In 1929 the Tajik and Uzbek Soviet socialist republics were separated. As Uzbek communist party chief, Khojayev enforced the policies of the Soviet government during the collectivization of agriculture in the late 1920s and early 1930s and, at the same time, tried to increase the participation of Uzbeks in the government and the party. Soviet leader Joseph V. Stalin suspected the motives of all reformist national leaders in the non-Russian republics of the Soviet Union. By the late 1930s, Khojayev and the entire group that came into high positions in the Uzbek Republic had been arrested and executed during the Stalinist purges. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Following the purge of the nationalists, the government and party ranks in Uzbekistan were filled with people loyal to the Moscow government. Economic policy emphasized the supply of cotton to the rest of the Soviet Union, to the exclusion of diversified agriculture.

Collectivization in Soviet Central Asia

The Soviets forced the Uzbeks to settle down and grow cotton for Russian mills on farms irrigated by waters from the Amu Darya rivers. Under Stalin and Khrushchev mass labor was mobilized to dig irrigation canals by hand for production and for export. Landowners had their property taken away and were grouped together in collective farms.

In the 1920s and 30s, Stalin government took over privately run farms throughout the Soviet Union, organized huge government-run state farms and order peasants to join together and form collective farms. Many peasants whose families had worked their land for centuries resisted and were forced to give up their farms and move to huge collective farms.

To satisfy the state's need for increased food supplies, the First Five-Year Plan called for the organization of the peasantry into collective units that the authorities could easily control. This collectivization program entailed compounding the peasants' lands and animals into collective farms (kolkhozy; sing., kolkhoz) and state farms (sovkhozy; sing., sovkhoz) and restricting the peasants' movement from these farms. The effect of this restructuring was to reintroduce a kind of serfdom into the countryside.

"Collectivization" was an aim to produce enough food for everyone and free people to factory workers. It was thought that fewer people would be able to produce more food under the system, but actually productivity dropped and peasantry was destroyed as a class and a way of life. Stalin forced peasants into collective farms against their will and imposed impossible quotas. Police and party brigades carried off away food and seed grain. Mills and storage facilities were burned down and harvests were confiscated and exported while people went hungry to demonstrate to the world the success of "scientific socialism."

Famine and Hardships in Collectivized Soviet Central Asia

During the period of forced collectivization under Stalin, hundreds of thousands died in Central Asia from starvation after people slaughtered their animals rather than give them to the state and later starved. People who resisted were executed or sent to labor camps. Some argue that the intention of this was to wipe out the "backward" ethnic groups in Central Asia.

Between 1929 and 1932, it is estimated 1.75 million to 2.5 million people died (including 40 to 50 percent of Kazakhs in Kazakhstan) of malnutrition and starvation as a result of the loss of animals. President Nazarbaev told the Washington Post, “It was terrible. My father saw with his own eyes and told me...You’d walk along a path and see corpses everywhere.” Millions of Kazakhs fled to China and Afghanistan to avoid starvation

The populations of entire villages perished—hundreds of thousands of families. Those that survived left everything behind, their homes, their animals, and fled to Siberia and elsewhere in Central Asia and the Soviet Union. An estimated 1 million people made their way to China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and other places.

Repression in Soviet Central Asia

The Soviets tried to stamp out local cultures and feelings of ethnic identity. Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs and other ethnic groups were discouraged from speaking their language and practicing their religion. They could not start businesses or travel freely. Authorities told them what to read and which leaders to serve under.

The Soviets attempted to stamp out Kazakh culture. Kazakh books were burned, intellectuals were sent to gulags, leaders were executed, and nomads and farmers were collectivized. The Russification program was successful. Many Kazakhs speak Russian better than Kazakh.

During the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, people who resisted collectivization were executed or sent to labor camps. Some have argued that the intentions of this was to wipe out the "backward" ethic groups in Central Asia. More people died or fled and the population of Kazakhstan dropped by two million. The population was able to come back as result of a high birth rate among Kazakhs and the return of Kazakhs from places like China.

Soviet rule was marked by fluctuations between intense repression and a relaxation of these policies. Under Stalin, intellectuals and anyone suspecting to have a connection with a pan-Turkish, pro-democracy, reformist, or nationalist group was arrested and sent to a labor camp or executed. In his 1985 analysis “Mystics and Commissars”, S. Enders Wimbush wrote: “Members of Sufi brotherhoods were hunted as ‘criminals’...They were accused of immutable hostility towards the Soviet regime or economic sabotage, ‘banditism,’ ‘terrorism,’ and ‘armed rebellion.’

See Religion.

Gulags and Solzhenitsyn in Soviet Central Asia

Gulags and communities for exiles, like those in Siberia, were set up in northern Kazakhstan. The term gulag was used to describes a vast network of hundreds of forced labor camps and prisons that were established mostly in Siberia, the Arctic, the Far East and Central Asia. Gulag is the Russian acronym for “Glavny Upravlenie Lagerey” ("Main Administration of Corrective Labor Camps”). It came to mean “camp” or more generally “the camps.”

Stalin expanded the gulag system. At its height the system contained 476 camp complexes, within which there were often dozens, sometimes hundreds of individual camps. From 1929, when Stalin consolidated his grip on power, until 1953 when he died, 18 million people passed through the camp system. Six million more were exiled to isolated, police villages in Siberia or Kazakhstan or to special settlements known as “spetposelki”. In the 1940s and 50s, the famed Russian wrote Alexandr Solzhenitsyn spent eight years at a secret labor camp in what is now Kazakhstan and psychiatric institute in Moscow. He used his experiences to provide graphic descriptions of life in these camp in his books.

One Japanese man captured by the Soviet army was sent to a detention camp in a desert area of Uzbekistan and put to work assembling pylons. He told the Yomiuri Shimbun he had to dig in ground so hard that “The edge of his pick wouldn’t stand in the lumps of salt.” A typical meal consisted of brown bread and soup. Three or four times a month they received a special treat: wheat porridge. Some detainees died of malnutrition.

During his imprisonment at the camp in the town of Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan, Solzhenitsyn worked as a miner, bricklayer, and foundry foreman. His experiences at Ekibastuz formed the basis for the book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. One of his fellow political prisoners, Ion Moraru, remembers that Solzhenitsyn spent some of his time at Ekibastuz writing. While there Solzhenitsyn had a tumor removed. His cancer was not diagnosed at the time. [Source: Wikipedia]

In March 1953, after his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was sent to internal exile for life at Kok-Terek in the northeastern region of Kazakhstan, very close to the current border with Russia, as was common for political prisoners. His undiagnosed cancer spread until, by the end of the year, he was close to death. In 1954, he was permitted to be treated in a hospital in Tashkent, where his tumor went into remission. His experiences there became the basis of his novel Cancer Ward and also found an echo in the short story "The Right Hand." It was during this decade of imprisonment and exile that Solzhenitsyn abandoned Marxism and developed the philosophical and religious positions of his later life.

Ethnic Divisions and Mass Deportations in the Soviet Union

The ethnic mix and configuration of some the ethnic republics was odd and unnatural. The strange ethnic make up of some of the ethnic republics was primarily the work of Joseph Stalin, when he served as the People's Commissar of Nationalities under Lenin in the 1920s , to suit the needs of the state not the people. In some cases traditional rivals were placed together in the same state and major population centers for one group were divided into different states. Some of the most creative gerrymandering was done where Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan meet (See Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan Under Central Asia).

The borders of the ethnic homelands and republics were gerrymandered to suit the divide-and-rule policy of Moscow. Stalin’s idea was to group rival ethnic group into the same states rather than give them their own state so they would be too occupied bickering among themselves to unite against Moscow and threaten the Soviet state and in turn require a strong Soviet military presence to keep the peace. One Russian newspaper editor told National Geographic, “It wasn’t just divide and conquer. It was divide, conquer and tie up in trouble.”

A number ethnic groups deemed untrustworthy by Stalin were sent to Central Asia — particularly Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — before, during and after World War II. These groups included Germans, Poles, Balts, Koreans, Ingush, Chechens, Meskheti Turks, Kalmyks and Tatars. Many died on the journey to Kazakhstan. Others died not long after they arrived. Some of those that survived continued to live in Kazakhstan. Others returned to their homelands when they got the chance.

In the 1930s, a number of ethnic groups, including the Greeks, Tatars, Koreans and Volga Germans were suddenly evacuated from their homes and sent into exile in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Siberia. Some were imprisoned and executed as “enemies of the people.” More than 1.5 million people were deported to Siberia and Central Asia.

World War II

During World War II, no fighting reached Central Asia. Large numbers of Central Asians fought on the side of the Red Army and did their part to help the Soviet Union in the war effort. Others used the opportunity to flee Soviet rule for places like Afghanistan. About 1.2 million citizens of Kazakhstan were drafted to fight in World War II. Of these 96,638 received medals. Kazakhstan played a critical role in the war by providing coal, oil and strategic metals for the war effort. It also supplied the armed forces with food.

During World War II, factories were moved to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and elsewhere in Central Asia to get them out harms way. In World War II, more than 1 million Russians and Ukrainian and other ethnic groups migrated to Kazakhstan to get out of harms way. With the factories came a new wave of Russian and other European workers. Because native Uzbeks were mostly occupied in the country's agricultural regions, the urban concentration of immigrants increasingly Russified Tashkent and other large cities. During the war years, in addition to the Russians who moved to Uzbekistan, other nationalities such as Crimean Tatars, Chechens, and Koreans were exiled to the republic because Moscow saw them as subversive elements in European Russia (See Below). Kazakhs became a minority in their own homeland and even their language began ro die out.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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