New film shows Kazakhs they suffered a Holodomor too, infuriating Moscow

International, Op-ed

Ever more Kazakhs are revising their views about the early Soviet period when several million of their ancestors died from famine, hundreds of thousands fled to China and some took up arms to fight first the Bolsheviks and then Soviet collectivization, the Central Asian Analytic Network says.

Now as a result of a new film called “Zulmat,” the Kazakh word for Holomodor or terror famine, they increasingly recognize that the famine was not an accident of nature but rather the result of Moscow’s policies and thus constitute an act of genocide, a view that necessarily changes their view of Russia.

Not surprisingly, the Russian foreign ministry has lashed out at the film’s suggestion that what occurred was “a Holodomor” or “a genocide” and insisted that Moscow did not target the Kazakhs or any other nation and that all Soviet peoples, including the Russians, suffered.

A mother and child, victims of the terror famine in Kazakhstan. Freezing and starving.

A mother and child, victims of the terror famine in Kazakhstan. Freezing and starving.

The man behind the film, “Zulmat. Mass Hunger in Kazakhstan,” Zhanbolat Mamay, made this film because in 2017 he was banned from working as a journalist for three years. He made an earlier documentary about Kazakhstan’s national movement after 1917, “If the Republic of Alash had Won,” and plans to do a third about repressions in the 1930s.

In an interview with CAAN, Mamay says he is sure the Russian foreign ministry released its statement because his film has proved so popular. It was first shown in a theater in Almaty but not permitted to be run elsewhere and then put up on YouTube where it has already been viewed more than 400,000 times, he continues.

Mamay says he decided to make the film because despite the fact that many parts of the story have been told, they are not been put together in one place in a way accessible to the population and no one has given them a political and historical assessment. That is what “we have done in our film.”

Remains of abandoned baby cradles. Kazakhstan, 1931

Remains of abandoned baby cradles. Kazakhstan, 1931

One issue that had to be decided was what to call the film. There are two words in Kazakh for the terror famine or Holodomor in that country, Asharshylyk and Zulmat. The first refers to famine arising from food shortages; the second refers to that and also to the greater tragedy of organized mass murder. It is thus more appropriate.

Stalin and the Soviet leadership knew what they were doing and what was happening because of what they had done. They thus were engaged in a conscious policy of genocide, Mamay says; and they must be held accountable by history for their actions. Trying to muddy the waters is a betrayal of the nation’s memory.

The film focuses on five issues: the first massive famine of 1921-22, the impact of collectivization and sedentarization, mass risings against Soviet power, the horrors of death by hunger, and finally the assessment of these events which must be called “by their own names: this was a policy of genocide!”

Figures are much in dispute, but the closest to the truth is contained in the famous “Letter of the Six,” published in the 1930s. It spoke about the demise of 49 percent of the Kazakh population as a result of Soviet policies. But those were only direct losses. In addition, more than a million fled to other countries, including China and Afghanistan.

Kazakhs on the move in the early 1930s, in an attempt to escape the terror famine unleashed by the Soviet regime.

Kazakhs on the move in the early 1930s, in an attempt to escape the terror famine unleashed by the Soviet regime.

As to the ethnic composition of the victims, it was overwhelmingly Kazakh. But of the 2.2 million who died in Kazakhstan during the terror famine of 1931-1933, 250,000 consisted of others, including Russians, Ukrainians, Germans, Tatars and others. But of the one million who died in the 1920s, almost all were Kazakhs, as were the million who fled the republic.

Kazakhs resisted and formed armed groups, but in 1929-1931, it is not correct to say that they were seeking independence: they only wanted collectivization, as Stalin was imposing it, to be stopped. There were no longer any national leaders who could have organized a broader form of resistance: they had all been killed before then.

Another indication of how alienated these events left the Kazakhs was that the Red Army was not allowed to take in ethnic Kazakhs as soldiers and officers at that time, not because the commanders did not want them, but because the political leadership in Moscow refused to allow this to happen.

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Edited by: A. N.

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