History of the Uyghur people


Long before settling in the region that is now Xinjiang, the Uyghurs were nomads, like many peoples turkish. They are reported between the Selenga (current Mongolia) and Lake Baikal (now Buryatia, in the Russian Federation). In 657, they were the allies of the Chinese against the Western Göktürks, then against the Tibetan Empire, and finally, against the short dynasty Yan dynasty (756 – 763) created following the rebellion of general An Lushan of the Tang dynasty. The Uyghurs collaborated, at the XVIIIe century with the army of the Qing dynasty in the genocide of the Mongols dzoungars (Oïrats, or Kalmouks), whose khanate controlled a large part of current Xinjiang.

Bones found in tombs associated with the Uyghur culture of the VIIIe century and IXe century are mostly of the brachycephalic europoid type, with slight Mongoloid influences. Russian archaeologists deem them physically close to current Uzbeks. According to the frescoes, the Uyghurs are represented with rather Mongoloid, or rather Europoid features.

Current Uyghurs are not only descended from former Uyghurs, but have experienced contributions from Uzbekistan, Eastern Iranian people, and Tokharans.

Uyghur Khaganat (744–848)

In 744, they defeated the Göktürks and replaced them as masters in Mongolia. On November 20, 762, Bögü, third hâkan (qagan or khagan) of the Uyghurs, helped Chinese Emperor Tang Suzong to recapture Chang'an (now Xi'an) and Luoyang, the Chinese capital which had been captured by the rebel. and founder of the short-lived Yan Dynasty, An Lushan. He converted to Manichaeism, which would flourish in the territory of the khaganate and the Uyghur kingdoms that were born after his fall.

The Uyghur kingdoms (843 - XVIIe century)

Uyghur girls.

The fall of the Khaganat caused the migration and then the division of the Uyghur people. Some of them settled in the Hexi corridor or Gansu corridor, which earned them the name of Uyghurs of Gansu. Their kingdom, founded around 848, lasted until 1036, when their territory was invaded and annexed by the Jiedushi of Dingnan, a Tangoute whose descendants founded the Western Xia dynasty.

Further west, another group founded the Kingdom of Qocho in 843. This kingdom maintained its independence until 1130, when the Uyghurs recognized themselves as vassals of the Kara-Khitans, a khanate founded by the survivors. of the Liao dynasty. When the latter were defeated by the Mongol Empire in 1209, the Uyghurs of Qocho recognized themselves as their vassals. In 1318 they were integrated into the Khanate of Djaghatai, one of the four Khanates, as an autonomous kingdom. Finally, the kingdom disappeared definitively during the 1370s, absorbed by the khanate.

When this khanate broke up, a Uyghur Kingdom was reborn, the Khanate of Yarkand. Founded in 1514 and centered on the city of Yarkand, it dominated the Tarim Basin until 1705, when it was conquered and annexed by the Mongol Oïrats of the Khanate of Dzungar.

From then on, they became part of the region called Dzungaria in XVIIe century, then Xinjiang (formerly transcribed Sinkiang), which literally means in Chinese "the new frontier" (新, xīn, "New" and 疆, jiāng, "Border", bordering territory "), after its conquest by the Manchus of the Qing dynasty in 1750 and that the Russian Empire and the British Empire call East Turkestan in the second half of the XIXe century.

Following the conquests by the Qoshot Oïrats of what is now Qinghai province and then of Tibet, the Dzungar Oïrats want to extend their power by attacking the Qoshots, nibbling the khalkha territories of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, as well as the Qing empire (ruled by Manchu Tungus). The Mongols from the two Mongolians allied with the Manchus to counter the Dzungars and conquered the region in 1759. Putting an end to the Dzungar khanate, the survivors left for the current Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Kalmoukie (on the banks of the Volga).

In the 18th century, the Uyghurs, then vassals of the Dzoungars, revolted against their masters, participating with the Qing army in the genocide of the dzoungars.

Intervention of European empires

The Manchu occupation lasted until 1862 but these 103 years of occupation were marked by 42 Uyghur revolts. The last revolt, in 1863, drove out the Manchus and a new independent kingdom was born. It was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire and the British Empire, but the British, fearing a Russian expansion to the east, persuaded the Manchu court to reconquer the country. British banks financed the reconquest. The Manchu army under the orders of General Zuo Zongtang attacked Uyghuristan in 1876. Xinjiang again annexed to the Manchu Qing Empire on November 18, 1884.

Republic of China

The Republic of China, after the overthrow of the "last Emperor" in 1911, kept Xinjiang in the Republic of China. The Uyghurs rose up again. In 1933 the Islamic Republic of East Turkestan was proclaimed in Kashgar. It was crushed by the Soviets. In 1944, another attempt in Yili, further north. This lasted 5 years, during which the Uyghurs administered a semi-autonomous region tolerated by the Kuomintang. The experiment ended in 1949.

People's Republic of China

In 1950, a year after the victory of the Communists over the Kuomintang of Tchang Kai-shek, Uyghuristan came under Chinese Communist rule, which has continued ever since. A new Uyghur uprising in 1954 in Hotan failed against the Chinese Red Army.

This region is rich in essential natural mineral resources for China (in particular it contains the most important reserves of oil, natural gas, coal and uranium in China), and is also a Han settlement area. This situation, considered by some of the local populations as Han colonization, still remains a serious source of tensions between communities today.

The First Republic of East Turkestan (1933-1934)

Following the Wuchang uprising, in present-day Wuhan, in 1911, the Chinese empire collapsed, the province came under the successive control of three Chinese warlords exercising despotic power. After the assassination of the first (Yang Zhengxin) in 1928, Jin Shuren succeeded him. Its clumsy policies against a backdrop of Japanese, British and Soviet interference fueled the proliferation of unrest.

It puts an end to the autonomy regime enjoyed by the principality of Komul (Hami) in eastern Xinjiang. While encouraging the establishment of Han settlers after having expropriated peasants, a revolt of the Uyghurs of Komul led by Khodja Niaz and Yulbars Khan broke out in 1931. The rebels were supported by the Hui warlord, Ma Zhongying, who came in reinforcement from neighboring Gansu. During the winter of 1932-1933, while the underground nationalist networks and the various factions opposed to the provincial power were activated, the oases of the Tarim basin rose one after the other.

The provincial power based in Ürümqi ended up being cut off from the south of the province by the Dungan rebels allied with the Turkish-speaking Muslims. In southern Xinjiang, a traditionalist anti-Communist stronghold, a revolt led by the emirs of Khotan broke out in 1933.

The first republic of East Turkestan, or Islamic Republic of East Turkestan (RITO), was founded in November 1933. At the same time, Sabit Damollah, close to the Jadid current, who actively campaigned to rally the various insurrectionary centers to the RITO, tries to rally eastern Xinjiang by propelling President Khodja Niaz. The Emir of Khotan, Mehmet Emin Bughra, is Prime Minister. An alliance between the conservative Islamic current and the reformists Jadid takes place.

As its constitution points out, RITO is an Islamic state based on the application of the sharia. However, many of the RITO ministers are personalities close to the Jadid movement. In addition to ensuring its own survival, the RITO attempted to remove East Turkestan from Chinese occupation and Soviet influence. But the fragile regime was brought down on February 6, 1934 by the bête noire of the provincial authorities, Ma Zhongying, turned by the Soviets against the RITO.

The Second Republic of East Turkestan (1944-1949)

Uyghur resistance

A spice merchant at the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul's Eminonu district with the flag of East Turkestan.

The Turkestan Islamic Party is a movement with a rather vague and obscure profile. It was placed on the list of "terrorist organizations" by the United States and the UN in September 2002 for its links with Al-Qaeda. It acquired an international dimension during the attacks it sponsored before the 2008 Olympic Games.

Popular Uyghur resistance today dates back to the late 1980s. In April 1990, an uprising took place in the city of Akto. More than 1,000 residents take to the streets to protest against the refusal of the Chinese authorities to authorize the construction of a mosque. Chinese troops shoot at the crowd killing more than 60 people. In July 1990, the Xinjiang authorities announced the arrest of 7,900 people during an operation "aimed at arresting the criminal activities of ethnic separatists and other criminal offenders." "

The campaign against crime launched under the name of "Strike hard" by the Chinese government in 1996, if it intended to respond to the concerns of the population about the expansion of crime and delinquency, was an opportunity for the police to attack political and religious activists in Xinjiang, a number of whom, accused of being pro-independence, have been publicly executed with much publicity. More than 10,000 people accused of "separatism" have been arrested during this campaign.

The 1997 uprising and the Guldja incident

On February 5, 1997, on the eve of Ramadan, thirty renowned religious dignitaries were arrested by the police in Guldja (in Chinese: Yining). Six hundred young Uyghurs then take to the streets and demand their release in front of the local seat of government. They are brutalized by the police and paramilitary troops and violently dispersed with electric batons, water cannons and tear gas.

The next day, a massive protest took place. Police and paramilitaries shoot at protesters. Assessment: 167 dead. Within hours, 5,000 people were arrested, including the elderly, young women and children. They are accused of wanting to "divide the homeland", of carrying out criminal and fundamentalist religious activity, in short of being "counter-revolutionary elements". The Chinese government then decides the public execution of seven Uyghurs for example. The seven victims were shot in the back of the neck, loaded onto an uncovered truck, and driven at low speed through the crowds that frequent the Uyghur bazaar and surrounding neighborhoods.

When Uyghurs mourning convicts get too close to trucks, soldiers open fire, killing nine more. On October 15, 2001, two participants in the 1997 uprising were executed, three others sentenced to death sentences suspended for 2 years and six others to prison terms (two of them life imprisonment).

Chinese repression since 2001

The Chinese government took advantage of September 11, 2001 to sell its anti-terrorism program abroad. He obtained the extradition of Uyghur activists from several countries, including Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Twenty-six Uyghurs (at least) have been captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan and detained at Guantanamo. On their release, five were deported to Albania (in 2007) and seventeen were to be received by Palau in June 2009, sparking protests from Beijing. Four others have received residence permits in Bermuda. In February 2010 Switzerland also decides to welcome two Uyghurs on a humanitarian basis; they will stay in the Canton of Jura.

Uyghur underground organizations are active inside the country. Very little is known about these organizations. However, we know the names of two of them: the Islamic Party of Turkestan (accused of a series of attacks in Xinjiang) and the Youth of the East Turkestan Home (described as "Hamas of Xinjiang"). This radical group which fights for the independence of East Turkestan, is said to number around 2,000 militants, some of whom have been trained in guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries. But there are a multitude of other groups and movements, only known by what the Chinese government means.

Abroad, the Uyghurs are present in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States. In Kazakhstan is one of the oldest Uyghur organizations, the Committee for East Turkestan, based in Almaty. He is said to have stepped up his activities lately. It was originally formed by former insurgents who had fought the occupation chinese between 1944 and 1949. The leader of the Uyghur separatists, Aysa Beg, took refuge in Turkey after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The 19 September 2004 was founded in Washington DC the "Government in exile of Eastern Turkestan", of parliamentary regime, whose Prime Minister is Anwar Yusuf. A constitution was proclaimed, and translated into Turkish, English, Chinese and Japanese.

Sharpeners in a market in Khotan, wearing Dopas.

The Uighur Muslim community is presented by the authorities chinese as one of the main potential threats to the security of the Beijing Olympics. Its responsibility is implicated in the attack on a police station on August 4, 2008 in the province of Xinjiang, an attack which caused sixteen deaths.

In July 2009, violent riots took place, the Uyghurs attacking the Hans, before being themselves subject to a violent repression of the federal power.

Systematic attacks on the language, heritage or religious traditions of the Uyghurs have the consequence of reducing their culture to folklore. Thus, under the official reason of "renovation" in order to mitigate the seismic risks following the earthquake of 2008, many historic dwellings in the city of Kashgar are destroyed in order to build houses that are certainly safer, but which the locals equate to destruction. of an architectural heritage.

28 October 2013, Uighur terrorists carry out an attack on Tian'anmen Square in Beijing, which leaves five dead and forty injured.

1er March 2014, a terrorist attack attributed by the Chinese authorities to the separatist current of the Uyghurs is committed in the station of Kunming, capital of Yunnan. More than twenty-nine Chinese were stabbed to death by these Uyghurs, in addition to 130 injured.

In 2018, the magazine Foreign Policy reveals that Chinese police have demanded Uyghurs living in France to disclose all their personal information, including that of their French spouses if applicable, threatening those who refuse to retaliate against their relatives back in China.

In the 2010s, hundreds of thousands of practicing Uyghur Muslims and Kazakhs go through Chinese re-education camps. In August 2018, a United Nations committee of experts estimated that one million Uyghurs would be detained in internment camps and that two million of them would be in “political indoctrination camps”. Communist ideology is instilled in inmates who are tortured and forced to eat pork and drink alcohol.

In March 2017, the Chinese government banned the wearing of the Islamic veil for women and the wearing of beards considered "abnormal" for men. A campaign of forced sterilization of women of childbearing age is also applied according to Adrian Zenz. In april 2017, it prohibits the adoption of 29 Muslim first names for newborns, including Mohammed, under penalty of the children concerned being refused a family record book (hukou).

The repression hit personalities who until then appeared to be models of a balanced bi-cultural integration (such as the rector of Xinjiang University, Tashpolat Tiyip, arrested in March 2017 or the singer Ablajan Awut Ayup, detained since February 2018 ), now stigmatized as having a "double face".

According to the UN, and some Western researchers, nearly a million Uighurs were still detained in camps in 2018. Chinese President Xi Jinping denies this information. China also presents the so-called “transformation through education” camps as schools. In 2018, however, the online magazine Bitter Winter published videos that were said to have been shot inside the camps, which appear more like prisons. The ultimate reasons for the renewed repression of Uyghurs are no less controversial.

According to China, "re-education" measures are needed to prevent radicalization and terrorism. Western researchers believe the government is more concerned about an unexpected religious renaissance. The Keriya mosque seems to disappear in the spring of 2018, destroyed by the Chinese authorities.