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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.2 (2005) 285-318

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The Nature of Anti-Soviet Armed Resistance, 1942—44

The North Caucasus, the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic, and Crimea

Dept. of History
Social Sciences Building 656 
2500 University Drive NW
Calgary, Alberta
Canada T2N 1N4

In 1943—44, the Soviet government deported several ethnic groups, justifying this act primarily by these nationalities' collaboration with the Germans. In 1989, the Supreme Council of the USSR condemned the deportations as "illegal and criminal,"1 but the assumption that an exceptionally large proportion of these peoples collaborated with the invaders and that this was the major cause for their deportation continues to linger in Russian public opinion. The resistance and collaboration of the North Caucasian ethnic groups, Kalmyks, and Crimean Tatars has attracted little attention among historians. The most important publications of the Cold War era regarding these groups were those by Aleksandr Nekrich and Joachim Hoffmann.2 Nekrich produced a brief overview based on solid research in published primary and secondary sources, both sanitized by Soviet censors; Hoffmann presented a case study of Kalmyk collaboration using, sometimes uncritically, German primary and secondary sources. Post—Cold War scholars prefer to concentrate on the deportations but usually ignore the nature of the conflict between stigmatized ethnic groups and the authorities. Russian historians at most touch on this dynamic. Some accept the official reports about collaboration and insurgencies in these regions at face value,3 others emphasize [End Page 285] Soviet heavy-handedness,4 but both parties offer little analysis of resistance or collaboration. Most Western authors assume that these anti-government manifestations stemmed from Soviet interwar policies but pay little attention to wartime circumstances that stirred up tensions between the state and local people and in some cases were their major cause. Historians writing on this conflict rely mainly on secondary sources based on anecdotal evidence,5 and some promote unsubstantiated assumptions that reveal an ideological bias.6 Those who use primary sources also focus on ethnic cleansing rather than resistance or collaboration: for example, Nikolai Bugai, the major Russian scholar of Soviet ethnic policy; and J. Otto Pohl, author of the only major Western, post—Cold War study of the Soviet deportations.7 Bugai has published many important document collections, but references to resistance in his scholarly work are mainly descriptive. Pohl relies solely on published documents and offers a synthesis of Russian and Western writings. As a whole, however, the historiography on this conflict remains scarce.

This article, based on archival sources, offers a comparative analysis of the anti-Soviet resistance and collaboration in the North Caucasus, the [End Page 286] Kalmyk autonomous republic, and Crimea in 1942—44. Ehren Park and David Brandenberger have demonstrated that "even the most resourceful researchers [of Chechen resistance] have been forced to base their work on surprisingly meager and problematic sources."8 This conclusion is also valid regarding the sources on other insurgencies in the Caucasus and Kalmykia: in the former case, because most documents remain classified; in the latter, because resistance was insignificant. The conflict between the authorities and the Crimean Tatars is better reflected in documents available in Russian archives. Historians are bound to rely mainly on reports of the Soviet police and regional leaders in all three cases, however, because the insurgents had at most embryonic political organizations that left virtually no records.9 The most reliable among these sources are those intended for internal use only, but even such documents should be treated with caution. It is hard to say which are more credible: the reports by party leaders or secret police officials. The secret police often distinguished politically motivated resistance from plain banditry, while party bureaucrats used "banditry" to refer to any armed action against the authorities, individuals, or state property. The secret police tended, however, to exaggerate the scale of mass disturbances and often misrepresented their nature, causes, and social basis. Depending on political circumstances, it could call identical incidents...