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The Kazakh Famine of 1930-33: Current Research and New Directions

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Abstract

Although the Kazakh famine of 1930-33 led to the death of 1.5 million people, a quarter of Soviet Kazakhstan’s population, the crisis is little known in the West. However, in recent years a number of scholars in Europe and the United States have begun to research the issue. This article offers an overview of their scholarship, highlighting points of agreement and debate. But despite this new wave of scholarly interest, several facets of the Kazakh disaster still remain poorly understood. This essay concludes by suggesting areas for future scholarly investigation and research.
©"2016"East/West:)Journal)of)Ukrainian)Studies"(ewjus.com)"ISSN"2292-7956"
Volume"III,"No."2"(2016)"DOI:"http://dx.doi.org/10.21226/T2T59X""
The$Kazakh$Famine$of$1930-33:$Current$Research$
and$New$Directions$
Sarah$Cameron$
University)of)Maryland))
Abstract:"Although" the" Kazakh" famine"of" 1930-33" led" to" the" death" of" 1.5" million"
people,"a"quarter"of"Soviet"Kazakhstan’s"population,"the"crisis"is"little"known"in"the"
West." However," in" recent" years" a" number" of" scholars" in" Europe" and" the" United"
States" have" begun" to" research" the" issue." This" article" offers" an" overview" of" their"
scholarship,"highlighting"points"of"agreement"and"debate."But"despite"this"new"wave"
of" scholarly" interest," several" facets" of" the" Kazakh" disaster" still" remain" poorly"
understood." This" essay" concludes" by" suggesting" areas" for" future" scholarly"
investigation"and"research."
Keywords:$Famine,"Kazakhstan,"Soviet,"Genocide,"Nomad$
rom"1930" to" 1933," a" devastating" famine" ravaged" the" new" Soviet"
republic"of"Kazakhstan." More" than" 1.5" million" people,"approximately"a"
quarter"of" the"republic’s"population"at"the"time,"perished" in"the"crisis."The"
catastrophe,"which"was"sparked"by"Joseph" Stalin’s"policies"of"radical"state"
transformation," provoked" profound" social," demographic," and"
environmental"changes"in"Soviet"Kazakhstan,"a"territory"approximately"the"
size" of" continental" Europe." Its" effects" continue" to" be" felt" in" independent"
Kazakhstan" today." Though" the" Kazakh" famine" of" 1930-33" has" important"
implications" for" Soviet" history," a s" well" as" the" study" of" mass" violence" and"
comparative" famines," the" crisis" is" little" known" in" the" West." Most" major"
overviews"of"the"Soviet"period"refer"to"the"Kazakh"disaster"only"in"passing,"
and" the" Kazakh" famine" is" rarely" mentioned" in" synthetic" accounts" of"
twentieth-century"mass"violence.""
This" essay" begins" with" a" brief" overview" of" the" basic" features" of" the"
Kazakh"famine"as"they"are"currently"understood"by"historians."It"discusses"
some"of" the" explanations" given"for"the" Kazakh" famine"at"the"time," and" by"
later"generations"of"Soviet"scholars."It"then"examines"several"recent"studies"
of"the"Kazakh"famine"by"Western"scholars."Combined,"this"new"scholarship"
highlights" the" violent" nature" of" the" Soviet" regime’s" assault" on" Kazakh"
society." It" has" also" begun" to" raise" awareness" of" the" issue" of" the" Kazakh"
famine" of"1930-33" among" historians"writing"in" the" West." But" despite"this"
new"wave" of" scholarly" interest,"several"facets"of" that" disaster" still" remain"
F"
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poorly"understood."This"essay"concludes"by"suggesting"a"number"of"areas"
for"future"scholarly"investigation"and"research."
"
THE"BASIC"FEATURES"OF"THE"KAZAKH"FAMINE"
The"Kazakh"famine" was"a"part"of"the" collectivization"famines"that" afflicted"
the" Soviet" Union" during" the" years" 1930-33," most" notably" in" Ukraine" but"
also" in" the" Volga," Don," and" Kuban" areas" of" the" Russian" Soviet" Federated"
Socialist" Republic" (SFSR)." Each" famine" was" sparked" by" the" same" basic"
cause."In" 1929,"under"Stalin’s"leadership," the"Bolshevik"Party"launched" the"
First" Five-Year" Plan," a" program" to" transform" society," industry," and"
agriculture"across"the"new"Soviet"state."Activists"worked"to"collectivize"the"
countryside," uprooting" peasants" from" their" lands" and" funneling" their"
agricultural"products,"such"as"meat"and"grain,"to"the"state."This"assault"was"
particularly" brutal," and" those" regions" that" had" traditionally" supplied" the"
food"soon"began"to"suffer."
On"the"eve"of"the"famine,"the"new"Soviet"republic"of"Kazakhstan"was"a"
multi-ethnic" society" composed" of" a" group" of" Muslim," Turkic-speaking"
nomads" known" as" “Kazakhs,”" the" republic’s" majority" ethnic" group" (57.1"
percent" of"the" population)," and" of" significant" Russian" and" Ukrainian"
minorities19.6" and" 13.2" percent" respectively" (Vsesoiuznaia) perepisʹ"82;"
IX)."As"nomads,"Kazakhs"carried"out"seasonal"migrations"along"pre-defined"
routes" with" their" animal" herds," such" as" camels," sheep," and" horses." They"
migrated"in"nomadic"encampments"known"as"auls,"with"each"aul"consisting"
of" somewhere" between" two" to" eight" households." This" way" of" life" was" an"
adaption"to" the" peculiarities" of" the" Kazakh"steppe"environment,"including"
the"scarcity"of"good"pastureland"and"water.""
The"place"known"as"“Kazakhstan”"was"a"product"of"Soviet"rule:"In"1924"
Moscow"began"to"reorganize"the"borders"of"Soviet"Central"Asia"based"upon"
the" principle" of" nationality." It" cobbled" together" territories" with" distinct"
cultural," historical," and" environmental" features," creating" what" became"
known"as"Kazakhstan,"or"the"Kazakh"Autonomous"Soviet"Socialist"Republic"
(ASSR).1"Kazakhstan"was"distinguished"both" by" its" sizeit" was" the" Soviet"
Union’s" second-largest" republic," exceeded" in" size" only" by" the" Russian"
1"Immediately"after"the"1924"national"delimitation,"or"reorganization"of"the"political"
borders"of"Soviet"Central"Asia"based"upon"the"principle"of"nationality,"this"territory"
was"known"as"the"Kyrgyz"ASSR."In"1925"it"was"renamed"the"Kazakh"ASSR."In"1936"
Kazakhstan"became"an"SSR"with"full"union-republic"status."
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SFSRand" by" the" number" of" its" pastoral" nomads," the" largest" of" any"
republic"in"the"Soviet"Union.""
Kazakhstan’s"Slavic"peasant"population"was"concentrated"heavily"in"the"
republic’s" fertile" northern"and" southeastern" regions." Most" were" relatively"
recent" arrivals," having" settled" the" Kazakh" steppe" under" Russian" imperial"
rule"during"an"intense"period"of"peasant"colonization"in"the"late"nineteenth"
and"early"twentieth"centuries."As"they"brought"large"swathes"of"the"steppe"
under"cultivation,"those" settlers" transformed" the" steppe"and" its" economic"
practices,"and" these" changes,"which"ranged"from"shifts"in" trading"patterns"
to"alterations"in"the"Kazakh"nomads’"migration"routes,"would"later"serve"to"
intensify" the" effects" of" the" Soviet" regime’s" brutal" policies." By" the" early"
Soviet"period,"northern"Kazakhstan"had" become" one" of" the" Soviet"Union’s"
most"important"grain-producing"regions.""
During" 1929" and" 1930," Moscow" launched" the" first" collectivization"
drive."In"certain" Kazakh" regions"of"the"republic,"activists" began" a"program"
of"“full"collectivization"on" the" basis" of" sedentarization,”" a" scheme" to" settle"
and" collectivize" nomads" simultaneously." Famine" began" in" the" winter" of"
1930,"a"year"earlier"than"in"other"parts"of"the"Soviet"Union."Though"hunger"
struck"Russian"and"Ukrainian"peasant" communities"in" the"republic’s"north"
and"southeast,"it"hit"the"nomadic"Kazakhs"with"particular"intensity."Nomads"
began"slaughtering"their"livestock"herds"for"food"and"fleeing"the"republic."
During" the" years" 1931-33the" height" of" the" Kazakh" faminemore" than"
1.1" million" people," the" vast" majority" of" them" Kazakhs," left" the" republic.2"
They"fled"to" neighbouring"Soviet"republics" but"also"abroad,"to" the"Chinese"
province"of"Xinjiang,"which"bordered"Soviet"Kazakhstan"to"the"east."Many"of"
these" refugees" would" never" return" to" Kazakhstan," settling" in" China" or" in"
neighbouring" Soviet" republics" permanently." Within" Kazakhstan," massive"
uprisings," some" numbering" several" thousand" participants," erupted" in" the"
fall"of" 1929" and" throughout" the" years" 1930-33."Red"Army" troops" brutally"
put"down"these"rebellions."
Stalin"and"Filipp"Goloshchekin,"Kazakhstan’s"leader"and"Party"secretary"
for" much" of" the" famine," corresponded" regularly" during" these" crises," and"
Stalin"was"aware"of"the"extent"of"Kazakh"suffering."On"17"September"1932,"
after" the" republic" had" endured" nearly" three" years" of" agony," the" Party’s"
Central" Committee" authorized" limited" concessions," including" the" private"
ownership"of"animals"by"nomads"and"shipments"of"food"aid."In"early"1933,"
Moscow"fired"Goloshchekin"from"his"position,"charged"him"with"committing"
2"APRK,"f."141,"op."1,"d."6545,"l."169,"republished"in"Degitaev"292."
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“errors”" in" his" leadership" of" the" republic," and" replaced" him" with" an"
Armenian," Levon" Mirzoian." The" famine" itself," however," continued" until"
1934," when" the" republic" finally" began" a" slow" and" painful" process" of"
recovery."
While" the" Kazakh" famine" of" 1930-33" resembles" the" other" Soviet"
collectivization" famines" in" its" broad" outlines," it" has" several" distinctive"
features:"In"Kazakhstan"the"famine’s"primary"victims"were"pastoral"nomads"
rather" than" peasants." Thus" the" dynamics" of" hunger" in" Kazakhstan" were"
different"than"in"the"Soviet"Union’s"westthe"flight"of"starving"refugees,"for"
instance," was" much" greater" in" the" Kazakh" famine," as" nomads" used" their"
knowledge" of" seasonal" migration" routes" to" evade" repressionwhile" the"
societal"effects"of"the"famine"were"arguably"even"more"catastrophic."During"
the"famine"some"ninety"percent"of"the"republic’s"livestock"herds"perished,"
dealing" a" devastating" blow" to" pastoral" nomadic" society.3"Without" their"
herds," Kazakhs" could" not" nomadize." They" had" no" livelihood" or" means" of"
acquiring"food."Prior"to" the" famine," being" Kazakh"was" closely" intertwined"
with"being"a"nomad."But"with"the"death"of"their"animal"herds,"most"Kazakhs"
were" forced" to" sedentarize," or" take" up" settled" livesa" dramatic"
reorientation"of"identity."
Ultimately,"through"the"most"violent"means,"the"Kazakh"famine"created"
Soviet" Kazakhstan," a" stable" territory" with" clearly" delineated" boundaries"
that"was"an"integral"part"of"the"Soviet"economic"system." But" the"nature"of"
this" state-driven" transformation" was" uneven:" neither" Kazakhstan" nor"
Kazakhs"themselves"became"integrated"into" the"Soviet"system"in" precisely"
the" ways" that" Moscow" had" originally" hoped." The" costs" of" this" state"
formation"were"horrific,"both"for" the"regime,"which"saw"a"massive"drop" in"
the" region’s" agricultural" productivity" in" the" post-famine" years," and"
especially"for"Kazakh"society"itself,"which"bore"the"disproportionate"burden"
of" the" disaster’s" death" toll." Of" its" 1.5" million" victims," approximately" 1.3"
million" were" Kazakhs." More" than" a" third" of" all" Kazakhs" perished" in" the"
famine,"and"in"the"aftermath"of"the" disaster" Kazakhs" became"a" minority" in"
their"own"republic."Through"the"crisis,"Moscow"had"sought"to"eradicate"pre-
existing"elements"of" Kazakh" identity," such" as" kinship" ties," allegiances" to" a"
hereditary" elite," and" the" Kazakh" pastoral" nomadic" way" of" life,"
superimposing" the" category" of" nationality," “Kazakh,”" in" their" place." But"
3"A" secret" police" report" in" October" 1932" calculated" that" animal" numbers" in" the"
republic"had"dropped"by"90.8"percent"in" comparison" with" 1929." In" some" districts,"
animal"losses"were"estimated"at"99.5"percent."RGASPI"f."108,"op."1,"d."11,"l."3-4,"cited"
in"Danilov,"Manning,"and"Viola"2:"22."
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despite"the"regime’s"efforts,"many"of"these" pre-existing"features" of"Kazakh"
identity,"such"as"clans"or"even"nomadism"itself"(which"the"regime"revived"in"
limited" areas" of" the" republic" in" the" post-famine" years" to" build" up" the"
republic’s" livestock" reserves)," continued" to" play" an" important" role" in"
Kazakh"life"after"the"end"of"the"famine."
"
THE"KAZAKH"FAMINE"AND"WESTERN"SCHOLARSHIP"
In"the"decades" after"the"disaster,"the" Kazakh"famine"was"little"discussed"in"
works"published"in"the"Soviet"Union."Later"generations"of"Soviet"historians,"
while"touting"the"“victories”"of" collective"farm"construction"in"Kazakhstan,"
acknowledged" “mistakes”" and" “excesses”" in" nomadic" regions" during" the"
years" 1930-33," largely" blaming" Goloshchekin’s" wrong-headed" leadership,"
the" explanation" given" at" the" time" (Tursunbaev" 1957;" Tursunbaev,"
Kazakhskii) aul"1967;"Dakhshleiger" and" Nurpeisov)." Only" in"the" late" 1980s"
and"early"1990s,"as"the"Soviet"Union"itself"began"to"crumble,"did"discussion"
of" the" Kazakh" famine" explode" into" public" view." In" 1992" a" government"
commission" under" the" auspices" of" Kazakhstan’s" president" Nursultan"
Nazarbayev"ruled"that"the"Kazakh"famine"should"be"considered"a"genocide,"
and" throughout" the" 1990s" the" topic" of" the" Kazakh" famine" dominated"
popular"and"scholarly"Russian"and"Kazakh-language"media"in"Kazakhstan.4"
Strangely,"some"of"those"studies"simply"repeated"the"Soviet"explanation"for"
the" famine," terming" it" “Goloshchekin’s" genocide”" (Abdairaeiymov;"
Abylkhozhin," Kozybaev," and" Tatimov" et" al.)." Other" Kazakhstani" scholars,"
publishing"in"Russian"and" in" Kazakh," offered" rich" investigations"rooted"in"
the" archives" of" the" causes" and" consequences" of" the" fam ine" (Abylkhozhin;"
Omarbekov"1994,"1997,"2003)."
By" the" late" 1990s," however," there" were" few" scholarly" or" public"
inquiries" into" the" disaster," and" public" attention" in" Kazakhstan" began"
moving"away"from"the"subject"of"the"famine."The"reasons"for"this"shift"need"
further"study,"but"they"may"include"official"fears"that"further"investigation"
into"the"famine"would"sour"Kazakhstan’s"close"relationship"with"Russia."In"
May" 2012," in" a" speech" at" the" dedication" of"a" memorial" to" the" famine’s"
victims" in" Astana," Kazakhstan’s" capital," Nazarbayev" signaled" that" public"
discussion"of"the" famine" might" resume," but" in" a"more" limited" fashion:" He"
urged"Kazakhs"to"remember"the"famine"but" cautioned"against"the"dangers"
4"On"the"findings"of"this"presidential"commission,"see"Kozybaev"15."
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of" “politicizing”" the" disaster," a" reference" that" evokes" efforts" to" seek"
reparations"for"the"Ukrainian"famine"from"Russia.5"
Historians"in" the" West"studying" the" Soviet" Union" have" been" slow" to"
catch"up"to"the"efforts"of"their"Kazakhstani"colleagues."The"earliest"studies"
of"the"Kazakh"famine"by"Western"scholars"provided"useful"overviews"of"the"
disaster’s"key"events,"but"they"were"hampered"by"the"inaccessibility"of"the"
Soviet"archives."In"a"1981"article"on"the"collectivization"drive"in"Kazakhstan,"
the"American"scholar"Martha"Brill"Olcott"framed"the"Kazakh"famine"largely"
as"a"miscalculation"on"the"part"of"Stalin"and"others,"who,"she"argued,"poorly"
understood"the"specifics"of"the"Kazakhs’"pastoral"nomadic"economy"(Olcott"
122-42)."In"his"seminal"1986"work"on"the"Ukrainian"famine,"The)Harvest)of)
Sorrow,) the" historian" Robert" Conquest" included" a" chapter" on" the" Kazakh"
famine," which" drew" upon" Olcott’s" materials" and" reached" similar"
conclusions"(Conquest"189-98)."
In"the"West"study"of"the"Kazakh"famine"then"lay"dormant"for"nearly"two"
decades" until" an" international" group" of" scholars" began" to" revive" it." They"
include" the" French" scholar" Isabelle" Ohayon," the" Italian" scholar" Niccolò"
Pianciola,"the"American"scholar"Matthew"Payne,"the"German"scholar"Robert"
Kindler,"and"me,"an"American"scholar"at"the"University"of"Maryland-College"
Park" (Ohayon;" Pianciola" 2009;" Payne" 2011;" Kindler;" Cameron;" Mark;"and"
Werth).6"These"scholars"benefitted"from"the"opening"of"the"Soviet"state"and"
Party"archives"after"the"fall"of"the"Soviet"Union"in"1991."More"recently,"the"
President’s" Archive" of" the" Republic" of" Kazakhstan," which" holds" records"
pertaining" to" the" activities" of" Soviet" Kazakhstan’s" Communist" Party," has"
released" the" records" of" important" Party" control" commissions" and"
inspectorate" commissions" that" operated" during" the" famine.7"Under"
President"Nazarbayev’s"program"of"limited"public"discussion"of"the"famine,"
Kazakhstan’s"Ministry"of"Culture"has"begun"work"on"a"useful"multi-volume"
document" collection" devoted" to" the" Kazakh" famine," the" first" volume" of"
which" has" been" released," which" compiles" archival" documents" from" state,"
Party,"and"regional"archives"(Zulkasheva)."
5"Nazarbayev"noted:"“But" we" should"be"wise"in"interpreting"history"and"not"allow"
the"politicization"of"this"theme”"(“Vystuplenie”"9)."
6"Pianciola"2004"includes"many"of"his"conclusions"in"English.""
7"At"the"Presidential"Archives,"these" are"the"Peoples’"Commissariat"of"the"Worker-
Peasant" Inspectorate"(collection" 719)" and" the" Authorized" Commission" of" Party"
Control" (collection" 725)," as"well"as" the"“secret”"opis"(subdivision)," of" the" regional"
Party"Committee"(collection"141,)opis"17)."
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By" no" means" have" all" of" the" archival" records" relating" to" the" famine"
become"available."For"example,"Kazakhstan’s"secret"police"archives"and"the"
personal" files" of" certain" key" individuals," such" as" Goloshchekin," remain"
closed"to"both"foreign"researchers"and"most"local"researchers.8"But"this"new"
wave"of"foreign"scholars"has"utilized"the" rich"records"that" are"available"to"
make" a" number" of" key" interventions" in" the" scholarly" literature." Their"
combined"research"illustrates" the"violent"nature"of"the" regime’s"assault"on"
Kazakh"society."Rather"than"framing"Stalin"as"unaware"of"the"disaster,"their"
scholarship" has" revealed" that" Stalin" knew" of" the" Kazakhs’" suffering" at"
several"key"points"in"the"famine"yet"offered"no"concessions.""
These" findings" puncture" the" long-standing" misconception" that" the"
Kazakh"famine"was"primarily"a"“natural”"process,"one"that"was"distinct"from"
the" more" brutal" path" that" collectivization" took" elsewhere" in"the" Soviet"
Union." This" notion" still" lingers" in" the" scholarly" literature:" The" Kazakh"
disaster" is" often" dismissed" as" Moscow’s" “mistake”" or" “miscalculation,"
depictions"that"would" seem" to" downplay" the" disaster’s" violent" nature.9"In"
part,"such"portrayals"evoke"the" ideas" of" evolutionary"theorists,"who"argue"
that" the" disappearance" of" mobile" peoples" and" their" transformation" into"
settled" societies" are" an" inevitable" outgrowth" of" modernity." A" number" of"
scholars" working" outside" the" field" of" Soviet" history" have" successfully"
challenged" the" conclusions" of" evolutionary" theory," but" it" has" clouded"
interpretations" of" the" Kazakh" famine.10"Arguably," the" sense" or" the"
implication"that"the"Kazakh"famine"was"not"really"an"act"of"terror"at"all"may"
be" one" of" the" reasons" that" the" topic"has" been" neglected" for" so" long" by"
scholars" in" the" West." If" this" is" understood" as" a" historical" problem" that"
originated" largely" from" natural" causes," then" it" is" understandable" that"
historians" should" first" turn" their" attention" to" unearthing" those" Soviet"
crimes"that"stemmed"from"human"causes.""
It"is"worth"noting"the"differences"of"interpretation"and"emphasis"within"
this" group" of" five" foreign" scholars." One" area" of" disagreement" is" w hen" the"
story"of"the"Kazakh"famine"begins"and"ends."For"Pianciola"(2009,"33-87)"the"
story" of" the" famine" begins" in" the" 1890s," when" peasant" settlement" of" the"
8"The" historian" Talas" Omarbekov" has" utilized" files" in" Kazakhstan’s" secret" police"
archives."See"Omarbekov"2003.""
9"Conquest,"for" instance,"argues"that" the"Kazakh"disaster"was" due"to"economic" and"
political" miscalculation," but" was" even" more" profoundly" “a" misunderstanding" of"
cultures"in"the"widest"meaning"of"the"term”"(194)."
10"Both" Kasaba" and" Scott" have" recently" challenged" evolutionary" approaches" to"
understanding"the"relationship"between"agrarian"and"non-agrarian"peoples."
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Kazakh"steppe"accelerated."Kindler,"by"contrast,"places"less"emphasis"on"the"
legacies"of"Russian"imperial"rule"and"begins"his"book"in"1921,"soon"after"the"
end"of"the"civil"war.11"Pianciola"largely"ends"his"narrative"in"1934,"when"the"
famine" itself" came" to" an" end," while" Kindler" and" Ohayon" extend" their"
narratives"until"1945."They"reveal,"for"instance,"that"in"limited"areas"of"the"
republic,"Moscow"revived"pastoral"nomadism,"the" very"way"of"life"that"the"
regime"had" once" sought" to"eradicate," in" an" effort" to"restore"the"republic’s"
livestock"numbers"to"their"pre-famine"levels"(Kindler"312-38;"Ohayon"327-
55)."
These" differences" in" chronology" point" to" larger" issues." Just" how"
important" was" the" legacy" of" Russian" imperial" rule" to" the" nature" of" the"
Kazakh" disaster?" Would" a" similar" famine" have" occurred" in" the" 1930s"
without"peasant"settlement"of"the"Kazakh"steppe"during"the"late"nineteenth"
and" early" twentieth" centuries?" Ultimately," what" did" the" famine" mean" for"
Moscow?" How" did" the" disaster’s" unexpected" consequences," such" as" the"
massive"loss"of"livestock,"change"Moscow’s"approach"to"ruling"the"republic?"
The" answers" to" these" questions" are" crucial" to" the" larger" field" of" Soviet"
history," as" they" help" us" identify" continuities" and" discontinuities" between"
Russian" imperial" and" Soviet" rule" and" clarify" the" particular" nature" of" the"
Stalin’s"transformation"of"Soviet"society."
These" historians" deploy" different"lenses" and" interpretive" frameworks"
to"analyze"the"crisis." Ohayon"uses"the"tools"of" social"history"to"explore"the"
story"of"the"famine,"focusing"on"the"politics"of"sedentarization"as"a"program"
of"social"transformation"rather"than" on" central" decision-making."Pianciola"
relies"on"the"methods"of"economic"history" to"reveal"the"complex"economic"
interrelationships"that"bound"nomads"and"peasant"settlers."For"Kindler"the"
story"of"the"famine"is" largely" one"of"violence,"and"he"devotes"considerable"
attention"to"central"and"local-level" patterns"of"violence."In"my"forthcoming"
book,"I"utilize"environmental"history,"among"other"approaches,"to"scrutinize"
how" changing" understandings" of" linkages" between" the" environment" and"
human"activity"influenced"Moscow’s"approach"to"developing"the"region."As"
these"divergent"approaches"reveal,"a"famine"is"a"complex"human"crisis,"the"
study"of"which"requires"a"range"of"methodologies,"including"social,"political,"
economic,"and"environmental"history,"to"unearth"its"full"dimensions."
These" scholars" have" also" debated" key" questions"related" to" the" Soviet"
regime’s"intentions" in" Kazakhstan" as" well" as" the" course" of" hunger" itself."
11"Kindler" includes" an" eleven-page" (31-42)" overview" of" “Nomads" and" Russian"
Colonial"Power,”"but"his"narrative"begins"with"1921."
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Though"there"is"a" general" consensus" that" Stalin’s" first" Five-Year" Plan" was"
the"spark"for"the"Kazakh"crisis,"these"scholars"disagree"about"how"the"plan’s"
various" elements" sparked" hunger." In" Kazakhstan," efforts" to" collectivize"
nomads"were"accompanied"by"efforts"to"sedentarize"them"permanently"and"
extract"grain"and"meat"procurements"that"would" be" funneled" to" the" state."
Payne" stresses" the" destructive" nature" of" forced" sedentarization," while"
Pianciola" emphasizes" the" role" of" the" grain" procurements" in" sparking"
hunger."All"of" these"scholars"agree"that"Moscow" sought" to"use"famine"as"a"
means"of" bringing"Kazakhs"under"Soviet"rule."Pianciola"labels"this"process"
“etatization,”"while"Kindler"calls"it"“Sovietization"through"hunger.”"But"they"
disagree"over"the"extent"to" which" Moscow" anticipated" the" full"dimensions"
of"the"crisis"(Pianciola"2004,"191;"Kindler"12)." Of" these" five" scholars," only"
Payne" (in" “Soviet" Steppe”)" has" argued" that" the" Kazakh" famine" should" be"
considered"a" genocide," while" the" others" have" argued," using" various"
definitions"and"rationales,"that"the"Kazakh"famine"should"not"be"considered"
a"genocide.12"
"
FUTURE"DIRECTIONS"FOR"RESEARCH"
Although"this"new" wave" of" foreign" scholarship" on" the" Kazakh" famine" has"
done" much" to" elucidate" the" nature" of" the" Kazakh" crisis," there" are" several"
areas"of" the" disaster" that" remain"under-researched.13"First,"we" do" not" yet"
have"a"clear"understanding"of"the"Kazakh"famine"in"its"broader,"pan-Soviet"
context." The" essays" in" this" journal" are" a" valuable" step" in" thinking" about"
Soviet"famines" comparatively," but" future"researchers" must" also"scrutinize"
the" connections" that" these" disasters" may" have" had" to" one" another." What"
relationship,"if"any,"did"the"Kazakh"famine,"which"began"in"the"fall"of"1930,"
have" to" the" collectivization" famines," including" the" Ukrainian" famine" and"
famine"in"the"Volga,"Don,"and"Kuban"areas"of" Russia," which" followed" in"its"
wake?" Did" Moscow’s" reaction" to" the" Kazakh" crisis" affect" its" response" to"
12"For"arguments" that"the"Kazakh" famine"should"not" be"considered"a" genocide,"see"
Kindler"27"and"Ohayon"360."Pianciola"(2004,"190)"does"not"address"the"question"of"
genocide"directly"but"argues"that" Moscow" did" not" plan" the" slaughter" of" Kazakhs."I"
have"argued" that"the"Kazakh"famine" does"not"fit" the"legal"definition"of"genocide"as"
adopted"by"the"United"Nations"General"Assembly,"but"it"may" fit"broader" definitions"
of"genocide"(Cameron"21)."
13"The"list"that"follows"is" by" no" means" definitive." As" was" mentioned" earlier" in" the"
essay," the" particular" way" that" the" Kazakh" famine" has" been" remembered" and"
memorialized"in"Kazakhstan"is"another"understudied"area"of"research."
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subsequent" food" crises?" Did" the" Kazakh" crisis" embolden" Stalin," as" some"
scholars" have" suggested," providing" a" “useful" model”" for" his" assault" on"
Ukraine?14""
To"date,"much"of"the"research"on"the"Soviet"collectivization"famines"has"
followed"national" lines," with" research"on"the"Ukrainian"famine" and" on" the"
Kazakh" famine" entirely" distinct" from" one" another.15"Yet" this" neglects" the"
broader" pan-Soviet" context" of" which" both" crises" were" a" part:" Moscow"
sought"to"construct"a"Union-wide"food"system,"and"shortages"in"one"region"
of" the" Soviet" Union" had" implications" for" others." Preliminary" research"
reveals"that"brutal"tactics,"such"as"the"closure"of"borders"so"that"the"starving"
could" not" flee," may" have" been" developed" in" response" to" one" famine" and"
then" deployed" in" another" (Cameron" 18)." Consideration" of" the" Kazakh"
famine" in" its" pan-Soviet" context" may" also" help" scholars" understand" why"
some" regions" of" the" Soviet" Union" did" not" suffer" severe" famine" during"
collectivization."We" know," for"instance," that" officials" in"Soviet" Kyrgyzstan,"
which" was" inundated" with" starving" Kazakh" refugees" by" 1932," cited" the"
example"of"the"Kazakh"famine"in"efforts"to"convince"Moscow"to"lower"the"
grain"procurements"levied"on"Kyrgyzstan"(Loring"350)."Further"research"is"
needed" to" ascertain" the" ways" that" the" Kazakh" crisis" influenced" Moscow’s"
development"of"Central"Asia."
Another"understudied"area" of" research"is"the"death"toll"in"the"Kazakh"
famine."Like"other"Soviet"collectivization"famines," the" mortality" figures" for"
Kazakhstan"are"contested:"Most"Western"scholars"estimate"that"the"Kazakh"
famine" claimed" the" lives" of" approximately" 1.5" million" people," the" vast"
majority" of" whom" were" ethnic" Kazakhs.16"Some" Kazakhstani" scholars"
14"Conquest"notes:"“Nevertheless,"it"has"been"suggested"that"the"effectiveness"of"the"
unplanned" Kazakh" famine" in" destroying" local" resistance" was" a" useful" model" for"
Stalin"when"it"came"to"the"Ukraine”"(196)."Analyzing"Stalin’s"intentions"immediately"
prior" to" the" Ukrainian" famine," the" historian" Timothy" Snyder" writes:" “By" summer"
1932,"as" Stalin" knew," more" than" a" million" people" had" already" starved" to" death" in"
Soviet"Kazakhstan."Stalin"blamed"the"local"Party"leader"[Filipp]"Goloshchekin,"but"he"
must"have"understood"some"of"the"structural"issues”"(35)."
15"There"are"of" course"exceptions,"but"most" precede" this"new"wave"of"research" on"
the" Kazakh" famine." In" their" book" Davies" and" Wheatcroft" engage" with" articles" by"
Pianciola;"other"studies"on"the"Kazakh"famine"had"not"yet"been"published"at"the"time"
that"they"wrote"their"book."
16"Maksudov"(770)"argues"that" 1.45"million"ethnic"Kazakhs"and"100,000" people" of"
other" ethnicities" perished." Davies" and" Wheatcroft" (412)" estimate" that" 1.3" to" 1.5"
million"people" died"in"Kazakhstan."Olcott" suggests"that"1.5" million"ethnic"Kazakhs"
died.""
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propose"higher"figures,"such"as"2.5"million" ethnic"Kazakh"deaths"(Tatimov"
and" Aliev" 216)." Overall" the" mortality" figures" for" Kazakhstan" have" been"
subject"to"less"scrutiny"than"those"for"Ukraine"or"Russia’s"Volga,"Don,"and"
Kuban"regions."In"2013"the"economic"historian"Stephen"Wheatcroft,"then"at"
Nazarbayev"University"in"Astana,"began"a"promising"project"that"proposed"
to" collect" data" on" various" famine" indicators" (such" as" births," deaths,"
migration," and" procurement" levels)" from" largely" unutilized" sources,"
including" republic-level" and" regional-level" statistical" archives." Using" this"
data" and" techniques" such" as" historical" geographic" information" systems"
(GIS)"or"electronic"mapping,"Wheatcroft"and"his" team" planned" to" calculate"
mortality"in"the"Kazakh"famine"with"a"far"greater"degree"of"precision"than"
previous" studies." Such" a" study" would" also" help" researchers" identify" and"
analyze" regional" differences" in" mortality" rates," a" subject" of" particular"
importance" given" Kazakhstan’s" immense" size." Unfortunately," Wheatcroft"
has"now"left"Nazarbayev"University,"and"the"status"of"the"project"remains"
uncertain.17"
There" are" particular" challenges" to" further" investigations" into" the"
mortality"figures"for"the"Kazakh"famine."The"flight"of"starving"refugees,"for"
instance," was" far" more" extensive" than" in" other" Soviet" collectivization"
famines." During" preparations" for" the" 1937" census," some" officials" in"
Kazakhstan" even" used" this" refugee" flight" as" a" way" of" covering" up" the"
famine’s" existence." The" republic’s" precipitous" population" drop," they"
reasoned," could" be" explained" by" the" fact" that" so" many" Kazakhs" had"
emigrated"to"work"in"other"republics"during"the"period"of"Stalin’s"first"Five-
Year"Plan"(Hirsch"282)."It"is"clear"that"this"explanation"does"not"hold."By"any"
accepted" scholarly" measure," the" death" toll" in" the" Kazakh" famine" was"
horrifying." An" accurate" assessment" hinges" upon" detailed" work" with"
population"data"in"other"Soviet"republics,"as"well"as" in"Xinjiang."This" work"
will" include" an" accounting" of" the" famine" refugees" who" fled" and" settled"
elsewhere"permanently"and"those"who"perished"along"the"way"or"the"places"
where"they"fled."
Further"work"with"this" statistical"data"may"also"help" answer"a"related"
question:"was"starvation"or"disease"the"major"cause"of"death"in"the"Kazakh"
famine?18"Typically," in" “modern" famines”" such" as" the" siege" of" Leningrad,"
disease"does"not"play"a" major" rolemost"victims"die"of"actual" starvation."
17"Several"scholars"working"on"the"Kazakh"famine,"including"Kindler,"Pianciola,"and"
me,"were"consultants"to"the"Wheatcroft"project."
18"I"thank"Cormac"Ó"Gráda"for"bringing"this"important"point"to"my"attention"during"a"
conference"on"comparative"famines"at"Nazarbayev"University"in"October"2013."
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Disease" does" not" appear" to" have" been" a" major" factor" in" the" Ukrainian"
famine"or"in"the"famines"that"afflicted"the"Volga,"Don,"or"Kuban"regions."But"
there"were"far"fewer"public"health"services"in"Kazakhstan"than"in"the"Soviet"
Union’s"west,"and"archival"evidence"indicates"that"diseases"such" as"typhus,"
smallpox,"and"cholera"greatly"intensified"the"death"toll."In"some"cases,"Party"
bureaucrats" could" not" even" travel" to" the" most" famine-stricken" regions" of"
the" republic" because" the" outbreak" of" massive" epidemics" made" such" trips"
too"dangerous"(Cameron" 281)."In" the" Kazakh" famine," as" in"other" famines,"
these"diseases" were" induced" by"hunger" and" exacerbated"by"other"famine-
related"phenomena,"such"as"massive"population"movement" and"unsanitary"
conditions.19"Identifying" the" particular" role" that" disease"played" in" the"
Kazakh"disaster"may"also"help"clarify"other"questions,"such" as"why"it"took"
Moscow" so" longnearly" three" yearsto" bring" the" Kazakh" famine" to" an"
end."
Yet"another"underexplored"area" is" the" role" of" Kazakh"actors."How"did"
they" understand" this" assault" on" their" society?" And" how" did" the" disaster"
reshape"what"it"meant"to"be"Kazakh?"Despite"the"Party’s"efforts"to"promote"
the"use"of"the"Kazakh"language,"Russian"remained"the"preferred"language"of"
communication" at" the" republic," oblast," and" raion" levels" of" Kazakhstan’s"
multi-ethnic" bureaucracy" during" the" 1920s" and" 1930s." Thus" the" vast"
majority"of"the"primary"sources"on"the"Kazakh"famine,"including"most"Party"
and"state"documents"contained"in" the" archives," are" in" Russian." But" within"
Kazakh"society"itself"the"number"of"Russian"speakers"remained"quite"small,"
and" this" group" tended" to" come" from" a" sector" of" Kazakh" society" that" had"
been"educated"in"so-called"“Russian-native”"schools."Kazakh"remained"the"
major" language" of" communication" for" the" steppe’s" nomads." In" the" early"
twentieth"century"Kazakh"elites"had"created"the"first" standardized" written"
form" of" the" Kazakh" language," which" relied" on" a" modified" Arabic" script."
Though"literacy"rates"in"Kazakh"society"remained"low" through" the" 1920s,"
there"is"a"small"but"significant"number"of"Kazakh-language"primary"sources"
from" this" period," such" as" petitions," newspapers," and" the" minutes" of"
meetings" of" aul," or" local-level," soviets." Frequently" these" sources" contain"
perspectives" and" voices" that" cannot" be" found" in" Russian-language"
documents." Few" outsiders" read" Kazakh," and" it" was" a" language" in" which"
many"Kazakhs"felt"that"they"could"communicate"more"openly.""
Researchers" have" begun" to" mine" these" valuable" sources" for" insights"
into"the"ways"that"Kazakh"society"was"reconstituted"during"the"famine,"but"
19"On"the"linkage"between"disease"and"famine,"see"Sen"50;"and"Ó"Gráda"108-28."
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challenges"remain:"During"the"late"1920s"Moscow"began"a"campaign"to"shift"
native"languages"such" as" Kazakh" from" the" Arabic"to"the"Latinate"script."In"
the" 1930s" Moscow" changed" the" script" again," to" a" m odified" Cyrillic" script,"
which" is" still" in" use" in" Kazakhstan" today." The" older" Arabic" script" is" very"
difficult" to" learn," even" for" native" speakers" of" Kazakh," and" few" scholarly"
studies" of" the" famine" period" have" utilized" Kazakh" sources" written" in" the"
Arabic"script.20"To"clarify"our"understanding"of"Kazakh"society"on"the"eve"of"
the"famine,"future"researchers"must"take"up"the"daunting"challenge"of"these"
sources."
The"issue"of"sources"raises"another" challenge"particular"to" the"Kazakh"
famine" (in" contrast"to"the" Ukrainian" famine" and" the" famines" in"the"Volga,"
Don,"and"Kuban"regions)."Because"Kazakh"culture"was"largely"an"oral"rather"
than"literary"culture,"there"are"very" few" primary" sources" that" the" Party" or"
the"state"did"not"produce."Few"foreign"travellers"visited"Kazakhstan"during"
the"1920s" and" 1930s," and" there" are" only" a"handful" of" diaries" or" memoirs"
about" the" period.21"In" Ukraine" the" Welsh" journalist" Gareth" Jones" first"
brought"the"horrors"of" the" Ukrainian" famine" to" the"attention"of" the" West,"
and" his" observations" remain" an" important" insight" into" the" human" side" of"
the"story" of" the" famine" (Gamache)." In" Kazakhstan" there" was" no" similar"
figure" to" chronicle" the" story." Oral-history" projects" on" the" Kazakh" famine"
began" relatively" late," and" because" the" famine" survivors" who" were"
interviewed" were" generally" quite" elderly" and" had" been" small" children"
during"the"disaster,"these" sources" are"of"limited"utility"for"historians.22"To"
capture" the" human" side" of" the" story," researchers" must" seek" out" new"
sources." One" potential" avenue" of" investigation" may" be" Kazakh-language"
literature." While" it" was" not" permitted" to" talk" about" the" famine" in" official"
sources"for"most"of"the"Soviet"era,"preliminary"research"in"Kazakh-language"
literary" journals" from" the" time" period," such" as)Zhŭldïz,) indicates" that"
Kazakh" authors" often" wove" the" story" of" the" famine" into"their" novels" and"
short" stories." These" literary" sources" may" yield" important" insights" into"
topics" such" as" the" reconstitution" of" Kazakh" society" in" the" wake" of" the"
disaster" and" the" particular" ways" that" Kazakhs" remembered" the" famine"
during"the"Soviet"era."
20"Makhat"is"an"exception."
21"Most"of"these"memoirs"were"written"after"the"Soviet"collapse,"and"arguably"they"
are"as"much"about"Kazakhstan’s" own" nation-building" efforts"as"they"are"about" the"
story"of"the"famine."See"Shayakhmetov."
22"See,"for"instance,"the"efforts"to"collect"oral"histories"in"2008"detailed"in"Tragediia)
Kazakhskogo)naroda."
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... Food production and supply encounters additional challenges and conflict in Central Asia that are often neglected or poorly understood (Table 3). Known but seldom spoken of is the great Kazakh famine of 1930-1933 when 1.5 to 2.5 million Kazakhs (>25% of the population) died of hunger during Stalin's rule in a preventable disaster [51]. This affects national perceptions of food supply and farming and alerts communities to issues of external (foreign) investment and control, particularly in Kazakhstan. ...
... This spans from energy resources and cropland to Khorgos, the massive dry port and economic zone bordering China and Kazakhstan. Since 2008 the externally documented railway expansion [51,59], much of it in Kazakhstan, went for construction of the Khorgos-Aktau railway from the Chinese border to the Caspian Sea, the Beyney-Zhezkazgan railway and a second line to China at Altynkol, near Khorgos. These are vital links that now connect China with European hinterlands (Table 5). ...
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... It should be noted that Kazakhstan was a part of RSFSR as the Kazak ASSR until 1936, but it is excluded from our analysis, as in the victims of the Kazakh Famine are not counted in the total direct losses for the Russian Federation. This is explained by the fact that the causes and dynamics of the Famine in Kazakhstan differ significantly from the situation in other regions of the USSR (Cameron 2016). ...
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One of the distinct characteristics of the 1932–1933 famine is that between 65 and 80 percent of all famine-related deaths (direct losses) in rural areas of Soviet Ukraine (UkrSSR) and its oblasts and some regions of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) occurred during the first six or seven months of 1933, and that in all oblasts of UkrSSR and some regions of RSFSR the number of famine losses increased by a factor of six to 15 between January and June–July of 1933. The historical explanation of this sudden explosion of deaths is critically examined, and a more comprehensive explanation is proposed. We show that the regional variations in these increases in losses are correlated with four factors: extensive household searches for grain with all food taken away in many instances, closing of inter-republic borders and limitation of internal travel by peasants, resistance to collectivization and grain requisitions and repressions, and the “nationality factor.” Analysis of the monthly dynamics of rural losses during the first half of 1933 suggests a possible independent confirmation of the hypothesis that during the searches for “hidden” or “stolen” grain, all food was taken away in many households.
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This quote, grisly as it is, could have been a commonplace observation across the Soviet Union in the early 1930s as such sights became the terrible handmaiden of collectivization. This recollection, however, comes not from the usual victim of Stalin’s famine, the peasantry, whose vagabondage always signals a severe social crisis, but nomadic Kazakhs—a nation well acquainted with pulling up stakes during hard times. These Kazakhs, however, were not nomads but desperate “displaced nomads” (otkochevniki), without their herds, far from their familiar migratory routes, who endured not one but innumerable trails of tears at this time. What had been emblematic of a way of life, of Kazakhness (qazaqtyq)—nomads on the move—now became horror, as an observer in Pavlodar related: “It is not rare to meet a Kazakh family, fleeing from who knows where and dragging behind them a sled, on top of which lies the corpse of a child, who died along the way.”3
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For two thousand years the disparate groups that now reside in Zomia (a mountainous region the size of Europe that consists of portions of seven Asian countries) have fled the projects of the organized state societies that surround them-slavery, conscription, taxes, corvée labor, epidemics, and warfare. This book, essentially an "anarchist history," is the first-ever examination of the huge literature on state-making whose author evaluates why people would deliberately and reactively remain stateless. Among the strategies employed by the people of Zomia to remain stateless are physical dispersion in rugged terrain; agricultural practices that enhance mobility; pliable ethnic identities; devotion to prophetic, millenarian leaders; and maintenance of a largely oral culture that allows them to reinvent their histories and genealogies as they move between and around states. In accessible language, James Scott, recognized worldwide as an eminent authority in Southeast Asian, peasant, and agrarian studies, tells the story of the peoples of Zomia and their unlikely odyssey in search of self-determination. He redefines our views on Asian politics, history, demographics, and even our fundamental ideas about what constitutes civilization, and challenges us with a radically different approach to history that presents events from the perspective of stateless peoples and redefines state-making as a form of "internal colonialism." This new perspective requires a radical reevaluation of the civilizational narratives of the lowland states. Scott's work on Zomia represents a new way to think of area studies that will be applicable to other runaway, fugitive, and marooned communities, be they Gypsies, Cossacks, tribes fleeing slave raiders, Marsh Arabs, or San-Bushmen.