkic-speaking, and predominantly Muslim ethnic group.
On March 8, 1944, some 38,000 Balkars were deported to Central Asia by Stalin's government, 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 Soviet republic of Russia.