Soganlughi - A Place of Mass Executions

News | Research | Memory and Disinformation Studies | Publications 14 May 2012

One of the most painful pages of the history of Georgia is the “Great Terror” of 1937-1938. Repressions of the 1930s affected tens of thousands of Georgians and barely was a family left untouched by this tragedy. The highest sentence for convicts – the death penalty – was executed in several cities: Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, and Sokhumi.






According to the documents from the Archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (former KGB archive), the shootings took place at night, on an open field, 8 km away from the village of Soghanlughi, which is 18 km away from Tbilisi. Today, this place is adjacent to the Tbilisi-Rustavi roadway.


In 1953, after prosecuting the so-called „Beria Group” (Beria, Goglidze, Kobulov and others), the government started to review the cases of those repressed in 1937-38. During the period of 1954-58, many cases were reexamined and thousands of victims, who had previously been sentenced by the NKVD “Special Troika” (Особая Тройка при НКВД ГССР), Field Session of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union (Выездная Сессия Военной Коллегии Верховного Суда СССР), Special Counsil of the NKVD (Особое Совещание при НКВД СССР), and the other judicial or non-judicial state bodies, were rehabilitated.





In 1955, an open trial was held against the high officials of the NKVD (Tsereteli, Rukhadze, Rapava and others) in Georgia. One of the main accusations against them was the falsification of the cases against the victims of 1937-38 and using illegal methods for the investigation.


In addition, many officials and investigators were arrested for the same allegations and sentenced for participation in the repressions of 1937-38. The persons responsible for executing death sentences in 1937-38 were questioned. Their testimonies provide many details about where, how and at what scale the shootings took place. One witness describes the place of the mass executions:


«После осуждения арестованных судом или «трокой» решения этих органов  приводилось в исполнение»


Приговоренные к расстрелу, расстреливались в поле, в ночное время в 18 км. От Тбилиси, около села Соганлуги, в 8 км. от него. Расстреливал их начальник тюрьмы, дежурные по комендатуре . Расстреливали обычно, по 20, 40 человек, а иногда и 100. Некоторые арестованные кричали во время их расстрела «Да здравствует Ленин и Сталин», «Да здравствует коммунизм». Некоторые арестованные ругали следователей, проводивших расследование по их делу...»


The organization Memorial (aimed at the solidarity and commemoration of the victims of political repressions in the Soviet period) has been organizing educational and informational trips to these places for years. In collaboration with Memorial, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) is actively involved in these activities.


Apart from searching for the information in the archives, IDFI’s researchers look for the elderly people in villages near the execution sites to verify archival information through the accounts from eyewitnesses and collect their oral histories.


One such person was interviewed in the village of Gachiani. Talib Aliyev, around 100 years old, did not hesitate to tell us everything. In the summer of 1937-1938, when he was 25-26, he worked as a young shepherd, and he was herding sheep from Tsalka. He saw several times how at night, 10-12 trucks, the so-called “Polutorkas”, brought handcuffed prisoners near the large ditches that had been dug up beforehand. Following the story of Mr. Talib, we discover that the prisoners were injected before execution to avoid resistance and attempts to escape. This explains why there was no screaming. The shootings were carried out by the machineguns, and the survivors were shot one by one, presumably, by the leader of the execution team. The bodies of the victims were thrown in the ditch, and the land was levelled by tractors. The cloths of the executed people were burnt nearby. Our respondent started to cry during the interview because of these tragic memories.


To verify the archival documents, we looked in the Institute of Archeology and found the secret aerial images of that place taken in 1952. Together with archaeologists, we attempted to locate the exact area of mass burials.


The archival documents reveal that the mass executions occurred quite often and some prisoners were beaten before shooting.


«Мне вменялось в обязанность участвовать в расстрелах осужденных. Во время расстрелов происходили сцены, от которых буквально леденела кровь. Во-первых, расстрелы происходили очень часто, причем расстреливались сразу большие группы осужденных, подчас свыше сотни человек. Некоторых арестованных увозили на расстрел со следами жестоких избиений.


Особенно жутким было то, что многие арестованные непосредственно перед расстрелом, находясь у могилы, ругали нас палачами и кричали: «Дa здравствует партия Ленина-Сталина! Мы погибаем напрасно!»


According to one of the NKVD prison guards, the detainees’ hands were tied behind their backs and then they were transported to the site:


«... Эти же следователи иногда приходили в комендатуру, кода арестованных связывали, говорили на расстрел. Помню, что часто заключенные говорили этим следователям: «За что меня расстрел – вед- я не виноват. Операция по приведению приговоров-решений о расстреле были почти ежедневны, вывозили мы десятками, а то и около сотни человек. Приходилось наблюдать поведение приговоренных и сомневаться, виновен ли этот человек, так как при исполнении ряд лиц кричали «мы не виноваты, да здравствует Советский союз, и товарищ Сталин» Нередко вспоминали что либо о себе, говорили, что не виноваты и что партия разбирается, кто виноват...»


We also studied the testimonies of the Georgian NKVD prison doctors, describing the details of the executions in 1937-38. According to one of these accounts, the shootings took place usually at night, and the site was illuminated with car lights. Sometimes, as many as 300-400 persons were subjected to mass execution simultaneously. 


«...Мне приходилось выезжать на расстрелы осужденных. Расстрелы производились как правило ночью, место расстрела освещалось фарами автомобилей. На расстрелы вывозились  большое количество людей иногда по 3 или 4 сотни. Я выезжала не для установления и регистрации смерти лиц, в отношении которых приговора приводились в исполнение, а на случай оказания помощи сотрудникам приводившим приговора в исполнение...»


According to the testimony of one NKVD prison guard, although hundreds of individuals were transported for execution every day and many of them claimed innocence, there had been no cases of detainees returning from the execution site for further investigation about their convictions. 


«…Мы дежурили по суткам через двое суток, но в свободное время от дежурства в тюрьме использовались на операциях по расстрелам приговоренных. Бывали редкие дни, когда не вывозили на расстрел, а то возили десятками, до сотни и один раз при мне было вывезено ровно 300 человек. При подготовке к расстрелу и на месте расстрела нередко заключенные-приговоренные старались доказать, что ни в чем не виноваты. Некоторые кричали о невиновности и провозглашали «Да здравствует Родина, да здравствует Сталин» и другие такие возгласы, но не было случаев, чтобы ответственные за операции -когда либо возвратили кого либо из приговоренных в тюрьму, чтобы разобраться – виновен ли человек…»


As mentioned above, now we know the exact location of the mass graves of thousands of people executed in the 1930s. This is substantiated by the archival documentation as well as the accounts from eyewitnesses. 


For years, the organization Memorial tried to carry out excavations, plant the forest in the memory of the victims of repressions, and erect memorial desks. The project had been prepared but was not implemented due to the lack of funding. Despite several requests, neither the President nor the government or the private sector provided funding for at least building a cemetery for the thousands of victims of the Soviet repressions.    


During one visit in May, we discovered a vast amount of earthfill at the site. The territory belongs to the Georgian Patriarchate, which, at our request, communicated with the people in charge and discovered that piling earth there was a misunderstanding, and they promised they would remove their waste from the graveyard. The Patriarchate also pledged the support and cooperation in our effort to commemorate the victims. 


We hope that the situation will be improved. We plan to continue working on this issue and visit the execution site in a week to see if it cleaned from the waste. 


In the future, we plan to bring experts to these graves who will carry out the excavations to identify the exact places of burial.


IDFI and Memorial continue to look for funding in order to plant the forest and build memorial desks for commemorating the victims of repressions.


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