Baku, May 4 – Fifty-one years ago this weekend, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev allowed the Karachays to return to their North Caucasus homeland from the republics of Central Asia to which Stalin had deported them 14 years earlier on false charges that the Karachays had collaborated with the Germans during World War II.
Yesterday, residents of the mountainous areas of Karachayevo-Cherkessia, where most of the Karachays now live, marked the day as they have done for the past decade with sports contests, dances, and other public events, leaders of the Karachay district told journalists (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1214157.html).
But even this celebration, which the Karachays call their “Day of National Rebirth,” could not pass without some opponents of the peoples of the Caucasus from trying to exploit it against them. In posting the Caucasus Knot story on its site, the Moscow Institute of Religion and Politics changed the title and featured a map to give the event an entirely different slant.
The original story was entitled “The Day of Rebirth of the Karachay People is Being Celebrated in Karachayevo-Cherkessia” and pointed out that “certain scholars are inclined” to think Stalin deported them in order “expand the territory of Georgia,” into which Karachay lands were included from 1943 to 1957.
But the Moscow Institute entitled the story “In Karachayevo-Cherkessia, they consider that the deportation was conducted for the expansion of the Georgian SSR” and featured a map of the region, provocative steps in the current period of heightened tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi (www.i-r-p.ru/page/stream-event/index-19790.html).
Stalin deported the Karachays to Central Asia on November 2, 1943, charging the entire people with “the b betrayal of the Motherland” during the course of the war, hyperbolic charges that the Karachays and historians who have examined the question say are absolutely without foundation.
Not only did 15,600 Karachays fight in the ranks of the Red Army (out of a total population at the time of 88,000), but approximately 20 received the highest Soviet medals for bravery. And some 2,000 Karachay women and elderly men supported the war effort by working in construction sites in various parts of the Soviet Union.
But in the course of the deportation, nearly a third of the total Karachay nation died, including 22,000 children, thus creating a gap that the Karachays have not been able to fill, even though they were allowed to return to their homeland in 1957 and even though Russian President Boris Yeltsin later publicly acknowledged Moscow’s role in this terrible crime.
It is thus more than sad that this “punished people,” to use the term Robert Conquest popularized about these victims of Stalin’s crimes, should see on the day they celebrate their return and rebirth as a people an effort by some in Moscow to exploit that event in order to mobilize Russian opinion against Georgia.