Sixty five years ago, Stalin and his henchmen celebrated Red Army Day by rounding up and deporting virtually the entire Chechen and Ingush population from the Caucasus to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Codenamed Operation Chechevitsa (Lentil), the forced removal of the Chechens and Ingush required the services of 119,000 members of the NKVD and SMERSh (Bugai doc. 14, p. 106). Many of these men had previously participated in the deportation of the Kalmyks and the Karachais. On the first day of the operation, Beria reported that by 11:00 AM the NKVD had evicted 94,741 people from their homes and loaded 20,023 into train wagons (Bugai, doc. 11, p. 103). In total the operation lasted until 29 February 1944 (it was a leap year) and involved the forced resettlement of 387,229 Chechens and 91,250 Ingush (Bugai, doc. 13, pp. 105-106). In a mere week the Stalin regime ethnically cleansed nearly half a million people from the Caucasus.
The Chechens and Ingush made the long journey to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in unsanitary, unheated and unlit cattle cars. The NKVD had stuffed between 40 and 45 people into each wagon (Bugai, doc. 31, pp. 114-115). These overcrowded conditions in the train cars greatly facilitated the spread of disease. Typhus afflicted many of the deportees enroute. Those that perished had to be left along the rail lines without a proper burial since the NKVD shot any deportees that strayed more than five meters from the train wagons. (Bugai, doc. 16, p. 107).
In exile in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Chechens and Ingush lived in extreme poverty in the years following the deportations. They lacked adequate housing, food, clothing and medicine. Large numbers of the deportees perished from malnutrition and diseases such as typhus in the first years of exile. According to the demographer, D.M. Ediev the excess mortality among these two nationalities from the years 1944 to 1952 totaled 125,500 Chechens and 20,300 Ingush. These figures represent 30.76% of the Chechen population before the deportations and 20.3% of the Ingush population (Ediev, table 104, p. 294).
The deportees also came under the restrictions of the special settlement regime. They had to report at least once a month to a special commandant of the NKVD. They also could not leave the confines of their assigned residence without permission from this commandant. They remained confined to restricted areas of exile (Bugai, doc. 10, p. 231). The NKVD controlled the residency, movement and employment of the special settlers.
The Soviet government did not free the Chechens and Ingush from the special settlement restrictions until after Stalin's death. On 16 July 1956, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet freed the Chechens and Ingush from the special settlement regime, but did not allow them to return home or petition for the return of property lost during the deportations (Bugai, doc. 59, pp. 274-275). The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union decided to restore the national autonomy of the Chechens and Ingush on 24 November 1956. The Supreme Soviet did not recreate the Chechen-Ingush ASSR and restore the legal right of the Chechens and Ingush to live in their historic homeland until 9 January 1957. These decisions became finalized as Soviet law only on 11 February 1957 (Documents reproduced in Aliev, pp. 49-55). Despite this partial rehabilitation there has never been any full public accounting of this crime against humanity.
Ismail Aliev, Reabilitatsii narodov i grazhdan, 1954-1994 gody: Dokumenty (Moscow: RAN, 1994).
N.F. Bugai, ed., Iosif Stalin - Lavrentiiu Berii: "Ikh nado deportirovat'": Dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii (Moscow: "Druzhba narodov", 1992).
D.M. Ediev, Demograficheskie poteri deportirovannykh narodov SSSR (Stavropol': 'Argus', 2003).
See also my post on the subject from two years ago.