100 Years of Kazakh Repression
The history of the Kazakh people under Soviet and post-Soviet rule is the history of one horrifying déjà vu after another.
Stalin introduces collectivization measures that aim to eradicate the self-sustaining economy of Kazakh nomads and replace it with the Soviet model of collective farms. Having declared the Kazakh way of life (its customs, its language, its religion) to be unfit for the modern world, Stalin’s functionaries confiscate all the livestock that Kazakh nomads own, thus making it impossible for them to continue their way of life. As a result, at least 1,5 million Kazakh nomads die of starvation. Kazakh families who try to escape into China are met at the border by machine guns. They perish as if they never existed, without receiving a proper burial.
The surviving nomads are forced to settle in collective farms and produce meat and wheat for the cities of Moscow and Almaty.
While Stalin’s collectivization measures are starving 1,5 million Kazakhs nomads to death, the Soviet regime is also targeting non-nomadic Kazakhs -- especially, writers and scientists. Almost all Kazakh writers and scientists are killed or sent to the Gulag, under the false accusation that they are «foreign agents» who want to overthrow the Soviet regime.
Only those members of the Soviet-Kazakh «intelligentsia» who support Stalin’s campaigns, by producing Soviet propaganda and by denouncing fellow Kazakhs, survive. They become the regime’s best propaganda tools: covering up the crimes committed during the Kazakh famine and eradicating from collective memory the cultural richness of the pre-Soviet way of life.
This double process -- the extermination of all Kazakh intellectuals and the creation of a new class of «intelligent» Kazakh propagandists -- has been documented by Larissa Kuderina, a historian and the daughter of the Kazakh biologist Zhumakhan Kuderin, who was killed in 1938. Kuderina had to wait fifty years to tell the tragic story of her father and the other Kazakh intellectuals of that period. In 1994, in Moscow, during a brief moment of cultural openness in post-Soviet Russia, Kuderina was finally able to publish her book. It is available for download below.
At the end of the book, Kuderina points out that if Kazakhs wanted to bring an end to the authoritarian system in which they have been trapped since Stalin’s time, it would be important not only to commemorate the victims but also to identify the perpetrators: «How to solve the problem of lustration? Until today, a museum named after Mukhtar Auezov is on display in Almaty. A Kazakh theater is also named after him. Sabit Muqanov and Mukhtar Auezov are still considered ‘giants’ and ‘world famous writers’. That they are cannibals, only a few people know. These ‘giants’ and ‘chieftains’, who mutilated other people’s lives, must be condemned.»
In the city of Almaty, at Brezhnev Square, on December 16, thousands of students, mostly from poor rural families, join a peaceful protest, demanding to end the systemic discrimination of ethnic Kazakhs in Soviet Kazakhstan. At the end of the day, the protest is calmly dispersed by Almaty police. On the second day of the protest, December 17, the protesters are met by a special division of the Soviet army, sent from Novosibirsk by the General Secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev. The masked soldiers begin to disperse the protest by beating and arresting hundreds of participants. In subsequent days, armed forces arrest, imprison and torture hundreds more. Some are released again, some disappear forever. The names of the victims are not made public.
Through various branches of the Soviet propaganda machine -- newspapers, radio and tv stations, schools and universities -- the Kazakh public is told that on December 16-17, the Russian population of the city of Almaty was attacked by drunk and drugged «hooligans» from rural villages. The general public condemns the protests.
When the Soviet Union collapses five years later, the student protests of 1986 will be appropriated by the post-Soviet regime. Former members of the Communist Party who were involved in organising the violent repression of the 1986 protests will claim that they were on the students’ side. December 16 will be introduced as Kazakhstan’s Independence Day.
In the city of Zhanaozen, thousands of oil workers go on strike, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The strikers occupy the city’s main square and continue their peaceful protests for seven months.
On December 16, Kazakhstan’s Independence Day, a masked group of provocateurs infiltrates the protest and turns the peaceful protest into a violent rebellion. The protesters are met by masked security forces on the ground and by snipers on the rooftops of buildings. Protesters are shot and killed without warning. The official number of strikers killed is 15. According to independent investigations, the number of deaths and the number of severe injuries are much higher. Hundreds of strikers and trade-union activists are arrested, imprisoned and tortured in the subsequent months. The names of the victims are not made public.
State-sponsored bloggers and journalists use their platforms to condemn the protesters and to support the government’s deadly crackdown of December 16.
In the cities of Zhanaozen, Aqtau, Aqtobe, Shymkent, Qyzyl Orda, Taldy Qorgan, Semei, Oskemen, Almaty and many other cities and towns, tens of thousands of Kazakhs take to the streets to protest against the doubling of fuel prices, poor working conditions and the unequal distribution of wealth, controlled by the monarchy of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s clan.
On January 4, state-sponsored bandits and provocateurs infiltrate the protests in the city of Almaty and begin to destroy private properties and government buildings. A state of emergency is declared. The President of Kazakhstan declares a war against foreign terrorists and orders his security forces to shoot and kill anyone without warning. Snipers are positioned on rooftops. Peaceful protesters and unknowing passersby are shot and killed. The names of the victims are not made public.
In collaboration with Russian security forces, Kazakh security forces begin to arrest, imprison and torture Kazakh journalists, bloggers, human-rights activists and trade-union activists. Some are released, some disappear forever. The names of the victims are not made public.
Meanwhile, state-sponsored bloggers and journalists have started the propaganda campaign that is meant to justify the government’s decision to conduct a war against its own citizens. «There is no alternative» and «Toqaev has saved our independence» are two of the slogans that are repeated over and over.
The Kazakh uprising of 2022 leaves the world in admiration and in shock. The admiration goes to the tens of thousands of Kazakh men and women who had the courage to go out on the streets and to demand greater economic equality and the protection of their constitutional rights. There is also shock: shock at the brutality with which the Kazakh dictatorship has declared war on its own citizens, on the false pretext that they are «terrorists».
As a young Kazakh worker from Aqtau bitterly said in his final TikTok message: «The whole world is watching Kazakhstan and laughing, but they are not laughing at the Kazakh people, they are laughing at the Kazakh authorities, who are taking everyone for an idiot.»
With the silent complicity of China and Western democracies, the uprising of the Kazakh people will be crushed again in other unequal battles. But the Kazakh spirit will not be defeated. One day it will rise from the ashes like a Phoenix – perhaps, in a new generation of Kazakhs, who, like the legendary Asan Qaigy, will find the Kazakh promised land, Zher Uyiq, a land of peace, freedom and prosperity.