Sergey Albert on the mass deportation of the Karachai people
November 2 marks the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of the Karachai people, who Soviet authorities accused of having collaborated with the Germans during World War II. Over 70,000 Karachais were transported in cattle cars in deplorable conditions from the North Caucasus to Central Asia, beginning on November 2, 1943.
As they had in Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics, and other parts of Russia they occupied, the Germans recruited local people into the police and security units, local administrations, and a national committee after they captured the Karachai region in August 1942. In January 1943, an anti-Soviet insurgency flared up, encouraged by the Germans’ retreat. However, only a small fraction of the population took part. Even the highest Soviet estimate of around 3,000 participants constitutes only 4 percent of the total Karachai population. In fact, there is good reason to suggest there were significantly fewer Karachais involved. Furthermore, at the same time, many more Karachais were fighting in the Soviet Army against the Germans.
Although the Soviet authorities presented the mass deportation as a necessary step to quell the insurgency, it may have had as much if not more to do with prewar resistance to Soviet policies, efforts by regional command to deflect blame for the failed partisan movement, and Stalin’s plans for the expansion of Georgian territory.
In 1944, Soviet authorities deported the Balkars, the Chechens, and the Ingush on similar grounds. Some have argued these ethnic cleansing operations and the attritional deaths they incurred should be considered genocide according to the United Nations definition. All of these events are still keenly felt today by these peoples in the North Caucasus, a region whose stability is deeply affected by violent separatist movements.