Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Short History of the Balkars under Soviet Rule

The recent events in Nalchik, the capitol of the Karbardino-Balkar Republic in Russia have inspired me to write a short piece on the Balkars. The Balkars are one of the native peoples of the North Caucasus deported by the Stalin regime during World War II. Officially, the Soviet government accused the Balkars of collaborating with Nazi Germany and engaging in mass treason against the USSR. The real reasons for the deportation of the Balkars had to do with their resistance to Soviet policies, historical and cultural ties to Turkey and the proximity of their mountain homeland to a major military highway. In preparation for a post-war conflict with the Turkish Republic, the Stalin regime removed all ethnically related nationalities from strategic areas that would be involved in any military actions against Anatolia. These nationalities included the Karachais, Crimean Tatars and Meskhetian Turks as well as the Balkars. The Stalin regime deported all of these people to Kazakhstan and Central Asia from 2 November 1943 to 28 November 1944. In total the NKVD banished nearly 400,000 Turkic Muslims to special settlement restrictions in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan during this year. This crime against humanity has received little attention in the US primarily because the victims belong to "politically incorrect" ethnicities and religions. In contrast the perpetrators officially espoused an ideology still given favorable treatment by much of the US intellectual elite.

The Balkars are closely related to the neighboring Karachais. Both speak a language related to Turkish. Their language derives from their Kipchak Turkish ancestors who settled in the Caucasus and intermarried with other peoples. The Balkars nominally adhere to the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam as a result of later Ottoman influence. Traditionally they have supported themselves through animal husbandry.

The Soviet government formed the Karbardino-Balkar Autonomous Oblast on 1 September 1921 and upgraded it to an ASSR on 5 December 1936. Balkars only made up a small percentage of this territory's population. In 1939, they constituted 11.1% of the inhabitants versus 43% for Russians and 36.3% for Karbardians. Their ethnic ties to Turkey made them disfavored among the Soviet elite. In particular the large number of prominent Georgians in the Stalin regime such as Beria and his associates had a strong hostility to all things related to Turkey.

The German military entered the Karbardino-Balkar ASSR on 7 August 1942. It captured Nalchik on 29 October 1942. The Soviet military recaptured the city on 4 January 1943. A week later the Germans had completely withdrawn from the territory. A little over a year later, on 26 February 1944, Beria ordered the deportation of the Balkars from their homeland to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. A total of 4,000 NKVD and NKGB operative workers and 17,000 NKVD internal troops forcibly rounded up and loaded over 37,000 Balkars onto train echelons bound eastward on 8-9 March 1944. The Stalin regime transferred much of the land previously inhabited by the Balkars to the Georgian SSR and renamed the Karbardino-Balkar ASSR, the Karbardian ASSR.

Like other deported peoples subjected to special settlement restrictions, the Balkars suffered horribly in exile. The Stalin regime had confiscated most of their property and abandoned them in confined regions of an alien land without sufficient resources to sustain themselves. Malnutrition, exposure and typhus took a heavy toll upon the population in exile. More than 8,000 Balkars died in less than five years as a direct result of the deportations. This excess mortality constituted a fifth of the total population. Not until the 1960s did they manage to replace the population losses incurred as a result of the deportations and exile.

The Soviet government released the Balkars from the special settlement restrictions after Stalin's death. It freed the last Balkars from this status on 28 April 1956. In early 1957, a series of Soviet decrees restored national territories for the Karachais, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush and Balkars and allowed them to return to their historic homelands. The Balkars quickly took advantage of these reforms to leave Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and resettle in the reestablished Karbardino-Balkar ASSR. By 1959, over 80% of the total Balkar population again lived in their historic homeland. In 1958 and 1959, the territory reopened 20 Balkar language schools and enrolled over 2,500 students. This move represented the first step by the Balkars in a long and still unfinished process of recovering from the massive damage inflicted upon their cultural development by the deportations.

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