On May 31 Kazakhstan marks Memorial Day for Victims of Political Repression

On May 31 Kazakhstan marks Memorial Day for Victims of Political Repression

Every year, starting from 1997, Kazakhstan marks the Memorial Day for Victims of Political Repression and famine on May 31. The representatives of various groups of the populations and different nationalities living in the Soviet Union were the victims of repression. Many years have passed since then, but Kazakhstan remembers those who were being railroaded by the totalitarian system.

Fourteen ‘Books of Sorrow’ were published in the Sovereign Kazakhstan. 146,500 names of the Kazakh citizens, who were innocently affected by the political repression, were included in those books. In accordance with the legislation, more than 340,000 illegally repressed Kazakh citizens were rehabilitated. This became possible due to the signing in 1993 by the First President of Kazakhstan of the Law ‘On the rehabilitation of victims of mass political repression’. Since then, a lot of work has been done in Kazakhstan. Dozens of memorials were erected in the burial places of the victims of totalitarianism. There are memorial complexes on territories of the former camps.

Leading researcher of the Institute of History of the State under the Science Committee of the Kazakh Ministry of Education and Science Kanat Yensenov spoke about how Kazakh residents went through the repression in an interview with the Kazakh TV channel. Yensenov said that that period can be divided into three main stages: collectivization (from 1928 to 1930), famine (from 1931 to 1933) and political repression (1937-1938).

1928-1930. Collectivization and Confiscation

The repressive policy in the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic began in 1928. On August 27, 1928, the Central Election Commission and the Council of People’s Commissars adopted the decree “On the confiscation of kulaks’ property.”

“As a result of this decree, nearly 700 large farms were simply destroyed, and their owners were recognized as exploiters. They were condemned as enemies of the people and some were executed. This policy continued during the collectivization – rich people and even the middle class were massively repressed. There is a lot of archival data to prove that. The Soviet Union pursued a policy of forced relocation of people to the sparsely populated Kazakh steppes,” Candidate of Historical Sciences Yensenov said.  

800,000 Germans, 102,000 Poles, 19,000 Koreans and 507,000 residents of the North Caucasus were deported to Kazakhstan. The Crimean Tatars, Turks, Greeks, Kalmyks and the representatives of other nations were also forcibly relocated to the Kazakh lands. In total, at least 1.5 million people were deported to Kazakhstan.

1931-1933. Famine

The famine of the early 1930s became one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Soviet Union. As a result, 7 million people died from starvation in Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The famine and its consequences became a major humanitarian catastrophe of the Soviet period.

“This affected the demographic situation. Collectivization destroyed the age-old lifestyle of auyls. Hundreds of thousands of Kazakhs, fleeing hunger and repression, migrated beyond the borders of their historical homeland. They moved to China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. In total, 2.2 million people died from hunger in the country, including 1.7 million Kazakhs,” Yensenov said.

1937-1938. Political repression

According to the official data, more than 103,000 were persecuted in Kazakhstan. Of them, more than a quarter people were killed by the repression machine.

“More than 25,000 people were executed in Kazakhstan. The representatives of the Kazakh elite were among them, including the prominent figures of science, culture and politics. The former leaders of ‘Alash’ movement Alikhan Bokeikhanov, Akhmet Baitursynov, Beimbet Mailin, Magzhan Zhumabayev, Turar Ryskulov, Abdulla Rozybakiyev, Mukhamedzhan Tynyshbayev and Iliyas Zhansugyrov were executed, as well as other representatives of intelligentsia. They were sentenced to death,” Yensenov said.

Camps on the Kazakh land

As a result of a cruel policy to identify the enemies of the people not only the repressed people suffered, but also their families. One of the main and most inhuman mechanisms was sending the relatives of the repressed people to the labor camps. There were nearly 60 camps in the Soviet Union, 20 of them were located in Kazakhstan. In 1937, the ALZHIR camp (Akmola camp for wives of traitors to Motherland) was created in the Tonkeris village near Akmola. It was the largest Soviet women’s camp. The wives of the traitors to the Motherland were imprisoned there. Nearly 8,000 women were brought to the camp at the same time.

One of the ALZHIR prisoners was Yanina Germanovich. She managed to survive this terrible time and go free. She was the wife of the poet from Belarus Todor Klyashtornyi, who was sentenced to death. Germanovich spent in the labor camp eight long years. She was sent to ALZHIR in 1938 with her four-month-old child. Her daughter Maya Todorovna still remembers how she went to kindergarten near the camp.

Years later, she donates a blanket and an embroidered belt, which kept her warm during the difficult years in exile, to the ALZHIR Museum and Memorial Complex.

“This blanket actually has its own story. My mom and I were sent into an exile to Kazakshtan, Siberia and Belarus with this blanket. Then, when my life improved, I still kept it and cherished and treasured it a lot. This is a memory,” said Maya Todorovna. 

To date, the ALZHIR Museum Fund has about 17,000 exhibits. Some of them were collected during the research trips around Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Israel and Georgia. These are archival documents and photographs, letters written by the children of the prisoners and their memories.

“The museum is equipped with the audio guide system. The virtual tours are conducted in Kazakh, Russian and English. The documentary films are also presented there. By using four multimedia screens with a touch control panel, you can get information about prisoners of the camps and their families. Information is also available on the museum’s website ‘www.museum-alzhir.kz’,” said Samat Tergembayev, Director of the ALZHIR Museum and Memorial Complex.

The ALZHIR Museum and Memorial Complex of the victims of political repression and totalitarianism was opened in 2007. This is a unique monument to those who innocently suffered during the repression that claimed millions of lives.


Photo: m.azh.kz