«We need to look into the past in order to understand the present and foresee the future»
N.A.Nazarbayev

Mass sedentarization of Kazakhs as a result of hunger 1929-1932-ies

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(From the collection of material of the International Scientific Conference «HUNGER IN KAZAKHSTAN: THE TRAGEDY OF THE PEOPLE AND THE LESSONS OF HISTORY»), published by Astana, 2012

This report addresses the following questions: in what extent sedentarization of Kazakhs is the result of a political program or the result of starvation. What role did the famine in the evolution of the Kazakh society?
How would you characterize the Soviet authorities in the context of sedentarization policy of collectivization and famine?
The expression «sedentarization policy» is used here in two senses:
1) First, it is an ideological and modernizing project, which suggests that nomadic herding refers to the low stage of social evolution and seeks to replace it with a «stable and rational» way agricultural production.
2) Second, the collectivization and famine as the main factors of sedentarization and possibly as a practical translation tool nomadic households in the settled state.

The idea of the desirability of the transition to sedentary was born among the new national Kazakh intellectuals in the late nineteenth — early twentieth century. Also it is based on a critical analysis of the situation of the agricultural crisis caused by peasant colonization of the best lands of the Kazakh steppes, as well as on the ideal of enlightenment and modernization of society, typical of political thought period in Russia and Europe. Specific conditions for the transition to settled triggered a lively debate among the intelligentsia, but in general sedentarization conceived as a long-term and gradual process.
With the consolidation of Soviet power in Kazakhstan (and especially with the advent of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan headed by F. Goloshekin) project sedentarization was again on the agenda and in the radical version.

According to Marxist theory, the idea of the incompatibility of the nomadic societies of the Soviet social ideal was suggested. There was a discussion about the relationship between nomadic pastoral mode of production and the generic structure of nomadic societies. According to the Bolsheviks, the transition to a settled way of life could be achieved in the following ways: by destroying the economic base of the nomads, through the destruction of the generic structure of society, or the simultaneous destruction of one or the other. During the fifteenth Conference of the Communist Party in 1928, F.Goloshekin introduced repressive campaign against large bais and «semi-feudal» as the first stage of weakening tribal authorities themselves and tribes themselves.
Thus, the ideology of sedentarization is closely linked in the eyes of the Bolsheviks with complete transformation of the traditional economic and social practices of the Kazakhs. Progressive development of the Kazakh «peasantry» appeared in the form of administrative guided the transition from pastoral to an agricultural economy, or at least to a stationary-the livestock, as well as the disappearance of the generic structure.

Regardless of collectivization and plan of bakery and livestock preparation, strategy transition to a sedentary lifestyle of Kazakh nomads got to use measures developed by the Resettlement Administration in 1929 and backed by scientific arguments from professionals agriculture — agronomists and other «experts».

It was believed that in the biogeographic and climatic conditions of the dry steppe zone nomadism doomed to chronic and unexpected periods of dzhut (mass loss of cattle) and that, consequently, it is an obstacle to a productive and stable economy. According to this view, it was decided to move the ranching population of vast arid zone, which bore the name of Central Kazakhstan, in the «intermediate» land more suitable for development of diversified agriculture. Measures «de-nomadization» this space were primarily aimed at impoverished due to the last cattle plague populations. So, one of the objectives of the Resettlement Office in late 1929 was to provide relocation and permanent settlements organization about eight thousand Aday (Kazakh tribe), famine victims, some of whom were forced to migrate to Turkmenistan.
The final result of the first campaign, the transition to a settled way of life was a temporary sedentarization over a hundred thousand semi-nomadic and nomadic families who were housed in the so-called «settling points», some of which were in the form yurt villages. However, the administrative apparatus had great difficulty in coordinating their actions, materials and supply families with food was delivered very bad and even the choice of locations for the device «points settling» was implemented without the availability of necessary resources vital so that people had to leave new settlements, with unfinished houses. Followed by forced collectivization, blanks, famine and mass migration of the population, the first experience of mass controlled transition to residency was unsuccessful.

In the general policy of the Soviet government and the fate of the program sedentarization of nomads in general is not a priority, compare with collectivization and preparation of grain and meat stock, with the dispossession and industrialization in Kazakhstan.
Let remind that the main attack on the Kazakh pastoral society caused massive harvesting meat, reached its apogee in 1931, and not campaign for sedentarization of nomads.

As is well known, as a result of famine in Kazakhstan killed about one million three hundred thousand people (one third of the Kazakh population), and livestock in the country declined from forty-five to eight million head. Thus, sedentarization was, in fact, the mass repatriation of refugees who were totally dependent on government assistance and were not able to return to the pastoralist economy due to the catastrophic deficit of cattle.

Repatriation of about a million Kazakhs who moved to neighboring countries, allowed to organize the settlement of Kazakhstan according to economic priorities of the first five-set at the federal, regional and local levels. Sedentarization, which is responsible for set up in 1931, the Committee on the subsidence was the result of the translation of the population in the industrial sector and to cotton-growing, sugar beet and tobacco-growing farms. In this sense, it coincides with the repressive rules of settlement, in which was based on a similar logic of using the free population for the development of natural resources.
Sedentarization primarily meant for fixing most Kazakhs new collective livestock for which scientific and technical personnel has invented a hybrid called «socialist transhumant pastoralism» — form of economy in which, theoretically, was escorted to the herd grazing professional shepherds, then as vermja other residents of the settlements remain in place and engaged in other economic activities.
Turar Riskulov, deputy chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, informing higher authorities about the famine in Kazakhstan supported the plan of recovery pastoral, allowing to have a significant number of cattle individually using Kazakh pastoral farms and buying cattle for farms. These measures have contributed to the normalization of the situation in the countryside.

According to the Soviet census of 1926, about 70% of the Kazakh population (approximately three million people) engaged in nomadic or semi-economy. Almost half of nomadic herdsmen died during the famine, hundreds of thousands migrated to the neighboring Soviet republics and other countries. Nearly a million Kazakhs, most of them nomads, were settled in animal collective farms, about two hundred thousand — in the collective technical and crops, and the rest were in the industrial sector.

Enormous reduction in livestock and the subsequent famine certainly created the conditions for irreversible sedentarization of Kazakhs. Radically disrupting the social balance by moving the tribal groups in these areas, adversely affecting the transmission of traditions and memory of older generations, forced sedentarization for the Kazakh society has become a fundamental turning point and, to some extent, forced de-culturalisation.


Isabelle Ogayon,
Senior Researcher atNational Center for Scientific Research,
Center for the Study of Russia,
Caucasus, Central Asia and Central Europe (France)

Material provided by the Institute of History of State CS of MES of the RK.