Chechnya: 'special forces military tour' on day of mourning
Two Chechen travel companies have found themselves in hot water after offering to organize ‘special forces military tours’ to the cities of Grozny and Gudermes on the same date that Chechens and Ingush mourn the Stalinist deportations of their predecessor in 1944.
In Russia, February 23 is celebrated as Defender of the Fatherland Day, and focusses on the Russian Federation’s military achievements and veterans.
From year to year, local residents find themselves at odds with local authorities who try to make the republic unwillingly celebrate the date along with other Russian regions.
The two travel agencies, Elgas tours and Chechen Tour, offer trips to all regions of the Russian North Caucasus and trips exclusively in Chechnya, respectively.
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“The military tour is designed for four days [and] three nights,” Elina Bataeva, director of Elgas, wrote on her Facebook page. It includes two whole days of active training sessions at the Russian Special Forces University! Shooting training with several types of weapons, an extreme tour on a buggy, flying in a wind tunnel and much more.”
The announcement of the tour caused many negative comments, the authors of which recalled that February 23 is the anniversary of the deportation of Chechens and Ingush. Some were bitterly ironic: “they say a special forces tour is an original way to mark the anniversary of the tragedy.”
Bataeva tried to get out of the situation: “We understand that for us this is the Day of mourning and sorrow. <…> But we must not forget that there are many other nationalities and nationalities for whom this day has a completely different meaning.”
However, this argument of hers met with objections.
“Then let the other nations celebrate. Didn’t they expel any of your family?” one user named Mokhmad-Emin wrote.
“On the day of mourning for the entire Chechen people, to make a holiday out of our long-suffering land. <…> How we have become spiritually impoverished, that we prioritize the holidays of other nations, forgetting about our foundations,” Ruslan Abdulazimov said.
Later, the organizers objected that although the tour is meant as a gift on February 23, it will take place on a different day. However, according to the schedule on the company’s website, the next special forces tour will take place from 20 to 23 February inclusive. The tour costs 39,780 rubles (about $500). As of February 2, 16 seats remained.
What happened on February 23, 1944
Chechnya and Ingushetia on February 23 remember Operation Lentil – the massive deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia. As a result of this operation, about 500,000 people were evicted from their homes; approximately 1,300 people died en route, and another 780 were killed in the operation. Operation Lentil began on February 23, 1944.
But February 23 is a public holiday throughout Russia, including its republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia; and for those who disagree with this, a ban on mourning events came into force in 2011.
The local authorities of the Chechen Republic postponed the day of mourning from February 23 to May 10 – in fact, replacing the mourning for the historic event with the anniversary of the funeral of former President Akhmat Kadyrov (who was buried in May 2004).