East Turkistan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, lies in the very heart of Asia. Situated along the fabled ancient Silk Road, it has been a prominent centertur of commerce for more than 2,000 years. The land of East Turkistan gave birth to many great civilizations and at various points in history has been a cradle of scholarship, culture and power.
The current territorial size of East Turkistan is 1.82 million square kilometers. The neighboring Chinese province annexed part of the territory as a result of the Chinese communist invasion of 1949.
East Turkistan borders China and Mongolia to the east, Russia to the north, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the west, and Tibet to the south.
East Turkistan has a rich history and a diverse geography. It has grand deserts, magnificent mountains, and beautiful rivers, grasslands and forests.
The independent Uyghur Kingdom in East Turkistan — the Seyyid Kingdom, also known as Yarkent Kingdom — was invaded by the Manchu rulers of China in 1759 who annexed East Turkistan into their empire. The Manchus ruled East Turkistan as a military colony from 1759 to 1862. During this period, the Uyghurs and other peoples of East Turkistan valiantly opposed the foreign rule in their land. They revolted 42 times against Manchu rule with the purpose of regaining their independence. The Manchu were finally expelled in 1864 and Uyghurs established Yetteshahar State. However, the independence was short lived, Manchus invaded East Turkistan again in 1876. After eight years of bloody war, the Manchu Empire formally annexed East Turkistan into its territories and renamed it “Xinjiang” (meaning “New Territory”) on November 18, 1884.
After the Chinese Nationalists overthrew the Manchu Empire in 1911, East Turkistan fell under the rule of warlords of Chinese ethnicity who came to dominate provincial administration in the later years of the Manchu Empire. The Chinese central government had little control over East Turkistan during this period. The Uyghurs, who wanted to free themselves from foreign domination, staged numerous uprisings against Chinese rule, and twice (in 1933 and in 1944) succeeded in setting up an independent East Turkistan Republic (ETR). However, these independent republics were overthrown by the military intervention and political intrigue of the Soviet Union.
In October of 1949, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched into East Turkistan, effectively ending the ETR. The Chinese communists established the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the territory of East Turkistan.
The Chinese communist reign in East Turkistan can be considered the darkest chapter in the history of the Uyghurs and East Turkistan. Under the current conditions, the very existence of the Uyghur nation is under threat. The Chinese communist government has been carrying out a vicious campaign against Uyghurs and other indigenous people of East Turkistan in order to permanently annex the lands of East Turkistan.
Despite all the brutal and destructive campaigns by the Chinese government against their identity and existence, the Uyghurs and other indigenous peoples of East Turkistan refuse to be subjugated by China and keep carrying the torch of resistance against Chinese occupation, handed down to them by their ancestors.
East Turkistan is the homeland of the Turkic speaking Uyghurs and other Central Asian peoples such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars and Tajiks.
According to latest Chinese census of 2010, the current population of East Turkistan is 21.81 million, including 8.75 million ethnic Han Chinese (40,1%), who illegally settled in East Turkistan after 1949 (the ethnic Han Chinese numbered 200,000 in 1949). The Uyghurs make up at least 11 million of the population, although the 2002 census listed their number as around 10.2 million and still constitute the majority of East Turkistan. However, the composition of the population shifts more and more in favor of the Han Chinese, turning the Uyghurs into strangers in their own land. However, Uyghur sources put the real population of Uyghurs around 20 million.
East Turkistan is located beyond the logical boundary of China, the Great Wall. Historically and culturally, East Turkistan is part of Central Asia, not of China. The people of East Turkistan are not Chinese; they are Turks of Central Asia.
Records show that the Uyghurs have a history of more than 4,000 years in East Turkistan.
Throughout the history, independent states established by the ancestors of the Uyghurs and other indigenous peoples thrived and prospered in the lands of East tTurkistan. Situated along a section of the legendary Silk Road, Uyghurs played an important role in cultural exchanges between East and West and developed a unique culture and civilization of their own.
In their early history, the Uyghurs, like most of the other Turkic peoples of Central Asia, believed in Shamanism, Manichaeism and Buddhism. Starting from the 1st century AD and until the arrival of Islam, East Turkistan became one of the great centers of Buddhist civilization.
The conversion to Islam began when contacts between Uyghurs and Muslims started at the beginning of the 9th century. During the reign of the Karahanidin kings, the Islamization of Uyghur society accelerated. Kashgar, the capital of the Karahadin Kingdom, quickly became one of the major learning centers of Islam. The arts, sciences, music and literature flourished as Islamic religious institutions nurtured the pursuit of an advanced culture. In this period, hundreds of world-renowned Uyghur scholars emerged. Thousands of valuable books were written. Among these works, the Uyghur scholar Yusup Has Hajip’s book, Kutadku Bilig (The knowledge for Happiness, 1069-1070) and Mahmud Kashgar’s Divan-I Lugat-it Turk (a dictionary of Turk language) are most influential.
East Turkistan covers an area of 1.82 million square kilometers, which is twice as large as the Republic of Turkey or four times as large as the American state of California. More than 43 percent of this area is covered by deserts and another 40 percent is covered by mountain ranges.
This huge land is charcterized mainly by two basins bounded by three mountain ranges. The two basins are the Tarim Basin in the south, which measures 530,000 square kilometers, and the Junggar Basin in the north, which covers an area of 304,200 square kilometers. The Tarim Basin contains one of the largest deserts in the world — the Taklamakan desert. The Junggar basin contains the Kurbantunggut desert.
Tengritagh mountain range (Heavenly mountain) crosses the central part of East Turkistan, dividing the country into south and north. Within East Turkistan, the Tengritagh mountain range is 1,700 kilometers long and 250-300 kilometers wide. Altay mountain range in the north forms the border of East Turkistan with Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan. Its section within East Turkistan is 400 kilometers long. The Kunlun mountain in the south forms the the border between East Turkistan and Tibet.
The most important rivers are the Tarim River (2,137 km long), traversing almost the whole length of the southern part of East Turkistan and emptzing into the desert; the Ili River flows west to Kazakhstan and into Lake Balqash; the Irtish River flows northwest out of East Turkistan and into the Arctic Ocean; the Karashaar River flows east from central Tengritagh into Lake Baghrash; the Konche River, starting from the Baghrash lake, originally flowed into Lopnur Lake, but now disappears in the desert long before reaching the lake.
Uyghur, formerly known as Eastern Turki, is a Turkic language spoken in East Turkistan mainly by the Uyghur ethnic group.
It has around 20 million speakers in East Turkistan and is also spoken by roughly one million people in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and by Uyghur communities in Afghanistan, Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Mongolia, Noway, Netherlands, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Egypt.
Like many other Turkic languages, Uyghur displays vowel harmony and agglutination, lacks noun classes or grammatical gender, and is a left-branching language with Subject Object Verb word order.
The Uyghur language belongs to the Uyghuric or Southeastern group of the Turkic language family, which is controversially a branch of the Altaic language family.
The languages most closely related to it include Uzbek, Ili Turki, and Aini. Some linguists consider the Turkic languages to be part of the larger Altaic language family, but others believe there is not enough evidence to support this claim.
Early linguistic scholarly studies of Uyghur include Julius Klaproth’s 1812 Dissertation on language and script of the Uighurs (Abhandlung über die Sprache und Schrift der Uiguren), which was disputed by Isaak Jakob Schmidt. In this period, Klaproth correctly asserted that Uyghur was a Turkic language, while Schmidt believed that Uyghur should be classified as a Tangut language.
Old Uyghur or Old Turkic is an ancient form of Turkic used from the 7th to the 13th centuries in Mongolia and the Uyghurstan/East Turkistan region, in particular in the Orkhon inscriptions and Turpan texts. It is the direct ancestor of the Southeastern Turkic, or Uyghur-Chaghatai, family of languages, including the modern Uyghur and Uzbek languages. By contrast, Yugur, although in geographic proximity, is more closely related to the northeastern Turkic languages in Siberia.
During the 11th century, a scholar of the Turkic languages, Mahmud al-Kashgari (Memhud Qeshqeri) from Kashgar in modern-day Xinjiang, published the first Turkic language dictionary and description of the geographic distribution of many Turkic languages with his “Compendium of the Turkic Dialects” (Divān-ul Lughat-ul Turk).
Old Uyghur, through the influence of Perso-Arabic after the 13th century, developed into the Chagatai language, a literary language used all across Central Asia until the early 20th century. After Chaghatai fell into extinction, the standard versions of Uyghur and Uzbek were developed from dialects in the Chaghatai-speaking region, showing abundant Chaghatai influence. The Uyghur language today shows considerable Persian influence as a result from Chaghatai, including numerous Persian loanwords. Modern Uyghur uses the Urumchi dialect in Xinjiang as its standard, while the similar Ili dialect is used in the former Soviet Union. Russian sources cite the central dialect of Ghulja (Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture) as the pronunciation norm for modern Standard Uyghur. The similar pronunciation of Zhetysu and Fergana Uyghurs is considered standard for Uyghurs living in the Central Asian countries.
Toward the end of the 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century, scientific and archaeological expeditions to the region of East Turkistan’s Silk Road discovered numerous cave temples, monastery ruins, wall paintings, as well as valuable miniatures, books and documents. Explorers from Europe, America and even Japan were amazed by the art treasures found there, and soon their reports caught the attention of an interested public around the world. These relics of the Uyghur culture constitute today major collections in the museums of Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo, St. Petersburg and New Delhi. The manuscripts and documents discovered in East Turkistan reveal the very high degree of civilization attained by the Uyghurs. This Uyghur power, prestige and civilization, which dominated Central Asia for over a thousand years, went into a steep decline after the Manchu invasion of their homeland.
Uyghur music embraces several distinct regional styles, product of the geography and complex history of the region, whose oasis kingdoms, separated by mountains and deserts, have been subject through the course of history to rule by many different outside forces. The musical traditions of the southern oasis towns of Khotan and Kashgar are more closely allied to the classical Central Asian traditions of Bukhara and Samarkand, while the music of the easternmost oasis town of Qumul has closer links to the music of Northwest China. Each of the region’s oasis towns have to this day maintained their own distinctive sound and repertoire, but they are linked by a common language and overarching culture, maintained by constant communication through trade and movement of peoples. Musically there is much to link these local traditions, in terms of instruments, genres, styles and contexts.
The most prestigious and well-known genre of Uyghur music is the muqam, the large-scale suites of sung, instrumental and dance music. In addition to the muqam the Uyghurs maintain popular traditions of sung epic tales (dastan) and other forms of narrative song (qoshaq, läpär, äytshish and mäddhi namä); suites of dance music (sänäm); instrumental music; musical genres linked to the ceremonies of the Sufis, and a huge repertoire of folksongs which commonly dwell on the suffering of life on earth and the torments of frustrated love. Contrary to the common perception of Islam in the West as hostile to music, amongst the Uyghurs many traditional musical contexts are linked to the religion, largely due to the influence of the Sufis who use music to express and promote their faith. Today these traditional genres compete with a lively pop music industry and the music of the professional, state-sponsored troupes.
[Excerpted from Dr. Rachel Harris & Yasin Muhpul — Originally Published 2002. Encyclopedia of the Turks, vol. 6. Istanbul: Yeni Turkiye, p. 542-9.]
The Uyghurs have a long and rich literary history befitting a people that once ruled a great empire in Central Asia. As soldiers and diplomats and as educators they have always been known as an educated people. The Uyghurs have been printing their own books for many hundreds of years prior to the invention of the Gutenberg press. The earliest Uyghur literature revolved around the translation of religious texts both Buddhist and Manichean but also included narrative, epic and poetic works.
After converting to Islam, the Uyghurs continued being cultural giants of Central Asia, and Uyghur literature entered a golden era with it’s cultural centre being based in Kashgar. In the 11th century Yusuf Has Hajib wrote “Kutat-Ku Bilik” (Blessings and Wisdom). Other literature from that time includes “Divan-i Lugat-it Turk”, an encyclopedic dictionary, “Kitabu Cevahir-im nahr fi Lugat-it Turki”, a work on grammar written by Mahmut Kasgari, and “Atabetul Hakayik” by Ahmet Yukneki. All of these works came from Kashgar, confirming Kashgar as being the centre of Uyghur culture and literature. The middle ages also witnessed Chinese literature, poetry and music being significantly influenced by the Uyghurs.
“The ABC of Truth” compiled by Ahmat Yuknaki in the 12th century is an outstanding poem in feeling and story. During the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, the Uyghur nationality made great contributions to the unity of the country, the expansion of production and the flowering of culture and science. Notables of the period include military theorists Ark Hiya and Barquk Art Tikin, the statesmen Bruhiya, Lion Xixian, Hisson and Guan Yunshi, as well as a noted poet and writer Lianhuishan Hiya, a historian who compiled and revised the “History of Liao Dynasty” Lu Mingshan, an agronomist and writer of “The Fundamentals of Agriculture, Sericulture, Clothing and Food” and Sinku Sail, a great translator who was a master of the Han, Weiwu, Mongolian, Tibetan and Sanskrit languages.
After the Yuan Dynasty, the Uyghurs also produced many famous writers, historians and scientists. Notable writings in Uyghur include the poem “Flower and Spring” by Lutfin in the 15th century; the long lyrical “Love and Labor Poem” by Kirkiti (1634-1672); lyrics by Zalili (1685-1759); a collection of love poems by Abdureyim Hizari (1770- 1848) who was brought up in Kashi, of which Rabiya–Saydin Parhad–Xirin and Layli–Majnunhave long been on the lips of people; the “Biography of Hojas”, written between 1768 and 1769 by Muhammad Sadik Kaxkari; the “History of Hamedee” from the 19th century by Molla Msa Sayrami; and the “History of Kaxkariya”. The 18th century saw a pentalingual dictionary written with the Chinese title “Wuti Qinwen jian” which has 18,000 entries and covers the Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetean, Manchu and Uyghur languages. Maulabilalibin Maulayusuf wrote also in that century the epic „War on Chinese Land”, a work describing the struggle in 1864 with the Chinese.
The 17th and 18th centuries also saw the beginnings of western interest in Uyghur literature, particularly from the Russians, thus giving rise to the Western Turkologist Gunnar Jarring, a Swedish Turkologist who gathered many significant collections particularly from Kashgar and Hotan during his visit to Kashmir in 1929-1930. These works are very important to the classification of the general Turkish language. Among the works Jarring documented were historical and ethnological texts, proverbs and poetry as well as riddles and fairy tales. Uyghur fairy tales follow similar veins as Western fairy tales with heroes, strong characters, the triumph of love and tales of justice and injustice, avarice, cruelty and foolishness.
20th century authors include Ziya Samedi, Abdurrahaman Gur, Teyupcan Liyup and Zunan Kadir (1912-1989). Samedi wrote a number of historical novels such as “Secrets of Years”, “Mr. Ahmadjan Khasimi”, ”Mayimhan”, and “Gheni, the Brave”. In the 1980s, Samedi was honored with the Kazakhstan People’s Writer Award, recognizing his unprecedented contribution to the Uyghur literature. Kadir was an influential writer whose main themes revolved around the Uyghurs and their experiences resisting cultural domination and attempted to promote the maintenance of Uyghur cultural integrity.
The Uyghurs had an extensive knowledge of medicine and medical practice. Chinese Song Dynasty (906–960) sources indicate that a Uyghur physician named Nanto traveled to China and brought with him many kinds of medicine unknown to the Chinese. There were 103 different herbs used in Uyghur medicine, as recorded in a medical compendium by Li Shizhen (1518–1593), a Chinese medical authority. Tatar scholar, professor Reşit Rahmeti Arat, in “Zur Heilkunde der Uighuren” (Medical Practices of the Uyghurs) published in 1930 and 1932 in Berlin, discussed Uyghur medicine. Relying on a sketch of a man with an explanation of acupuncture, he and some Western scholars suspect that acupuncture was not a Chinese, but a Uyghur discovery.
Today, traditional Uyghur medicine can still be found at street stands. Similar to other traditional medicine, diagnosis is usually made through checking the pulse, symptoms, and disease history. Then, the pharmacist pounds up different dried herbs, making personalized medicines according to the prescription. Modern Uyghur medical hospitals adopted the Western medical science and medicine as well as Western pharmaceutical technology to discover new and produce traditional medicines.
National Anthem of East Turkistan