Staunton, August 4 – In December 1992, the Kazakhstan government declared on the basis of a study prepared by a commission of historians and ethnologists that the mass murder of Kazakhs in the late 1920s and 1930s during their forcible sedentarizaiton and collectivization was so massive as to constitute an act of genocide.
“The size of these tragedies was so bestial that we will full moral responsibility can designate it as a manifestation of a policy of genocide. This conclusion,” the government said, “arises from the strict norms of international law as fixed in the International Convention on genocide” (camonitor.kz/33451-massovyy-golod-1930-h-v-kazahstane-asharshylyk-eto-genocid.html).
But now ever more Kazakhs are arguing that even though there was mass murder in Kazakhstan, a horror known there as the Asharshylyk that claimed 49 percent of the nation, there wasn’t a genocide under the terms of the 1948 genocide convention. And they argue Kazakhstan as a responsible member of the international community should follow its provisions.
The latest to do so is Zhenis Baykhozha, a Kazakh commentator who goes out of her way to say that Kazakhs must never forget the mass murder but must not conclude it was a genocide on the basis of the numbers of dead as some do (camonitor.kz/33450-massovyy-golod-1930-h-v-kazahstane-asharshylyk-byl-genocida-ne-bylo.html and camonitor.kz/32572-primenima-li-konvenciya-o-genocide-k-massovomu-golodu-v-kazahstane.html).
The 1948 declaration, she points out, requires that any act of mass killing meet two standards to be labelled a genocide: there must be a clearly expressed intention to attack a particular ethnic group, and the authorities must act on the basis of that rather than on any broader set of goals.
“If the answers to both questions are positive, then a genocide is present,” Baykhozha says. But if they are not, then this is something different.” Mass murder is not enough, and the horrific killings in Cambodia, for example, are now usually described as “a sociocide” because they were the result of one group of Cambodians killing another.
“During the discussion of the draft convention in 1948, there were proposals to extend the application of the term to such types of mass murders,” the Kazakh journalist continues. “But after opposition from the USSR, Sweden, Belgium and a number of other countries, it was decided to apply the term ‘genocide’ in strict correspondence to its etymology.”
What this means, Baykhozha says, is that “far from every crime which has led to enormous numbers of human victims should be qualified as a genocide.” But because the word genocide has such a powerful resonance, many peoples who have suffered from mass deaths are eager to claim it in order to get attention and support.
Kazakhstan is one of them, she concludes. But it should not demean its status as a member of the international community by misapplying the term to what happened in the republic in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It has every right and indeed a responsibility to remember the human losses it suffered; it does not need to call them a genocide to do so.