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 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.
Memorandum on Crimean Tartars
Translation of memorandum
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