In its staggering human toll, the Kazakh famine of 1930-33 was one of the most heinous crimes of the Stalinist regime. More than 1.5 million people perished in the Kazakh famine, a quarter of Soviet Kazakhstan’s population, and the crisis transformed a territory the size of continental Europe. Yet, the story of this famine has remained largely hidden from view, both in Kazakhstan and in the West. My book, The Hungry Steppe: Famine, Violence and the Making of Soviet Kazakhstan, brings this largely unknown story to light, examining two interrelated questions: What were the causes of the Kazakh famine of 1930-33? And how does this famine, an event long neglected in narratives of the Stalin era, alter our understanding of Soviet modernization and nation-making?
The nature of this state-driven modernization project was uneven. Ultimately, neither Kazakhstan nor Kazakhs themselves became integrated into the Soviet system in precisely the ways that Moscow had originally hoped.
The book begins with the famine’s roots in the last decades of the Russian empire and concludes with the republic’s slow road to economic recovery in the post-famine years of the mid-1930s. It argues that the Kazakh famine of 1930-33 was the result of Moscow’s radical attempt to transform a group of Muslim, Turkic-speaking nomads, known as “Kazakhs,” and a particular territory, Soviet Kazakhstan, into a modern, Soviet nation. It finds that, through the most violent means, the Kazakh famine created Soviet Kazakhstan, a stable territory with clearly delineated boundaries that was an integral part of the Soviet economic system, and forged a new Kazakh national identity. But the nature of this state-driven modernization project was uneven. Ultimately, neither Kazakhstan nor Kazakhs themselves became integrated into the Soviet system in precisely the ways that Moscow had originally hoped. The scars from the famine would haunt the republic throughout the remainder of the Soviet era and shape its transformation into an independent nation in 1991.
Along the way, the book uses the case study of the Kazakh famine to overturn several conventional ideas about nation-making, modernization, and ethnic violence under Stalin. Seen from the angle of the Soviet east, a region that, to date, has not received as much scholarly attention as the Soviet Union’s west, the regime and the devastating consequences of its policies appear in a different light. The book should be of interest to scholars interested in the global transformation of food systems, genocide studies, and environmental history.