International Committee for Crimea
Famine in Crimea, 1931
Crimea experienced two major famines in the 20th century. The first one, the Famine of 1921-22, followed the Russian Civil War and affected mostly the Volga-Ural region and Ukraine, including Crimea. While the Bolshevik government attributed the famine to drought and economic disruptions due to the Civil War, the main cause was the forced requisitioning of grain and foodstuff in the countryside, which left no reserves for the rural population. In Crimea, the local government shipped thousands of tons of grain out of Crimea, leaving the residents with inadequate supply of food. About 100,000 people died of starvation and 60% were Crimean Tatars.
The second famine experienced in Crimea began in 1931 and was a direct result of the Soviet policies of collectivization and industrialization. Known as the Great Famine of 1932-33, this man-made disaster struck particularly hard in Ukraine and took the lives of 6-7 million people. More than a million people also died of starvation in northern Caucasus and Kazakhstan. Crimea was among the first places to feel the devastating effects of collectivization. The Soviet Union implemented the first five-year economic plan in 1928. One of the objectives of the plan was the transformation of agriculture from individually owned plots into a system of collective farms. The communist planners also believed that collectivization would improve agricultural productivity and resources needed for industrialization could be obtained by converting agricultural products (namely grain) and raw materials into foreign currency at world markets. Between 1930 and 1933, the Soviet government deported nearly one million peasant households, considered well-to-do (and thus enemy of the people) and confiscated their property. The authorities extended political control over the remaining poor population by forcing them into collectivization. Heavy quotas for grain procurement were placed on collective farms, and as grain and other food products were extracted from the impoverished countryside people found themselves in a horrible predicament death by starvation.
The following article written by Cafer Seydahmet is one of the earlier reports describing the famine conditions in Crimea. It appeared in the 1 May 1931 issue of Emel Mecmuasi (no. 9) , a journal published in Turkish and Crimean Tatar in Romania. We believe that "Famine in Crimea" is the first article translated into English that details the impact of the Soviet policies of collectivization on Crimean Tatars.--IB.
Famine in Crimea
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The Soviet dictatorship based on the so-called rule of workers and poor peasants… The "wealthy" farmers have been deported from Crimea a year ago and the remaining poor and destitute are now facing death by starvation. The Moscow government, which promised to free all those oppressed nations not only in Russia but the entire world, especially the East, is now destroying the Crimean Republic! The Bolshevik leaders declared that Crimea would be a model republic for the Eastern regions; yet people in Crimea are dying of starvation once again, after eleven years of Bolshevik occupation! Famine in Crimea! Can one believe it? While the Soviet Union is exporting at a rate that destabilizes the grain markets and shipping out hundreds of thousands of tons of grain from Crimea, how does one explain the famine in Crimea? They established collective farms (kolkhoz) and increased the cultivation and production of grain, while the population of Crimea decreased due to the deportation of thousands of people, including at least 35,000 Crimean Tatars who were accused of being "wealthy." Why is famine ravaging in the land?
In Crimea, 210,000 tons of salt was produced in 1930 and shipped to the rest of the Soviet Union and abroad. Crimea produced 420,000 tons of cast iron and 300,000 tons of iron ore were mined in Kerch. Again in 1930, the production of cut stone from the quarries reached 9 million tons, a sizable increase over the previous figure of 3.5 million. The production of chromium increased 60 percent in the last two years.(1) There is no need for giving the details on the millions of tons of salted fish, fruit, wine and tobacco exported from Crimea. Most of these products are sent to European markets from Hamburg and increase the Soviet exports. Despite these facts, why is Crimea left to starve? How and why is Crimea being destroyed?
Instead of emphasizing how and why, let us now determine the famine conditions in Crimea. Analyzing the reasons is doing politics. Our aim is not to do politics, but to appeal to all those merciful people and report on the calamity that has fallen upon our nation. We will try to describe accurately death by starvation that is being experienced in Crimea, the noble Turkic land, and not dwell upon the mentality and animosity that have brought famine and destruction to our motherland.
We know that people cannot find meat, oils and sugar in the market for almost a year now, and the price of grain has gone up so much in recent months that there is a severe shortage of foods. We hoped, however, that the government would at least provide enough food for sustenance, as there are now collective farms established in almost every village in Crimea and the majority of people work at these farms. We further believed that those who opted for farming their own land, after the requirement to join the kolkhoz was lifted, would not be deprived of the right to basic subsistence. The Soviet authorities, who take their share of the milk from the cows and even demand a given number of eggs from the chickens, confiscated most of the villagers' property. Even this was not enough; they reduced the bread ration of 1,000 grams that had been promised to 500 grams and finally to 300 grams. This bread is not edible; it is like a piece of black mud. As there are no grain stocks left in Crimea, the bread obtained in the black market carries a high price tag. Some people went to Melitopol secretly and tried to bring a few bags of flour, but they were arrested by the administration of public security (GPU) upon their return to Crimea.
Villagers who recently managed to leave Crimea due to their status as Turkish citizens report that there are already famine victims with swollen bodies in the mountainous and coastal areas (where the population is predominately Turkic). Those who arrived just last week tell us that the entire Crimea is not immune to famine, even around Kerch, a region rich in grain production, every village has several starving families with swollen bodies, waiting for their death. One newcomer said he saw in the village of Sarayman several families extremely feeble from starvation.
As I felt crushed by this wave of grim news, I learned from someone who had just arrived from Crimea that Mehmed Kubayev, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of Crimea (ASSR), was removed from office and arrested. He was accused of being a nationalist because he distributed flour to starving villagers. Kubayev, a nationalist! That Kubayev who would respond in Russian when people spoke to him in Crimean Tatar. That Kubayev who did not protest when 5-6 times as many Crimean Tatars (over 35,000) as Russians were declared "wealthy" and deported. He knew very well that Crimean Tatars are poorer than Russians and other ethnic groups. That Kubayev, who eagerly agreed to allocating hundreds of thousands of hectares of fertile land for the Jews and failed to say a word about the needs of poor and landless Crimean Tatars. According to a Russian newspaper published in Paris on 11 March 1931, Kubayev was removed from office because he wrote that "Moscow is openly plundering Crimea." Even Kubayev has been moved to admit the terrible devastation in Crimea.
During the 1921-1922 famine, 100,000 people died of starvation.(2) Most of these victims were Crimean Tatars. Famine raged particularly in areas populated by the Tatars.(3) .... Today Crimea is again in desperate need of assistance. Five to ten families in every village are struggling to survive and dying untimely deaths. No doubt, the number of these poor victims is increasing every day. We cannot expect that the Moscow or Crimean government would extend a helping hand to these unfortunate people. The dismissal of Kubayev, a man devoid of any national feelings, eliminated any hope that the authorities would send aid to famine victims. After all, Kubayev tried to help by distributing flour but lost his job and got arrested. Who can send aid from abroad to the citizens of a country who are forced to starve by their own government? It is a government pursuing an insane policy of exporting grain at low prices that destabilize world markets.
(1) As sources of these statistics, the author cites the memorandum of Husameddinof, Chair of Committee of Commissars; and publications Kızıl Kırım [Red Crimea], no. 39 (17 February 1931) and Yeni Dünya [New World], no. 33 (17 February 1931).
(2) Bütün Kırım, p. 7. [All Crimea, a jubilee volume published by the Central Executive Committee of Crimean ASSR in 1926, in Turkish and Russian.]
(3) Ibid., p. 38. Although Akyar [Sevastopol] is only two hours from Bahçesaray [Bakhchisaray], 55 percent of the people in Bahçesaray died of starvation; 48 percent in Karasubazar [Belagorsk]; 43 percent in Gözleve [Evpatoria]; 41 percent in Eski Kırım [Stary Krym], 36 percent in Kefe [Feodosia]; 29 percent in Yalta; 28 percent in Kerç [Kerch]; 13 percent in Akmescit [Simferopol]; and 11 percent in Akyar [Sevastopol]. It must be noted that 55 percent of the people in Bahçesaray died during the Famine of 1921-1922.
Translated into English by Inci Bowman
There is a great deal of literature relating to the Great Famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine, but Crimea is not covered. See the articles on "Famine" in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine.
Posted: 13 March 2005