By Paul Goble
Today, the government and people of Kazakhstan commemorate the terror famine Stalin unleashed against the Kazakhs in 1932-33, an action that killed more than 1.5 million members of that nation and qualifies as a genocide because it transformed the ethnic mix of that republic, allowing ethnic Russians to be the dominant group until the 1980s.
Many across the former Soviet space and elsewhere are familiar with Stalin’s terror famine in Ukraine, a famine that also rose to the level of genocide and helped to power the recovery of Ukrainian independence and the integration of the Ukrainian nation; but far fewer know about its analogue in Kazakhstan and about the role of that tragedy for Kazakhs now.
But given the increasing protests in Kazakhstan and the appearance of ever more anti-Russian groups within the Kazakh population (total.kz/society/2016/05/30/kogo_zaschischaet_komitet_arasha), the long-ago and half-forgotten genocide of the Kazakh people is attracting ever more attention among their modern counterparts; and it is incumbent on those beyond its borders to understand the continuing impact of this genocide too.
Saken Baikenov, a Kazakh blogger, begins his commentary on this event by quoting Russian analyst Dmitry Verkhoturov who has written that the terror famine “had an enormous influence on Kazakhs.” Indeed, “after this terrible year, the Kazakhs became another people, a MINORITY in Kazakhstan.” And that change continues to cast a shadow on the country today.
Indeed, Verkhoturov continues, “its remnant are a monument to all who died in the years of the Great Destruction. Too much was lost, too many people died who were not able to make their contribution.” All succeeding generations of Kazakhs have thus suffered as a result (facebook.com/saken.baikenov).
“The hunger in Kazakhstan in 1932-1933 was part of the all-union hunger arising as a result of the official policy of ‘the destruction of the kulaks as a class,’ collectivization, the incrase by the central powers of collections of good, and also the confiscation of livestock from the Kazakhs” – more than 90 percent of flocks were taken away or destroyed.
Population losses were almost as bad: 49 percent of the Kazakhs died or were killed and more than a quarter million more fled abroad to China or Afghanistan. (These are the so-called “oralmany,” many of whose descendants have returned to Kazakhstan in the last decade with their stories about this.)
The Kazakhs resisted both the drive to destroy their nomadic way of life and the plan to confine them to collective or state farms. More than 80,000 Kazakhs were involved in 372 risings during the anti-nomadic efforts and others fought the collectivization effort as best they could.
All this is the focus of exhibits, conferences and meetings in Kazakhstan this day and this week. But there is one new note that may matter even more in terms of the future of Kazakh national identity. As Baikenov points out, Moscow’s policies in the early 1930s were directed against all the Turkic peoples of the USSR/