Kazakhstan honors millions who died in 'Great Famine'
Over 5 million Kazakhs died in first half of 20th century due to Soviet policy of ethnic cleansing
NUR SULTAN, Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan on Monday commemorated the over 5 million Kazakhs who died due to a Soviet starvation policy in the first half of the 20th century aimed at cleansing the country of its people.
People who lost their lives due to former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's policies of hunger and political oppression implemented in the country were remembered in Kazakhstan as part of May 31, the Day to Remember the Victims of Political Oppression, Exile and Starvation.
In the first half of the 20th century, Bolshevik Filipp Goloshchyokin was brought in to head the second-largest country in terms of territorial area in the Soviet Union at the behest of Stalin.
Goloshchyokin, who was appointed the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, began implementing the policy known as the "Little October Revolution" in the country immediately after assuming the post.
He took the decision knowing that most of the local people in villages had the opportunity to live their lives with livestock.
The policy, known as collectivization, which was aimed at acclimating the Kazakhs to a sedentary lifestyle, led to the confiscation of their animals, which were the only source of livelihood of rich peasants as well as the middle class.
The number of cattle in Kazakhstan before collectivization was 45 million, while the figure fell to 4 million in a few years, data shows. This led to the events of the "Great Famine," which took place from 1930-1933. About two-and-a-half million of the country's total population of six million died during this period.
'Freeing' vast territory from Kazak Turks
Mekemtas Mirzahmetov, who was three years old during the time of the "Great Famine," told Anadolu Agency about the painful but true story he had experienced with his mother during the period.
Noting that they had the most beautiful house in the village because of his father's position, Mirzahmetov said, "even a corner of our house was covered with gold. Because of this, we were included in the category of rich families of the village and were raided several times by auditors."
"Then our house was set on fire. My father was sent to prison as an 'enemy of the people.' My mother, little sister and I stayed on the street," he added.
Later on, they decided to move to his uncle's house in the neighboring village and set off on foot as there were no vehicles, he recalled.
"On the way, we came across a pack of wolves. I was still a child, but I saw how the eyes of the wolves were burning, approaching the villages because of hunger. I remember how I grabbed my mother's hem out of fear.
"If we started to run, the wolves would attack all three of us at once. Realizing this, my mother put my eight-month-old sister on the ground, grabbed my hand and ran. We heard my sister cry for the last time. When my mother came back to look, all that was left of my sister was her hair," he added.
He said that of the 17 members of his family, only three of them remained after starvation, and dozens of families in his village were forced to emigrate to neighboring countries.
Mirzahmetov, now 93, said the famine was deliberately staged and was genocide, stressing that the primary goal of the totalitarian Soviet government was to free these vast lands from the Kazakhs and that this issue should be explored more deeply by historians.
About 5 million Kazakhs died of starvation
Kazakhstan's Ambassador to Turkey, Abzal Saparbekuly, said that about 70% of the Kazakh population died during the "Great Famine."
"First of all, we should note that these events weren't 'famines' that occur after a natural disaster but 'starvation' that was organized in a planned and programmatic manner. The Soviet government's policy of collectivization was actually necessary to control the Kazakhs," he said.
Noting that there was starvation in Kazakhstan not once, but three times in the first half of the 20th century, Saparbekuly said that "in total, more than 5 million Kazakhs died in the starvation events of 1918, 1921 and the 1930s."
"During the period of 1929-1933, there were a total of 372 revolts against Goloshchyokin throughout the country, but the administration had suppressed them by force."
Saparbekuly pointed out that in 1937, the Kazakh intelligentsia began to be subjected to Stalin's punishing policy called the "Red Terror."
"After the February Revolution of 1917, Kazakh intellectuals began to organize politically. So the Alash Party and the Alash Orda Government were formed," he said.
"The Bolsheviks, who came to power in Russia, initially reconciled with the Alash intellectuals, while the Soviet regime, after gaining power, carried out a policy of repression known as the 'Red Terror' against the intellectuals who worked for the leadership of the Kazakh society. Kazakh intellectuals were accused of being 'nationalists,' 'pan-Turkists' and 'agents' and declared 'enemies of the people'."
He emphasized that the wives, children and close relatives of Kazakh intellectuals were also targeted, saying that over 100,000 people were exiled and Soviet forces shot more than 25,000 people during the "Red Terror."
"The wives and children of the intellectuals were also sent to the 'ALZHIR,' or the Akmola Concentration Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland.
Saparbekuly said the law on the rehabilitation of victims of political oppression was adopted when his country gained independence in 1991, noting that more than 340,000 victims of political oppression and exile were acquitted within the framework of this law.
He reminded that May 31 was designated as a Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Oppression, Exile and Starvation by the decision of founding President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1997 to alleviate the pain from some of these events, which remain unbearable in the hearts of the people.
He added that President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also ordered the establishment of a state commission to deal with the rehabilitation of victims of political oppression.
* Writing by Merve Berker and Ahmet Gencturk
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