The National - News

Relocation of Chechen memorial opens wounds from Stalin era

Government says lack of space is the reason

- Aslan Nurbiyev

GrOZnY Old wounds are reopening in Chechnya over the relocation of a memorial erected more than a decade ago to victims of Stalin’s attempt to destroy their mountain nation.

The memorial – comprising hundreds of tombstones and a huge dagger in a clenched fist – was raised in Grozny at the launch of Chechnya’s ill- fated independen­ce drive after the 1991 Soviet collapse. The monument’s miraculous survival through years of Russian bombardmen­ts against the Chechen capital matched the uncompromi­sing message emblazoned on a brick backdrop: “We will not break, we will not weep, we will never forget.” Now Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s controvers­ial leader, who was installed by the Kremlin and brooks no dissent, has ordered the monument relocated from the centre to the outskirts, within sight of the main Russian military base.

Work started at the end of last week without any public debate and ordinary Chechens are angry.

“ No one has the right to move those gravestone­s. A monument like that should be put right in the centre of the city so that every Chechen knows his history,” said Fatima Ibragimova, 35, a housewife. The memorial recalls Joseph Stalin’s deportatio­n of the entire Chechen nation and the related In- gush group – half a million people – to the steppes of central Asia in the winter of 1944.

As many as one-quarter of those deported froze, starved or died from disease in what many historians and the European parliament call a genocide.

Survivors returned to their homeland at the end of the 1950s to discover the Soviets had tried wiping out Chechen identity. National archives had been burnt, villages resettled and cemeteries stripped of their gravestone­s, which were turned into constructi­on material. When Dzhokhar Dudayev, the independen­ce leader, came to power in 1991 he ordered those ancestral stones, called “churty” in Chechen, to be the focus of a deportatio­ns memorial.

The stones are carved with intricate and often unusual designs, including pagan symbols common in Chechnya before the mountainou­s region’s full conversion to Islam in the 18th and 19th centuries. Some were piled around the dagger and st statue and hundreds more planted in neat rows in front.

Mr Kadyrov’s government, which is accused of using torture against separatist rebel suspects, said the memorial would be better far away from central Grozny, where intense reconstruc­tion efforts are continuing.

“ The reason we’re moving it is the lack of space between several roads, which is uncomforta­ble for citizens who want to visit this place on remembranc­e day,” Muslim Khuchiyev, Grozny’s mayor, said.

The fist and the dagger will be retained, as well as the “churty”, and there will be three scaleddown models of the soaring, slender stone towers that ancient Chechens built in the high Caucasus mountains, the city administra­tion said.

There will also be a dedicated space for Chechnya’s popular Su prayer rituals and a car park. But some Chechens suspect Mr Kadyrov wants to hide a symbol of de - ance against Russia and to eradicate memories of Dudayev, killed in 1996, the second year of a guerrilla war that continues on a small scale to this day.

Zhaneta Amirkhanov­a, a university student, feels the memorial should stay put regardless of links to the independen­ce movement.

“What does it matter who built it? What, will we have to rebuild it every time we have a new leader? It’s the people’s history.”

Natalya Estemirova, who works with the Memorial human rights group in Grozny, said the monument was unique.

“ It’s really the only true monument to the people,” she said. “When it went up, Chechens could

nally talk about the deportatio­ns. People wanted so much to commemorat­e all those that never came back. For years that had been forbidden and the pain was suppressed.” And relocating the monument near the sprawling Russian military headquarte­rs of Khankala, also linked to torture allegation­s, is an insult, Ms Estemirova said. “ Everyone here knows very well what Khankala stands for.”

Musa Bagayev, dean of the history faculty at Chechen State University, said the city outskirts were logical for a major site, but that it was wrong to shift the existing memorial.

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