Famine in Kazakhstan: comprehending the tragedy
June 05. Kazpravda
A tragic date – 80th anniversary of the Famine in Kazakhstan, when in the result of thoughtless totalitarian policies millions of Kazakhs were killed, was marked in an international scientific-practical conference “Famine in Kazakhstan: the tragedy of the people and the lessons of history” in the Independence Palace. The forum, initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, was attended by leading scientific researchers from Europe, the US and CIS countries. On behalf of RK President Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed, RK State Secretary welcomed the Forum and read N.Nazarbayev’s greetings, telling that it is time to fully explore causes and consequences of this national tragedy. For many years the topic of Kazakh famine was overlooked and only after gaining independence, Kazakhstan received an opportunity to open the ghastly page of our history.
Scientists from more than 20 countries have contributed to bridging the gap in studying hunger in Kazakhstan. In the frames of the Forum, RK ministry of culture and information organized an exhibition “Famine in Kazakhstan, 1931-1933. Facts and documents. Exhibition of archival documents”, including original reports, correspondence of official bodies, reports on deaths and epidemics and appalling pictures of famine, in which more than 1.5 million people died from starvation and more than 600 thousand Kazakhs fleeing hunger and repressions, migrated to other countries. Paying tribute to the victims of famine in 1930s and mass terror in the USSR, the participants noted that study of famine and political repressions in the Soviet times should continue for the sake of historical truth and justice, creation of tools, preventing violence and totalitarian stereotypes in any forms.
Paying tribute to the ancestors: Mukhtar Kul-Muhammed, RK State Secretary
Historical memory of the demographic catastrophe was severely repressed in the years of Soviet regime, trying to root it out of people’s minds. People, who witnessed the tragedy kept silence under the ideological pressure; they saw countless corpses of famine victims in the streets, railway stations and villages. They were afraid to talk about it to their children and grandchildren.
People had little information about the tragedy, even historians, who knew something about it could not publish any data about the national drama because of the ideological pressure. So, historians kept silence, books and manuals were silent too. Not a word was uttered about the 1931-1933 mass famine in schools and universities.
Famine in Ukraine and in Russia in the same years was mentioned by Western researchers. During the WWII, many Soviet secret archives remained in Nazi-occupied territory, and later were taken from Germany by Anglo-American allies and submitted to various research centers. Based on these archival material Western studies reported about the tragedy of Ukrainian and Russian peasants, but nothing about mass famine in Kazakhstan.
Information breakthrough came after gaining independence in Kazakhstan. To study the tragedy’s circumstances and to determine legality of USSR and Kazakh SSR state laws, as well as party and government bodies of the republic, a parliamentary commission of RK Supreme Council was established. It was headed then by academician M. Kozybayev, director of Ch. Valikhanov Institute of history and ethnology, scientist and public figure.
The commission, working from November 1991 to December 1992, comprised well-known historians, heads of ministries and departments, including a minister of internal affairs, CNS chairman, General prosecutor, chair of Supreme Court, and media leaders. The commission studied a number of secret archives, including NKVD of the Kazakh SSR. As revealed by the Commission, local authorities tried to conceal facts and extent of the tragedy, although F. Goloshekin and other leaders of the republic, as well as local authorities were to blame directly for it.
The committee’s report and final conclusion was published on December 21-22 in newspapers “Egemen Kazakhstan”, “Kazakhstanskaya Pravda”, “Halyk kenesi”, “Kazakhstan councils”. According to the Commission total number of famine victims in Kazakhstan was 2 million 200 thousand people, of which 1 million 750 thousand were Kazakhs.
One of the most important conditions for solidarity, as we know, is common social and cultural memory, including the memory of our common historical past.
That’s why all these 20 years we have been restoring the obscured pages of our history. Freed from old ideological dogmas, our researchers and writers began to restore historical truth.
Tragic events of the early 1930s were researched and many publications came out. And today it is clear that the famine of 1931-1933 was not caused by a disaster, but the criminal policy of Stalinist regime.
As we know from 1920s Bolshevik regime started to develop militant “class expansion” into Kazakh Aul: redistribution of grasslands and croplands, called “agrarian reform”, confiscation of cattle from big “semi-feudal bais” by decree of August 28, 1928, which resulted in destruction of about one thousand strong economic cattle farms and waste of their livestock. These actions broke system links in cattle production complex.
Cattle farm economy languished under the tax pressure. Confiscation of livestock in villages started: for example, 1928 Balkhash district had 173 thousand heads of cattle, but the procurement agencies gave a plan for confiscation of 300 thousand cattle heads. Livestock was confiscated, because procurement campaign was backed by repressive measures. That time about 300 people were shot for “Sabotage of procurements”, more than 34 thousand were convicted.
Kazakhs were forced to transfer from nomadic to settled economy. The regime’s aims and interests were much more inhuman: the state needed more and more grain to export it and receive currency for industrialization needs.
The authorities did not care that these lands were used for cattle breeding, but planed to make these tribes work on grain crops.
But the final blow to the traditional structure of Kazakh village was caused by forced collectivization. “Stalin’s collective farm movement” was driven by Bolshevik Party’s general strategy: to deprive farmers of all kinds and forms of private property, that became possible due to their mass and forced association into collective farms, a convenient tool to seize agricultural product.
Collectivization, sedentary way of life, livestock confiscation, growing taxation, repressions against economically strong farmers ruined traditional structure of Kazakh village. Of 47 millions of livestock about 4.5 million heads of cattle remained. It was an unprecedented disaster in the history of cattle breeding.
Naturally it led to an unprecedented demographic crisis. The most common figures published are from 2 to 2.3 million victims of famine, including approximately 1.3-1.4 million people, who died of starvation and related diseases, about 1 million people, who left Kazakhstan, about 600 thousand of them had never returned.
We must pay tribute to all the victims of the Kazakh tragedy, which is unforgettable and will pass on from generation to generation.
Burkitbai AYAGAN, Director of the state history Institute in the Committee of science under RK ministry of education and science, doctor of historical sciences, professor: Causes and consequences
Industrialization and collectivization in 1920-30s, the famine affected almost every Kazakhstan family and became a critical stage the in life of Kazakh village. The consequences of this famine, called in western literature the “Great Famine”, turned to be tragic and painful for community.
The study of the Soviet experiment, for destructing private property in rural areas and establishment of inefficient collective farms remains topical. For example, hunger was typical for North Korea and a number of African countries. The analysis shows that North Korea experiment is much alike to the Soviet Union of the 30s: the same neglect of economic laws, hiding information about the famine, refusing from international aid and charity, militarization of economy, and arms race.
We, Kazakhstani scientists believe that a deep analysis of the causes, collectivization, identification of perpetrators of the tragedy remain one of the most important scientific problems.
In 1920s Bolshevik government searched for reserves to overcome devastation of the country, as well as to start industrialization policy. Kazakhstan, in their opinion, had more opportunities to replenish food supplies. The Soviet government intended to plow up the steppes and build powerful grain production here. The policy of collectivization in the country was conducted alongside with so-called policy of “sedentary” way of life, that ruined traditional forms of farming community.
Local authorities were under instruction that the proportion of kulak households in relation to the total weight of the household should not exceed 3-5%.To crack down those, who disagreed with these measures, specially designed extra-judicial bodies had been created. The so-called “triplets” examined 9 805 cases and made decisions on 22 933 individuals, 3 386 of them were sentenced to death, 13 151 people were sent to concentration death camps for 3-10 years. Under the guise of fighting kulaks and counterrevolution a real outrage was unleashed: local police and the Red Army executed innocent people. For example in October 1934, they killed Shakarim Kudaiberdiyev.
Due to collectivization, conducted by Communist Party, an appalling famine broke out in many parts of the country. Driven to despair, local Kazakhs were forced to abandon their homes and moved to cities, flocking near railway stations. Thousands of starving people came to cities and later various diseases and epidemics swept the country.
The population’s discontent flowed into armed clashes or migrations – 372 riots in 1929-1931 on the scientists’ estimates with more than 80 thousand people in them. The peasants seized the village councils, the authorities were beaten, the documents were burned. The riots were suppressed by militia and regular army units.
Famine, epidemics and punitive raids led to huge human losses. During these years, the population of the republic significantly reduced.
Party committees banned any mention of the famine. Moreover, the mass propaganda demagogically declared of collectivization policy successes.
By 1933, the party senior officials finally realized that the policy of collectivization had failed.
In order to keep people in villages, the authorities went as far as establishment of squads, blocking the dwellers’ flight and deprived them of passports even.
The famine resulted in transfer from nomadic to sedentary lifestyle and deprived them of the only source of livelihood.
The scale of the tragedy is so monstrous that we can name it a genocide policy, basing on international law and Convention “On Prevention and punishment for genocide”.
In March 2010 the PACE adopted a document commemorating the victims of the Great Famine (Holodomor) in the former USSR.
Holodomor in Ukraine and the Great Famine in Kazakhstan were classified as genocide by many countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, majority of countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
All the materials on it are yet to be studied, new findings keep emerging, thanks to cultural heritage program too.
Scientific understanding and research into the tragic part of history is important for the current and future generations of Kazakhstanis to infer lessons.