31/10/2014 22:22
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Analysis & Opinion

DEFENSE OF THE MOTHERLAND IS EVERY MUSLIM'S DUTY

10:08 05/05/2005

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya).In early May, every mosque in Russia will hold solemn services dedicated to the 60th anniversary of Victory in World War II.

"We will honor the memories of our relatives who fought on the battlefields of the Great Patriotic War and served on the home front during the war," said director of the press service of the Council of Muftis in Russia Radik Amirov.

The Great Patriotic War (June 22, 1941 - May 9, 1945) was part of World War II. Radik's grandfather, Abdullah Amirov, went MIA in fall 1941. He left four small children, the youngest a one-year-old baby. "My grandfather did not try to avoid military service, as the defense of the Motherland is the sacred duty of every Muslim," Radik says. For a long time, the family only knew what had happened to their grandfather from a witness account of his fellow-villager. He had seen Amirov being seriously wounded, but could not help him, as the Soviet troops were retreating under heavy enemy fire. German archivists only recently gave information about soldiers who died in that battle to the Russian authorities, but the Amirovs now at least know where their relative was buried. On May 9, they will visit his grave.

When the Nazis attacked the Soviet Union On June 22, 1941, they delivered one of the first strikes against the Brest Fortress, which was near the border. It was also a good place to defend. Representatives of 30 ethnic groups defended the fortress. They bravely repulsed German attacks for almost a month, while the Germans captured already a large part of Soviet territory. Tatar Pyotr Gavrilov was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest award for the military personnel, for the defense of the Brest Fortress. There were also many Chechens and Inghush among the defenders of the fortress. A training battalion consisting of conscripts from the Northern Caucasus was transferred to Brest on the eve of the war. Many of its soldiers died in fierce fighting for the fortress, whereas some were taken prisoners.

Forty years after the end of war, Chechen native Eki Uzuyev visited Brest to find out what had happened to his elder brothers. The director of the Brest Fortress Museum told him, "Your brother Magomed Uzuyev died bravely defending the fortress and his name was engraved on the memorial plaque of the 333rd Infantry Regiment. Unfortunately, nothing is known about your second brother, Visait." With this news, Eki returned home, where Magomed's bride had been waiting for her groom for forty years.

The history of the defense of the Brest Fortress is the subject of many legends. One of them is about the last defender of the fortress. His name has been unknown for a long time. Recently, the memoirs of Stankus Antanas, a Lithuanian national and former Waffen SS officer, were published in Ingushetia. He recalls that in July 1941, his regiment was ordered to "finish off" the remaining Soviet soldiers in the fortress. When the Nazis decided that no defenders had been left alive, a Waffen SS general lined up his soldiers on the parade ground to award them with decorations for capturing the fortress. Then a tall and smart Red Army officer came out from the fortress's underground bunker. "He was blind because of his wounds and walked with his left arm extended forward. His right hand rested on a gun holster. He walked along the parade grounds wearing a ragged uniform, but his head was held high. The entire division was shocked at the sight. Approaching a shell-hole, he turned his face toward the west. The German general suddenly saluted this last defender of the Brest Fortress, and the rest of the officers followed suit. The Red Army officer drew a handgun and shot himself in the head. He fell on the ground facing Germany. A deep-drawn sigh aired over the parade grounds," Antanas recounts. "We all stood 'frozen' in awe of this brave man." His documents identified him as a man called Barkhanoyev. Decades later, official records revealed it was Umatgirei Barkhanoyev from the Ingush village of Yandare.

The reason the names of many heroes are becoming known only now is that in 1944 Chechen, Ingush and many other ethnic groups were ostracized and deported to Siberia and Central Asia. For many years after the war, the Soviet authorities avoided acknowledging the contribution of representatives of certain ethnic groups to Victory. To be fair, there were traitors among many nationalities, including Russians. Who agreed to fight on the enemy side after being captured and for what reasons remains a controversial subject. Nevertheless, it does not justify the deportation and repression of those who fought heroically against Nazi Germany.

The majority of representatives of repressed ethnic groups were recalled from the frontlines and stripped off their decorations and ranks. Overall, 5,943 officers, 20,209 non-commissioned officers and 130,691 privates were deported. Many soldiers and officers had to state other nationalities in their ID papers to stay in the Army. Knowing that Ingush and Chechens were often refused promotions and decorations, some commanders also stated other nationalities in their commendation lists. For instance, 46 Ingush were recommended for the rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union. Only three received the rank 50 years after the war.

One Chechen native, Movlid Visaitov, went from the river Terek in the Caucasus to the Elbe, fighting bravely against the Nazis. He commanded the 255th Separate Chechen-Ingush Cavalry Regiment and the 28th Guards Regiment. He was the first Soviet officer to shake hands with General Bolling, the commander of advanced guard of the U.S. troops. He was among the few Soviet officers who were awarded with one of the highest U.S. military decorations - the Legion of Merit. When a bearer of this medal appears in public, all Americans present, including the president, are supposed to stand up and greet the hero. At the end of war, Visaitov was recommended for the rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union as well. However, he did not receive the title because of his ethnic background. Only in 1990, was he awarded the rank posthumously.

Ordinary people did not care about each other's ethnic background during the war, though. A Ukrainian woman named Galya took care of Visaitov when he was severely wounded during fierce fighting near Taganrog. He found her after the end of war and the friendship between the two families - the Chechen and the Ukrainian - lasted until his death.

During the war, Soviet Muslims saved their compatriots - the Jews and the Gypsies - who, according to Nazi orders, were singled out for extinction. "Held in captivity together with the Jews and the Gypsies, Muslim officers tried to present them as 'their own' - Tartars, Azeri, Chechens, etc. They saved the Jews on occupied territories as well. A Tartar woman who lived in a Belarus village once hid two Jews who escaped Nazi captivity. She did not give them up to the Germans even when the soldiers rushed into her yard. When the soldiers left, she showed the Jews a safe route through the swamps that led to Soviet-controlled territory," Radik Amirov recounted. "These little episodes unite us."

It is impossible to determine today the total number of Muslims who fought in the war, as nobody kept a statistical record at the time. There were hundreds of thousands. About 40 Muslim ethnic groups live in Russia alone and many more in the former Soviet republics. It is difficult to combine the data about heroes gathered by each ethnic group. Perhaps only Muslim religious authorities could handle this task, but they insist, "We do not want to divide the victory because it was a common victory of all the peoples of the Soviet Union." And they have a point.

Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning at least several figures. About 130 Muslims, including Tatars, became Heroes of the Soviet Union for their feats of valor during the liberation of Belarus alone. Overall, about 170 Tartars were awarded the rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union during the war. Only Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians received more. Two pilots, Musa Gareyev and Talgat Bigildinov, were awarded this rank twice.

Alexander Matrosov received the rank of the Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously. On February 23, 1943 in the heat of a battle he covered an enemy weapon emplacement with his body. Sacrificing his life, he saved dozens of his comrades. He was only nineteen. The name Matrosov was familiar to every Soviet citizen and only recently it has been discovered that it was not real. The name of the soldier was Shakir Mukhammetzhanov. He was born in Bashkortostan into a Tartar family. He lost his parents early in life, and when he was sent to an orphanage, he changed his first and last names to avoid standing out.

Machine-gunner Khanpashi Nuradilov, a Chechen native, died in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. Here is an excerpt from a frontline leaflet about his feat of valor. "A hero, a formidable soldier, a knight - that is a true description of machine-gunner, Komsomol member, Guards Sergeant Khanpashi Nuradilov...He killed 920 Nazis, captured nine machine guns and 12 enemies. The hero died like a valiant knight defending his Motherland. The government celebrated his feats of valor with the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of the Red Star."

The Battle of Stalingrad marked a decisive turn in the course of the war. Fierce fighting for the city lasted for 200 days from July 1942 until February 1943. The Axis powers lost a total number of 1.5 million men, or 25% of all forces fighting on the Russian front. The Red Army lost 1,130,000 men, including 480,000 dead. Among those who perished in the battle was the grandfather of Ravil Gainutdin, the current chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis.

Many Muslims died lifting the siege of Leningrad, which lasted for 900 days. Hundreds of thousands of its residents died of starvation and were killed by German bombs. Nevertheless, they kept high spirits until the end. Concerts and theatrical performances were conducted in the city despite daily bombardments. In 1941, literary readings dedicated the anniversary of 12th -century Azeri poet Nizami took place in besieged Leningrad.

Muslims fought on all fronts during the war. Some of them were scouts and partisans. An Ingush partisan detachment was formed in 1942. Tousi Shadiyev was commander of a partisan cavalry unit manning 200 Ingush nationals. In 1943, the unit became part of a separate Chechen-Ingush division.

Chairman of the Writers' Union of Tatarstan Musa Jalil became an outstanding example of bravery exhibited in enemy captivity. In 1942, he was wounded and captured by the enemy. He formed an underground resistance group in a concentration camp. The group conducted a large-scale propaganda campaign convincing prisoners-of-war forced to fight against the Red Army to surrender at the first sight of Soviet soldiers. As a result, the first legion formed from the prisoners and sent to the front immediately changed sides. Jalil's group started preparations for a general insurrection of the prisoners. However, the Germans discovered his plans and all members of the group were arrested. Jalil wrote his last poems in the Moabit prison. He and his comrades, including prominent Tartar writer Abdullah Alish were executed. Jalil's fellow prisoners who managed to survive kept his Moabit diaries. A Soviet movie was made about his feat in 1968.

Those who remained on the home front also contributed to Victory. During the war, many mosques collected money, clothes and food for the front and support of soldiers' families. In 1943, on behalf of Soviet Muslims, the then mufti of the Spiritual Board for the European part of the Soviet Union and Siberia, Gabdurakhman Rasulev, sent a letter to Stalin with assurances of support for the Red Army and that the money donated by Muslims would be spent on the equipment of a tank column. Most of the territories traditionally inhabited by Muslims were not occupied by Germans during the war, so many refugees fled there. Large industrial enterprises making weapons for the army were evacuated there. They also became agricultural centers, where women assumed the bulk of work burden on the home front.

Muslim women served in the regular army as well. They were doctors and nurses, and often dragged the wounded to safety under enemy fire. There were women who fought in the same capacity as men. Ingush woman Lyalya Uzhakhova volunteered to fight on the frontline. All four years of war, she served as a gunner and later a commander of a gun crew. A Tartar woman, Marguba Syrtlanova, flew 780 combat sorties as a night bomber.

The list of heroes who fought on the frontline and served on the home front is literally endless. Many were not distinguished with decorations or ranks, but they are still remembered by Russian and CIS citizens regardless of their nationality and religion.

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