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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 08:37 GMT
Remembering Stalin's deportations
On 23 February 1944 the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin, deported the entire Chechen people, and their Ingush neighbours, from the Caucasus to Central Asia. Chechen BBC journalist Sapiet Dakhshukaeva talks to some who survived.

Zulpa was 10 when she was deported but remembers the horror
Zulpa, one of my relatives, was deported with her family from a village in the mountain district of Shatoy. She was only 10 years old, but she remembers that day 60 years ago as if it were yesterday.

"All of us were herded into the nearby collective farm, and we spent the night there. They wouldn't let us spend our last night at home. And our cows were calling to us.

"We were forced to leave them. It was as if they were crying, and saying farewell. This constant mooing and mooing."

The cows stayed behind. The humans were loaded into cattle trucks. "We were travelling in those cattle trucks for 19 or 20 days."

Shot dead

"Somewhere, the wagons stopped and the soldiers came round and asked: 'Are there any dead in there?' We said no, but they came in and checked. I remember very clearly how one sick woman in our wagon was asking for water. She was saying, 'Water, water, water,' and her son ran to get her some.

Stalin deported about a dozen entire nationalities from western regions of the USSR to Central Asia between 1941 and 1944
He accused most of these 1.4 million people of collaboration with the invading Nazi army
About 387,000 Chechens and 91,000 Ingush were deported on 23 February 1944 and the next few days
The deportations were a taboo subject until Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, condemned them in 1956
Chechen and Ingush survivors were allowed to return home in 1957
Their exile left deep scars which helped fuel separatism in the 1990s
"Just as he came back to the wagon, a soldier shot him dead. He fell to the ground, and the water container lay there beside him. He was just left there."

Another person I spoke to was a teacher from Ingushetia, Khanifa Uzhakhova, whose family was deported from the Ingush village of Kantyshevo. She was six years old.

"It was in the morning. We had been making corn bread on an iron stove. It was cooked on one side and we'd just turned it over when the soldiers came.

"One of them said something, and I remember my aunt burst out crying. My mother was also very upset, with tears in her eyes. I remember very clearly how we were put in Studebaker trucks.

"I only found out later that that was what they were called. Another deep impression from that time is the trains. As they started moving, there was a great cry of anguish from everyone inside, then the sound of everyone weeping."

Siberia gulags

The Studebaker trucks had been supplied by the US to assist the Soviet war effort against Nazi Germany.

Many young Chechen and Ingush men were then at the front, hundreds of miles to the west, in Ukraine or Byelorussia.

Many commanders valued the courage and determination of their Chechen fighters, and went to great lengths to deceive the authorities and hang on to them
Mohmad Musaev
An order was sent to all units that everyone from the repressed nations, whether officers or soldiers, should be gathered together in one place. There was no explanation.

They were then sent to the gulags in Siberia, to work in logging gangs. Most of them had their papers and military decorations confiscated. Later, they joined their families in exile in Central Asia. That was the fate of most of the soldiers - but there were exceptions.

"Many commanders valued the courage and determination of their Chechen fighters, and went to great lengths to deceive the authorities and hang on to them," says Mohmad Musaev, head of the Chechen National Archive.

"Most of those who escaped in this way fought all the way to Berlin. A unit commanded by the famous Chechen Movlit Visaitov was one of the first to break through to meet up with the Americans on the River Elbe in May 1945."

Dying of hunger

Mohmad himself was about four years old when the deportation started, and the ordeal killed his mother.

He points out that those deported from mountain villages, whose only wealth was their livestock, usually suffered most on arrival in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Refugees in Sleptsovskaya, Ingushetia
Many Chechens still live outside Chechnya - the result of war
"The people from the valleys were able to take possessions with them which they could later sell in order to survive. The mountain people were forced to go empty-handed, leaving everything behind. They died in great numbers," he says.

"The most terrible time, when people were dying of hunger, were the early years, before people had settled and adapted.

"That was the time when the dead didn't get buried because there were too many of them. Dying people were crawling to the cemeteries so as not to be eaten by dogs. Fortunately I was too young to understand."

In some cases soldiers killed people rather than deporting them. Up to 700 people were burned alive in the mountain village of Khaibakh, Mohmad says. There are other reports of people being drowned in mountain lakes.

No-one knows how many people died in total.

"Some researchers say a third of those deported died. Some say half," says Mohmad.

"Which is right, I can't tell you."

Chechnya's decade of disaster
06 Sep 01  |  Europe
Regions and territories: Chechnya
03 Feb 04  |  Country profiles
Q&A: The Chechen conflict
05 Dec 03  |  Europe

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