Friday, May 31, 2019

Debate on Mass Deaths in Kazakhstan Passes to the West

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – In 1997, the Kazakhstan government established May 31 as the Memorial Day for Victims of Political Repressions, an occasion for Kazakhs to reflect on the mass deaths of their co-ethnics as a result of Stalin’s collectivization and forced sedentarization policies at the end of the 1920s and 1930s.

            But after an upsurge of interest in these tragedies in Kazakhstan at the end of the Soviet period and in the first decade of independence, something remarkable has occurred: The Kazakhstan government has pulled back from promoting research and discussion on this question, and the subject has been largely taken over by Western scholars.
            In an article for the Fergana news agency, Artem Kosmarsky says that until three decades ago, Kazakhs were not able to focus on these politically sensitive issues and Western scholars did not do much because they knew far less about the events in Kazakhstan than those in Ukraine in 1932 or among Armenians in 1915 (

            In the 1990s, the Kazakhs took the lead in doing research, but by 2010, Kosmarsky  says, Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to tone things down lest a focus on this issue offend Moscow. Speaking at the opening of a monument to famine victims in 2012, the first Kazakhstan president warned against “’politicizing’” this subject.

            There are three additional reasons why Kazakh research on this subject has declined. First, the mass deaths in Kazakhstan had more causes than was the case elsewhere and assessing their number is complicated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs fled abroad at that time.

            Second, access to sources has been more difficult not only because they are held mostly in Moscow but also because Kazakhstan went through two alphabet reforms, from Arabic to Latin to Cyrillic, limiting the number of scholars who can exploit them even if they have access. And third, Kazakh scholars have focused Kazakh society in focusing mostly on the future. 

As a result, the subject has become dominated by Western scholars, all of whose work has been closely attended to by Kazakhs and two of whose books have been translated into Russian. The Western research has answered many questions, but perhaps the most important message from it is that the scholars disagree among themselves.

Some for example view what happened in Kazakhstan as an obvious case of genocide; others reject that characterization.  But perhaps most striking is that even this new wave of research has not resolved the question of just how many Kazakhs perished as a result of Stalin’s various policies even though all agree the percentage was higher than among Ukrainians.

This lack of agreement has opened the way to suggestions by others, including representatives of Turkic groups in Russia like the blogger Kavkaz Omarov who argues that Stalin’s genocide of the peasantry in the early 1930s was directed not only at the Ukrainians but at all Turkic groups in the USSR (

“These repressions,” he writes on this Kazakh memorial day, “were carried out with one single goal – to destroy as many Muslims of the empire as possible. This was a genocide and ethnocide in the course of which the empire pitilessly destroyed the Tatars, Kazakhs, the peoples of Central Asia and Muslims of the Caucasus and of the non-Muslims only the Ukrainians.”

According to Omarov, “the result is that regions of Siberia, Omsk, Orenburg, Tyumen, and the northern regions of Kazakhstan were cleansed of Kazakhs, Tatars, and representatives of other Turkic peoples. Today, the indigenous peoples of these regions remain only as minority populations.”

“The Crimea was cleansed of Tatars, Georgia was partially cleansed of Turks. Massively destroyed were the population of the historically Azerbaijani regions of the South Caucasus in order to ‘free up’ space for Armenian re-settlers” from the Middle East.  And in the North Caucasus, were destroyed tens of thousands of Muslims” even before the deportation.

Omarov’s discussion may strike many as hyperbolic and profoundly wrong, but it is the product not of some sick imagination but rather of the failure of the Russian authorities to be honest about the crimes of the Stalin era, including but not limited to the terror famine in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and elsewhere.

Muscovites Actively Disliked by Residents of 12 Major Russian Cities, New Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – A new survey conducted by the Zoom Market agency ranked residents of 12 Russian cities according to their dislike of Moscow and Muscovites, the latest indication that the historical divide between the capital and what Muscovites call “the provinces” is widening and that residents of the latter are angry not only at the center but at its residents.

            Perhaps not surprisingly given recent events, Yekaterinburg led the list of cities in terms of hostility toward the capital and its residents. It was followed by St. Petersburg, Kazan (the only non-ethnic Russian city on the list), Voronezh, Chelyabinsk, Volgograd, Samara, Rostov, Perm, Omsk, Saratov and Novosibirsk (

            Overall, 56 percent of the residents of these cities were angry that “all the country’s money is in Moscow, 24 percent said they viewed Muscovites as arrogant, 12 percent said residents of the capital were lazy, and “eight percent expressed certainty that Muscovites do not like people from other regions.”

            At the same time, however, the poll of 1440 Russians found that two out of three of them (67 percent) wanted to move to Moscow if they had the chance because of the opportunities life there presented. As long as the center could hold out that as a real possibility, it could easily deal with the hostility; but now, there are fewer jobs in Moscow as well, and that has changed things.

Could a Perm Demonstration Be a Turning Point in Russian Protests?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 31 – Almost all protests in Russia in recent times have been about a single issue – whether a church will be built, a border changed or trash from Moscow dumped far from the capital – a pattern that some have suggested limits the ability of the demonstrators to link up and pose a broader challenge to the powers that be.

            That makes what happened in Perm on Wednesday and even more the near hysterical reaction of a pro-Kremlin commentator to it especially interesting because both the one and the other suggest that there may be real movement away from single-issue protests to broader ones, in which Russians angry about one thing would protest alongside those angry about others.

            On May 29, a unsanctioned protest of the Assembly of Angry Perm Residents took place. Ostensibly, the meeting was intended to tell officials that the population was unhappy with their failure to address a wide variety of problems, including debts, subsidies, trash collection and school closings.

            That might have passed largely unnoticed save for a commentary by Regnum’s Anton Isakov who attacked the meeting precisely because of its broad agenda of complaints. Such an agenda, he argues, shows that the organizers were not trying to solve any problem but rather to stir up trouble and undermine the regime (
            Because such people have no interest in working to improve things but only in increasing the number of protests, he continues, they constantly change the subject of their protests or as now complain about many things at once in the hopes of getting more people into the streets and setting the stage for a Maidan.

            Isakov further suggests that the organizers were in league with American diplomats and other outsiders who also have no interest in solving problems but rather in creating them in the hopes that they will be able to challenge the powers that be and possibly even force them from office. Thus, “the meeting of ‘angry Perm residents’ is the latest repetition of a future Maidan.”

            The commentator’s words certainly indicate how Moscow views the situation, with a combination of contempt and fear. But they also point to something else: Russians who have one set of problems with the current situation are in fact beginning to link up with others who also have a different set.

            To the extent that this is repeated elsewhere – and there is no reason to think in the current climate it won’t be – such a combination will almost inevitably present the Kremlin with a more serious challenge than any of the single-issue protests it had been forced to deal with in recent months.