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.
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.