Friday, February 23, 2007

It Has Been 63 Years Since the Deportation of the Chechens and Ingush

On the morning of 23 February 1944, the NKVD began the systematic round up and deportation of almost the entire Chechen and Ingush nations from their mountain homeland. In the course of a week 19,000 NKVD, NKGB and SMERSH operatives leading 100,000 NKVD internal troops herded over 387,000 Chechens and 91,000 Ingush into 180 train echelons bound for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The Stalin regime dispersed over four fifths of these mountain peoples across the vast flat plains of Kazakhstan. Here the unfamiliar climate, poor housing, inadequate food and a lack of medical care killed tens of thousands of them during the next couple of years. The NKVD also placed them under special settler restrictions that reduced them to the status of state serfs with no freedom of movement. The Soviet government only released them from this bondage on 16 July 1956. The deportees took advantage of this new freedom to return home to the Caucasus. Finally on 11 February 1957 the regime in Moscow finished recreating the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, despite refusing to return significant portions of its previous territory. The culture, traditional way of life and even the physical existence of the Chechen and Ingush nations came under extreme pressure during their years of exile. The deportations and years of special settlement are traumatic events in the collective memory of the Chechens and Ingush and form an important part of their national narrative.

The initial round up of the Chechens and Ingush involved considerable violence on the part of the Soviet security forces. They arrested over 2,000 people and confiscated over 20,000 firearms. More notably they perpetrated a number of massacres during the operation. The most notorious of these occurred at Khaibakh. Here the NKVD herded over 200 Chechens into barns and other buildings and then set them on fire. This atrocity has become a particularly important symbol in the long litany of Chechen suffering.

The NKVD stuffed the deportees into train wagons meant for the transport of livestock or freight, not humans. On average about 45 people shared each car. They had only a bucket or hole in the floor for a latrine and little food or water. Outbreaks of typhus and other diseases killed many people before they even arrived in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The material deprivation and deaths from infectious illnesses such as typhus would only increase in the areas of special settlement.

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan the Chechens and Ingush lived and frequently died in conditions of extreme poverty. They lacked adequate housing, food, clothing, shoes and access to medical care. Hunger, cold and disease afflicted them daily. Repeated epidemics of typhus resulted from the unhygienic and cramped living conditions forced upon the deportees. In combination with chronic malnutrition this disease proved extremely deadly to the Chechen and Ingush exiles.

The Chechens and Ingush suffered truly staggering losses as a result of the deportations and poor material conditions in exile. D.M. Ediev, a Karachai demographer, estimates that the deaths in excess of normal mortality among the Chechens between 1944 and 1952 at over 125,000 or more than 30% of their total population. The Ingush had a somewhat lower mortality rate with a little over 20,000 excess deaths or a little over 20% of their population. (See Ediev, table 104, p. 294) Stalin thus killed a portion of the Chechen population roughly equal to the percentage of Jews in the world to perish in the Holocaust. The Ingush lost a segment of their population proportionately as large as the Gypsy deaths at the hands of the Nazis.

Despite its massive scale there is little public awareness in the English-speaking world of Stalin’s racially motivated crimes against the Chechens, Ingush and others. In large part this is because the Russian government and Russian people unlike Germany have not come to terms with these monumental crimes. They have been greatly aided in this refusal to admit wrongdoing by the US government, academia and media.


N.F. Bugai, ed., “Deportatsiia: Beriia dokladyvaet Stalinu,” Kommunist, no. 1, 1991, pp. 101-112.

D.M. Ediev, Demograficheskie poteri deportirovannykh narodov SSSR (Stavropol’: ‘Argus’, 2003).

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