Kazakh History in the 1940s

I recently requested Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei [History of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic from ancient times to our days] from ILL [Inter-library-loan]. I’m writing up this blog post in between scanning the work to PDF.

Regarding the scanning of books to PDF, I am trying to put most of the important reference works in this format for easier travel and use while away from my office. I do wonder what format will come next, however, and whether using my time in this way is actually an efficient use of my time. That being said, I’m at a loss to imagine what a next-generation PDF file would offer, but I suppose that lack of imagination will not be standing in the way of whomever ends up inventing the new format.

This particular book that I am scanning is quite special and potentially very useful for my work in the history of Kazakhstan. It is the second such general history published in the Soviet Union in the 1940s, following the 1943 publication of a work of the same name. After I have read this book, which was published in 1949, more closely I will be able to ascertain more about the political and ideological movements of that period and how they manifested themselves in the editing and omission of various events in history.

The 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR is itself an important monument to Soviet historiography. Too often historians operating outside the Soviet Union have criticized the entirety of the historical profession working under Lenin, Stalin, and their successors. While many sacrifices were made to keep in line with the party and avoid official disapproval, much of what we take for granted in the history of Central Asia was pioneered through the work of historians of that place and era. The 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR is a prime example, though its authors quickly faced official disapproval of varying intensity. Labeled either writers prone to make mistakes of bourgeois nationalism or, much worse, being themselves at heart bourgeois nationalists, the authors of the 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR that were able and willing to recant published the 1949 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR, a work profoundly different from that which they originally put to pen.

One example close to my previous research stems from the characterization of the period of history known in Kazakhstan today as the Aktaban Shubyryndy (Barefooted Flight) in Kazakh and Gody Velikogo Bedstviia (Years of Great Calamity) in Russian. In the 1720s the territory now called Kazakhstan was inhabited by ancestors of the modern Kazakhs, but also by Oirats ruled by Choros/Junghars (in the east), Baraba Tatars (in the northeast), ancestors of modern Kalmyks (in the northwest), and Cossack communities strung along the northern regions. In 1722 or 1723, the Junghar/Choros Oirats came West into lands controlled by Kazakhs, crossing the Chu, Talas, and Chirchik Rivers, until they controlled lands nearly up to the Syr Darya River. They sacked, or at least took control of, the cities of Sairam, Karamurt, and Tashkent. This historic event can be found in contemporary sources and is remembered in the oral histories of Kazakhs and Kalmyks to this day.

There is limited continuity in the remembrance of this disastrous historical event among the Kazakhs. When the Russians were first bringing certain Kazakh elites into the fold of the Empire, one military leader of the Kazakhs appears to have used the violence of the 1720s as evidence for the necessity of joining forces with the Russians. However, by the end of the 1750s the tables had turned on the Junghar/Choros Oirats, who were almost utterly destroyed by the Chinese, with the help of the Kazakhs. In fact, many of the Kazakhs who today live in China are descendants of those who nomadized in the steppes vacated by the retreating and re-settled Junghars. These Kazakhs remain outside the bounds of official history in Kazakhstan, outside the historical categories of the three Juz/Zhuz (Horde, literally Hundred) of the pre-19th century Kazakhs, though one can surmise they came entirely or largely from the so-called Uly Juz (Senior Horde).

In the early 19th century, a Russian official who lived for a short time among the Kazakhs collected much of their history for the first time for a Russian audience. Then, in the middle of the 19th century, the Russian-educated Chingiz Valikhanov, a descendant of the line of Kazakh nobility stretching back to Chinggis Khan, also mentioned in passing the events of the 1720s in one of his essays on the history of his people.

In the late 19th century, Russian and Russian-educated ethnographers came to Central Asia following the expansion of the Russian Empire in the middle of the 19th century collected folk songs and histories. Thanks to their work we have the oldest known recording of the great national folk song today known as Elim-ai (Oh, my homeland). In that first documentation we unfortunately only have a Russian translation titled Karatau (Black Mountains), after the chain of hills that the Junghars crossed in 1722 or 1723 to take the cities then ruled by the Kazakhs.

Perhaps independently of that work, Mukhametzhan Tynyshpaev wrote in the 1920s a series of essays on the same events in the 1720s and 1730s. He likewise published a rendition of the same song, without a title and including the original Kazakh. He shared oral histories passed down by his father and those collected during his years working on the railroads that crisscrossed the region in the last decades of the Russian Empire.

What made the 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR so special was its inclusion of much of the foundational work of Tynyshpaev, though without citation or mention. The authors included even the story passed down by Tynyshpaev’s father without citation. I assume this was done out of necessity, as the same volume of history included Tynyshpaev’s name among the so-called bourgeois nationalists. In fact, Tynyshpaev was arrested several times, served as a railway man in exile, until being finally executed as an enemy of the people in 1938.

The 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR suffered a similar fate, being lambasted by party officials for bourgeois nationalist arguments. My curiosity regarding the 1949 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR extends to its breadth of publication and its inclusion and alteration of certain narratives. The 1943 Istoriia Kazakhskoi SSR was denounced in time, but its initial publication was accompanied by a nomination for the Stalin Prize in history. It survives today in many libraries, including Indiana University’s own Wells Library. The 1949 volume, however, is difficult to find. This seems counter intuitive to me because it was edited specifically to better mesh with the party’s ideological demands for history.

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