International Memorial Society urges Irkutsk governor not to allow new runway to be built on site of mass grave

posted 24 Feb 2015, 13:23 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Feb 2015, 13:30 ]
19 February 2015

Source: (info)
According to press reports, there is a threat posed to the memorial cemetery for the victims of terror in Pivovarikha district near Irkutsk, where in 1937-1938 NKVD officers secretly buried the bodies of people who had been shot dead.

To the Governor of the Irkutsk region,
S. V. Eroshchenko

Dear Sergei Vladimirovich,

According to press reports, the memorial cemetery for the victims of terror in Pivovarikha district, near Irkutsk, where in 1937-1938 NKVD officers secretly buried the bodies of the people who had been shot dead, is currently under threat. This cemetery, officially declared a historical and cultural monument of regional significance back in 1997, is located next to Irkutsk International Airport, and journalists maintain that a new runway being planned by the airport will pass through the burial site.

These assertions appear reasonably credible, as they are supported by public statements made by regional leaders who took over the management of the airport in 2014. This unfortunately includes you, dear Sergei Vladimirovich.

For example, in an interview you gave to the newspaper East-Siberian Pravda you said, "There are two ways to solve the problem. Either we move the memorial in a civilised manner and make it more accessible to people, or we design the runway so that it does not touch the memorial. But I honestly don't think it is right to give up on the development of this site" (ESP. 2015. 27.01). You must therefore be consider the option of destroying ("transferring") the memorial cemetery to be acceptable, in the very least.

This option strikes us as totally unacceptable. The remains of no less than 15,000 people, according to official statistics (and some estimate that there are over 20,000), are buried in the forest near Pivovarikha, and it is immoral to disturb their ashes in order to save money on modernising the airport.

Not to mention that such an undertaking is illegal: the burial site has been declared an historical and cultural monument, and consequently no construction on the site is allowed without the express permission of the authorities responsible for the protection of monuments.

Calls such as this are also being heard in the press: they say a 1997 directive declared the entire burial compound, meaning the site, which occupies around 200 acres, to be an historical and cultural monument. Why not reduce this territory to 3-7 hectares, that is cut it down to that area where the actual memorial complex is located ('the wall of sorrow' and four communal graves constructed on the site of the surveyed portion of graves), and the rest can go for redevelopment?

This would be equally unacceptable, at least until a comprehensive survey of the whole site has been undertaken, the borders of the burial zone have been precisely identified, and a scientific assessment of the total number of people buried here has been carried out.

Pivovarikha is not just an "historical and cultural monument of regional significance"; it also constitutes material evidence of mass crimes against humanity committed in 1937-1938. And the destruction of evidence of a crime amounts to a criminally prosecutable offence.

Lastly, the Irkutsk International Airport flight zone has become ‘renowned’ for a series of high-profile plane crashes. It may not sound particularly rational, somewhat metaphysical even, but are you confident that locating a new runway on the remains of thousands of victims of state-sanctioned tyranny (which, as your interview implies, include your grandfather's remains) will really improve the safety of flights in the area?

The Board of the International Memorial Society

Translated by Lindsay Munford