Xinjiang conflict

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This article is about recent unrest and fighting in Xinjiang. For the uprisings and battles in Xinjiang during the 1930s and 1940s, see Xinjiang Wars.
Xinjiang conflict
Date 1960s–present
Location China
Status Ongoing
China Soviet Union ETPRP (1969-1989)
Soviet Union URFET (1969-1989)
Supported by:
Soviet Union Soviet Union (1969-1989)
Mongolia Mongolian People's Republic (1960-1989)

ETLO (disbanded)
Supported by:
Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan[1]
Commanders and leaders

Xi Jinping
Mao Zedong
Deng Xiaoping
Jiang Zemin

Hu Jintao
Soviet Union Yusupbek Mukhlisi Abdullah Mansour[2]
Hasan Mahsum
Abdul Haq
Abdul Shakoor al-Turkistani

The Xinjiang conflict[3] is an ongoing[4] separatist struggle in the People's Republic of China (PRC) far-west province of Xinjiang.[5] A group of Uyghur separatists claim that the region, which they refer to as East Turkestan, is not a part of China, but that the Soviet supported Second East Turkestan Republic was incorporated by the PRC in 1949 and has since been under Chinese occupation. The separatist movement is led by Turkic Islamist militant organizations, most notably the East Turkestan independence movement, against the national government in Beijing.


Previous uprisings[edit]

The Xinjiang Wars were a series of armed conflicts which took place in the early and mid 20th century, during the Warlord Era of the Republic of China; and during the Chinese Civil War, which saw the establishment of the People's Republic of China. The wars also played an important role in the East Turkestan independence movement.

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.[6] Urban Uyghurs sometimes select Russian names when naming their children, in cities such as Qaramay and Urumqi.[7]

The Soviet Union supported the Uyghur Second East Turkestan Republic in the Ili Rebellion against the Republic of China. 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.[8] 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" and as a "communist-minded progressive".[9]

According to her autobiography, Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China, the Uyghur activist 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.[10] 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.[11]

Immediate causes[edit]

Main article: Migration to Xinjiang

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch speculate that Uyghur resentment towards alleged repression of Uyghur culture may explain some of the ethnic riots that have occurred in Xinjiang during the People's Republic of China (PRC) period.[citation needed]

Conversely, some Han Chinese opponents of the movement are unhappy at being, in their perspective, treated as second-class citizens by PRC policies, in which many of the ethnic autonomy policies are discriminatory against them (see Autonomous entities of China). Some go so far as to posit that since previous Chinese dynasties owned Xinjiang before the Uyghur Empire, the region belongs to them as opposed to the Uyghurs. Supporters of the movement, on the other hand, have labelled Chinese rule in Xinjiang, as Chinese imperialism.

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[12] 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.[14]

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, Huis, Mongols, |Xibes and others, and ignoring the fact that Hans were around one third of Xinjiang's population in 1800, during the time of the Qing Dynasty.[15] Professor of Chinese and Central Asian History at Georgetown University, James A. Millward wrote that foreigners often mistakenly think that Urumqi was originally a Uyghur city and that the Chinese destroyed its Uyghur character and culture, however, Urumqi was founded as a Chinese city by Han and Hui (Tungans), and it is the Uyghurs who are new to the city.[16][17] While a few people try to give a misportrayal of the historical Qing situation in light of the contemporary situation in Xinjiang with Han migration, and claim that the Qing settlements and state farms were an anti-Uyghur plot to replace them in their land, Professor James A. Millward pointed out that the Qing agricultural colonies in reality had nothing to do with Uyghur and their land, since the Qing banned settlement of Han in the Uyghur Tarim Basin and in fact directed the Han settlers instead to settle in the non-Uyghur Dzungaria and the new city of Urumqi, so that the state farms which were settled with 155,000 Han Chinese from 1760-1830 were all in Dzungaria and Urumqi, where there was only an insignificant amount of Uyghurs, instead of the Tarim Basin oases.[18] Han and Hui mostly live in northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria), and are separated from areas of historical Uyghur dominance south of the Tian Shan mountains (the Tarim Basin in southwestern Xinjiang), where Uyghurs account for about 90% of the population.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21] Professor Stanley W. Toops noted that today's demographic situation is similar to that of the early Qing period in Xinjiang. In northern Xinjiang, the Qing brought in Han, Hui, Uyghur, Xibe, and Kazakh colonists after they exterminated the Zunghar Oirat Mongols in the region, with one third of Xinjiang's total population consisting of Hui and Han in the northern are, while around two thirds were Uyghurs in southern Xinjiang's Tarim Basin.[22] Before 1831, only a few hundred Chinese merchants lived in southern Xinjiang oases (Tarim Basin) and only a few Uyghurs lived in northern Xinjiang (Dzungaria).[23]

Critics have argued that the government's response to Uyghur concerns do little to address the underlying causes of their discontent.[24]

Uyghur views by oasis[edit]

Uyghur views vary by the oasis they live in. China has historically favored Turpan and Hami. Uyghurs in Turfan and Hami and their leaders like Emin Khoja allied with the Qing against Uyghurs in Altishahr. During the Qing dynasty, China enfeoffed the rulers of Turpan and Hami (Kumul) as autonomous princes, while the rest of the Uyghurs in Altishahr (the Tarim Basin) were ruled by Begs.[25] Uyghurs from Turpan and Hami were appointed by China as officials to rule over Uyghurs in the Tarim Basin. Turpan is more economically prosperous and views China more positively than the rebellious Kashgar, which is the most anti-China oasis. Uyghurs in Turpan are treated leniently and favourably by China with regards to religious policies, while Kashgar is subjected to controls by the government.[26][27] In Turpan and Hami, religion is viewed more positively by China than religion in Kashgar and Khotan in southern Xinjiang.[28] Both Uyghur and Han Communist officials in Turpan turn a blind eye to the law and allow religious Islamic education for Uyghur children.[29][30] Celebrating at religious functions and going on Hajj to Mecca is encouraged by the Chinese government, for Uyghur members of the Communist party. From 1979-1989, 350 mosques were built in Turpan.[31] Han, Hui, and the Chinese government are viewed much more positively by Uyghurs specifically in Turpan, with the government providing better economic, religious, and political treatment for them.[32]


Early events[edit]

Some[weasel words] put the beginning of the modern phase of the conflict in Xinjiang in the 1950s.[4]

Soviet support for Uyghur uprisings[edit]

Main article: Sino-Soviet split

The Soviet Union incited separatist activities in Xinjiang through propaganda, encouraging Kazakhs to flee to the Soviet Union and attack China. China responded by reinforcing the Xinjiang-Soviet border area specifically with Han Bingtuan militia and farmers.[33] 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.[34] 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.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38][39][40][41][41] In the 1970s, the Soviets also supported the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan (URFET) to fight against the Chinese.[42]

"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".[43] On January 30, 1967, it was reported that in Xinjiang, guerilla attacks were being carried out by a "Soviet-based Turkestan refugee army."[44] In 1969, Chinese and Soviet forces directly fought each other along the Xinjiang-Soviet border.[45][46][47][48]

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.[49] 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.[50] These Soviet Uyghur historians were waging an "ideological war" against China, emphasizing the "national liberation movement" of Uyghurs throughout history.[51] 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.[52] 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.[53] 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.[54][55] The Soviet KGB itself supported Uyghur separatists against China.[56] Among some Uyghurs, the Soviet Union was viewed extremely favorably and several of them believed that people of Turkic origin ruled the Soviet Union, claiming that one of these Turkic Soviet leaders was Mikhail Gorbachev.[57]

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.[58] Soviet historiography spawned the rendering of Uyghur history found in Uyghurlar.[59] Almas claimed that Central Asia was "the motherland of the Uyghurs" and also the "ancient golden cradle of world culture".[60]

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.[61] 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.[62] Chinese radio beamed anti-Soviet broadcasts to Central Asian ethnic minorities like the Kazakhs.[45] 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.[63] The Chinese authorities viewed the Han migrants in Xinjiang as vital to defending the area against the Soviet Union.[64] 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.[65][66]

In the 1980s, there was a scattering 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.[citation needed]

Late 1990s[edit]

A police round-up and execution of 30 suspected separatists[67] during Ramadan resulted in large demonstrations in February 1997 which were characterized as riots in the Chinese media,[68] but which the western media allege were peaceful.[69][unreliable source?] These demonstrations culminated in the Gulja Incident on the 5th of February, in which a People's Liberation Army (PLA) crackdown on the demonstrations led to at least nine deaths[70] and perhaps more than 100.[67] The Ürümqi bus bombings of February 25, 1997 killed nine and injured 68. The situation in Xinjiang was relatively quiet from the late nineties through mid-2006, though inter-ethnic tensions no doubt remained.[71]

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.[72][73]

In 1997 the Ghulja Incident occurred as a result of a series of demonstrations.

2007 onwards[edit]

In 2007, the world's attention was brought to the conflict following the Xinjiang raid on an alleged terrorist training camp,[74][unreliable source?] a thwarted 2008 suicide bombing attempt on a China Southern Airlines flight,[75] and the 2008 Xinjiang attack, which resulted in the deaths of sixteen police officers four days before the Beijing Olympics.[76][77] See 2008 Uyghur unrest for further details.

On 25/26 June 2009, the Shaoguan incident occurred in Guangdong province.

Further incidents include the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, the September 2009 Xinjiang unrest, and the 2010 Aksu bombing that led to the trials of 376 people.[78] The 2011 Hotan attack in July led to the deaths of 18 civilians. Although all of the attackers were Uyghur,[79] both Han and Uyghur people were victims.[80] In 2011, six ethnic Uyghur men attempted to hijack an aircraft heading to Ürümqi, but failed after passengers and crew resisted and restrained the hijackers. In 2011, a series of knife and bomb attacks occurred.

On 28 December 2011, the Pishan hostage crisis occurred.

On 28 February 2012, the 2012 Yecheng attack occurred.

On 24 April 2013, clashes in Bachu occurred between a group of armed men and social workers, then with police near Kashgar. The violence left at least 21 people dead, including 15 police and officials.[81][82][83] A local government official said that the clashes broke out after three local officials had reported suspicious men armed with knives who were hiding at a house in Selibuya township, outside Kashgar.[84] On 30 April 2014, a knife attack and bombing occurred in Ürümqi.

Two months later, on 26 June 2013, 27 people were killed in Shanshan riots; 17 of them were killed by rioters, while the other ten people were alleged assailants who were shot dead by police in the township of Lukqun.[85]

On 1 March 2014, a group of knife-wielding assailants attacked people at the Kunming Railway Station killing at least 29 and injuring 130 others.[86] China blamed Xinjiang militants for the attack.[87] Over 380 were arrested in the following crackdown and four people were charged on June 30 for the incident, in which 29 people were killed and 140 injured.[88] Three of the suspects were accused of "leading and organising a terror group, and intentional homicide". They did not take part in the attack as they were arrested two days before.[89] On September 12, a Chinese court sentenced three people to death and one to life in prison for the attack, in which 31 people were killed and 141 injured.[90]

On 18 April 2014, a group of 16 Chinese citizens identified as ethnic Uyghurs engaged in a shootout with Vietnamese border guards after seizing their guns as they were being detained to be returned to China. Five Uyghurs and two Vietnamese guards died in the incident. Ten of the Uyghurs were men and the rest were women and children.[91][92][93][94][95][96]

On 30 April 2014, two attackers stabbed people before detonating their suicide vests at an Ürümqi train station. Three people, including the two attackers, were killed.[97][98][99]

On 22 May 2014, twin suicide car bombings occurred after the occupants had thrown multiple explosives out of their vehicles at an Ürümqi street market. The attacks killed 31 people and injured more than 90, making it the deadliest attack yet in the Xinjiang conflict.[99][100]

On June 5, 2014, China sentenced 9 persons to death for terrorist attacks - they were seeking to overthrow Chinese rule, inspired by global jihadi ideology, in Xinjiang.[101]

On 28 July 2014, an incident occurred in the towns of Elixku and Huangdi in Shache county. The Chinese state media Xinhua said 37 civilians were killed by a gang armed with knives and axes in Xinjiang, with 59 attackers killed by security forces. Xinhua said 215 attackers were arrested after they stormed a police station and government offices. It said 30 police cars had been damaged or destroyed and dozens of Uyghur and Han Chinese civilians had been killed or injured. The incident is disputed as the Uyghur American Association (UAA) said that local Uyghurs had been protesting at the time of the attack. On 30 July 2014, the imam of China's largest mosque, Jume Tahir, in the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang, died after reportedly being stabbed after morning prayers for his reported pro-Beijing stance.[102]

On September 21, 2014, Chinese state media Xinhua reported a series of bomb blasts killed in total 50 people in Luntai County, southwest of the regional capital, Urumqi. This consisted of 6 civilians, 4 police, and 44 'rioters' [103]

On October 12, 2014, four ethnic minority Uyghur men armed with knives and explosives attacked a farmers' market in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, which according to police, left 22 people dead - including police officers and the attackers themselves.[104]

On 29 November 2014, 15 people were killed and 14 injured in the aftermath of an attack in the Shache county.11 of the killed were Uyghur militants.[105]


A total of 2,500+ people were killed in the Xinjiang conflict since 1989.[citation needed]



About 500[113] people were killed in the Xinjiang conflict during 2014.[original research?]


See also[edit]


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  113. ^ See [106][107][108][109][110][111][112]