A memorial graveyard known as Sandarmokh. It is a word without precise meaning or translation: there are only different accounts of its origins. The associations are unmistakable, however. It calls to mind a history of suffering and death.
For many what happened there eighty years ago stirs feelings of horror to this day. Mass executions of political prisoners—more than 7,000 of them in 236 common graves. People whose years in the Gulag ended in 1937-1938, in the forests of eastern Karelia, with a bullet to the back of the head.
Since its discovery in 1997, Sandarmokh has become a place of pilgrimage for the descendants of those killed in Stalin’s Great Terror, for local villagers, for historians and for public figures. An International Day of Remembrance has been held at Sandarmokh every year since then, attended by delegations from various parts of Russia and from abroad.
The “new” hypothesis
Yet in 2016, almost twenty years on, certain Petrozavodsk historians announced that, in addition to those shot in the 1930s, Soviet POWs might have been killed and buried at Sandarmokh during the “Continuation War” with Finland (1941-1944). This suggestion prompted a great debate among academics and was reported in both Russian and Finnish media. Prospectors, historians, and public figures who had been closely involved in locating, studying and publicising the story of Sandarmokh were bewildered. What new documents had now appeared? Where could they study these declassified papers? The authors of the sensational claim were in no hurry to publish their sources and the atmosphere surrounding the memorial complex grew increasingly tense.
What is the basis for this hypothesis? Who is promoting it, twenty years after the mass burials at Sandarmokh were discovered by Yury Dmitriev, Irina Flige and the late Veniamin Joffe?
Anna Yarovaya published a major investigation [R] of these issues for “7×7 — Horizontal Russia” on 17 December 2017. Now, thanks to The Russian Reader, there is a full English translation, detailing this Orwellian attempt to rewrite the history of the killing fields at Sandarmokh.