Monday, August 8, 2022

Alash Movement, Not Moscow, Created First Modern Kazakh State, Abil Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 15 – “The first contemporary Kazakh democratic and sovereign state” was the Alash Republic which existed between December 1917 and March 1920 before being “liquidated by the Bolsheviks in the course of the civil war in Russia,” according to Erkin Abil, director of the Kazakhstan Institute of the History of the State.

            And that means, he argues, that it was the Alash Republic that is “the historical basis of all the succeeding constitutional-legal evolution of Kazakh statehood,” positions at odds with Vladimir Putin and his regime who insist that the former Soviet republics were the foundation of post-Soviet states (   

            By arguing otherwise, historians and officials in some of them and in particular those of Azerbaijan, Ukraine and now Kazakhstan are creating a national history more independent of Moscow than the ones the Soviets and many post-Soviet writers have allowed and also ones that are not only more independent but more democratic as well.

            There has long been a debate about whether the Alash Autonomy was in fact a state because under the conditions of civil war, it did not gain international recognition. Those who deny its statehood argue that without such recognition, it was not a state; but those who say it was a state base their position on the fact that it had the features of statehood, Abil says.

            The latter have the more compelling argument, the Kazakh historian says, because they base their position “not on a formalistic approach to the problem but rather on a concrete historian one,” a position required because of the troubled period in which it came into existence and lasted for several years.

            A related argument, Abil says, is whether the Alash Republic sought only autonomy or independence. In fact, the Alash movement sought not to remain within Russia but to join it as an equal subject of a federative state and their position on that was not so much a goal as a tactical move, as was the response of the Bolsheviks.

            What that means and the statements of officials on both sides confirm is that “in essence, work for the preparation of the proclamation of Soviet autonomy was begun by the Alash Orda and the Alash government,” rather than being the work of Moscow alone, the Kazakh historian continues.

            “The choice of the Bolsheviks as an ally was the result of the unwillingness of the leadership of the anti-Bolshevik coalition to recognize the right of the Kazakhs to political self-determination,” Abil says. The leaders of the Alash did what they could under the circumstances and many paid for their position later with their lives.

            Thus, the Kazakh historian concludes, “the proclamation of autonomy and the fixing of borders must not be conceived as some gift to the Kazakh people by the Bolshevik party and its leader Vladimir Lenin just as in the same way the reorganization [of Kazakhstan] as a union republic in 1936 was not ‘a gift’ by Joseph Stalin.” 

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