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1943-1945 - Deportations

Joseph Stalin's forcible resettlement of over 1.5 million people, mostly Muslims, during and after World War II is now viewed by many human rights experts in Russia as one of his most drastic genocidal acts. Volga Germans and seven nationalities of Crimea and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Karachai, and Meskhetians. Other minorities evicted from the Black Sea coastal region included Bulgarians, Greeks, and Armenians.

Resistance to Soviet rule, separatism, and widespread collaboration with the German occupation forces were among the official reasons for the deportation of these non-Russian peoples. The possibility of a German attack was used to justify the resettlement of the ethnically mixed population of Mtskheta, in southwestern Georgia. The Balkars were punished for allegedly having sent a white horse as a gift to Adolf Hitler.

The Crimean Tatars were incorporated into the Russian Empire at the end of the eighteenth century. Repressive measures by the Russian government against Crimean Tatars and Slavic immigration into Crimea forced many Tatars to emigrate. Others were forcibly deported. During a century of Russian rule, the Tatar population in Crimea declined from about 500,000 at the end of the eighteenth century to fewer than 200,000 by the end of the nineteenth century. The Crimean Tatars' attempts to create an independent state in 1917 were thwarted by the Bolsheviks.

During the Patriotic War, many Crimean Tatars betrayed the Soviet Union, deserting Red Army units that defended the Crimea and siding with the enemy, joining volunteer army units formed by the Germans to fight against the Red Army; as members of German punitive detachments, during the occupation of the Crimea by German fascist troops, the Crimean Tatars particularly were noted for their savage reprisals against Soviet partisans, and also helped the German invaders to organize the violent roundup of Soviet citizens. The so-called "Tatar national committees," organized by the German intelligence organs, and were often used by the Germans to infiltrate the rear of the Red Army with spies and saboteurs. With the support of the Crimean Tatars, the "Tatar national committees," in which the leading role was played by White Guard-Tatar emigrants, directed their activity at the persecution and oppression of the non-Tatar population of the Crimea and were engaged in preparatory efforts to separate the Crimea from the Soviet Union by force, with the help of the German armed forces.

All Tatars were banished from the territory of the Crimea by orders issued May 11, 1944 , and resettled permanently as special settlers in the regions of the Uzbek SSR. The resettlement will be assigned to the Soviet NKVD. The Soviet NKVD (comrade Beria) was to complete the resettlement by 1 June 1944. The deportees were rounded up and transported, usually in railroad cattle cars, to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizia, and Siberia -- areas called "human dumping grounds" by historian Robert Conquest.

Most estimates indicate that close to two-fifths of the affected populations perished. The plight of the Crimean Tatars was exceptionally harsh; nearly half died of hunger in the first eighteen months after being banished from their homeland.

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles. In his "secret speech" to the Twentieth Party Congress, he stated that the Ukrainians avoided such a fate "only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them." That year, the Soviet government issued decrees on the restoration of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic and the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Republic, the formation of the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast', and the reorganization of the Cherkess Autonomous Oblast' into the Karachai-Cherkess Autonomous Oblast'.

The Crimean Tatars, Meskhetians, and Volga Germans, however, were only partially rehabilitated and were not, for the most part, permitted to return to their homelands until after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.




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