A people’s historical memory
By Saida Kantysheva
Some time has now passed since the tragic deportation of the Ingush people on February 23 1944, but the injury and the sense of the injustice still live on in people’s memories. This collective memory has survived and goes on surviving, despite the inhuman and anti-patriotic attempts to erase it and to forbid remembrance of the national tragedy – the tragedy of people’s homeland, their forebears and their families.
The entire Ingush people was sent into exile. Many people died in the process of deportation, while others did not survive the hardships and deprivations of exile.
Last year, as in previous years, there was a public ban on all demonstrations and rallies, and even on events to commemorate the tragedy and the innocent victims of the deportation who disappeared without trace. Concord Square, which is always the planned venue for such events, was cordoned off as usual. On this day which is an important one for all Ingush people, and which concerns the fate of nearly every resident of the Ingush republic, the authorities denied them the harmless opportunity of honouring the memory of their forebears, who experienced the most severe hardships and deprivations in an alien land.
Why are people forbidden to remember their tragedy, their past, their personal ancestors, and the relatives of those who perished in the worst days ever known by the Vaynakh ethnic group? Have those who stand behind these prohibitions forgotten the past of their homeland, of their own ancestors and the other people who suffered and died in those days that were so tragic for the Vaynakhs? It must be that the fear of people gathering in rallies and other demonstrations is so great that it chokes all human and patriotic values.
With the aim of finding out the degree to which the memory of the bygone tragedy is alive among Ingush people of different generations, a sociological study was conducted on the theme “A people’s historical memory”. In order to make the examination of the issue as objective as possible, representatives of various demographic groups were interviewed, according to differentiation by age. This is because there exist various age groups: some people have been directly affected by the national tragedy, others only obliquely, while yet others – the younger generation – are aware of it only as a historical fact, a tragedy that happened to the Ingush nation or that lies in their families’ past and involved the loss of grandparents and relatives.
The results of the study show that there is scarcely a family in the republic which has not been personally touched by the tragedy, or which does not consider it as its own personal tragedy and a crime against the Ingush people (though the deportation also affected many other ethnic groups).
In response to the questions, about half of the respondents wrote of their own personal tragedy, or of losing their loved ones. For example, many respondents, wishing to express their hidden pain which had nonetheless not faded with the years, added their own examples of cruelty and injustice to the people closest to them: "My grandfather died, and all my uncles and aunts," "my grandmother, who was seven months pregnant, died in childbirth when they were exiled."
The tragedy of the deportation is still an acutely topical issue in Ingush society, because even though the Ingush people have been rehabilitated, there has been no such rehabilitation with regard to territory. The Ingush lands have not been restored to their old borders − they were given to Ossetia, and this gives rise to a widespread, though latent, discontent among the Ingush population. In the past this discontent has led to armed clashes and remains a bone of contention and even a source of hostility between the two ethnic groups.
The deportation has been universally and unanimously condemned as a heinous act of injustice committed against the Ingush people. Some have called it the crime of the century, and others a crime against humanity. The Ingush nation is also unanimous in agreement that the deportation has left a deep and very large mark in people’s memories.
The Ingush people have variously explained the meaning of this action as follows: "giving the territory of the Ingush to the Ossetians", "a mistake by the leaders", "the destruction of the nation", "destruction of the Vaynakhs", "terror against the people", "we were unlawfully deported."
Most of the respondents – 73% – said that this precedent has still not been erased from the people’s memory. Some added that it will "never" be erased, and that "it will not be forgotten for as long as the Ingush people exist." About 14% said it had more or less been erased (these were people aged 20-25s, and predominantly female).
When asked to say what measures would be necessary in order to remove this “mistake” from the national memory, respondents identified them as: "Civil accord", "loyalty to the victims”, "territorial and material rehabilitation", "complete rehabilitation of the Ingush people", "reconstruction", and "the independence of the Caucasus".
According to the study, most young people in Ingushetia think of the event with a prevalently negative attitude. Representatives of the younger generation said that they "compare any political problems with that event." It arouses hostility in them. Only about 10% expressed a positive attitude.
When asked: "Has the deportation affected you?"41% gave a negative reply (these were mainly respondents under 35),while 58% gave an opposite response, saying that it had affected them, and strongly. Also, many respondents stressed that it had particularly affected their parents, and that many of their relatives had perished.
A majority (72%) said that the deportation had had a personal impact on them (72%). Some made a particular point of comments like "I feel sorry for the people of my grandparents’ generation who died in those days, who got sick", or "We’ve been deported from our homeland three times". Many remembered their own personal losses – for example, to illustrate the extent of their tragedy they would say things like: "There isn’t a single relative left on my father’s side of the family, and on my mother’s side there’s only my mother." Only 15% said they had been unaffected by the deportation.
86% of those who took part in the survey said it was impossible to find a justification for what had happened. Only a small percentage were able to justify the crime.
When asked to define which areas of society had suffered most from the deportation, most replied "all areas". Respondents very frequently said that culture and social life had been most affected. Also highlighted were "education", "size of the population", "gene pool", and "Islam". It had also had an effect on the republic’s economic and social development. Because of the deportation and as a consequence of the transfer of the historic Ingush homeland of Prigorodny district and the city of Vladikavkaz, the Ingush people are still deprived of the chance of living in their home villages.
Most respondents believe that the perpetrators of the crime against the Ingush people were Stalin and the Soviet state (the political leaders). Other replies included "anyone who signed up," Beria, "the former and the present government", the Ossetians and Russia.
The premises for this action (the deportation of the Ingush people) were named as social and economic factors, political intrigue, and the desire to survive. The people interviewed said that there were really no proper reasons for an action of this kind.
When asked "Were the Ingush people to blame in any way?" most respondents answered “no”. Others mentioned possible sources of blame as “being too trusting”, “being just and showing respect”, “being unable to defend ourselves”, and “being Ingush and Muslims”.
An analysis of the sociological study survey leads one to the conclusion that people in Ingushetia do remember their tragedy – it is impossible to forget one’s dead relatives, one’s lost lands. If the consequences of the deportation are to be overcome, it will be necessary to find a way to fully rehabilitate the people. It is also necessary to give some thought to the fact that the continuation of the policy of oppression of the people does not solve the conflict in a society where people still feel resentment about disasters and hardships suffered by them in the past.
Meanwhile one can only hope that the injustices done to the Ingush people have come to an end, and that these tragic events appearing periodically in both past and present will remain merely as a historical memory, and will never again be repeated.
(Translation by DM)
(T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Deportation in 1944 (PW, 25.2.2008)
· Thirteen years spent in a reservation (Tamara Chagayeva, 23.2.2007)