Thursday, November 02, 2006

One Single Day

On 2 November 1943, the Stalin regime rounded up and deported most of the Karachai population from their ancestral homeland in the North Caucasus to desolate areas of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Only those young men fighting in the Red Army against Nazi Germany avoided deportation for the time being. They would be demobilized and sent into internal exile after 3 March 1944. In a single day the NKVD uprooted nearly 70,000 people from their homes and loaded them into freight trains. More than three quarters of the deportees consisted of women and children. The sudden expulsion from their homeland proved to be a traumatic event that still haunts the survivors even today.

The trip into exile took on average between two and three weeks. Each wagon car held on average more than 50 Karachais. Food, water and sanitation as well as space all proved to be inadequate during this journey. Disease spread rapidly under these conditions and took a high toll among the exiles. Many of the survivors of the trip arrived in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in poor health.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Soviet government placed the Karachais under special settlement restrictions and assigned them to work on collective and state farms. The Karachai special settlers came under the authority of NKVD special commandants. They could not leave their assigned places of work and residence without special permission from the NKVD. Every month they had to register with the NKVD commandants and they had to carry special identification documents noting their inferior and stigmatized legal status.

The Karachais encountered deadly living conditions on the cotton, tobacco, sugar beet and other farms where they worked in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They endured severe shortages of food, lived in overcrowded and substandard housing, and had almost no medical care. Malnutrition, typhus, exposure and other maladies resulting from this deprivation killed almost one out of every five Karachais during the 1940s.

Only after 1957 did the Soviet government allow the surviving Karachais to return to their homeland in the North Caucasus.

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