Kazakh famine of 1930–1933

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Kazakh famine of 1930–1933
The cube at the site for the future monument for victims of the famine (dated 1931–1933) in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, the monument itself was built in 2017.[1]
CountrySoviet Union
LocationKazakhstan, Russian SFSR
Total deaths1.5 to 2.3 million[4]
ObservationsCaused by collectivization under Filipp Goloshchyokin; some Soviet and Kazakh studies label the famine the Goloshchyokin genocide.
ConsequencesKazakhs reduced from 60% to 38% of the republic's population;[5][6][7] sedentarization of the nomadic Kazakh people[8][2]
Preceded byKazakh famine of 1919–1922

The Kazakh famine of 1930–1933, also known the Kazakh catastrophe, or Asharshylyk[9][10] (Kazakh: Ашаршылық, meaning 'famine' or 'hunger') was a famine during which approximately 1.5 million people died in the Kazakh Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic, then part of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic in the Soviet Union, of whom 1.3 million were ethnic Kazakhs.[4] An estimated 38[8] to 42[11] percent of all Kazakhs died, the highest percentage of any ethnic group killed by the Soviet famine of 1930–1933. Other sources state that as many as 2.0 to 2.3 million died.[12]

The famine began in winter 1930, a full year before the famine in Ukraine, termed the Holodomor, which was at its worst in the years 1931–1933.[12][2][13] The famine made Kazakhs a minority in the Kazakh ASSR; it caused the deaths or migration of large numbers of people, and it was not until the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, that the Kazakhs became the largest ethnicity group in Kazakhstan again. Before the famine, around 60% of the republic's residents were ethnic Kazakhs, a proportion greatly reduced to around 38% of the population after the famine.[8] The famine is seen by some scholars to belong to the wider history of collectivization in the Soviet Union and part of the Soviet famine of 1932–1933.[2] Soviet authorities engaged in repressive policies during the famine such as blacklisting entire districts from trading with other areas[14] and shooting thousands of Kazakhs dead[15] during their attempt to flee across the border to China.

Some Kazakh historians describe the famine as a genocide of the Kazakhs perpetrated by the Soviet state;[16][17] however, other historians argue otherwise.[18][19][20] In Kazakhstan, some studies continued to use the Soviet explanation of the famine, calling it the Goloshchyokin genocide[13] (Kazakh: Голощёкин геноциді, romanized: Goloşekin genotsidı, Kazakh pronunciation: [ɡɐləˌʂʲokʲin ɡʲinɐˈt͡sɪdɪ̞̃]) after Filipp Goloshchyokin, who was the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the Kazakh ASSR and is also known as one of the primary perpetrators of the execution of the Romanov family, to emphasize its supposed man-made nature; however, some Western scholars disagree with this label.[17]


Despite being widely considered to have been mostly man-made, there were some natural factors that exacerbated the crisis. The most important natural factor in the famine was the zud from 1927 to 1928, which was a period of extreme cold in which cattle were starved and were unable to graze.[21][22] In 1928, the Soviet authorities started a campaign to confiscate cattle from richer Kazakhs, who were called bai, known as Little October. The confiscation campaign was carried out by Kazakhs against other Kazakhs, and it was up to those Kazakhs to decide who was a bai and how much to confiscate from them.[23] This engagement was intended to make Kazakhs active participants in the transformation of Kazakh society.[24] More than 10,000 bais may have been deported due to the campaign against them.[25] The campaign corresponded to arrests of former members of the Alash movement and repression of religious authorities and practices.[26] Kazakhstan's livestock and grain were largely acquired between 1929 and 1932, with one-third of the republic's cereals being requisitioned and more than 1 million tons confiscated in 1930 to provide food for the cities. Historian Stephen G. Wheatcroft attributes the famine to the falsification of statistics produced by the local Soviet authorities to satisfy the unrealistic expectations of their superiors that lead to the over extraction of Kazakh resources.[22]

The Kazakhs did not face exactions of grain incompatible with subsistence. They instead starved because of a lack of meat[27] as one third of Kazakh livestock was confiscated between 1930 and 1931.[26] Some Kazakhs were expelled from their land to make room for 200,000 "special settlers" and Gulag prisoners,[28] and some of the inadequate food supply in Kazakhstan went to such prisoners and settlers as well.[29] Food aid to the Kazakhs was selectively distributed to eliminate class enemies. Despite orders from the Soviet authorities to avoid discrimination, many Kazakhs were denied food aid as local officials considered them unproductive, and food aid was provided to European workers in the country instead.[30] Despite this, the Kazakhs received some measure of emergency food assistance from the state.[27] The Kazakh victims of the famine were widely discriminated against and expelled from virtually every sector of Kazakhstan's society despite the fact that the Soviet government had issued no top-down order for this to be done.[31] In 1932, 32 out of less than 200 districts in Kazakhstan that did not meet grain production quotas were blacklisted, meaning that they were prohibited from trading with other villages.[14] This policy of blacklisting was also used in Ukraine. Near the end of the Kazakh famine, Filipp Goloshchyokin was replaced with Levon Mirzoyan, who was repressive particularly toward famine refugees and denied food aid to areas run by cadres who asked for more food for their regions using, in the words of Sarah Cameron, "teary telegrams"; in one instance under Mirzoyan's rule, a plenipotentiary shoved food aid documents into his pocket and had a wedding celebration instead of transferring them for a whole month while hundreds of Kazakhs starved.[32]


Kazakhstan included some of the regions affected severely by famine, percentage-wise, although more people died in famine in Soviet Ukraine, which began a year later.[12] In addition to the Kazakh famine of 1919–1922, Kazakhstan lost more than half of its population in 10–15 years due to the actions of the Soviet state.[33][34] The two Soviet censuses indicated that the number of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan dropped from 3,637,612 in 1926 to 2,181,520 in 1937.[35] Ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan were also significantly affected. The Ukrainian population in Kazakhstan decreased from 859,396 to 549,859[2] (a reduction of almost 36% of their population) while other ethnic minorities in Kazakhstan lost 12% and 30% of their populations.[2] Ukrainians who died in Kazakhstan are sometimes considered victims of the Holodomor.[citation needed]


"The old aul is now breaking apart, it is moving toward settled life, toward the use of hay fields, toward land cultivation; it is moving from worse land to better land, to state farms, to industry, to collective farm construction."[36]

Filipp Goloshchyokin, First Secretary of the Kazakh Regional Committee of the Communist Party

Due to starvation, 665,000 Kazakhs fled the famine with their cattle outside Kazakhstan to China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Russia in search of food and employment in the new industrialization sites of Western Siberia with 900,000 head of cattle.[2] The Soviet government worked later to repatriate them.[37] This repatriation process could be brutal, as Kazakhs homes were broken into with refugee and non-refugee ethnic Kazakhs being forcibly expelled onto train cars without food, heating, or water.[38] Seventy percent of the refugees survived and the rest died due to epidemics and hunger.[2] Refugees were integrated into collective farms as they were repatriated where many were too weak to work, and in a factory within Semipalatinsk half the refugees were fired within a few days with the other half being denied food rations.[39]

Another estimate is that 1.1 million people fled, the vast majority of them Kazakhs.[13] As the refugees fled the famine, the Soviet government made some attempts to stop them.[40] In one case, relief dealers placed food in the back of a truck to attract refugees, and then locked the refugees inside the truck and dumped them in the middle of the mountains; the fate of these refugees is unknown.[41] Thousands of Kazakhs were shot dead, and some were even raped in their attempt to flee to China.[15] The flight of refugees was framed by authorities as a progressive occurrence of nomads moving away from their primitive lifestyle.[36] Famine refugees were suspected by OGPU officials of maintaining counterrevolutionary, bai, and kulak tendencies which was reinforced by some refugees engaging in crime in the republics they arrived in.[42]


Some of the starving in Kazakhstan devolved into cannibalism ranging from eating leftover corpses to the famished actively murdering each other in order to feed.[40][43]

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

Two thirds of the Kazakh survivors of the famine were successfully sedentarized due to the 80% reduction of their herds, the impossibility of resuming pastoral activity in the immediate post-famine environment, and the repatriation and resettlement program undertaken by Soviet authorities.[37] Despite this, Niccolò Pianciola says that the Soviet campaign to destroy nomadism was quickly rejected after the famine, and that nomadism even experienced a resurgence during World War II after the transfer of livestock from Nazi-occupied territories.[14]

A monument for the famine's victims was constructed in 2017.[1] The Turkic Council has described the famine as a "criminal Stalinist ethnic policy".[44] A genocide remembrance day is commenced on 31 May for the victims of the famine.[45]


Some Kazakh historians consider that this famine amounted to genocide of the Kazakhs, although many Western scholars disagree.[17] Historians who study the Soviet archives found no evidence that the Soviet authorities planned the famine.[17][18] The Soviet authorities undertook a campaign of persecution against the nomads in the Kazakhs, believing that the destruction of the class was a worthy sacrifice for the collectivization of Kazakhstan.[46][47] Europeans in Kazakhstan had disproportionate power in the party which has been argued as a cause of why indigenous nomads suffered the worst part of the collectivization process rather than the European sections of the country.[48]

Regarding the Kazakh catastrophe, Michael Ellman states that it "seems to be an example of 'negligent genocide' which falls outside the scope of the UN Convention".[49] Historian Robert Kindler refuses to call the famine a genocide, commenting that doing so masks the culpability of lower-level cadres who were locally rooted among the Kazakhs themselves.[40] Historian Sarah Cameron posits that while Stalin did not intend to starve Kazakhs, he saw some deaths as a necessary sacrifice to achieve the political and economic goals of the regime.[29] She concluded that "there is no evidence to indicate that these plans for violent modernization [collectivization] ever became transformed into a desire to eliminate the Kazakhs as a group.[17] Historian Stephen G. Wheatcroft believes that the high expectations of central planners were sufficient to demonstrate their ignorance of the ultimate consequences of their actions. Wheatcroft views the state's policies during the famine as "criminal acts of negligence", though not as intentional murder or genocide.[22] Niccolò Pianciola comments that from Lemkin's point of view on genocide all nomads of the Soviet Union were victims of the crime, not just the Kazakhs.[14] Historian Isabelle Ohayon found no evidence nor motive for the deliberate starvation of the Kazakh population concluding that the famine did not constitute a genocide under international juridical standards.[20] Maya Mehra concludes that the famine was caused by intentional act of violence on part of Stalin and the Soviet state but it was not in the legal sense a genocide.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Kazakhstan Unveils Monument To Victims Of Soviet-Era Famine". RFERL. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 31 May 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Ohayon, Isabelle (28 September 2013). "The Kazakh Famine: The Beginnings of Sedentarization". Sciences Po. Paris Institute of Political Studies. Retrieved 19 December 2021.
  3. ^ Steinhauer, Jason (24 August 2016). "The Kazakh Famine of the 1930s". Insights: Scholarly Work at the John W. Kluge Center. Library of Congress. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  4. ^ a b Volkava, Elena (26 March 2012). "The Kazakh Famine of 1930–33 and the Politics of History in the Post-Soviet Space". Wilson Center. Retrieved 9 July 2015.
  5. ^ Tatimov, M. B. (1989). Sotsial'naya obuslovlennost' demograficheskikh protsessov [Social Conditions of Demographic Processes]. Alma-Ata. p. 124. ISBN 5-628-00145-7.
  6. ^ Leon, Koval (31 December 2010). "Alma-Ata. Druzhby narodov nadezhnyy oplot" Алма-Ата. Дружбы народов надежный оплот [Alma-Ata. Friendship of Peoples is a Reliable Stronghold]. Lib.Ru (in Russian). Запомнил и долю казахов в пределах своей республики – 28%. А за тридцать лет до того они составляли у себя дома уверенное большинство. [Recalled and the share of Kazakhs in the borders of their republics – 28%. And for thirty-three years before that they made themselves at home a confident majority].
  7. ^ Kasymbayev, Zh; Koigeldiev, M.; Toleubaev, A. (2007). Qazaqstan tarïxı: Asa mañızdı kezeñderi men ğılımï mäseleleri. Jalpı bilim beretin mekteptiñ qoğamdık- gwmanïtarlıq bağıtındağı 11-sınıbına arnalğan oqwlıq [History of Kazakhstan: The Most Important Stages and Scientific Problems. Textbook for the 11th Grade of Secondary School in the Social and Humanitarian Direction] (illustrated ed.). Almaty: Mektep Publishing House. p. 304. ISBN 978-9965-36-106-7.
  8. ^ a b c Pianciola, Niccolò (Fall 2001). "The Collectivization Famine in Kazakhstan, 1931–1933". Harvard Ukrainian Studies. 25 (3/4): 237–251. JSTOR 41036834. PMID 20034146.
  9. ^ Ertz, Simon (2005). "The Kazakh Catastrophe and Stalin's Order of Priorities, 1929–1933: Evidence from the Soviet Secret Archives". Zhe: Stanford's Student Journal of Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (1): 1–14.
  10. ^ Levene, Mark (2018). Devastation Volume I: The European Rimlands 1912–1938 (E-book ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1925-0941-3.
  11. ^ Getty, J. Arch; Manning, Roberta Thompson, eds. (1993). Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives. Cambridge University Press. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-5214-4670-9.
  12. ^ a b c Pannier, Bruce (28 December 2007). "Kazakhstan: The Forgotten Famine". RFERL. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 26 November 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Cameron, Sarah (10 September 2016). "The Kazakh Famine of 1930–33: Current Research and New Directions". East/West: Journal of Ukrainian Studies. 3 (2): 117–132. doi:10.21226/T2T59X. ISSN 2292-7956. S2CID 132830478. Retrieved 19 November 2021 – via ResearchGate.
  14. ^ a b c d Pianciola, Niccolò (August 2020). "Environment, Empire, and the Great Famine in Stalin's Kazakhstan". Journal of Genocide Research. 23 (4): 588–592. doi:10.1080/14623528.2020.1807140. S2CID 225294912.
  15. ^ a b Cameron (2018), p. 123.
  16. ^ Ohayon, Isabelle (28 September 2013). "The Kazakh Famine: The Beginnings of Sedentarization". Sciences Po. Paris Institute of Political Studies. Retrieved 19 December 2021. In the early 1990s, some Kazakh historians (Abylkhozhin, Tatimov) characterized the famine as 'Goloshchyokin's genocide,' attributing sole responsibility for this tragedy to the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and accentuating his contempt towards the people, whom perceived as backwards. Although unmentioned in the magnum opus of the history of Kazakhstan (Istorija Kazakhstana s drevnejshyhvremen do nashihdnej, 2010: 284 et sqq.), the genocide argument currently found in certain textbooks were to some extent an empty exercise because it was not based on the international legal definition of genocide and did not go particularly far in terms of evidence. Instead, these arguments were consistent with the official Soviet contention that considered that the forced resignation of Goloshchyokin and his replacement by Mirzojan reveal that the entire episode was the work of a single man. Although it has been demonstrated and acknowledged that as political leader, Goloshchyokin played a key role in covering up the full extent of increases in mortality between 1930 and 1933, it remains there is scant evidence of a desire on the part of the government or particular individuals to exterminate the Kazakhs as a group, or even to identify compelling motives for such a deliberate strategy. Indeed, the Kazakh population never represented a political danger for the Soviet government, nor did the protest movement or secessionist leanings among the population at any time imperil Soviet territorial integrity.Ohayon (2006), p. 365
  17. ^ a b c d e Sabol, Steven (2017). "The Touch of Civilization": Comparing American and Russian Internal Colonization. University Press of Colorado. p. 47. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1mtz7g6. ISBN 978-1-60732-550-5. JSTOR j.ctt1mtz7g6. Most Kazakh scholars believe that between 1.3 to 1.5 million Kazakhs died during the famine, which they frequently describe as genocide; but many western scholars disagree. Historian Sarah Isabel Cameron's meticulous research led her to conclude, 'there is no evidence to indicate that these plans for violent modernization [collectivization] ever became transformed into a desire to eliminate the Kazakhs as a group'.
  18. ^ a b Lillis, Joanna (2018). Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-78673-451-8. ... has found no evidence in the archives of Stalin dreaming up a deliberate policy to exterminate the Kazakhs; he describes the Arsharshylyk instead as the tragic result of Soviet 'ineptitude and ignorance of the Kazakh way of life'.
  19. ^ Cameron, Sarah (20 May 2020). "Remembering the Kazakh Famine". Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Harvard University. Retrieved 29 December 2021. There is no evidence to indicate that Stalin planned the famine on purpose or sought to destroy all Kazakhs.
  20. ^ a b Dudoignon, Stéphane A. (2021). Central Eurasian Reader. Central Eurasian Reader: A Biennial Journal of Critical Bibliography and Epistemology of Central Eurasian Studies. Vol. 2. Klaus Schwarz Verlag. p. 295. doi:10.1515/9783112400395. ISBN 978-3-11-240039-5. S2CID 242907417 – via De Gruyter. Ohayon argues that the death of between a quarter and a third of the Kazakh population was not intentional. She finds neither evidence nor motive for the deliberate starvation of the Kazakh population concluding that the Kazakh famine did not constitute a genocide under international juridical standards (365). ... Overall the study impresses with its comprehensive and original analysis.
  21. ^ Bird, Joshua (13 April 2019). "'The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence, and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan' by Sarah Cameron". Asian Review of Books. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  22. ^ a b c Wheatcroft, Stephen G. (August 2020). "The Complexity of the Kazakh Famine: Food Problems and Faulty Perceptions". Journal of Genocide Research. 23 (4): 593–597. doi:10.1080/14623528.2020.1807143. S2CID 225333205.
  23. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 71.
  24. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 72.
  25. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 95.
  26. ^ a b Pianciola, Niccolò (23 July 2018). "Ukraine and Kazakhstan: Comparing the Famine". Contemporary European History. 27 (3): 440–444. doi:10.1017/S0960777318000309. S2CID 165354361.
  27. ^ a b Newton, Scott (2014). Law and the Making of the Soviet World: The Red Demiurge. Routledge. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-317-92977-2.
  28. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 175.
  29. ^ a b Cameron (2018), p. 99.
  30. ^ Kindler (2018), pp. 176–177.
  31. ^ Kindler (2018), p. 180.
  32. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 162.
  33. ^ "Во время голода в Казахстане погибло 40 процентов населения".
  34. ^ Snyder, Timothy (2012). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Hachette UK. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-4650-3297-6.
  35. ^ European Society for Central Asian Studies (2004). Katschnig, Julia; Rasuly-Paleczek, Gabriele (eds.). Central Asia on Display: Proceedings of the VIIth Conference of the European Society for Central Asian Studies. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 236. ISBN 978-3-8258-8309-6.
  36. ^ a b Cameron (2018), p. 144.
  37. ^ a b Ohayon (2006).
  38. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 150.
  39. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 153.
  40. ^ a b c Kindler (2018), p. 11.
  41. ^ Kindler (2018), p. 177.
  42. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 149.
  43. ^ Cameron (2018), p. 156.
  44. ^ "Message of the Turkic Council Secretary General on the occasion of the Remembrance Day of the Victims of Political Repressions and Starvation". Turkic Council. 31 May 2021.
  45. ^ Richter, James (May 2020). "Famine, Memory, and Politics in the Post-Soviet Space: Contrasting Echoes of Collectivization in Ukraine and Kazakhstan". Nationalities Papers. 48 (3): 476–491. doi:10.1017/nps.2019.17. ISSN 0090-5992. S2CID 212964880.
  46. ^ Pianciola, Niccolò (2004). "Famine in the steppe. The collectivization of agriculture and the Kazak herdsmen, 1928–1934". Cahiers du monde russe. 45 (1–2): 137–192.
  47. ^ Pianciola, Niccolò (2009). Stalinismo di frontiera. Colonizzazione agricola, sterminio dei nomadi and costruzione statale in Asia centrale (1905–1936). Rome: Viella.
  48. ^ Payne, Matthew J. (2011). "Seeing like a soviet state: settlement of nomadic Kazakhs, 1928–1934". In Alexopoulos, Golgo; Hessler, Julie (eds.). Writing the Stalin Era. pp. 59–86.
  49. ^ Ellman, Michael (June 2007). "Stalin and the Soviet Famine of 1932–33" (PDF). Europe-Asia Studies. 59 (4): 663–693. doi:10.1080/09668130701291899. S2CID 53655536. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2009.
  50. ^ Mehra, Maya (15 May 2022). "An Investigation of Intent and Genocide in the 1930s Kazakh Famine". Minnesota Undergraduate Research & Academic Journal. 5 (4).