Deported Nationalities

Names: Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks, Koreans, Greeks, Kurds
Location: Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Western Siberia and other parts of USSR
Population: (estimated 1989) 2 million Volga Germans, 400,000 Koreans, 400,000 Greeks, 200,000 Crimean Tatars, 116,000 Kurds and 60,000 Meskhetian Turks (totals for USSR)
%of population: 1.2% (est. 1989)
Religion: Christianity (Lutheran: Volga Germans, Orthodox: Greeks); Muslim (Crimean Tatars, Meskhetians, Kurds); Buddhist (Koreans)
Languages: German, Crimean Tatar, Korean, Greek, Turkish, Kurdish

The deportation of entire nationalities by Stalin prior to, during and after World War II remains one of the darkest pages of the history of Soviet national policies. Although all of the national groups accused of “collaboration with the enemy” have since been cleared of such charges, the nationalities listed here have not been able as yet to return to their traditional homelands (as were the Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Karachai and Kalmyks after their reprieve in the 1950s). Although only the Crimean Tatars and the Volga Germans had their own distinct territorial formation prior to deportation,

Deported Nationalities of the USSR

the Greeks, Koreans, Kurds and Turks all had traditional areas of residence. Only the Greeks (who have traditionally inhabited the Crimea and Black Sea coast in the Ukraine and Georgia) and the Kurds (concentrated in Armenia and Georgia) have been allowed back to their homelands in any numbers, although neither has any autonomous rights to self-determination. Apart from the Koreans (who were deported from the Far East) all of the above groups settled traditionally in the Crimea and the Caucasus.

History and background

Although only the Kurds and Meskhetian Turks may strictly be categorized as indigenous to their homelands, all of the other groups (with the exception of the Koreans who settled in the Vladivostok area only from the 1860s) have a long history of settlement. Thus, there have been Greek settlements along the Black Sea coast since before Russian history began and the Tatars entered Crimea in the thirteenth century (where they established a semi-autonomous khanate from the fifteenth century until its incorporation by Russia in 1783). Small groups of migrant Germans had settled in Russia from the sixteenth century but it was Catherine the Great’s decree in 1763, opening up the empty steppe land along the Volga to German farmers, that started large-scale migration.

The Germans (from Volynia in the north-west Ukraine) were the first to suffer deportation in 1915, during World War I, but a decree of the following year expelling the Volga Germans was eventually rescinded by the Bolsheviks (Lenin was himself part-German).

In the early decades of Soviet rule, the Crimean Tatars, Koreans and Volga Germans all experienced a relative “golden age”, their communities all serving as examples of national minority progress and autonomy. The Volga German Workers’ Commune (from 1924 the Volga German Autonomous Republic) was established in 1918 and the Crimean ASSR was formed in 1921 (even though Tatars made up only 25% of the Republic’s population). Purges of “bourgeois nationalists”, the collectivization campaign and, finally, the Stalin purges in 1936-38 brought this era of autonomy to an end.

The first to suffer were the Koreans; during the height of the Soviet-Japanese tension over Manchuria in 1937, Pravda published an article entitled “Foreign Espionage in the Soviet Far East”, which accused the Koreans of collaborating with the Japanese. The Koreans were subsequently deported en masse to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, where, with 163,000 and 92,000 respectively (1979), they continue to form sizeable minorities.

The Volga Germans were the next to go, following Hitler’s attack on the USSR in June 1941. From August 1941 to March 1942 some 800,000 Soviet Germans were deported from European Russia to Siberia, the Altai and Kazakhstan; and the Volga German ASSR was abolished.

The mass deportations of Soviet nationalities commenced with the Red Army’s liberation of areas in the Crimea and Caucasus formerly under Nazi control. In 1943-44, the Crimean Tatars, along with the Balkars, Chechens, Ingush, Karachai and Kalmyks were all deported to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, the Urals and Siberia for alleged “collaboration”. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Crimean Tatars alone died in transit or as a result of famine in their new areas of settlement (where they also had to contend with the hostility of the local population).

In November 1944, the deportation to the arid steppes of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan was ordered of the Meskhetian Turks, together with other Muslim groups occupying the Soviet-Turkish border (Kurds, Turkmen, Karapapakh Azeris and Khemshili Armenians), not because of collaboration with the Nazis (who failed to penetrate this far south) but “for their own safety”. Up to 30,000 of the 200,000 deported are claimed to have perished en route.

Finally, in 1949 (as part of Stalin’s anti-Tito drive) thousands of Greeks, including many refugees from the Greek Civil War, were deported from the border zones in Georgia and the Ukraine and sent into the interior.

With the death of Stalin in 1953, the deportation policy was reviewed and by 1956 renounced. However, the Meskhetians, Crimean Tatars and Volga Germans were not allowed to resettle their former homelands as, it was claimed, all had “taken root” in their new areas of residence. Even after the rehabilitation decrees (for the Germans in 1964, the Tatars in 1967 — the Meskhetians had never been accused of collaboration), this remained the official line. Since then, all three deported groups have mounted highly publicized campaigns for resettlement.

Constitution and law

Lacking any territorial formation of their own, the above groups lack even the theoretical autonomy granted to the Union and Autonomous Republics. At 1.9 million (1979) the German population was the 13th largest nationality in the USSR and represented the biggest nation not to have its own autonomous territory (compare the one million Estonians). In terms of population the Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, Greeks and Koreans might all expect their own autonomous republics, while the Kurds and Meskhetians might seek autonomous regions.

Recent developments in political, economic and social rights

Although attention has been focused on the resettlement campaigns by Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and Meskhetian Turks, there have been developments among the other deported nationalities. Among them, only the Koreans appear to have more or less adapted to their area of exile and there has thus far been little evidence of a co-ordinated movement requesting resettlement in the Far East. The Kurds are more concerned with irredentist campaigns with their compatriots in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and the Greeks have recently (July 1989) formed an All-Union Society of Soviet Greeks to represent their interests, thus following the earlier example of the German “Renaissance” society that published its manifesto in the spring of 1989. This latter society unites viewpoints ranging from the re-establishment of the Volga German homeland to the formation of a “fifth” German state (after West Germany, East Germany, Austria and Switzerland).

Following the rapprochement between the West German and Soviet governments in the early 1970s, Germans became the second largest minority (after the Jews) amongst Soviet emigrants (55,000 left in the 1970s alone). With the cooling off in relations following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 these numbers fell sharply (to a mere 460 in 1985). Since 1987, the general improvement in human rights in the Soviet Union and progress in East-West detente have been accompanied by a further surge in German emigration.

Although both the Crimean Tatars and the Meskhetian Turks have communities of compatriots in Turkey, the emphasis of their campaign has been much less on emigration. Due to the efforts of Aleksei Kosterin and Piotr Grigorenko, the Crimean Tatars have been a cause célèbre amongst Soviet human rights activists since 1968, and the resurgence of militant Islam has made their plight even more sensitive to the Soviet authorities. On May 18, 1988 (the 44th anniversary of their expulsion from their homeland), up to 25,000 Crimean Tatars demonstrated in 22 Soviet villages and towns and, in June 1988, demonstrations spread to Moscow. A Soviet Government commission under the then Soviet President Andrei Gromyko delivered its report in June 1988 and reiterated the right of Crimean Tatars to settle in the Crimea, have their own schools in Uzbekistan etc. However, the commission concluded that “there are no grounds for establishing Crimean autonomy”. With only some 15,000 Tatars in a Crimean population that has now reached 2.5 million, it is most unlikely that this policy will be reversed. It is equally predictable, however, that the Crimean Tatars will continue to mount a co-ordinated and high-profile campaign for a restoration of their rights.

The far less numerous Meskhetian Turks really only came to the attention of the world’s media following the ethnic clashes in the Fergana region of Uzbekistan in June 1989. Tension between the Turkish and Uzbek communities erupted into bloody clashes that left 105 dead and 1,011 injured. More than 16,000 Meskhetians had to be evacuated to Central Russia. Closely identified with their co-religionists — the Azerbaidjanis (with whom they are counted in Soviet census returns) — the Meskhetians are not welcome presently in the Georgian Republic (where their home region of Meskhet-Dzhavakheti lies), due to the exacerbation of Georgian-Abkhazian relations (particularly after the Sukhumi clashes of July 1989) and the high tension between Christians (Armenians) and Muslims (Azerbaidjanis) in the Caucasus.

The promised review of the CPSU’s national policy certainly will address the fate of the deported nationalities but, apart from ensuring their equal rights in language, education and cultural life, there would appear to be little prospect of demands for full territorial autonomy to be met.

(See also Georgians; Kazakhs; Other Muslim Peoples; Tatars; )