Starting in November 1929 the Soviet government began the forced collectivization of agriculture in Kazakhstan. At this time some two thirds of the native Kazakh population were semi-nomadic. Another tenth of the population, some 566,000 people, were totally nomadic. Collectivization required permanently settling these populations onto collective farms. This process involved a great deal of violence against the rural Kazakh population by Communist activists from Moscow and other cities.
Nomadism persisted in Kazakhstan due to the inability of much of the land to support settled agriculture. The Stalin regime settled most of the migratory Kazakh households onto collective farms that lacked sufficient arable land, grazing land, water, shelter, farm implements and other neccessities to support either raising livestock or growing grain. These poorly constructed farms often did not even have adequate housing and bathing facilities for the newly settled nomads. From 1930 to 1932, the Soviet government settled 320,000 Kazakh nomads, but only built 24,106 houses and 108 baths to accomodate them. The new collective farms could not sustain the large Kazakh cattle and sheep herds upon which the rural population depended for food.
Many Kazakhs resisted collectivization by slaughtering their animals to prevent their confiscation by the state. Those not killed often died from lack of shelter, food and water in the new collective farms. Some 90% of Kazakhstan's livestock perished during the 1930s. Cattle declined from 6,509,000 animals to 965,000 and sheep likewise fell from 18,569,000 to a mere 1,386,000. This destruction of Kazakhstan's herds resulted in mass starvation for the native Kazakhs. Between the 1926 and 1939 Soviet censuses their population decreased by 1,321,000 (36.7%). Much of this decline can be attributed to flight out of Kazakhstan to other parts of the USSR, China, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey to avoid starvation. Nevertheless the loss of human life among the Kazakhs due to this man made famine certainly exceeded a million people, over a quarter of their population.
Zh. B. Abylkhozhaev, M.K. Kozybaev and M.B. Tatimov, "Kazahstanskaia tragediia," Voprosy istorii, no. 7, 1989, pp. 53-71.
Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine(Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 191-196.
Martha Brill Olcott, The Kazakhs 2nd edition (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, 1995), pp. 179-186.
Pavel Polian, Against Their Will: The History and Geography of Forced Migration in the USSR,(Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004), p. 87.