The Kengir uprising was a prisoner uprising that took place in the Soviet prison labor camp Kengir in May and June 1954. Its duration and intensity distinguished it from other Gulag uprisings in the same period (see Vorkuta uprising).
After the murder of some of their fellow prisoners by guards, Kengir inmates launched a rebellion and proceeded to seize the entire camp compound, holding it for weeks and creating a period of freedom for themselves unique in the history of the Gulag. Following a rare alliance between the criminals and political prisoners, the prisoners succeeded in forcing the guards and camp administration to flee the camp and effectively quarantine it from the outside. The prisoners thereafter set up intricate defenses to prevent the incursion of the authorities into their newly won territory. This situation lasted for an unprecedented length of time and gave rise to a panoply of colorful and novel activity, including the democratic formation of a provisional government by the prisoners, prisoner marriages, the creation of indigenous religious ceremonies, a brief flowering of art and culture, and the waging of a large, relatively complex propaganda campaign against the erstwhile authorities.
After 40 days of freedom within the camp walls, intermittent negotiation, and mutual preparation for violent conflict, the uprising was suppressed by Soviet armed forces with tanks and guns on the morning of 26 June. According to former prisoners, five to seven hundred people were killed or wounded in the suppression, although official figures claim only a few dozen had been killed. The story of the uprising was first committed to history in The Gulag Archipelago, a nonfiction work by former-prisoner and Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
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“Even the most subjected person has moments of rage and resentment so intense that they respond, they act against. There is an inner uprising that leads to rebellion, however short- lived. It may be only momentary but it takes place. That space within oneself where resistance is possible remains.”
—bell hooks (b. c. 1955)