East Turkestan independence movement
The East Turkestan independence movement (ETIM) is a broad term that refers to advocates of an independent, self-governing East Turkestan in the region now known as Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the People's Republic of China.
- 1 Name
- 2 Historical background
- 3 Soviet support for East Turkestan Independence
- 4 Attempts at Independence
- 5 Official Chinese position on ETIM
- 6 Turkic nationalism
- 7 Literature
- 8 Argument for East Turkestan independence
- 9 Argument against East Turkestan independence
- 10 Groups
- 11 Recent events
- 12 See also
- 13 Further reading
- 14 References
- 15 External links
The name "East Turkestan" was created by the Russian Sinologist Nikita Bichurin to replace the term "Chinese Turkestan" in 1829. "East Turkestan" was used traditionally to only refer to the Tarim Basin, and not Xinjiang as a whole, with Dzungaria being excluded from the area consisting of "East Turkestan".
Prior to the 20th century, the cities of present-day Xinjiang, hosting Turkic ethnicities such as Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, and persophone Tājiks, held little unified nationalistic identity. Identity in the region was heavily "oasis-based" identity focused on the city, town and village level. Cross-border contact from Russia, Central Asia, India and China was significant in shaping each oasis' identity and cultural practices.
Under Qing Dynasty and Republic of China rule, a largely Uyghur, but also multi-ethnic Turkic, based identity began to coalesce. A rebellion against Chinese rule led to the establishment of the short-lived First East Turkestan Republic or Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan (1933–1934), with secret aid from the Soviet Union (Russia used consistent effort to annex Chinese territory since the 17th century). Sheng Shicai, a secret member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, came into power after a military coup. He disobeyed the decree and order from the Chinese central government, but still ruled the region under the name of the Republic of China.
Sheng Shicai later became anti-Russian when he became aware of the Soviet's intent to control his government. He expelled Soviet advisors and executed many Han Communists. Joseph Stalin was very angry with his convert and dispatched troops to invade Xinjiang. The Soviet troops helped the rebellion at Ili (Yining City) during the Chinese civil war. The rebellion lead to the establishment of the Second East Turkistan Republic (1944–1949), which existed in three northern districts (Ili, Tarbaghatai, Altai) of Xinjiang province of the Republic of China.
After winning the Chinese civil war in 1949, the People's Liberation Army reasserted control of East Turkestan, ending its independence.
After the declarations of independence of the constituent republics of the area of West Turkestan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) from the Soviet Union in 1991, calls for the liberation of East Turkestan from China began to surface again from many in the Turkic population.
Those that use the term Uyghurstan tend to envision a state for the Uyghur people. Those groups that adopt this terminology tended to be allied with the Soviet Union while it still existed (Indeed, Russia incited and aided the rebellion in attempt to annex these regions in the future). Since then some of the leaders of these groups have remained in Russia, Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, or have emigrated to Europe and North America. It is worth noting that none of these identities are exclusive. Some groups support more than one such orientation. It is common to support both an Islamic and Turkic orientation for Xinjiang, for example, the founders of independent Republic in Kashgar in 1933 used names Turkic Islamic Republic of East Turkestan and Eastern Turkestan Republic the same time.
Pan-Turkic Jadidists and East Turkestan Independence activists Muhammad Amin Bughra and Masud Sabri rejected the Soviets and Sheng Shicai's imposition of the name "Uyghur people" upon the Turkic people of Xinjiang. They wanted instead the name "Turkic ethnicity" (Chinese: 突厥族; pinyin: tūjué zú) to be applied to their people. Masud Sabri also viewed the Hui people as Muslim Han Chinese and separate from his own people. The names "Türk" or "Türki" in particular were demanded by Bughra as the real name for his people. He slammed Sheng Shicai for his designation of Turkic Muslims into different ethnicities, which could sow disunion among Turkic Muslims.
The usage of the name "Uyghur" for the modern ethnic group has led to anachorisms and falsehood when applied to history by both the PRC and Uyghur nationalists.
Kirghiz are another Turkic Muslim group who have aspired for independence. They rebelled against the Xinjiang government in the Kirghiz rebellion, but were defeated by the Chinese Muslim Tao-yin Ma Shaowu. They joined the Uighurs to fight against the Chinese Muslim 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) at the Battle of Kashgar (1933) and Battle of Kashgar (1934), under the First East Turkestan Republic but they were defeated.
Soviet support for East Turkestan Independence
The Soviet Union supported the Uyghur Second East Turkestan Republic in the Ili Rebellion against the Republic of China. According to her autobiography, Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China, Rebiya Kadeer's father served with pro-Soviet Uyghur rebels under the Second East Turkestan Republic in the Ili Rebellion (Three Province Rebellion) in 1944-1946, using Soviet assistance and aid to fight the Republic of China government under Chiang Kai-shek. Kadeer and her family were close friends with White Russian exiles living in Xinjiang and Kadeer recalled that many Uyghurs thought Russian culture was "more advanced" than that of the Uyghurs and they "respected" the Russians a lot.
Many of the Turkic peoples of the Ili region of Xinjiang had close cultural, political, and economic ties with Russia and then the Soviet Union. Many of them were educated in the Soviet Union and a community of Russian settlers lived in the region. As a result, many of the Turkic rebels fled to the Soviet Union and obtained Soviet assistance in creating the Sinkiang Turkic People's Liberation Committee (STPNLC) in 1943 to revolt against Kuomintang rule during the Ili Rebellion. The pro-Soviet Uyghur who later became leader of the revolt and the Second East Turkestan Republic, Ehmetjan Qasim, was Soviet educated and described as "Stalin's man".
The Soviet Union incited separatist activities in Xinjiang through propaganda, encouraging Kazakhs to flee to the Soviet Union and attacking China. China responded by reinforcing the Xinjiang-Soviet border area specifically with Han Bingtuan militia and farmers. The Soviets massively intensified their broadcasts inciting Uyghurs to revolt against the Chinese via Radio Tashkent since 1967 and directly harbored and supported separatist guerilla fighters to attack the Chinese border, in 1966 the amount of Soviet sponsored separatist attacks on China numbered 5,000. The Soviets transmitted a radio broadcast from Radio Tashkent into Xinjiang on 14 May 1967, boasting of the fact that the Soviets had supported the Second East Turkestan Republic against China. In addition to Radio Tashkent, other Soviet media outlets aimed at disseminating propaganda towards Uyghurs urging that they proclaim independence and revolt against China included Radio Alma-Ata and the Alma-Ata published Sherki Türkistan Evazi ("The Voice of Eastern Turkestan") newspaper. After the Sino-Soviet split in 1962, over 60,000 Uyghurs and Kazakhs defected from Xinjiang to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, in response to Soviet propaganda which promised Xinjiang independence. Uyghur exiles later threatened China with rumors of a Uyghur "liberation army" in the thousands that were supposedly recruited from Sovietized emigres.
The Soviet Union was involved in funding and support to the East Turkestan People's Revolutionary Party (ETPRP), the largest militant Uyghur separatist organization in its time, to start a violent uprising against China in 1968. In the 1970s, the Soviets also supported the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET) to fight against the Chinese.
"Bloody incidents" in 1966-67 flared up as Chinese and Soviet forces clashed along the border as the Soviets trained anti-Chinese guerillas and urged Uyghurs to revolt against China, hailing their "national liberation struggle". In 1969, Chinese and Soviet forces directly fought each other along the Xinjiang-Soviet border.
The Soviet Union supported Uyghur nationalist propaganda and Uyghur separatist movements against China. The Soviet historians claimed that the Uyghur native land was Xinjiang and Uyghur nationalism was promoted by Soviet versions of history on turcology. Soviet turcologists like D.I. Tikhonov wrote pro-independence works on Uyghur history and the Soviet supported Uyghur historian Tursun Rakhimov wrote more historical works supporting Uyghur independence and attacking the Chinese government, claiming that Xinjiang was an entity created by China made out of the different parts of East Turkestan and Zungharia. These Soviet Uyghur historians were waging an "ideological war" against China, emphasizing the "national liberation movement" of Uyghurs throughout history. The Soviet Communist Party supported the publication of works which glorified the Second East Turkestan Republic and the Ili Rebellion against China in its anti-China propaganda war. Soviet propaganda writers wrote works claiming that Uyghurs lived better lives and were able to practice their culture only in Soviet Central Asia and not in Xinjiang. In 1979 Soviet KGB agent Victor Louis wrote a thesis claiming that the Soviets should support a "war of liberation" against the "imperial" China to support Uighur, Tibetan, Mongol, and Manchu independence. The Soviet KGB itself supported Uyghur separatists against China.
Uyghur nationalist historian Turghun Almas and his book Uyghurlar (The Uyghurs) and Uyghur nationalist accounts of history were galvanized by Soviet stances on history, "firmly grounded" in Soviet Turcological works, and both heavily influenced and partially created by Soviet historians and Soviet works on Turkic peoples. Soviet historiography spawned the rendering of Uyghur history found in Uyghurlar. Almas claimed that Central Asia was "the motherland of the Uyghurs" and also the "ancient golden cradle of world culture".
Xinjiang's importance to China increased after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, leading to China's perception of being encircled by the Soviets. The China supported the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet invasion, and broadcast reports of Soviet atrocities on Afghan Muslims to Uyghurs in order to counter Soviet propaganda broadcasts into Xinjiang, which boasted that Soviet minorities lived better and incited Muslims to revolt. Chinese radio beamed anti-Soviet broadcasts to Central Asian ethnic minorities like the Kazakhs. The Soviets feared disloyalty among the non-Russian Kazakh, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz in the event of Chinese troops attacking the Soviet Union and entering Central Asia. Russians were goaded with the taunt "Just wait till the Chinese get here, they'll show you what's what!" by Central Asians when they had altercations. The Chinese authorities viewed the Han migrants in Xinjiang as vital to defending the area against the Soviet Union. China opened up camps to train the Afghan Mujahideen near Kashgar and Khotan and supplied them with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of small arms, rockets, mines, and anti-tank weapons.
A chain of aggressive and belligerent press releases in the 1990s making false claims about violent insurrections in Xinjiang, and exaggerating both the number of Chinese migrants and the total number of Uyghurs in Xinjiang were made by the former Soviet supported URFET leader Yusupbek Mukhlisi.
After the establishment of the Soviet Union, many Uyghurs who studied in Soviet Central Asia added Russian suffixes to Russify their surnames and make them look Russian. Urban Uyghurs sometimes select Russian names when naming their children, in cities such as Qaramay and Urumqi.
Attempts at Independence
Yaqub Beg establishment of Kashgaria
Also during the Dungan revolt, the Taranchi Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang initially cooperated with the Dungans (Chinese Muslims) when they rose in revolt, but turned on them, because the Dungans, mindful of their Chinese heritage attempted to subject the entire region to their rule. The Taranchi massacred the Dungans at Kuldja and drove the rest through Talk pass to the Ili valley.
First East Turkestan Republic
The first republic established by the Uighurs was short lived, the Uighur army was defeated by the Chinese Muslim 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army), which destroyed the Republic at the Battle of Kashgar (1933).
Second East Turkestan Republic
A Soviet backed state was created by Uighur rebels in northern Xinjiang. It was absorbed into the newly founded People's Republic of China in 1950.
Official Chinese position on ETIM
People's Republic of China
Republic of China (Taiwan)
The Republic of China's (Taiwan) ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Chinese Muslim General Ma Bufang, in response to a request by a former Uyghur Mufti living in Saudi Arabia, Abdul Ahad Hamed for accommodations to be granted to Uyghurs living outside of China who held Republic of China passports, sent the following letter, which rejected Abdul Ahad Hamed's demands and his usage of the term "East Turkestan", upholding the official position of the Republic of China (Taiwan) that Xinjiang was a part of China and that it did not recognize the East Turkestan Independence Movement.
With all due respect to your previous position in the Government of Sinkiang and to the confidence placed in you by His Excellency the President of the Republic of China, I hope that you will refrain from using expressions which should not be used by one who occupied the position of a mufti. We are all serving our beloved country trying to do our best for our countrymen. I also hope that you will refrain from using the expression "The Turkestani Nation" which was the creation of one Abdul Qayyum Khan while he was living in Germany. We are working for the welfare of the true people of Sinkiang not for the Turkestanis living outside Sinkiang or the followers of Abdul Qayyum Khan.
Ambassador of Nationalist China in Saudi Arabia
During the First East Turkestan Republic, the Turkic nationalist ideology of the Republic led to hostility between different Muslim ethnic groups. The Uyghurs and Kirghiz, who were both Turkic Muslim peoples, fought against the Chinese Muslims of southern Xinjiang and sought to expel them with the Han Chinese. This led several Chinese Muslim Generals like Ma Zhancang, Ma Fuyuan, and Ma Hushan to fight against the Uyghur attempts and independence.
Anti Tungan (Chinese Muslim) political graffiti was painted by Uighurs on Khotan's city gates.
Revolution is an edifice built of many bricks
Each brick is an injustice
Blood is Mortar
Each wall is a mountain of sorrow
The foundation is most important
Alone, it must sustain the structure
Martyrdom is the Excellent Foundation!
Mustafa Ali, the Turkish advisor to the Uyghurs in the First East Turkestan Republic was an anti kemalist. Muhsin Çapanolu was also anti kemalist, and they both had Pan Turanist views. Mahmud Nadim Bay, another anti kemalist Turk, was also an advisor to the Uyghur separatists.
Argument for East Turkestan independence
Many Uyghurs are forced to assimilate to a Han Chinese way of life and feel threatened by the spread of Han Chinese culture. In Xinjiang, school instruction is in Mandarin and very few pieces of literature are published in Uyghur or other Turkic languages. Millions of Han Chinese have settled in Xinjiang.
Many Uyghurs face religious persecution and discrimination at the hands of the government authorities. Uyghurs who choose to practice their faith can use only a state-approved version of the Koran; Many nationalists are killed or tortured or jailed for their independence efforts, and even non-violent protesters have said to have been facing human rights abuses. Their dress, language, and culture are slowly being eroded away as more and more ethnic Han are moving there in the Migration to Xinjiang. The religion and way of life are misunderstood and the government cracks down on any sign of resistance. The "Uyghur Human Rights Project" alleges that children under the age of 18 were banned from a mosque in southern Xinjiang.
Argument against East Turkestan independence
China claims to have a historic claim on modern-day Xinjiang dating back two thousand years. East Asian migrants arrived in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, while the Uighur people arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, based in modern-day Mongolia, around the year 842. It fears that independence movements are largely funded and led by outside forces that seek to weaken China. China points out that despite such movements, Xinjiang has made great economic strides, building up its infrastructure, improving its education system and increasing the average life expectancy.
Uyghur independence activists express concern over the Han population changing the Uyghur character of the region, yet the historical native land of the Uyghurs is not the whole land of Xinjiang, but Tarim basin. Also the capital of Xinjiang Urumqi was even originally a Han and Hui (Tungan) city with few Uyghur people before recent Uyghur migration to the city, but foreigners mistakenly think that Urumqi was originally a Uyghur city and that the Chinese destroyed its Uyghur character and culture. Moreover, the Han and Hui mostly live in northern Xinjiang Dzungaria, and are separated from areas of historical Uyghur dominance south of the Tian Shan mountains (southwestern Xinjiang), where Uyghurs account for about 90% of the population.
Uyghur nationalist historians such as Turghun Almas claim that Uyghurs were distinct and independent from Chinese for 6000 years, and that all non-Uyghur peoples are non-indigenous immigrants to Xinjiang. However, the Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE) established military colonies (tuntian) and commanderies (duhufu) to control Xinjiang from 120 BCE, while the Tang Dynasty (618-907) also controlled much of Xinjiang until the An Lushan rebellion. Chinese historians refute Uyghur nationalist claims by pointing out the 2000-year history of Han settlement in Xinjiang, documenting the history of Mongol, Kazakh, Uzbek, Manchu, Hui, Xibo indigenes in Xinjiang, and by emphasizing the relatively late "westward migration" of the Huigu (equated with "Uyghur" by the PRC government) people from Mongolia the 9th century. The name "Uyghur" was associated with a Buddhist people in the Tarim Basin in the 9th century, but completely disappeared by the 15th century, until it was revived by the Soviet Union in the 20th century.
Uyghur nationalists often incorrectly claim that 5% of Xinjiang's population in 1949 was Han, and that the other 95% was Uyghur, erasing the presence of Kazakhs, Xibes, and others, and ignoring the fact that Hans were around one third of Xinjiang's population at 1800, during the time of the Qing Dynasty. At the start of the 19th century, 40 years after the Qing reconquest, there were around 155,000 Han and Hui Chinese in northern Xinjiang and somewhat more than twice that number of Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang. A census of Xinjiang under Qing rule in the early 19th century tabulated ethnic shares of the population as 30% Han and 60% Turkic, while it dramatically shifted to 6% Han and 75% Uyghur in the 1953 census, however a situation similar to the Qing era-demographics with a large number of Han has been restored as of 2000 with 40.57% Han and 45.21% Uyghur.
In general, the wide variety of groups who seek independence can be distinguished by the type of government they advocate and the role they believe an independent East Turkestan should play in international affairs. Groups who use the term East Turkestan tend to have an orientation towards western Asia, the Islamic world, and Russia. These groups can be further subdivided into those who desire secularism, and identify with the struggle of secular Kemal Atatürk in Turkey, versus those who want an Islamic theocracy and identify with Saudi Arabia, the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, or Iran. In many cases the latter diminish the importance or deny the existence of a separate Uyghur ethnicity and claim a larger Turanian or Islamic identity. These groups tend to see an independent East Turkestan in which non-Turkic, and especially non-Islamic minorities, such as the Han Chinese would play no significant role.
Some of the groups that support independence for East Turkestan have been labeled terrorist organizations by both the People's Republic of China, the United Nations and/or the United States. Pro-independence organizations overseas include the East Turkistan National Freedom Center, the East Turkistan Government in Exile, and the East Turkestan Liberation Organization (Transnational Hizb ut-Tahrir). The most noticeable event towards the East Turkistan Independence Movement was the establishment of the East Turkistan Government in Exile by a group of East Turkistani immigrants led by Anwar Yusuf Turani in Washington D.C. on 14 September 2004. The target audience of these organizations is generally the Western governments and public, as almost none of the websites are in Chinese or Uyghur, and most Uyghurs in China and Central Asia have never heard of them. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement(ETIM)(also East Turkestan Islamic Party), which has claimed responsibility for attacks in Xinjiang, has been identified as a terrorist organization by the governments of China, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and the United States, as well as the United Nations.
There continues to be concern over tensions in the region, centering upon Uyghur cultural aspirations to independence, and resentment towards what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch describe as repression of non-Han Chinese culture.
Conversely, many Han Chinese perceive PRC policies of ethnic autonomy as discriminatory against them (see autonomous entities of China). Independence advocates view Chinese rule in Xinjiang, and policies like the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps as Chinese imperialism. The US and the UN have labelled the East Turkestan Islamic Movement a terrorist group.
The tensions have occasionally resulted in major incidents and violent clashes during the PRC period. For example, in 1962, 60,000 Uyghur and Kazakh refugees fled northern Xinjiang into the Soviet Union to escape the famine and political purges of the Great Leap Forward era; in the 1980s there was a smattering of student demonstrations and riots against police action that took on an ethnic aspect; and the Baren Township riot in April 1990, an abortive uprising resulted in more than 50 deaths.
A police roundup of suspected separatists during Ramadan resulted in large demonstrations that turned violent in February 1997 in an episode known as the Ghulja Incident that led to at least 9 deaths. The Urumqi bus bombs of 25 February 1997, perhaps a response to the crackdown that followed the Ghulja Incident, killed 9 and injured 68. Speaking on separatist violence, Erkin Alptekin, a former East Turkestan National Congress chairman and prominent Uyghur activist, said “We must emphasise dialogue and warn our youth against the use of violence because it de-legitimises our movement”. Despite much talk of separatism and terrorism in Xinjiang, especially after the 9-11 attacks in the United States and the US invasion of Afghanistan, the situation in Xinjiang was quiet from the late nineties through mid-2006. In 2005, Uighur author Nurmemet Yasin was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for inciting separatism following his publication of an allegorical short story, "The Blue Pigeon".
On 5 January 2007 the Chinese Public Security Bureau raided a suspected terrorist training camp in the mountains near the Pamir Plateau in southern Xinjiang. According to the reports, 18 terrorists were killed and another 17 captured in a gun battle between the East Turkestan Independence Movement and PRC forces. One police officer was killed and "over 1,500 hand grenades... were seized."
In 2008, the Chinese government announced that several terrorist plots by Uyghur separatists to disrupt the 2008 Olympic Games involving kidnapping athletes, journalists and tourists were foiled. The security ministry said 35 arrests were made in recent weeks and explosives had been seized in Xinjiang province. It said 10 others were held when police smashed another plot based in Xinjiang back in January to disrupt the Games. However, Uyghur activists accused the Chinese of fabricating terror plots to crack down on the people of the region and prevent them airing legitimate grievances. Some foreign observers were also skeptical, questioning if China was inflating a terror threat to justify a clampdown on dissidents before the Olympics.
In the run-up to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, during which world attention was drawn by pro-Tibet protests along the Olympic torch relay, Uyghur separatist groups staged protests in several countries. According to the Chinese government, a suicide bombing attempt on a China Southern Airlines flight in Xinjiang was thwarted in March 2008.
Four days before the Beijing Olympics, 16 Chinese police officers were killed and 16 injured in an attack in Kashgar by local merchants. Chinese police injured and damaged the equipment of two Japanese journalists sent to cover the story. Four days later a bombing in Kuqa killed at least two people.
On 27 August, two Chinese police officers were killed and seven more wounded near the city of Kashgar when their patrol was ambushed by at least seven militants, including one woman, wielding knives and automatic weapons. Apparently the patrol was lain upon in a corn field while acting on an erroneous tip from another woman that had been suspected of assisting militants. According to Uighur sources Chinese officials have been "cracking down" on ethnic Uighurs, detaining large numbers in recent weeks and view the incident as Uighurs resisting arrest. Reportedly, 33 people died in Xinjiang because of clashes in the month of August.
On 5 July 2009, riots broke out in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The state media reported close to 150 people dead. While the riots occurred after a demonstration protesting the deaths of two Uyghurs in the June 2009 Shaoguan incident, the central government claimed that the riot had been masterminded by separatists abroad, particularly exiled leader Rebiya Kadeer.
- List of active separatist movements in Asia
- East Turkistan National Freedom Center
- East Turkistan Government in Exile
- East Turkestan Liberation Organization
- East Turkestan Islamic Movement
- Inner Mongolian People's Party
- International Tibet Independence Movement
- World Uyghur Congress
- 2008 Uyghur unrest
- 2013 Xinjiang unrest
- Xinjiang conflict
- Affirmative action in China
- Human rights of ethnic minorities in China
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