Stalinist repressions in Mongolia
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The Stalinist repressions in Mongolia (Mongolian: Их Хэлмэгдүүлэлт, Ikh Khelmegdüülelt, "Great Repression") refers to a period of heightened political violence and persecution in the Mongolian People's Republic between 1937 and 1939. Also known as the Great Purge, the repressions were in fact an extension of the Stalinist purges unfolding in the Soviet Union around the same period. Soviet NKVD advisors, under the nominal direction of Mongolia's de facto leader Khorloogiin Choibalsan, persecuted individuals and organizations perceived as threats to the Mongolian revolution and the growing Soviet influence in the country. As in the Soviet Union, methods of repression included show trials, torture, and imprisonment in remote forced labor camps. Estimates differ, but anywhere between 20,000 to 35,000 "enemies of the revolution" were executed, a figure representing three to five percent of Mongolia's total population at the time. Victims included those suspected of espousing lamaism, pan-Mongolist nationalism, and pro-Japanese sentiment with the Buddhist clergy, aristocrats, intelligentsia, political dissidents, and ethnic Buryats and Kazakhs suffering the greatest losses.
By the time the purges ended in early 1939, an entire stratum of Mongolian society had effectively been exterminated while much of Mongolia's cultural heritage lay in ruins. Approximately 18,000 lamas were condemned to death while thousands more were forcibly laicized and conscripted into the Mongolian army. More than 700 Buddhist monasteries were destroyed. The old guard revolutionary class, viewed as heavily nationalist, was eliminated; twenty five persons from top positions in the party and government were executed (including former prime ministers Peljidiin Genden and Anandyn Amar), 187 from the military leadership, and 36 of the 51 members of the Central Committee. Choibalsan became Mongolia's unquestioned leader backed by Soviet advisors and a growing Red Army presence in the country and supported by younger apparatchiks who were more closely aligned with the Soviet Union, such as future leader Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal.
Following the Mongolian Revolution of 1921, infighting within the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) resulted in several waves of violent political purges, often instigated and aided by Comintern or Soviet agents and government advisors. In August 1922, Dogsomyn Bodoo, the first prime minister of the revolutionary period, and 14 others were executed without trial after confessing under torture by Soviet agents to conspiring to overthrow the government. Two years later Bodoo's chief accuser, Soliin Danzan, was executed during the Third Party Congress for representing "bourgeois interests". In 1928, several prominent MPRP members including Ajvaagiin Danzan, Jamsrangiin Tseveen, Tseren-Ochiryn Dambadorj, and Navaandorjiin Jadambaa, were imprisoned or exiled in a widescale purge of suspected rightwingers as the country launched its “Leftist Period” of more rapid collectivization, land expropriation, and persecution of the Buddhist Church. When those drastic measures resulted in popular uprisings throughout the country several of the MPRP's most hard-line leftists including Zolbingiin Shijee, Ölziin Badrakh, and Prime Minister Tsengeltiin Jigjidjav were officially expelled from the party. In 1933-34, in what is viewed as a dress rehearsal for the repressions of 1937-39, MPRP General Secretary Jambyn Lkhümbe and other MPRP elements, particularly Buryat-Mongols, were falsely accused of conspiring with Japanese spies. Over 1500 people were implicated and 56 were executed.
The public hysteria surrounding the Lkhümbe Affair was spurred in part by Japan's invasion of neighboring Manchuria in 1931. To defend against possible Japanese military expansion into the Soviet Far East, Stalin sought to stabilize Mongolia politically by eliminating opposition to the Soviet backed government and securing an agreement to permit the stationing of Red Army troops in the country. Mongolia's prime minister Peljidiin Genden, weary of growing Soviet domination, worked to postpone both a 1934 bilateral Gentlemen’s Agreement in which the USSR promised Soviet protection of Mongolia and the 1936 “Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation” that allowed Soviet troops to be stationed in the country. Genden likewise balked at Stalin’s recommendation that he elevate Mongolia’s internal affairs committee, 26 percent of whose staff were NKVD agents, to a fully independent ministry and that he increase the size of Mongolia’s military. Finally, he resisted Moscow's pressure to exterminate more than 100,000 of the country’s lamas, which Stalin called “the enemies within”. Faced with Genden's obstinacy, Stalin backed the promotion of Khorloogiin Choibalsan as Marshal and head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In March 1936, Choibalsan orchestrated Genden's removal from office for sabotaging Mongol-Soviet relations. Genden was arrested and sent to Moscow, where he was executed a year later. The politically feeble Anandyn Amar became Prime Minister, however Choibalsan became the de facto most powerful person in the country.
Over the next three years, Soviet mentors in the Ministry of Internal Affairs guided Choibalsan in planning and carrying out the impending purges. Under the direction of his Soviet handler Chopyak, Choibalsan had Internal Affairs Committee rules amended in May 1936 to facilitate the detention of high ranking politicians without first consulting political superiors. Soon thereafter 23 high ranking lamas were arrested for participating in a “counter revolutionary center.” Following a yearlong trial they were publicly executed in early October 1937. When Mongolia’s Procurator General protested the lamas’ prosecution, he too was arrested and then shot.
In August 1937, the 36-year-old Marshal Demid, whose popularity Choibalsan had always resented, died under suspicious circumstances resulting in Choibalsan’s promotion to the dual role of sole Commander-in-Chief of the Mongolian military and Minister of Defense. The following day Choibalsan, as Interior Minister, issued Order 366 which declared that many in Mongolia “had fallen under the influence of Japanese spies and provocateurs.” That same month Stalin, alarmed by Japanese military movements in Manchuria ordered the stationing of 30,000 Red Army troops in Mongolia and had dispatched a large Soviet delegation to Ulaanbaatar under Soviet Deputy NKVD Commissar Mikhail Frinovsky. Frinovsky was charged with setting in motion the violent purges that he had so effectively carried out in the Soviet Union under NKVD Chief Nikolai Yezhov. Working through Soviet advisers already embedded within the Ministry of Interior and with a willing Choibalsan providing symbolic cover, Frinovsky built the purge framework from behind the scenes; producing arrest lists and creating an NKVD style Troika (headed by Choibalsan) to try suspects.
The arrest of 65 high ranking government officials and intelligentsia on the night of Sept 10, 1937 signaled the launch of the purges in earnest. All were accused of spying for Japan as part of a Genden-Demid plot and most confessed under intense torture. The first show trial was staged at Ulaanbaatar's Central Theater from October 18 to 20, 1937. 13 of the 14 persons accused were sentenced to death.
In a spasm of violence that lasted nearly 18 months, Choibalsan’s troika approved and carried out the execution of over 18,000 counterrevolutionary lamas. Monks that were not executed were forcibly laicized while 746 of the country’s monasteries were liquidated. Thousands more dissident intellectuals, political and government officials labeled “enemies of the revolution,” as well as ethnic Buryats and Kazakhs were also rounded up and killed. 25 persons from top positions in the party and government were executed, 187 from the military leadership, 36 of the 51 members of the Central Committee. Following the Russian model, Choibalsan opened gulags in the countryside to imprison dissidents. While the NKVD effectively managed the purge by staging show trials and carrying out executions, a frequently intoxicated Choibalsan was sometimes present during torture and interrogations of suspected counterrevolutionaries, including old friends and comrades. Choibalsan rubber-stamped NKVD execution orders and at times personally directed executions. He also added names of political enemies to NKVD arrest lists simply to settle old scores. Nevertheless, even when he attempted to spare victims by recommending leniency in certain cases, NKVD officers often overrode his decision.
End of the Great Terror
Racked with stress, Choibalsan spent six months (August 1938 – January 1939) recuperating and consulting with Voroshilov, Yezhov, and Stalin in Moscow and Sochi  while NKVD agents and Interior Ministry officials carried on purge operations from Ulaanbaatar. When he returned to Mongolia, Choibalsan followed Soviet directives and had the highly popular Prime Minister Amar purged. Choibalsan claimed he "had helped anti-government plotters, opposed their arrest, and neglected the defense of the borders. He betrayed his own country and was a traitor to the revolution." After a coordinated propaganda campaign, Amar was arrested on March 7, 1939 and sent to the USSR, where he was later tried by a Soviet Troika and executed.
With Amar’s removal, Choibalsan became Mongolia’s uncontested leader, simultaneously holding the office Prime Minister, Minister for Internal Affairs, Minister of War, and Commander in Chief of the Mongolian armed forces. Secured in his position, Choibalsan brought the terror to an end in April 1939 by declaring that the excesses of the purges had been conducted by overzealous party officials while he was away in the USSR, but that he had overseen the arrests of the real criminals. Official blame for the purges fell on the deputy minister of internal affairs Nasantogtoh, and his former Soviet handler Kichikov. Later, other henchmen of the purge were arrested and executed, including Luvsansharav, Bayasgalan, Dashtseveg, and Luvsandorj. Dogsom and Losol, the last two living members (besides Choibalsan himself) of the original seven founding members of the MPRP, were also arrested. Dogsom was executed in 1941. Losol died in a Soviet prison before his case came to trial.
After the Revolution the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party committed itself to 'socialist transformation', following the instructions received from the Soviet Union. In 1926 in the MPR, the Law on the separation of church and state, which noted that "our government is sympathetic to religion Blessed Sakya munis, so it is within the law firm defends business compliance, study and dissemination of the teachings", but abolished the privileges the higher ranks of the Buddhist clergy - hubilganov and Hambo - and ordered each time for finding of a new rebirth to petition the government. Soon after, the MPRP and Revsomol led an active struggle for secularisation at the end of the 1920s as the country almost simultaneously with the Soviet Union began collectivization. It was the confiscation of property from the clergy and the old feudal nobility. In 1930 tayijis Eregdendagva wrote a letter to the Panchen Lama IX with a request to settle in the country of juvenile Bogd Gegen IX as a monarch, destroying the MPRP and stopping the secularization of the clergy with the assistance of the troops of the Chinese republic. One of the princes, which he showed this treatment, informed on him. According to the "Cause Eregdendagvy" those involved included Khiid Manjushri Manjushri Khutukhta and others allegedly supported the plan. As a result of the investigation on 30 September eight people were shot, led by Galsandashem. By the beginning of 1930 about 10 thousand monks have been expelled from monasteries. These processes and reforms displeased not only the well-off Arat, noyons and clergy, but for all the residents of Mongolia, which resulted in 1932 in the Chovsgol uprising which was suppressed in only six months. Leaders of the uprising were put on public trial and were sentenced to death. During 1933–1934, in "the cause Lhumbe" (named after J. Lhumbe, a prominent party and state leader of the MPR, Buryat nationality, accused of counter-revolutionary pro-Japanese agitation for creating an illegal organization for the purpose of staging a military coup to overthrow the Communist regime) were repressed 317 people: "Chentij group" - 174 people (30 sentenced to death), "Dornod group" - 110 people (18 executed), "Ulaanbaatar Group" - 33 person (executed five people). Most of the victims were from the northern Buryats aimags - Dornod, Chentij - and Ulan Bator. In addition to the prison sentences of five to 10 years, additional form of punishment was expulsion to the Soviet Union, followed by 5 years of imprisonment in the camps without the right to return to Mongolia.
On 22 March 1936 at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, Khorloogiin Choibalsan, with the support of Joseph Stalin, ousted chairman of People's Commissars of the Mongolian People's Republic, Peljidiin Genden, who opposed the deployment of Soviet troops in the country and the start of the country's large-scale repression of the clergy using the Soviet example.
In April 1936 Mongolia started the trial of lamas who were accused of "raising the prestige of religion," which was seen as counter-revolutionary and of spying for Japan (according to the indictment, lamas sent a letter to Mongolian immigrants, which presents a variety of information living in the border regions of Mongolia). The next process in October 1936, the defendants were accused of using Japanese help in planning an armed uprising and restoring the feudal system. Of the 17 defendants, six were sentenced to death and the others to various terms of imprisonment. During 1936 there were five public trials of the Buddhist clergy.
In 1937 Choibalsan sent several letters to the NKVD leader Nikolai Yezhov on the results of trials of lamas. In them, he thanked Yezhov for sending to Mongolia Mikhail Frinovsky, one of the organizers of the Great Purge in the Soviet Union. Choibalsan also pointed to the involvement of the lamas in counter-revolutionary activities and that he "carried out tips of Comrade Stalin," which are five show trials of top lamas on charges of treason, espionage and preparation of armed uprising. These processes are strongly compromised higher lamas. In May of that year, Choibalsan sent a letter-report to Yezhov, which cited the testimony of detainees and indicated Genden as a Japanese spy.
In July 1937 Genden, who lived with his family in the Crimea in the rest home "Foros," was arrested by the NKVD. NKVD fabricated a case where he allegedly operated in Mongolia Soviet Buryat Pan-Mongolist and pro-Japanese espionage organization, linked through the Soviet ambassador in Mongolia B. H. Tairov and military conspirators in the Red Army led by Mikhail Tukhachevsky. On 1 September secretary of the Buryat-Mongolian Regional Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) M. Erbanov was arrested on the case.
On 27 August Soviet troops were introduced to Mongolia. On 30 August Deputy People's Commissar of Internal Affairs of the USSR Mikhail Frinovsky handed Choibalsan copy of Genden readings and a list of 115 "conspirators." On 10 September in Mongolia, mass arrests began.
On 19 September 1937 the Politburo of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided: "To accept the offer tons. Frinovsky about organizing a special troika composed of Choibalsan, Minister of Justice and the Secretary of the MPRP Central Committee to hear cases on the Mongolian lamas."
On 4 October 1937 a public hearing was held against the major figures of the clergy, including the abbot of Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Ulaanbaatar and high lamas, Tibetan Enzon Khambo - Ts. Luvsanhaimchig and Ded Khambo B. Damdin, members of the "Central counter-revolutionary group". They were accused of spying in favor of the Panchen Lama IX and participation in all former counter-revolutionary conspiracies. Of the 23 defendants, 19 were sentenced to shooting, including high lamas Ts. Luvsankhaimchig, B. Damdin and Manjushri Khutuktu Tserendorj.
From 18 to 21 October 1937 at the State Theatre in Ulaanbaatar, a public demonstration was held against the former zamglavkoma MNRA Zharzhava Lamah, a former second zamsovnarkoma Gonchig Sambuu, a former nachgenshtaba MNRA Zhigdela Malget, the prosecutor of the republic M. D. Idamsuren, former Minister of Education and the other "members of the counterrevolutionary organization of Genden and Demid." Of the 14 defendants, 13 were shot. Within few months in 1937, 16 ministers and their deputies, 42 generals and senior officers, 44 senior officials of the state and economic apparatus were arrested.
On 20 October 1937, Emergency Commission was created, headed by Choibalsan to deal with cases of extrajudicial prisoners (by analogy with the "troika" in the USSR ). Shortly thereafter, in the Mongolian People's Republic, there began mass a repression against the clergy, including the destruction of Mongolian monasteries and the shootings of lamas. In 1938 Gandantegchinlen Monastery, declared the law in 1926 the center of the Buddhist faith in Mongolia was closed; During that time the largest Buddhist statue Megzhid Zhanrayseg disappeared (apparently dismantled and taken to the USSR to the smelter). Of the more than 800 monasteries in the vast majority of the country was destroyed. Lamas were almost completely eliminated.
Repression touched many members of the Mongolian intelligentsia declared "enemies of the people" (Buyanchuluun, Shachzhi, Huhte, Banzarov Yu, Byambyn Rinchen, Idamsuren, Tsendiin Damdinsuren etc.), who were accused of reactionary protserkovnaya and sabotage activities in the field of science and education. To the USSR were sent people suspected of Pan-Mongolist activities. Standard followed in "the case of the German spies," "cause of Japanese spies", "Port Arthur case" were accused of espionage, subversion, sabotage and subversive activities, the preparation of attacks on the leadership of the MPRP and the overthrow of the People's Government.
The repression also touched on members of national minorities: the Chinese were accused of spying for the regime of Chiang Kai-shek, and the Buryats accused of Pan-Mongolist conspirators and as Japanese agents.
After the removal of Genden as the head of government in 1936, Anandyn Amar was arrested in 1939 and his 28 closest associates. All of them were taken to the Soviet Union in July 1941 and were shot by the sentence of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR on the site "Kommunarka."
Mass repressions continued until April 1939.
Repression of the Buddhist establishment increased in December 1934, when Mongolian law was amended to ban religious teaching in schools, prevent children from entering monasteries, and ending the lamas' evasion of military service. Heavy taxes were also imposed on the monasteries. In the mid-1930s, before the Great Purge, there were some 800 Buddhist monasteries in Mongolia with 90,000 priests; in 1937 and 1938, most of the monasteries were ruined and between 16,000 and 17,000 priests were killed. According to one estimate, by 1939 the purges had killed 27,000 Mongolians (about 3% of the population; about half the victims were monks. During the Stalinist repressions, "Mongolia's religious institutions were virtually all destroyed, their property appropriated, and the lamas either killed or secularized. All together, 2,265 monastery buildings were destroyed and over 71.5 tons of metal statues shipped to the USSR for scrap."
The Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar was closed in 1938 at the height of the purges but reopened in 1944. It was the only monastery in Mongolia to remain functioning during the Communist era, and one of the very few that escaped destruction.
The number of people killed in the purges is usually estimated to have been between 22,000 and 35,000 people, or about three to four percent of Mongolia's population at that time. Nearly 18,000 victims were Buddhist lamas. Some authors also offer much higher estimates, up to 100,000 victims.
Mass graves were investigated in 1991 in Mörön, and in 2003 in Ulaanbaatar. The corpses of hundreds of executed lamas and civilians were unearthed, all killed with a shot to the base of the skull.
The "Victims of Political Persecution Museum" in Ulaanbaatar is dedicated to the victims of the purges. It was once the residence of executed Prime Minister Peljidiin Genden. In 1996 his daughter Tserendulam turned it into a museum. One of the exhibits is a row of skulls with bullet holes dating from the time of the purges.
The number of victims
The total number of people killed during the repression is estimated to be 22,000 to 33,000 people, which is about 3% to 5% of the population. Around the late 1930s the Mongolian People's Republic had a population of about 700,000 to 900,000 people.
Only from August 1937 to January 1938, according to the Soviet embassy in Mongolia, 10,728 people have been arrested including 7,814 lamas, 322 noyans, 180 army commanders and 408 Chinese. During this period, cases were heard on 7,171 people of whom 6,311 were executed. According to these data, the brunt of the repression was inflicted on Buddhist monasticism.
Between 1936 and 1939, two thirds of the members of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party were repressed, eight out of 10 members of the Presidium of the Central Committee. Pooled data for the same period of the Extraordinary Commission, headed by Choibalsan under the close supervision of advisers of the USSR condemned 25,588 people, of whom 20,099 were sentenced to death and executed. Proportion of victims in relation to the population of the country is much higher than the corresponding figures of the Great Purge in the Soviet Union. Afterwards 29,000 people were rehabilitated.
All leaders of Mongolia who did not recognise Russian demands to perform purges against Mongolians were executed by the Russians, Choibalsan recognized the demand due to the Soviet threat. In 1952 he suspiciously died in Russia. Comintern leader Bohumír Šmeral said, "The People of Mongolia are not important, the land is important. Mongolia is larger than England, France and Germany". The purges affected the whole country, although the main focus was on upper party and government ranks, the army, the Buryat ethnic group, patriots, nobles, nationalists, intellectuals, the wealthy and especially the Buddhist clergy. One very common accusation was collaboration with supposed pro-Japanese spy rings. Tens of thousands were killed in the purges; historian Hiroaki Kuromiya notes that "20,474 people were said to have been executed at the time of the Mongolian Great Terror," about 3% of the country's population.
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- Anandyn Amar, prime minister of Mongolia from 1936 to 1939
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