Putin’s war in Ukraine keeps Moscow from addressing Cossack genocide of 1920s

Kuban Cossacks

Kuban Cossacks 

2015/01/26 • History, Russia

Ninety-six years ago this weekend, the Soviet government launched what became a decade-long campaign to “de-Cossackize” Russia, a campaign that Cossacks remember as “yet another genocide” in the Caucasus and a reminder that relations between the Cossacks and the state are more complicated and conflicted than most assume.

As portrayed in Hollywood movies and assumed by many Russian nationalists even now, the Cossacks are viewed as the defenders of order above all and the advance guard for authoritarianism, but in reality, they have their roots in a flight from authority and a tradition of Cossack freedom that makes them anything but comfortable allies of such regimes.

But a full and honest discussion of the Soviet genocide of the Cossacks is blocked today not only by the measures the Soviets themselves took to hide what they had done but by fears that any recollection of conflicts between the Cossacks and the non-Russians in the North Caucasus could undermine Moscow’s use of members of the two communities in Ukraine.

During the Russian Civil War, they were among the most fervent opponents of the Bolsheviks, even though they often proved anything but easy allies for other White Russian movements. And consequently, it should come as no surprise that the Bolsheviks viewed them as an enemy to be exterminated.

On January 24, 1919, the Bolshevik leadership issued a decree sanctioning “mass terror against rich Cossacks,” a nominally class action that in fact became an attack on Cossacks as a whole and led to the wiping out of entire Cossack settlements and the deaths of thousands over the next decade, something surviving Cossacks have never forgotten or forgiven.

In an article on this anniversary, Svetlana Bolotnikova of “Kavkazskaya politika” notes that memorial services are being held in Cossack regions in honor of those innocents who were killed by the Soviets almost a century ago and who have not been fully rehabilitated even now.

Although most Cossacks were anything but wealthy, they were infuriated by Soviet policies concerning an end to social strata, one of which was their own, and confiscation of property and of their weapons. Moreover, many of them felt that the Bolsheviks had declared open season on them in order to help nearby non-Russian groups.

Many of them revolted against Soviet power, and those actions provided all the justification Moscow needed to repress them. Indeed, as Bolotnikova says, local Bolsheviks didn’t need a Moscow decree to do so, and one can say that “a real Cossack genocide” began in the North Caucasus “long before Sverdlov’s directive.”

The situation rapidly got out of hand, with non-Russians attacking the Cossacks in order to seize their lands for themselves, something that forced Stalin to intervene at the end of 1920 and declare that mountaineers who thought they had the right to take the land for themselves rather than for the common use were “deeply confused.”

But the wholesale expulsion of Cossacks continued until April 1921, and attacks on the Cossacks continued for years thereafter because it was always easy for Soviet officials to win popularity by attacking those they could describe as “assistants of the gendarmes” and “enemies of Soviet power.”

“If one considers the resettlement and destruction of the Cossack communities from the point of view of humaneness rather than revolutionary necessity,” Bolotnikova says, “then this was just as inhumane an act as the deportation of the Caucasus peoples in 1944.”

But that is not a widespread view, and there is little effort to talk about the Cossack genocide in films or other forms of popular culture. And there are both longstanding and immediate reasons for that, according to Aleksandr Kuznetsov, a press spokesman for the Terek Cossack Host which suffered more than any other Cossack group 90 years ago.

On the one hand, there are relatively few survivors from those events, and their descendants in many cases are not interested in putting in claims for restitution. And on the other, such claims could create problems for Russia: Cossacks and Chechens are fighting in the same ranks in Ukraine. Talking about the Cossack genocide could divide them.

Moreover, gathering information about what happened is hard. Those who remember it are unwilling to talk, according to Andrey Gordiyenko, a historian at the Stavropol State Regional Studies Museum. Indeed, members of the older generation who know the most are “afraid to talk about this” and have even hidden what happened from their children.

And the executors of this genocide, he continues, worked hard to hide their tracks: They destroyed the old Cossack cemeteries so that no one would be able to establish who lived where and when, yet another way in which what was done to the Cossacks was an act of genocide. Gordiyenko said that he found one gravestone in a trash heap.

Nonetheless, the “Kavkazskaya politika” commentator says, “investigations of the history of those years are continuing which confirm that the Soviet authorities intentionally sought to destroy the Cossacks both as a social stratum and as an ethnos capable of self-organization” on its own terms.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • W8post

    Hitler murdered Homosexuals, Jews, Gypsies, the Mentally ill and the whole world cries fool seeing a SWASTIKA [ZARA]; Hitler, the bad guy of the century. What about STALIN? He wiped out whole areas of ‘his’ empire to replace with ethnic Russians. Tartars, Jews, HOLODOMOR. Millions he murdered, MORE than Hitler. And who is complaining seeing the ‘serp i molet’? Isn’t it time the WORLD sees History in REAL proportions?

    • J Edlund

      Yes, and it’s first of all time for Russia to deal with their Stalin era. They haven’t even been close to do so. Compare with the Germans and Cambodians who are teaching their children about what happened and why. Stalin is yet again a heroic icon in Russia. No wonder that country implodes like a house of cards every now and then.

    • BS_buster

      Stalin was scum, but he wasn’t even Russian, so dunno why people keep blaming Russian nation for his crimes. Ethinc Russians were among one of the most persecuted groups after Bolshevik coup, the entire Russian royal family and elites were killed, and many people escaped on West.
      Contrary to what Ukrainian historicans say, Holodomor wasn’t only in Ukraine, there were also many ethinc Russian victims in Volga raion. Ukraine was just hit the most, because it was agricultural country.
      Some people point out the Russification during Stalin’s regime to push their theory that he was Russian [sic!] nationalist.
      Stalin’s goal was to build a new “Soviet man”, blend country into one multicultural piece and expanding communist revolution westwards – the things that have nothing to do with nationalism. The only reason why Russian language had been chosen was the fact that it was lingua Franca of former Russian Empire.
      I think that communism should be equaled with nazism, and people must be educated about Stalin’s crimes, but please, don’t try to turn anti-communism into Russophobia. One guy did that 75 years ago and it resulted in millions of deaths.

  • disqus_aJpixObjG7

    The jannisaries “yanichari” were the most fearsome fighters of the moslem empire!(eupehmistically still today always referred to as the “turks” or “ottomans”.)

    WHO WERE THE JANISSARIES?

    THEY WERE UKRAINIANS captured as children by moslem armies in UKRAINE,

    (where MILLIONS of UKRAINIANS were captured by the moslems as slaves…the girls were considered the most beautiful in the world by the moslems, and they filled the harems of the wider moslem world… just as today! 500,000 UKRAINIAN GIRLS HAVE DISAPPEARED SINCE 1991)

    The UKRAINIAN boys were raised from childhood to become warriors and became the JANISSARIES- the ELITE TROOPS of the moslem terrorist armies SENT TO FIGHT THEIR OWN PEOPLE in Ukraine… They were redoutable!

    ALL COSSACKS (Ko-zak means “free man) were originally UKRAINIAN.

    THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A “russian” KOZAK.

    Today history repeats itself. The KUBAN KOZAKI (cossacks) are ALL of UKRAINIAN origin. They were DEPORTED thru russian ethnic cleansing out of UKRAINE to the Kuban.

    THESE KUBAN COSSACKS ARE TODAY’S JANNISSARIES!

    Although they are UKRAINIANS BY BLOOD they are the SPEARHEAD OF THE ENEMIES OF UKRAINE AND AMONG UKRAINE’S WORST ENEMIES.

    Just like the janissaries THEY HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED AGAINST THEIR OWN PEOPLE!

    These modern day janissaries are among the worst attackers of UKRAINE both in CRIMEA and DONBAS today!

    HOW INSANE THAT THE GRANDCHILDREN OF UKRAINIANS HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED BY russia TO BECOME THE JANISSARIES OF TODAY-to be the MURDERERS OF THEIR OWN BLOOD, of their own UKRAINIAN PEOPLE.

    This PERVERSION of UKRAINIANS TO SET THEM AGAINST UKRAINIANS IS JUST ONE MORE EGREGIOUS GENOCIDAL CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY by the russians – the russian curse against UKRAINE