Interpreting an insurgency in Soviet Kazakhstan : the OGPU, Islam and Qazaq 'Clans' in Suzak, 1930

Document Type

Book chapter

Source Publication

Islam, society and states across the Qazaq Steppe

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page



Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften


The social and political relevance of categories such as “tribes” and “clans” in Central Asian societies supposedly organized around segmentary lineage systems is one of the most influential social sciences paradigms applied to the region. The present paper will assess the relevance of “tribal” identification, and the mobilization of tribal categories, during the forced collectivization campaign in 1930, the last period in which it is possible to find, in the documentation produced by the Tsarist/Soviet state, an extensive reference to the tribal/segmentary discourse in the description of Qazaq society. To this end, I will focus on a case-study of an anti-Soviet insurgency in Southern Kazakhstan in and near the town of Suzak during February 1930. The main documentary basis of the study is provided by OGPU reports and interrogations of insurgents, a source rarely used by historians because of the difficult accessibility of the former political police archives in many post-Soviet states. The paper will assess the usefulness of this documentation for the social history of the region during the early Soviet Union, arguing that this kind of source cannot be easily dismissed as a mere refraction of ideological categories produced by the Communist state. In the specific case-study at hand, I will try to show how “tribal” categories and alleged groups cannot explain the patterns and the leadership of the anti-Soviet revolts, even by the OGPU as an interpretative tool in order to understand the events unfolding in the countryside on the eve of the great famine of 1931-33. At the same time, I will show how forms of Islamic authority informed insurgents’ actions, and how the OGPU interpreted the connection between religious motives, (alleged) networks, and the insurgency. In line with some of the findings of the most recent anthropological research about other pastoral regions of Central Asia, this paper argues that tribal and clan names cannot be considered as corresponding to corporate groups and to social actors, and that the legacy of Tsarist administrative practice, and its influence on the socio-political relevance of “tribal” categorization, should be taken into consideration as an important factor in the social history of early Soviet Kazakhstan.

Additional Information

ISBN of the source publication: 9783700173366



Recommended Citation

Pianciola, N. (2013). Interpreting an insurgency in Soviet Kazakhstan: the OGPU, Islam and Qazaq 'Clans' in Suzak, 1930. In Pianciola N., Sartori P.(Eds.), Islam, society and states across the Qazaq steppe (p.297-340). Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

This document is currently not available here.