Kazakh, US scholars raise awareness of 1930s Soviet-induced famine

By Caravanserai and AFP


Members of the Almaty-based MG Productions film crew give actors instructions during shooting of 'The Crying Steppe' in the mountains near Suiksai village along the Kazakh-Chinese border in February 2018. The film depicts the tragedy of the Stalin-induced famine in Kazakhstan in the 1930s. [Kanat Altynbayev/Caravanserai]

WASHINGTON -- Kazakh and US scholars are working to raise awareness, particularly among Kazakh youth, about the deliberately induced famine of the 1930s.

The famine resulted from Soviet policies meant to force Kazakhs to give up nomadism and become sedentary farmers. The government ruthlessly ordered them to meet impossible grain production quotas and seized their livestock.

The population starved as a result.

The Kazakh embassy in the United States and George Washington University's Central Asia Programme on June 8 co-hosted a discussion on "Remembering Kazakhstan's Great Famine of the 1930s" via video conference, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry press office said in a statement.


Kazakh and US scholars June 8 took part in a video conference on the Kazakh famine of the 1930s. [Kazakh embassy in Washington]

Participants included Kazakh Ambassador to the United States Yerzhan Ashikbayev, University of Maryland historian Sarah Cameron and Kazakh political scientist Dosym Satpayev.

Opening the discussion, Ashikbayev cited the need to take a thoroughly scholarly approach to studying the famine and to avoid politicisation.

The famine, known as "Asharshylyk" in Kazakh, took an estimated 1.5 million lives, representing about a fourth of the population of Kazakhstan, said Cameron, who wrote a book on the topic.

Satpayev's private educational foundation in May 2020 published a Kazakh-language translation of the book -- "The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan".

"The importance of this research lies in the fact that it was prepared by someone who looked at this topic as objectively as possible, as a scholar, in order to... recognise the Kazakh famine as one of the great tragedies of the 20th century," Satpayev wrote on Facebook at the time.

"Our youth must know about the Stalinist repressions and forced labour camps in Kazakhstan," he said.


The Kazakh famine, as well as the Ukrainian famine, the mass executions under Joseph Stalin and many other crimes of the Soviet regime, is a sensitive point the Kremlin would rather not confront.

In 2019, the Russian Foreign Ministry posted a defensive statement in response to additional revelations about the Kazakh catastrophe of the 1930s.

The famine had natural causes, such as a drought and crop failure, and was compounded by "emergency measures that made things worse", the ministry said at the time, skirting around the unfavourable details.

The effort to rewrite history continues in Moscow today.

Russian authorities are ramping up pressure on researchers and activists who oppose Moscow's historical narrative, especially concerning Stalin-era purges and collaboration with Nazi Germany, an international rights group said Thursday (June 10).

The report published by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) "comprehensively catalogues repressive acts related to historical memory" targeting historians, activists and journalists for their work on Russian history.

The FIDH warned of the Kremlin's "crimes against history", which it described as a "range of extreme abuses of history committed by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes".

The group pointed to the "criminalisation of speech" through dozens of laws but also through the censorship of historical works and the refusal of public access to archives.

The report accused Moscow of failing to provide either "material or symbolic" compensation to victims of Soviet-era crimes.

FIDH denounced the use of "propaganda" to push the regime's narrative through the establishment of patriotic institutions and the introduction of unified history textbooks.

Since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the Kremlin has championed Russia's resurgence as a global power and glorified Soviet achievements such as the victory in World War II.

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19 Comment(s)

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We will neither forget nor forgive.


The USSR is a criminal state. Russia has become the same.


The USSR is evil, and today's Russia is a career criminal.


One shouldn't compare the USSR and Germany. Germany didn't kill millions of its citizens.


But they annihilated millions of other people, including those very Kazakhs who fought on the front lines.


And the USSR killed both foreigners and its own people.


Why are Russians so fixated on this disgraceful May 9? This war is long over; it's time to forget about that. Especially since the USSR, not Russia, waged that war. It was a totally different country.


You don't say! It is over indeed, but had Germany won, where would your relatives be, let alone yourself?


Forget about this war finished long ago.

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Problems are abundant; I can't argue with that. Fourteen people in your family did not come back home from the war. Those who didn't return are never remembered in your family. But you don't care about the essence of the problem with these losses. Some platoons started fighting with only five rifles. As soon as anybody with a rifle got killed, the next one ran to fetch the weapon. A cavalry division had 150 rifles; the rest fought tanks with sabers. That's why the loss of life was so horrendous in your family, too. One shouldn't keep silent about it. 1.5 million Kazakhs died from artificially created famine during peacetime, and no one talks about it. If we keep silent like that, this will repeat itself.


Then why do you poke your nose into other countries all the time? Why do you need Crimea when the Russian economy is in shambles? Russian retirees had to turn into dumpster divers, eating garbage; people are hungry and impoverished. What's the mess with NATO?


Well, if the great American scientists have started working on it, then we should expect breakthroughs in every field! Then it would truly be correct to perceive the seventy years of Soviet rule as a mistake! It is necessary to fall back on our primordial roots immediately! Get back to the nomadic cattle breeding! The whole world will line up to get some fragrant lamb from Kazakhstan's boundless pastures! Give it 30 more years, and we will be living high on the hog like our Ukrainian brothers!


First, resurrect millions of people killed by your Soviet rule.


The Russian Duma adopted legislation that would make it illegal to equate actions of the USSR to those of Nazi Germany in WWII At last! This law turned out to be very appropriate, made to tidy up our tired brains. How often can people keeping bundling together Stalin and Hitler? Sure: the moustache, lack of education, despising democracy, the partition of Poland, but is it possible to miss the glaring differences? Both during WWII and otherwise... The Nazis built National Socialism; we built Communism - don't you get it? They had their thousand-year Reich, and we had a boundless "bright future." Those are completely different, aren't they? That bastard Hitler preached the superiority of the Aryans, and murdered only Jews, Blacks, and Gypsies, but Stalin was an internationalist; he was willing to put anyone's head on the chopping block, as the occasion demanded, from Crimean Tartars to Estonians. But only in the best interests of the working people! Do you feel the difference? Of course, gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other nonstandard people in the USSR also came under pressure. Still, the Nazis did it like beasts, as their misanthropic ideology dictated, but we did it in a brotherly manner while we built Communism. Yet, Stalin killed more Communists than Hitler - it just worked out like that. Hitler simply didn't have that many. That's a difference. Don't you feel it? Both Nazis and we had made the killing of people an industry. But this process was much more diverse in the


Thanks to America


The USSR committed heinous crimes against peoples. On a par with Hitler


I see those equating the USSR to Germany got bitten by jackasses


Pigs bit you in the past; it affected your behaviour.