Friday, January 27, 2023

Terror Famine Happened in Kazakhstan because It had Food to Send to Russian Cities but Not in Kyrgyzstan which Didn’t, Zhanabergen Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 24 – One of the most controversial subjects of Soviet history is the question of why Stalin’s terror famine hit some republics like Ukraine and Kazakhstan and didn’t hit or at least to the same degree other non-Russian areas which seem from some perspectives to be similarly situated.

            Given this pattern, it is no surprise that many Ukrainians and Kazakhs view what Stalin did in their republics as an act of genocide. But because the Soviet dictator’s terror famine hit not just one republic but two, the question arises as to whether genocide was Stalin’s primary goal or a form of collateral damage that he undoubtedly welcomed.

            A new article from Kazakhstan is likely to help shape this debate in the future. In it, Kazakh journalist Bakhyt Zhanabergen examines the question “why the mass hunger in the early 1930s led to mass deaths in Kazakhstan while the neighboring republics of Central Asia, populated by similar peoples,” did not suffer as much or even at all (

            Both republics at that time, the journalist points out, were autonomies within the RSFSR. Both were led by Russians dispatched from Moscow. And both had roughly similar percentages of nomadic and sedentary populations. But with collectivization, Kazakhstan lost more than 1.2 million dead while Kyrgyzstan lost only 26,000, a far smaller share of the total population.

            The big difference, Zhanabergen says, is that Kazakhstan produced more food than it consumed, while Kyrgyzstan had to import food. Thus, there was food for Moscow to take away from the Kazakh population to feed Russian cities but there wasn’t much food for the center to take from Kyrgyzstan.

            As a result, the journalist concludes, the terror famine happened in Kazakhstan because it produced food that could be taken away; but it didn’t occur in Kyrgyzstan because that republic lacked such supplies, as was also the case with other republics in the Central Asian region. Had the Kyrgyz or the others grown more food, they too would have become victims.

            That conclusion won’t end the propensity of people in Kazakhstan to see what Stalin did as a genocide directed at them, but it will likely lead many of them to recognize that more was at work in the terror famine there than just the Soviet dictator’s hostility to Kazakhs and other non-Russians. 

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