Saturday, February 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Some Chechens Facing Expulsion from Europe on 69th Anniversary of Their Nation's Deportation to Central Asia by Stalin



Paul Goble
            Staunton, February 23 – Even as Chechens and Ingush around the world mark the 69th anniversary of their deportation to Central Asia by Stalin, an act that cost many of them their lives and that the European Parliament has declared an act of genocide, some of their descendants face expulsion from European countries back to the Russian Federation.

            Given that those returned to Russia now face a future that is uncertain at best given Russian attitudes toward the Chechens and the nature of Ramzan Kadyrov’s regime in Chechnya itself, Russian human rights activists Thursday evening began standing watch at a Moscow airport to help some 15 of them (publicpost.ru/theme/id/3292/evropa_deportiruet_chechencev/).

            Elena Burtina of the Civic Cooperation organization said that her group did not know “what awaits these people” once they are returned to Chechnya.  She said that at least “some of the deported Chechens may be kidnapped or possibly become victims of torture and extra-judicial execution.”

            Chechen officials suggest that there are no such problems. An employee of the republic’s Department for Foreign Relations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that last year, representatives of Norway, Sweden and Austria had come to Grozny and were shown by Chechen officials that “life in the republic is reviving.”

            He added that Chechen leaders want these people returned from Europe because official Grozny unanimously believes that “these people are creating a negative image of Chechnya since they lie” about conditions there.

            Svetlana Gannushkina, the head of Civic Cooperation said that Europe wants to solve its problems with immigrants by “inhuman methods” such as forcing them to return even where there is a clear danger.  Austrian officials may believe in the “Potemkin village” that Grozny has erected but only because “they prefer to think that everything is fine.

            She noted that “with the coming to power of Ramzan Kadyrov, it has been impossible to monitor violations of human rights.  For example, if an individual whom the siloviki have seized and tortured turns for help to rights activists, then not only he will suffer but also his relatives. As a result, only a handful of [Chechens now] approach human rights groups.”

            Last year, Gannushkina continued, Norway returned numerous Chechens to their homeland. “We were not able to follow the fate of all the Chechens, but one of them died under very strange circumstances. Those being returned are people who still have not received the status of refugee.” That means they left Chechnya quite recently and thus are in more danger.

            The situation for Chechens in Austria is especially dire, she suggested. There are approximately 25,000 Chechens living there. Most are adapting well, but Vienna is ever less willing to provide them with refuge. Last year, the percentage of Chechens receiving favorable responses to their request for refugee status fell from 94 percent to 31 percent.

            Other European countries may be about to follow the lead of Norway and Austria.  Belgium is currently planning to expel a Chechen family, according to reports in the Brussels media (lanouvellegazette.be/665617/article/regions/centre/actualite/2013-02-17/familleureux-une-famille-de-trois-enfants-expulsee).

            The human tragedies lying behind each of these cases are made worse by the fact that they are taking place around today’s anniversary of Stalin’s expulsion of the Chechens and Ingush.  As the Save Chechnya Campaign notes, the Soviet dictator expelled almost half a million Chechens and Ingush, killing many of them (www.savechechnya.org).

            Moscow justified that the expulsion of an entire people by claiming that the Chechens and Ingush had “collaborated with the Germans,” but the historical record shows that some 40,000 Chechens fought in the ranks of the Red Army, nearly 100 times as many as the 450 who served in German-sponsored units.  

            Sixty years after that event, the European Parliament declared that the deportation of the Chechens to Central Asia and Siberia constituted “an act of genocide” under the terms of both the Fourth Hague Convention of 1907 and the 1948 UN Convention for the Prevention and Repression of the Crime of Genocide.

            The Save Chechnya Campaign this week issued an appeal to “all governments of independent and democratic countries” that they follow the European Parliament and that they establish a special international war cries court to examine that crime and also the actions of the Russian government since 1991 against the Chechens.

            What is taking place in Europe now suggests that few countries are now willing to consider that possibility as a means of calling attention to and thus making more difficult the repetition of crimes of this type not only in Chechnya but elsewhere in the Russian Federation and around the world.

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