Sakhalin, a large Russian island in the North Pacific Ocean, is located between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands. Originally, Oroks and Nivkhs lived on the northern part of this land and the Ainu lived on the southern part. There are plentiful natural resources like oil, coal, and natural gas. In winter, when the Tatar Strait is frozen, people can come and go between the mainland of Russia and Sakhalin Island. Therefore, it can be said that Sakhalin is an important island for Russia for its economy, ecology, and transportation. However, did you ever know that a sad part of Korea’s history is written about Sakhalin? Today, we will walk through the sorrowful footsteps of our ancestors that are printed on the snowy land of Sakhalin.
* History of Sakhalin
In the 19th century, based on a theory of imperialism, Japan began to proclaim sovereignty over the whole island of Sakhalin in 1845 both geographically and culturally. However, the Russian navigator Gennady Nevelskoy recorded the existence and navigability of the strait later given his name in 1849, Russian settlers began to establish coal mines, administration facilities, schools, and churches on the island. In 1855, Russia and Japan signed the Treaty of Shimoda, which declared that nationals of both countries could inhabit the island. Sakhalin separated in two parts: Russians in the north and Japanese in the south, without a clearly defined boundary between. The island remained under shared sovereignty until the signing of the 1875 Treaty of Saint Petersburg, in which Japan surrendered its claim to Sakhalin to Russia in exchange for the Kuril Islands.
In World War II, Japanese forces invaded and occupied Sakhalin in the closing stages of the Russo-Japanese War [the Russo Japanese war ended in 1905. Do you mean the Soviet-Japanese War that happened in 1945?]. By the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905 after Russo-Japanese War, the southern part of the island below the 50th parallel north reverted to Japan, while Russia retained the northern three-fifths. In 1945 when the Pacific War was over, Japan controlled their half of the island.
In August 1945, after repudiating the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact, the Soviet Union invaded southern Sakhalin. The Soviet attack started on August 11, 1945, a few days before the surrender of Japan. Actual fighting continued until August 21. From August 22 to August 23, most remaining Japanese units agreed to a ceasefire. The Soviets completed the conquest of Karafuto on August 25, 1945 by occupying the capital of Toyohara, where now is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Japan renounced its claims of sovereignty over southern Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951 - but the four offshore islands of Hokkaido currently administered by Russia were not subject to this renunciation.
* History of Sakhalin Koreans
Korean immigration to Sakhalin began in the early 1910s, when the Mitsui Group began recruiting laborers from the peninsula for their mining operations. There were fewer than one thousand Koreans in the whole of Karafuto Prefecture until the 1920s. However, after the 1930s when the Pacific War broke out, the Japanese government sought to put more people in the prefecture in order to ensure their control of the territory and fill the increasing demands of the coal mines and lumber yards. Recruiters turned to sourcing workers from the Korean peninsula to take advantage of the low wages there; at one point, over 150,000 Koreans worked on the island. Koreans who were put on the Sakhalin Island for labor had been previously exploited at mines or munitions factories.
The Soviet Union invaded the Japanese portion of Sakhalin on August 11, 1945. In this period, a rumor began to spread that Koreans had been serving as spies for the Soviet Union and this led to massacres of Koreans by Japanese police and civilians. Despite the generally limited amount of information about these massacres, two examples of massacres are comparatively well-known today: the incident in Kamishisuka (now Leonidovo) on August 18, 1945, and the incident in Mizuho Village (now Pozharskoye), which took place from August 20 to August 23, 1945.
In the years after the Soviet invasion, most of the Japanese civilians who had not been evacuated during the war left voluntarily under the auspices of the US-Soviet Agreement on repatriation of those left in the Sakhalin. 150,000 Koreans on the island safely returned to the mainland of Japan, and some went to the northern part of Korea. However, almost 43,000 were not accepted for repatriation by Japan, and could not be repatriated to the southern part of Korea because of the political situation: the conflict of ideology. The Soviet government initially had drawn up plans to repatriate the Koreans along with the Japanese, but the local administration on Sakhalin objected, arguing that incoming Russians from the mainland would not be sufficient to replace the skilled laborers who had already departed.
The indecision about the ultimate fate of the Sakhalin Koreans persisted until the outbreak of the Korean War, after which repatriation became a political impossibility. In 1957, South (?) Korea appealed for Japan's assistance to secure the departure of ethnic Koreans from Sakhalin, but Japan took no real action on the request. Japan continued its earlier policy of granting entrance only to Sakhalin Koreans who were married to Japanese citizens, or who had a Japanese parent. At that time, South Korea had no strength to solve Sakhalin Korean problem because of chaos after independence and war. Moreover, as Cold War escalated (it began in the mid 40s) in 1950s, interaction between the Republic of Korea and communist countries stopped, so the repatriation discussion was also blocked.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the situation of the Sakhalin Koreans improved as the outside world began to pay attention to their situation. Starting in 1966, Park No Hak, a former Sakhalin Korean who had earlier received permission to leave Sakhalin and settle in Japan by virtue of his Japanese wife, petitioned the Japanese government a total of 23 times to discuss the issue of the Sakhalin Koreans with the Soviet government. His actions inspired 500,000 South Koreans to form an organization to work towards the repatriation of their countrymen; in response, the South Korea began radio broadcasts targeted at the Sakhalin Koreans, in an effort to ensure them that they had never been forgotten. At the same time, Rei Mihara, a Tokyo housewife, formed a similar pressure group in Japan, and 18 Japanese lawyers attempted to sue the Japanese government to force them to accept diplomatic and financial responsibility for the transportation of the Sakhalin Koreans and their return to South Korea. However, the problems remain for the Sakhalin Koreans, and many of them are still suffering because of the South Korean and Japanese governments’ correspondence on the matter.
* What is the problem with the Repatriation of Sakhalin Koreans?
One of the most problematic things about the repatriation of Sakhalin Koreans is a passive attitude of the South Korean government. The South Korean government was cruelly unconcerned about our fellow countrymen in Sakhalin, and just used the repatriation problem to overcome their legitimacy crisis from an anti-Japanese and anti-communism perspective. Moreover, the Korean government has adhered to a passive attitude over Sakhalin Korean problem insisting that the primary responsibility of problem is Japan’s, and said the that government will act when the Japanese government starts to take its duty seriously. In addition, the Korean government accepted the Japanese government's stance that their responsibility is not a legal duty but a historical, ethical, and humane duty even though they have the primary obligation for the Sakhalin issue. This means that the Korean government will not ask for the legal liability of Japan’s government. This stance is still being maintained today.
The liability for Japan’s government concerning the Sakhalin Korean problem also cannot be excluded. Until now, Japan’s government have not admitted the 'responsibility' for the repatriation of Sakhalin Koreans, and instead they show a stance of 'supporting' Sakhalin Koreans. The Japanese government provided 700 hundred million won to the Homeland Visiting Program (temporary visiting, permanent residence, and revisiting [correct verb?] Sakhalin of permanent residents). Japan’s government is asserting that they did their best and ended their duties for Sakhalin Koreana. Also, the South Korean government is known for not protesting this claim.
Issues about repatriation responsibility for Sakhalin Koreans have advanced in two ways. The first thing is the duty of repatriation realization as same as a right after a war. The Homeland Visiting Program through the Red Cross can be seen as one of the example of this. The second thing is the duty of repatriation default. Both the Korean and Japanese government should have been repatriating the Sakhalin Koreans at appropriate time, but almost 20 years have passed since the fourth generation of Sakhalin Koreans were born, and more than 90% of the first generation of Sakhalin Korean are dead. Therefore, it can be said that duty about repatriation default are newly formed to both countries’ governments. Before this problem of liability is to begin in earnest, repatriation of Sakhalin Koreans should be solved at a fast, convincing level.
Beyond the Freezing Era
Korean history, particularly in the era of Japanese imperialism, is covered with sorrowful tears and blood. Many people are fighting for their and their ancestors' heartbroken memories. The thing we have to do for our tearful history is to remember, and talk endlessly until the truth wins. Until the appropriate apology and compensation be done, we must not forget about our fellow families who were left behind on a cold, frozen island.
Yun-Ju Sim -
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