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Decossackization (Raskazachivaniye) is a term used to describe the Bolsheviks' policy of the systematic elimination of the Cossacks of the Don and the Kuban as a social and ethnic group. This was the first example of Soviet leaders deciding to "eliminate, exterminate, and deport the population of a whole territory," which they had taken to calling the "Soviet Vendée" Some historians allege that the repressive measures imposed by the Soviets during decossackization constitute genocide. One specialist of the conflict in the Don region, Peter Holquist, concludes that decossackization did not constitute an "open-ended program" of genocide but does claim that it shows the Soviet regime's "dedication to social engineering" and was a "ruthless" and "radical attempt to eliminate undesirable social groups."
Cossacks were a military estate in pre-revolutionary Russia from the 18th to the early 20th century. They lived mainly in southern Russia in the Don and Kuban areas, as well as parts of Siberia and Central Asia such as Orenburg and Transbaikalia. As a social group they were similar to the Streltsy (professional musketeers) and artillerymen. Because of their military tradition, Cossack forces played an important role in Russia’s wars of the 18th and 19th centuries such as the Crimean War and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, relying on the economic prosperity of the Cossacks, their privileged status as a military estate, and their political conservativsm, the tsarist regime employed them extensively to perform police service and suppress the revolutionary movement, especially in 1905–7.
Following the Russian Revolution, Cossack elites adopted a hostile policy against soviets of workers' deputies while poorer Cossacks supported the soviets. During the civil war in Russia, Cossacks served both the Red and White armies. Cossack units under the command of PV Bakhturov, MF Blinov, SM Budennyi, BM Dumenko, ND Kashirin, FK Mironov, and others fought in the ranks of the Red Army. One-fifth of all Cossacks under arms served in the Red Army.
The concept of decossackization was discussed in the Imperial period. There had long been talk about eliminating the Cossack estate as a judicial entity and reducing the Cossacks' privileges to those enjoyed by other citizens. This was a form of "decossackization." Some Cossacks supported these plans: elimination of privileges also entailed the elimination of burdens including universal, life-long military service or the need to meet equipment obligations.
Soon after the establishment of Soviet power in Petrograd and other cities in November 1917, conflict broke out between the new Communist regime in Russia and the Cossacks. In the Don territory, Ataman Kaledin declared that he would "offer full support, in close alliance with the governments of the other Cossack hosts" to Kerensky's forces. Establishing ties with the Ukrainian Central Rada and the Kuban, Terek, and Orenburg hosts, Kaledin sought to overthrow Soviet power and create a counterrevolutionary regime in Russia. On 15 November 1917 Generals Kornilov, Alekseev, and Denikin began to organize the Volunteer Army in Novocherkassk. Imposing martial law, Kaledin moved in late November to eliminate the soviets. On December 15, after a seven day battle, they occupied Rostov. On 7 January 1918, Soviet troops began a coordinated offensive from Gorlovka, Lugansk, and Millerovo. They were supported by uprisings among the workers and Cossacks. On February 25, Bolshevik troops occupied Rostov and Novocherkassk. The remnants of the White Cossacks, headed by Ataman Popov, fled into the Salsk steppes. In mid-March 1919 alone, Cheka forces executed more than 8,000 Cossacks. In each stanitsa, summary judgements were passed by revolutionary courts within minutes, and whole lists of people were condemned to execution for "counterrevolutionary behavior."
After the German forces invaded and occupied Rostov on May 8, a puppet government headed by General Krasnov was formed in the Don province. In July 1918, the White Cossack forces of General Krasnov launched their first invasion of Tsaritsyn. Soviet forces counterattacked and drove out the White Cossacks by September 7. On September 22, Krasnov’s forces launched a second invasion of Tsaritsyn but by October 25, Krasnov’s forces were thrown back beyond the Don by Soviet troops. On January 1, 1919, Krasnov launched a third invasion of Tsaritsyn. Soviet forces repelled the invasion and forced Krasnov’s forces to withdraw from Tsaritsyn in mid-February 1919. In the period that General Krasnov's White Cossack forces controlled the Don province, from May 1918 to February 1919, the "All-Great Don Host" punitive organs sentenced some 25,000 people to death.
The Don region was required by the Soviets to make a grain contribution equal to the total annual production of the area. Almost all Cossacks joined the Green Army or other rebel forces. Together with Baron Wrangel's troops, they forced the Red Army out of the region in August 1920. After the retaking of the Crimea by Red Army, the Cossacks became victims of the Red Terror. Special commissions in charge of decossackization condemned more than 6,000 people to death in October 1920 alone. The families and often the neighbors of suspected rebels were taken as hostages and sent to concentration camps. According to Martin Latsis who led the Ukrainian Cheka:
"Gathered together in a camp near Maikop, the hostages, women, children and old men survive in the most appalling conditions, in the cold and the mud of October... They are dying like flies. The women will do anything to escape death. The soldiers guarding the camp take advantage of this and treat them as prostitutes."
In November 1920 Feliks Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka, reported to Lenin:
"the republic has to organize the internment in camps of about 100,000 prisoners from the Southern front and vast masses of people expelled from the rebellious [Cossack] settlements of the Terek, the Kuban, and the Don. Today 403 Cossack men and women aged between 14 and 17 arrived in Oryol for internment in concentration camp. They cannot be accepted as Oryol is already overloaded."
The Pyatigorsk Cheka organized a "day of Red Terror" to execute 300 people in one day. They ordered local Communist Party organizations to draw up execution lists. According to one of the chekists, "this rather unsatisfactory method led to a great deal of private settling of old scores... In Kislovodsk, for lack of a better idea, it was decided to kill people who were in the hospital." Many Cossack towns were burned to the ground, and all survivors deported on the orders by Sergo Ordzhonikidze who was head of the Revolutionary Committee of the Northern Caucasus. The files of Sergo Ordzhonikidze include documents which detail such operations. On the 23rd of October he ordered:
1. The Town of Kalinovskaya to be burned.
2. The inhabitants of Ermolovskaya, Romanovskaya, Samachinskaya, and Mikhailovskaya to be driven out of their homes, and the houses and land redistributed among the poor peasants, particularly among the Chechens, who have always shown great respect for Soviet power.
3. All males ages eighteen to fifty from the above-mentioned towns to be gathered into convoys and deported under armed escort to the north, where they will be forced into heavy labor.
4. Women, children, and old people to be driven from their homes, although they are allowed to resettle farther north.
5. All the cattle and goods of the above mentioned towns to be seized.
Three weeks later Ordzhonikidze received a report outlining how the operation was progressing:
Kalinovskaya: town razed and the whole population (4,220) deported or expelled
Ermolovskaya: emptied of all inhabitants (3,218)
Romanovskaya: 1,600 deported, 1,661 awaiting deportation
Samachinskaya: 1,018 deported, 1,900 awaiting deportation
Mikhailovskaya: 600 deported, 2,200 awaiting deportation
The policy was established by a secret resolution of the Bolshevik Party on January 24, 1919, which ordered local branches to "carry out mass terror against wealthy Cossacks, exterminating all of them; carry out merciless mass terror against any and all Cossacks taking part in any way, directly or indirectly, in the struggle against Soviet power." On February 7 the Southern Front issued its own instructions on how the resolution was to be applied: "The main duty of stanitsa and khutor executive committees is to neutralize the Cossackry through the merciless extirpation of its elite. District and Stanitsa atamans are subject to unconditional elimination, [but] khutor atamans should be subject to execution only in those cases where it can be proved that they actively supported Krasnov's policies (having organized pacification, conducted mobilization, refused to offer refuge to revolutionary Cossacks or to Red Army men).” The policy of “high decossackization” was cancelled on March 16, 1919 in response to a major revolt against Soviet power in Veshenskaia. The Soviet state focused on the formal elimination of the Cossackry as a monolithic social, juridical, and economic entity. The complete rehabilitation of the Cossacks and the Don Territory came in September 1919. An article in the newspaper of the Army instructed that: "While it is true that a certain portion of the Don Territory's population is counter-revolutionary for reasons of an economic nature, this is far from the majority. And this entire remaining section of the population could become our ally." In spite of this, deportations and executions continued well into 1920.
Peter Holquist claims the overall number of executions is difficult to establish, but that they clearly numberd in the thousands, probably exceeding 10,000. In some regions hundreds were executed. In Khoper, the tribunal was very active, with a one-month total of 226 executions. The Tsymlianskaia tribunal oversaw the execution of over 700 people. The Kotel'nikovo tribunal executed 117 in early May and nearly 1,000 overall. Others were not quite as active. The Berezovskaia tribunal made a total of twenty arrests in a community of 13,500 people. One Russian historian provides a comprehensive estimate of executions in the Veshenskaia area: "it is possible, and indeed likely, that the number of those who would have suffered repression would have reached a large figure, but in fact the number at the time of the uprising was around 300." Holquist concludes that White reports of Red atrocities in the Don were consciously scripted for agitational purposes. In one example, an insurgent leader reported that 140 were executed in Bokovskaia, but later provided a different account, according to which only eight people in Bokovskaia were sentenced to death, and the authorities did not manage to carry these sentences out. This same historian emphasises he is "not seeking to downplay or dismiss very real executions by the Soviets." Other historians, among them Orlando Figes, Donald Rayfield, Alexander Nekrich, R.J. Rummel and Stéphane Courtois, conclude that decossackization amounted to genocide and involved numbers in the hundreds of thousands. University of York Russian specialist Shane O'Rourke states that "ten thousand Cossacks were slaughtered systematically in a few weeks in January 1919" and that this "was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation." The late Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, head of the Presidential Committee for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Political Repression, notes that "hundreds of thousands of Cossacks were killed." Historian Robert Gellately claims that "the most reliable estimates indicate that between 300,000 and 500,000 were killed or deported in 1919-20." This out of a population of around three million. Research by P. Polian from Russia's Academy of Sciences on the subject of forced migrations in Russia shows that more than 45,000 Cossacks were deported from the Terek province to Ukraine. Their land was distributed among pro-soviet Cossacks and Chechens.
Some Bolsheviks themselves admitted to the genocidal nature of decossackization. Reingold, the president of the Revolutionary Committee of the Don who was entrusted with imposing Bolshevik rule in Cossack territories, stated that in practice "what was carried out instead against the Cossacks was an indiscriminate policy of massive extermination."
In June 1919, Lenin disingenuously attempted to blame the excesses on local official's "immatutre overenthusiasm." But regional committees were merely implementing the aforementioned resolutions. Holquist asserts that the Central government was "fully aware of the tribunal's activities" and that the tribunals "were showing no compunction about executing people." The late Soviet historian Dmitri Volkogonov estimates that "almost a third of the Cossack population was exterminated on Lenin’s orders."
- Red Terror
- Population transfer in the Soviet Union
- Forced settlements in the Soviet Union
- ^ a b Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p. 98
- ^ a b Orlando Figes. A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891–1924. Penguin Books, 1998. ISBN 014024364X p. 660: "However, it must be said in Denikin's defense that he was responding to what can only be called a war of genocide against the Cossacks. The Bolsheviks had made it clear that their aim in the northern Don was to unleash ‘mass terror against the rich Cossacks by exterminating them to the last man' and transferring their land to the Russian peasants. During this campaign of 'decossackization', in the early months of 1919, some 12,000 Cossacks, many of them old men, were executed as "counter-revolutionaries' by tribunals of the invading Red Army."
- ^ a b Donald Rayfield. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him Random House, 2004. ISBN 0375506322 pg 83: "Sometimes a whole ethnic group was declared White and genocide took place. Iona Iakir, a famous Red Army general, had 50 percent of the male Don Cossacks exterminated, and used artillery, flamethrowers, and machine guns on women and children."
- ^ a b Mikhail Heller & Aleksandr Nekrich. Utopia in Power: The History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Present. Summit Books, 1988. ISBN 0671645358 p. 87: "The suppression of the Don Cossack revolt in the spring and summer of 1919 took the form of genocide. One historian has estimated that approximately 70 percent of the Don Cossacks were physically eliminated."
- ^ a b R. J. Rummel. Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1917. Transaction Publishers, 1990. ISBN 1560008873 p. 2.
- ^ a b Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 pp. 8-9: “The policy of "de-Cossackization" begun in 1920 corresponds largely to our definition of genocide: a population group firmly established in a particular territory, the Cossacks as such were exterminated, the men shot, the women, children and the elderly deported, and the villages razed or handed over to new, non-Cossack occupants. Lenin compared the Cossacks to the Vendée during the French Revolution and gladly subjected them to a program of what Gracchus Babeuf, the "inventor" of modern Communism, characterized in 1795 as "populicide."
- ^ a b Soviet order to exterminate Cossacks is unearthed University of York Communications Office, 21 January 2003
- ^ Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution, p. 187, 2002: "The Bolshevik state did not, however, pursue an open-ended program of genocide against the Cossacks."
- ^ a b c d e Peter Holquist. "Conduct merciless mass terror": decossackization on the Don, 1919"
- ^ http://www.cultinfo.ru/fulltext/1/001/008/057/598.htm
- ^ a b Peter Holquist, Making War, Forging Revolution
- ^ a b c d e Holquist, Peter, "A Russian Vendee: The Practice of Revolutionary Politics in the Don Countryside, 1917-1921." Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1994.
- ^ , RU: Cult Info, p. 821, http://www.cultinfo.ru/fulltext/1/001/008/057/821.htm .
- ^ a b c Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p 99-100
- ^ , RU: Cult Info, p. 252, http://www.cultinfo.ru/fulltext/1/001/008/120/252.htm .
- ^ Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p 99-100
- ^ Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p 100
- ^ a b Dmitri Volkogonov. Autopsy of an Empire: The Seven Leaders Who Built the Soviet Regime. Free Press, 1998. ISBN 0684871122 pg 74
- ^ a b Robert Gellately. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe Knopf, 2007 ISBN 1400040051 pp. 70–71.
- ^ a b Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p 101
- ^ Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev. A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-08760-8 p. 100
- ^ Nicolas Werth, Karel Bartošek, Jean-Louis Panné, Jean-Louis Margolin, Andrzej Paczkowski, Stéphane Courtois. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-674-07608-7 p 10
- ^ Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev. A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia. Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-08760-8 p. 102
- ^ Pavel Polian. Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migrations in the USSR. Central European University Press, 2004. p. 60. ISBN 9789639241688.
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