Interactive Map Places of memory related
to serious human rights violations

Monument to the Victims of Famine

Theme: Political persecution


Respublika Ave 34







Theme: Political persecution

Purpose of Memory

To honour the victims of the famine that afflicted the Kazakh people between 1930 and 1933.

Institutional Designation

Monument to the Victims of Famine

Date of creation / identification / declaration


Public Access


Location description

The Monument to the Victims of Famine is located in the capital city of Nur-Sultan and consists of figures that represent a mother and her child. The woman is holding her arms up to the sky and the child, standing in the middle, is looking straight ahead. In the background, four human figures are surrounded by a semicircular wall, which represents a mourning wall with tombstones symbolizing the Kazakhs. In Kazakhstan, the memory of the famine of the early 1930s was reconstructed mainly through monumental art.

Between the 1920s and 1930s, Kazakhstan underwent a massive process of political transformation. It was first part of the Russian Empire and then became autonomous for a short period which ended in 1936 when Kazakhstan became a Soviet republic.

In the late 1920s, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) implemented different five-year economic plans. The first plan (1928-1932) was aimed at the development of heavy industry. This project would require a considerable effort since the economy was mainly agricultural. The Kazakh, Turkmen, Kirghiz and Buryats, the largest groups in Kazakhstan whose subsistence was based on nomadic pastoralism, were subjected to process of forced sedentism. This resulted in a forced collectivisation of the land against “the feudal lords, the bai, the Alas-Orda, the anti-Soviet elements and the nationalistic intelligentsia in Kazakhstan” (as proclaimed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Unionin September 1928) and also against the people,

Conceived as a prerequisite for the socialist reconstruction of the economy, the project had four objectives: to release lands for growing grains, to include the nomads in the collective agricultural system, to have labour force available for agriculture and industry, and to bring the friction between shepherds and peasants to an end. Nevertheless, land releasing was more urgent (forced collectivisation), so large tracts of lands were expropriated, with such high fees that shepherds had to sell cattle to make the payments. This situation worsened in 1931, when the small koljoses (collective farms) got bigger, which in ;practice meant that thousands of people had to live on huge farms. This situation put a halt to the traditional trade between nomads and sedentary societies and also made it impossible to rear large number of animals because the soil was poor and the waters sources were a long way away.

The almost complete disappearance of cattle in Kazakhstan was one of the most serious outcomes of the collectivisation in the region and took Moscow by surprise. Famine spread through Kazakhstan a year before than in the eastern part of the Soviet Union: people died in droves from disease (typhus, scurvy, smallpox) compounded by malnutrition. Cannibalism become common and the situation spread throughout the country, resulting in the death of 1.3 to 1.5 million people.

During the Soviet era, Asharshylyk (Kazakh for famine) was silenced by the official history. When Kazakhstan became independent in 1991, the process of memory and reflection over famine started gradually. This topic has been represented in various art forma, such as literature and film. However, monumental art took on the responsibility of commemorating those traumatic events form the past.

31 May was declared the Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Repression in 1997. That was the date chosen in 2012 to unveil the monument dedicated to famine victims in Nur-Sultan, capital city of Kazakhstan. There are two other similar monuments in the country. One is located in Pavlodar, in the north of Kazakhstan, and was also erected that year. It represents a boy in tears looking up to the sky over his mother’s dead body. Both are in the center of a wall which opens up so that the figures can emerge. The other monument was erected in Almaty in 2017 , the former capital city and the largest city in Kazakhstan, where a stone engraved with the phrase “The monument to the victims of the 1931-1933 famine will be built here” had been laid in 1992.  It consists of a 3 metre tall statue which represents a gaunt woman holding a hungry child in her arms. The three monuments have the same structure: the representation of a mother and her child that portray famine and death. Although the government thought of it initially, the Monument to the Victims of Famine in Nur-Sultan was the result of a nation-wide contest; whereas the monuments in Pavlodar and Almaty were designated by city authorities.

These monuments are the only memorials, although the topic has been represented by individual works of art, such as books or documentaries. Besides, public debates over famine and community participation are part of an effort to honour the victims of political repression. Thus, every 31 May –the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repression– wreaths are laid not only on the monuments dedicated to famine victims but also on others, such as the Wall of Memory of the memorial museum of the old Akmolinsk camp for wives of traitors to the Motherland. Films are shown at museums around the country and a minute’s silence is kept to honour those whose suffered persecution and repression under the Soviet regime.