Victims of Repression Speak Out

Fifty years on, Stalin's legacy continues to haunt the North Caucasus

Victims of Repression Speak Out

Fifty years on, Stalin's legacy continues to haunt the North Caucasus

Monday, 19 February, 2001

Karachai and Balkar leaders in the North Caucasus are calling on the Russian government to "fulfill its obligations" to the victims of Stalin's deportations, many of whom have never returned to their ethnic homeland.

Campaigners in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria have described existing compensation payments as "insulting" and claim the Kremlin has reneged on promises made to the Caucasian minorities in 1996.

In 1944, the Karachai, the Balkars, the Ingush and the Chechens were accused of having collaborated with the Nazis and were deported en masse to Central Asia.

The NKVD, Stalin's secret police, organised the deportations with characteristic ruthlessness. First they invited the male population of the offending republics to celebrate Red Army Day with lavish banquets in major towns and villages. According to the traditions of local hospitality, the guests attended unarmed.

Then, during the celebrations, NKVD troops dragged the women and children from their homes and herded them into cattle trucks. The men were rounded up later that evening when they were in no condition to resist.

The deportees were resettled on the plains of Kazakstan where they were forced to adapt to an unfamiliar agricultural environment. Many remained in exile even after they were rehabilitated in 1957.

Akhmat Katchiev, vice premier of the Karachaevo-Cherkessian government, is spearheading calls for increased compensation and ultimate rehabilitation for the victims of Stalinist repression.

He said, "The 8,000 roubles [$300] which the Russian authorities have allocated to each repressed family is just insulting - at today's prices, you can't even buy a decent cow with that sort of money. The Kremlin is duty bound to fulfill its obligations to the deportees."

Katchiev went on to say that the Balkars and the Karachai were dispossessed first by the Russians and then by their own neighbours.

"Their homes were burned down by the NKVD," said Katchiev. "Then the gravestones were torn up from their cemeteries and used to pave the courtyards of Adygean and Russian homes."

He claimed that the Adygean minorities - mainly the Cherkess and the Kabardinians who remained in the Caucasus during the 1940s and 1950s - had appropriated the cattle and lands left ownerless by the deportations.

The Karachai and Balkar leaders are also concerned that time is running out for deportees who still remain in Central Asia. They say that worsening relations between Russian and Kazakstan could mean that their ethnic kin will never be allowed to return home.

Finally, there are growing calls for complete rehabilitation of other "repressed" communities who were not named by Nikita Khrushchev when he exonerated the North Caucasian peoples of collaboration with the Nazis.

The Balkars, for example, are demanding justice for around 1,500 villagers in Upper Balkaria who were accused of collaborating with the Germans in 1942 and were subsequently massacred by the NKVD.

However, the Russian authorities have shown little desire to address these issues. Last year, an official appeal was sent to Victor Khristenko, vice premier of the Russian parliament, asking for a special commission to review compensation claims.

Khristenko passed the appeal to the Ministry for National Policies which in turn issued the following statement, "For economic and political reasons, it is not appropriate to address these questions at the present time."

In 1996, the Russian government passed a law on the Rehabilitation of the Karachai and Balkar Peoples but few of its initiatives have ever been put into practice. Certainly, there have been no attempts to repatriate deportees still living in Central Asia.

The issue is particularly galling to the Karachai and the Balkars because they claim to be the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasian region. According to their historians, the Adygeans (now the Cherkess and the Kabardinians) arrived in the 14th and 15th centuries from Kurdistan, displacing the Karachai in the late 18th century.

And, although the Cherkess (literally "the dividers") pride themselves on having resisted the Russian invasions of the early 1800s, the Karachai point to manuscripts written by the Dagestani rebel Imam Shamil who complained that the Cherkess killed his envoys and refused to fight against the Imperial army. This issue still remains the subject of bitter controversy in the North Caucasus.

Yuri Akbashev is a regular contributor to IWPR

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