Friday, June 19, 2020

Sedentarization Compounded Crime of Collectivization in Kazakhstan, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 16 – The Soviet collectivization campaign across the Soviet Union resulted in millions of victims as Ukrainian scholars and activists have pointed out, but that campaign was especially criminal in its consequences in Kazakhstan because it was combined with the forcible sedentarization of a traditionally nomadic people, Kazakh scholars say.

            In a new essay, Gulnar Kazhenova, a historian at Nur-Sultan’s Gumilyev Eurasian National University, says that collectivization was a crime against humanity across the USSR but that the simultaneous sedentarization of the Kazakhs meant it claimed an especially large number of victims there (

            Until the early 1930s, a large share of the Kazakh nation maintained a nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life, a reflection of the fact that its economy was based on herding and that climatic conditions meant that enough forage could be found only by moving from place to place with the seasons, the historian continues. 

            In the first decade of Soviet power there, only about 60,000 Kazakh families shifted from a nomadic to a sedentary way of life; but when Stalin decided to collectivize, he also decided to sedentarize the remainder. And between 1930 and 1933, “approximately 540,000 families” made that transition, forced to move by starvation and death.

            Deaths occurred not only among the nomads but also in the cities, she points out, because the concentration of livestock on limited pasture grounds meant that most of the animals died and meat could not be supplied to the cities of the region or to those elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Herds declined in size by more than 90 percent in only a year or two.

            The consequences for the population of the twin evils of forcible collectivization and forcible sedentarization were staggering: More than half of the ethnic Kazakh population in the eastern part of the republic died and more than 40 percent in all other regions except in the center where “only” 15.6 percent of them were killed by these policies.

            Hunger, death, and flight out of the republic continued until 1938-1939, Kazhenova says; and the results of these Soviet actions have been recognized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which noted that Kazakhstan suffered more in percentage terms than Ukraine or anywhere else in the USSR from these policies.

            Scholars and officials in other countries of the West have recognized what happened in Kazakhstan as a genocide. Kazhenova cites the argument of US historian Norman Naimark in his book, Stalin’s Genocides (Princeton, 2011), that Stalin said he was attacking social classes but in fact he was going after non-Russian nations, making his actions a genocide.

            He calculates that the number of deaths in Kazakhstan from hunger as a result of collectivization and sedentarizaion amounted to 1.45 million, “about 38 percent of the total population of Kazakhstan and the highest level of mortality compared to all other nationalities in the Soviet Union,” Kazhenova says.

            The Kazakhstan government is organzing an official body to examine this history, and its deliberations will certainly intensify feelings among the people there that they were the victims of two crimes Moscow was behind, collectivization of free agriculture and the sedentarization of a free people.

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