Scholars have scarcely addressed the Chechen deportation in itself; rather, they focus on massive deportations as a whole. However, due to the events in Chechnya since 1994, the categorizing of the deportation has become a much more sensitive issue.
There is no agreement within the scholarly community whether to consider the deportation ethnic cleansing or genocide, two concepts which are often very poorly defined and even mixed-up. The great majority of Chechen historians currently defend this second position. Some scholars also share this point of view. A study published in 1958 under the outstanding title of Genocide in the USSR considers and analyzes the Stalinist terror in general and the massive deportations as acts of genocide. Here, genocide is understood according to the 1948 United Nations Convention’s definition. One of the co-authors, Ramazan Karcha, presents the wholesale deportation of the Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachai as “the final and culminating act of Soviet genocide against the North Caucasians” (Karcha, 1958:43.)
The historian Otto J. Pohl advances his research on the subject, despite prejudicial confusion of terminologies. He demonstrates that massive deportations “constituted acts of ethnically motivated murder”. He brings to the fore the fact that the Stalinist regime deliberately and consciously sent the deported peoples to areas known to have “deadly living conditions”, which resulted not only in heavy death toll, but also in the fall of birth rates (O. Pohl, 2000:268-272). He thus considers that Stalin’s deportation of national minorities only partially meets the strict definition of genocide, under which the crimes committed against the Armenians, the Jews and the Tutsi were internationally recognized as genocide. However, he agrees with the aforementioned co-authors on the fact that the legal definition of genocide provided by the 1948 Convention is applicable to the Stalinist policy of forced resettlement (O. Pohl, 1999:2-3).
On the other hand, massive deportations cannot be categorized as acts of genocide, but are rather a matter of ethnic cleansing. Norman Nairmak bases his argument on the Chechen-Ingush and Crimean Tatar forced expulsions. The official documents certainly provide evidence of the intentional character of these massive deportations. Yet, according to Nairmak, they also prove that the Soviet leaders did not mean to exterminate the deported peoples. To sustain this thesis, the author makes three major points. First, he relies on the fact that in the territories from which the “punished” peoples were deported, no ethnically homogenous regions were created. Secondly, he emphasizes that the initial plan was to assimilate Chechens into their regions of exile, not exterminate them. Finally, he concludes by pointing out the main goals that Stalin and his lieutenants wanted to reach. These goals were, according to him, to establish a stronger control over the diverse peoples composing the Soviet Union and to punish those considered as nationalist or rebellious ethnicities (Nairmak, 2001:104-107). Terry Martin, who deals with all the pre-war deportations, underlines that ethnic cleansing has the advantage of “accurately representing the perspective of the perpetrator” (Terry, 1998:824). The concept of “ethnic cleansing” also refers to the Russian word used to describe deportations in official correspondences, ochist which means “to cleanse”.
In February 2004, the plenary assembly of the European Parliament approved one amendment. This amendment recognizes that on the basis of The Hague’s 1907 fourth Convention and the United Nations General Assembly’s Convention of 1948 concerning the prevention and repression of the crime of genocide, the deportation of the entire Chechen people ordered by Stalin on February 23, 1944 constitutes an act of genocide. Notwithstanding that this decision has had no political impact, it shows to an important symbolic significance and throws into new light the debates about the categorization of the massive deportations.