On September 7th, the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center and the Pan-Asia Institute hosted a lecture by Dr. Ablet Kamalov of Turan University, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Dr. Kamalov has taught throughout Eurasia and America and has won two national prizes in Kazakhstan for his contribution to the sciences and is currently a CEUS visiting scholar. In his lecture, Dr. Kamalov showed the intersection between scopes of the Inner Asian Uralic National Resource Center, the Pan-Asia Institute, and the Russian and East European Institute, and how broad and specific area studies in conjunction with post-Communist and post-Soviet framings can reveal significant and novel historical truths.
Dr. Kamalov’s topic was on the waves of interethnic violence in then-Russian Central Asia in 1916 and 1918. The Revolt of 1916 was triggered by the Tsarist authorities proclaiming the beginning of conscription in the region to supply manpower to the war effort against Germany. In 1918, 40% of the Taranchi population, the Uighurs of Semirechye oblast’, were either killed by Bolsheviks, or fled to China. The popular historiography of the 1918 event attribute the violence to Red Terror, or as the defeat of counter-revolutionaries. Dr. Kamalov preceded to deconstruct these arguments. Explaining the massacres as a part of the “Red Terror” simply essentializes the violence as inevitable. The argument that the violence was perpetrated as a part of the war against the whites only stands on the promise of land by the White government led by Admiral Kolchak to Taranchis who took up arms against the Bolsheviks.
To reframe the events in 1916 and 1918, Dr. Kamalov describes three approaches he utilized. The archival records “speak Bolshevik,” a phrase he borrows from Stephen Kotkin, meaning that to make proper use of archival records, one has to understand the centrality of the Bolshevik discourse captured in record-keeping to best understand them. From this, he deconstructed the Soviet narrative, to better understand when the historical discourse changes, and supplemented this with local narratives, Taranchi folk songs from the period that were recorded in the 1930s. With further historical research, he found that the root of the violence dates back to the 1880s, thirty years before. There were contradictions in land allotment to the Taranchis, Cossacks, and Russian colonists that often erupted in violence. The revolt and massacres of 1916 and 1918 were triggered by political upheaval, but the source was long-simmering land conflict. This is how the Taranchi Massacre came to be fought on one side Taranchis and Cossacks, long local competitors over land and against recently-arrived, impoverished Russian colonists committing indiscriminate violence against both. Like the Taranchis themselves, “Taranchi” means “newcomer” in Kazakh, the dispute was founded on who controlled the land in the region, and who did not.
Dr. Kamalov’s lecture was insightful, and showed what careful examination of sources can reveal about history and the utility of intertextual and multimodal media analysis for historical research. It was also a model for approaches to interregional studies and the opportunities for crossing traditional area studies borders.
Austin Wilson is studying in the REEI M.A. program