Operation Lentil (Russian: Чечевица, Chechevitsa; Chechen: Aardax, Ardakh) was the Soviet expulsion of the whole of the Vainakh (Chechen and Ingush) populations of the North Caucasus to Central Asia during World War II. The expulsion, preceded by the 1940–1944 insurgency in Chechnya, was ordered on 23 February 1944 by NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria after approval by Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, as a part of Soviet forced settlement program and population transfer that affected several million members of non-Russian Soviet ethnic minorities between the 1930s and the 1950s.
The deportation encompassed their entire nations, well over 500,000 people, as well as the complete liquidation of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. Tens (or possibly hundreds) of thousands of Chechens and Ingushes died or were killed during the round-ups and the transportation, and in their early years in exile. The survivors were not allowed to return to their native lands until 1957. Many in Chechnya and Ingushetia classify it as an act of genocide, as did the European Parliament in 2004.
It was initiated on October 13, 1943, when about 120,000 men were moved into Checheno-Ingushetia, supposedly for mending bridges. On February 23, 1944 (on Red Army Day), the entire population was summoned to local Party buildings where they were told they were going to be deported as punishment for their alleged collaboration with the Germans. The inhabitants were rounded up and imprisoned in Studebaker trucks manufactured in and supplied by the United States, before being packed into unheated and uninsulated freight cars. Some 40% to 50% of the deportees were children.
Many times, resistance was met with slaughter, and in one such instance, in the aul of Khaibakh, about 700 people were locked in a barn and burned to death by NKVD General Gveshiani, who was praised for this and promised a medal by Beria. Many people from remote villages were executed per Beria's verbal order that any Chechen or Ingush deemed 'untransportable should be liquidated' on the spot. An eyewitness recalled the actions of the NKVD forces:
they combed the huts to make sure there was no one left behind... The soldier who came into the house did not want to bend down. He raked the hut with a burst from his submachine gun. Blood trickled out from under the bench where a child was hiding. The mother screamed and hurled herself at the soldier. He shot her too. There was not enough rolling stock. Those left behind were shot. The bodies were covered with earth and sand, carelessly. The shooting had also been careless, and people started wriggling out of the sand like worms. The NKVD men spent the whole night shooting them all over again.
Throughout the North Caucasus, about 700,000 (according to Dalkhat Ediev, 724,297, of which the majority, 479,478, were Chechens, along with 96,327 Ingush, 104,146 Kalmyks, 39,407 Balkars and 71,869 Karachays). Many died en route, and the extremely harsh environment of exile (especially considering the amount of exposure) killed many more. The NKVD, supplying the Russian perspective, gives the statistic of 144,704 people killed in 1944-1948 alone (death rate of 23.5% per all groups), though this is dismissed by many authors such as Tony Wood, John Dunlop, Moshe Gammer and others as a significant understatement. Estimates for deaths of the Chechens alone (excluding the NKVD figures), range from about 170,000 to 200,000, thus ranging from over a third of the total Chechen population to nearly half being killed in those 4 years alone (rates for other groups for those four years hover around 20%). Certain modern Russian sources, however, dispute that there were deliberately harsh conditions set for Chechens as opposed to other nationalities, and point to population growth in the 1959 census...