Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Largely-Forgotten Crime

The partisans fighting for Chechen independence have committed some appalling atrocities. However, I think it only right to record that Chechens were the victims of of a great and largely-forgotten crime. Consider Anne Applebaum, Gulag: A History pp. 427-429 (Doubleday 2003):
The Soviet authorities had "trustworthy information" [during WWII] that there were thousands of spies, yet no spies had been reported. Ergo, everybody was guilty of hiding the enemy.

The "collaborators" included several small Caucasian nations--the Karachai, the Kalmyks, the Chechens, and the Ingush--as well as the Crimean Tartars and some other small minority groups: Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, and Khemshils, as well as even smaller groups of Greeks, Bulgarians, and Armenians. Of these, only the Chechen and Tartar deportations were ever made public in Stalin's lifetime. ...

[T]here is no evidence of massive Chechen or Tartar collaboration. ... An NKVD report from the time speaks of only 335 "bandits" in the [Chechen] republic. ...

In fact, Stalin's aim, at least in deporting the Caucasians and the Tartars, was probably not revenge for collaboration. He seems, rather, to have used the war as a form of cover story, as an excuse to carry out long-planned ethnic-cleansing operations. ... All the evidence seems to indicate that Stalin simply wanted to wipe his hands of this troublesome, deeply anti-Soviet people.


If anything, the Chechen [deportation] operation was crueler [than the Tartar deportation operation]. Many observers remember that the NKVD used American-made Studebakers in the Chechen deportations, recently purchased through the Lend-Lease program, and shipped over the border from Iran. Many have also described how the Chechens were taken off the Studebakers, and placed into sealed trains: they were not only deprived of water, like "ordinary" prisoners, but also of food. Up to 78,000 Chechens may have died on the transport trains alone.

...By 1949, hundreds of thousands of the Caucasians, and between a third and a half of the Crimean Tartars were dead [from disease and physical hardship].

But from Moscow's point of view, there was one important difference between the wartime waves of arrest and deportation, and those that had happened earlier: the choice of target was new. For the first time, Stalin had decided to eliminate not just members of particular, suspect nationalities, or categories of political "enemies," but entire nations--men, women, children, grandparents--and wipe them off the map.

Perhaps "genocide" is not the proper term for these deportations, since there were no mass executions. ... "Cultural genocide," however, is not inappropriate. After they had gone, the names of all the deported peoples were eliminated from official documents... The authorities wiped their homelands off the map... Regional authorities destroyed cemeteries, renamed towns and villages, and removed the former inhabitants from the history books.

In evaluating my assessment of the evidence in the Litvinenko case, you should take into account that I was born in Riga, Latvia, and that my maternal grandparents were deported to Siberia in June of 1941, shortly before the German invasion of the USSR began. The mode of transportation: Railroad cattle car and barge. Result: Death within a year.
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