Leaflet in memory of 1944 Chechen deportation, Grozny. Photo: RFE/RL

22 February 2019, 19:05

How Ramzan Kadyrov turns February 23 into a feast instead of commemoration day

February 23 marks 75 years since the beginning of the Stalin's deportation of Chechen and Ingush people. However, the memorial day is not officially marked in Chechnya itself. Ruslan Kutaev, the chair of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, who publicly spoke in 2014 against the ban on the February mourning events, was sentenced on the falsified charge and sent to prison for almost four years.

"Since 2011, we have the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow of the Peoples of Chechnya on May 10, and all mourning and religious events to pay tribute to victims of deportations and wars will be held on that day. On February 23, our republic, like the whole country, celebrates the national holiday, the Defender of the Fatherland Day," the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent was told by an official from the administration of the Chechen leader and government.

The operation named "Chechevitsa" (Lentils), during which Chechens and Ingushes were massively evicted from the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to Central Asia and Kazakhstan, was conducted from February 23 to March 9, 1944. Because of the snowfall, residents of Khaibakh could not descend from the mountains, which disrupted the deportation schedule. The State Security Commissioner ordered to force villagers – according to various sources, from 200 to 700 people – into the stable and burn them down. Those who tried to escape were shot dead from submachine guns.

Earlier, Chechnya marked the day of February 23 with mourning events. In 2010, the date even got the official status as the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow. The corresponding decree was signed by Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the republic. However, a year later, in 2011, the memorial day was postponed to May 10.

"There were many tragic days in the history of our people, including the Stalin's deportation of the Chechen people on February 23, 1944, burned residents of the Khaibakh village, hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the first and second military campaigns in the territory of the republic, and the tragic death of our first President Akhmat-Khadji Kadyrov on May 9, 2004. These are tragic dates in the history of the Chechen people, but I would not want these days of sorrow to coincide with the nationwide Russian holidays," said the leader of Chechnya on April 11, 2011, while explaining the reasons for the transfer in the mourning date.

I would not want these days of sorrow to coincide with the nationwide Russian holidays

According to local residents, when postponed to May 10, the Day of Remembrance and Sorrow was actually replaced by mourning for Akhmat-Khadji Kadyrov, the former President of the Chechen Republic, who was buried on May 10, 2004.

After on February 18, 2014, during the scientific conference "Deportation of the Chechen people. What was it and can we forget it?", Ruslan Kutaev, the chair of the Assembly of the Peoples of the Caucasus, criticized the ban on holding mourning events in Chechnya on February 23, he was detained and sentenced to four years of imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. Meanwhile, the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) pointed to the direct connection of the criminal proceedings against Ruslan Kutaev with his speech on the anniversary of the deportation.

Outside Chechnya, mourning events continue to be held on February 23. In particular, Ingushetia pays tribute to victims of deportation on February 23. Outside Russia, the day of memory is also marked on February 23 in the UK, Finland, Norway, and other countries with the Chechen and Ingush Diasporas.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on February 22, 2019 at 11:34 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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