People all over the world held events on February 23 to remember the tragedy of the Chechen people, after the Save Chechnya Campaign, a support and advocacy body based in London, led a campaign to have February 23, the date of Stalin’s deportation of the Chencens to Central Asia in 1944, proclaimed as World Chechnya Day. The day was marked by events including vigils, film showings, exhibitions and talks in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
In London a memorial service took place at the Yalta Memorial in South Kensington. The Yalta memorial was erected in 1982 to commemorate the men, women and children from theSoviet Union and other Eastern European states who were imprisoned and died at the hands of Communist governments after being repatriated by European countries at the end of thesecond world war. Short addresses were delivered by speakers, including Vanessa Redgrave, actress and human-rights activist, and Akhmad Zakaev, Chechnya’s exiled minister of culture. Despite rain, it proved an uplifting event, ending with a release of red and green balloons that represented the souls of slaughtered Chechens.
The day was also marked in other cities in Britain by meeting, exhibitions and other events. Students at the universities in Bolton, Bradford, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge and Southamptonorganised events, and an exhibition of Stanley Greene’s photographs of the conflict in Chechnya was shown at the London Muslim Centre in East London.
In Chechnya events were organised by the Chechen Civil Society Forum. A number of events were run by Forum representatives based in Chechnya and Ingushetia, at the Chechen Society, Memorial, SNO and the State Library in Grozny. The theme discussed at these events, was “From deportation to today: 62 years of untruth about the Chechens”. The main event was a round-table event at the State Library in Grozny on February 22, discussing the anti-Caucasian discrimination that pervades the atmosphere and the media in Russia. Participants at this event were local NGOs, representatives of the cultural and press ministries, and MPs. On 23 February, a demonstration at the Memorial Complex in central Grozny was held at 11am.
Commemorative events also took place in Boston and Washington (the US), several other American cities, Cape Town (South Africa), Amman (Jordan), India, Australia and several European cities, including Vienna (Austria) , Brussels (Belgium), Louvain (Belgium), Bornholm (Denmark), Helsinki (Finland), Paris (France), Toulouse (France), Hanover (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Oslo (Norway), Warsaw (Poland), Stockholm (Sweden), Bern (Switzerland), Ankara (Turkey) and Istanbul (Turkey).
For more information, see www.worldchechnyaday.com.
This day is one of the bloodiest and most brutal pages in the whole history of Russo-Chechen relations. On that day, 62 years ago, the whole Chechen nation of half a million people was exiled from their homeland and deported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan. However, the pain of the losses that Chechens suffered in that distant past did not become the last pain the Chechen people suffered; it has only become part of our tragic present. The genocide of my people is going on, but in a more subtle and cynical way.
On that day, in a cold February morning of 1944, several hundred thousands of Chechens were loaded into cattle trains to be transported to the far-away steppes of Kazakhstan. That was a scary road to Nowhere….
Only one half of the nation reached the destination; the rest were left lying along the rails, the road of death, sprinkled with snow. Tens of thousands were shot or burnt to death because there was no way to transport them. A horrible reminder of those days is a village called Haibach, the whole population of which, 700 people in all, was burnt alive.
In the thirteen years of deportation hundreds of thousands of elderly, women and children died in a strange land. Such was a result of the claim that the whole Chechen nation was a traitor to the Russian communist regime. Thousands of broken lives, never-ending tears of families, hundreds of thousands of nameless graves in the steppes of Central Asia andKazakhstan…
On January 26, 2004, the European Union officially recognised the deportation of the Chechen people as an act of genocide. After a 50-year break the long-suffering Chechen people has once again been chosen as a target of genocide by the Kremlin regime. Nowadays this regime is painted in the bright colours of democracy. Half a century later the same enemy has declared war; the only thing that has changed is the enemy's flag. And again grave crimes are being committed against defenceless old people, women and children. Hundreds of thousands dead, mass extrajudiciary executions, torture in concentration-camps, abductions and disappearances of people, taking hostages, putting the blame on the whole nation again – all the bloody experience that the Russian empire gained in the course of the centuries is again being put to use to continue the genocide of the Chechen nation, only in more subtle forms.
The Chechen people is now openly resisting enslavement and defending its right to self-determination. The Russian government has, however, refused to apply the policy of decolonization and compliance with international law. Law and historical justice are on the side of the Chechen nation. The violence and blood that Russia is spilling serve as proof of its unfairness, its moral and legal responsibilities before the international community.
I am deeply convinced that the economic interests of certain countries and political careers of certain politicians should not be seen as more important than the fate of a million-people nation. More than 250 thousand innocent victims amongst the civilians, 40 thousand of them children, serve as a sufficient ground to initiate a war tribunal against Russian war criminals. The fact that Russia owns nuclear weapons and can therefore blackmail the international community should not prevent us from bringing Russian war criminals to trial.
I also think it is my duty to remind you that the illusions some political circles have about Russia's democratic progress are fatally dangerous for the whole of mankind, because there are serious and convincing reasons to believe that Russia is developing not by any well-known democratic principles but using the method of opposing Russia's interests to the interests of the rest of the world. Clearly, the world needs to find a way to make Russia comply with generally accepted rules of conduct in the family of nations of the world. By urging Russia to stop the genocide of the Chechen people the international community will not lose Russia as a partner. On the contrary, that would make Russia seriously think about potential problems it may face if it ignores the demands of the rest of the civilised world.
At this point the international community should not fear that the Russian public will not understand it, as Russians have matured politically and are able, when the moment is right, to change their political leaders who are failing to have a civilised dialogue and again putting the nation into the danger of being politically isolated.
On the day of mourning for our long-suffering nation we are urging the international community to use all available resources to end the physical and moral extermination of the Chechen people. Any attempts to build one's own happiness on the foundation of unhappiness and suffering of others are immoral and doomed to failure. I think it is both inhuman and unethical to sacrifice our small nation to the barbarians who promise to build a democracy and create a favourable environment for foreign capital. But I firmly believe that reason will prevail over madness.