|Commanders and leaders|
|Masud Sabri||Ospan Batyr (1944-1946)|
Russian settlers in Xinjiang
|Casualties and losses|
|Total casualties unknown, many Chinese civilians killed in Ili||Total casualties unknown; heavy losses among Russian settlers fighting for the East Turkestan Republic|
The Ili Rebellion (simplified Chinese: 伊宁事变; traditional Chinese: 伊寧事變; pinyin: Yīníng shìbiàn) was a Soviet-backed revolt against the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China in 1944. Following the rebellion, the rebels established the Provisional Government of Second East Turkestan Republic in 1944. The Ili Rebellion was the start of the Three Districts Revolution (simplified Chinese: 三区革命; traditional Chinese: 三區革命; pinyin: Sān qū gémìng) which lasted from 1944 to 1949.
The Soviet Union installed Sheng Shicai as its puppet ruler in Xinjiang in the 1934 Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang and later further entrenched its position in the Islamic rebellion in Xinjiang (1937). Soviet Red Army forces were stationed in Xinjiang oases, such as the Soviet "Eighth Regiment" in Hami, and Soviet technicians and engineers flooded the province. During World War II the Kuomintang government of the Republic of China sought to undermine the Soviet presence in Xinjiang and retake the province from Soviet control. The Kuomintang worked with the Hui Muslim Ma Clique warlord of Qinghai, Gen. Ma Bufang, to build up its military forces around Xinjiang and increase the pressure on Sheng Shicai and the Soviets.
In 1942 Sheng Shicai switched his allegiance to the Kuomintang after major Soviet defeats at the hands of the Germans in World War II; all Soviet Red Army military forces and technicians residing in the province were expelled, and the Republic of China National Revolutionary Army units and soldiers belonging to Ma Bufang moved into Xinjiang to take control of the province. Ma Bufang helped the Kuomintang build roadways linking Qinghai and Xinjiang, which helped both of them bring Xinjiang under their influence. In 1944 the Soviets took advantage of discontent among the Turkic peoples of the Ili region in northern Xinjiang to support a rebellion against Kuomintang rule in the province in order to reassert Soviet influence in the region.
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 Chinese Kuomintang rule in Ili. The pro-Soviet Uyghur who later became leader of the revolt, Ehmetjan Qasim, was Soviet-educated and described as "Stalin's man" and as a "Communist-minded progressive".
Liu Bin-Di was a Hui Muslim Kuomintang (KMT) officer sent by officials in Ürümqi to subdue the Hi area and crush the Turkic Muslims, who were prepared to overthrow Chinese rule. His mission failed because his troops arrived too late. Several Turkic cavalry units armed by the Soviets crossed into China in the direction of Kuldja. In November 1944 Liu was killed by Turkic Uyghur and Kazakh rebels backed by the Soviet Union. This started the Ili Rebellion, with the Uyghur Ili rebel army fighting against Republic of China forces.
The rebels assaulted Kulja on 7 November 1944 and rapidly took over parts of the city, massacring KMT troops. However, the rebels encountered fierce resistance from KMT forces holed up in the power and central police stations and did not take them until the 13th. The creation of the "East Turkestan Republic" (ETR) was declared on the 15th. The Soviet Army assisted the Ili Uyghur army in capturing several towns and airbases. Non-communist Russians like White Russians and Russian settlers who had lived in Xinjiang since the 19th century also helped the Soviet Red Army and the Ili Army rebels. They suffered heavy losses. Many leaders of the East Turkestan Republic were Soviet agents or affiliated with the Soviet Union, like Abdulkerim Abbas, Ishaq Beg, Saifuddin Azizi and the White Russians F. Leskin, A. Polinov and Glimkin. When the rebels ran into trouble taking the vital Airambek airfield from the Chinese, Soviet military forces directly intervened to help mortar Airambek and reduce the Chinese stronghold.
The rebels engaged in massacres of Han Chinese civilians, especially targeting people affiliated with the KMT and Sheng Shicai. In the "Kulja Declaration" issued on 5 January 1945, the East Turkestan Republic proclaimed that it would "sweep away the Han Chinese", threatening to extract a "blood debt" from the Han. The declaration also declared that the Republic would seek to especially establish cordial ties with the Soviets. The ETR later de-emphasized the anti-Han tone in its official proclamations after they were done massacring most of the Han civilians in their area. The massacres against the Han occurred mostly during 1944-45, with the KMT responding in kind by torturing, killing and mutilating ETR prisoners. In territory controlled by the ETR, like Kulja, various repressive measures were carried out, such as establishing a Soviet-style secret police organization, barring Han from owning weapons and making Russian and Turkic languages official and not Chinese. While the non-Muslim Tungusic peoples like the Xibe played a large role in helping the rebels by supplying them with crops, the local Muslim Tungan (Hui) in Ili gave either an insignificant and negligible contribution to the rebels or did not assist them at all.
Formation of Ili National Army
The Ili National Army (INA), which was established on 8 April 1945 as the military arm of the ETR, was led by the Kirghiz Ishaq Beg and the White Russians Polinov and Leskin; all three were pro-Soviet and had a history of military service with Soviet-associated forces. The Soviets supplied the INA with ammunition and Russian-style uniforms, and Soviet troops directly helped INA troops fight against the Chinese forces. The INA uniforms and flags all had insignia with the Russian acronym for "East Turkestan Republic", VTR in Cyrillic (Vostochnaya Turkestanskaya Respublika). The Soviets admitted their support of the rebels decades later when they transmitted a radio broadcast in Uyghur from Radio Tashkent into Xinjiang on 14 May 1967, boasting of the fact that the Soviets had trained and armed the East Turkestan Republic forces against China. Thousands of Soviet troops assisted Turkic rebels in fighting the Chinese army. In October 1945 suspected Soviet planes attacked Chinese positions.
As the Soviet Red Army and Turkic Uyghur Ili Army advanced with Soviet air support against poorly prepared Chinese forces, they almost succeeded in reaching Ürümqi; however, the Chinese military threw up rings of defenses around the area, sending Chinese Muslim cavalry to halt the advance of the Turkic Muslim rebels. Thousands of Chinese Muslim troops under Gen. Ma Bufang and his nephew Gen. Ma Chengxiang poured into Xinjiang from Qinghai to combat the Soviet and Turkic Uyghur forces.
Much of the Ili army and equipment originated from the Soviet Union. The Ili rebel army pushed the Chinese forces across the plains and reached Kashgar, Kaghlik and Yarkand. However, the Uyghurs in the oases gave no support to the Soviet-backed rebels and, as a result, the Chinese army was able to expel them. The Ili rebels then butchered livestock belonging to Kirghiz and Tajiks of Xinjiang. The Soviet-backed insurgents destroyed Tajik and Kirghiz crops and moved aggressively against the Tajiks and Kirghiz of China. The Chinese beat back the Soviet supported rebellion in Sarikol from August 1945 – 1946, defeating the siege of the "tribesman" around Yarkand when they had rose up in rebellion in Nanchiang around Sarikol, and killing Red Army officers.
The Chinese Muslim Ma Clique warlord of Qinghai, Ma Bufang, was sent with his cavalry to Ürümqi by the Kuomintang in 1945 to protect it from the Uyghur rebels of Ili. In 1945 the Tungan (Hui) 5th and 42nd Cavalry were sent from Qinghai to Xinjiang, where they reinforced the KMT 2nd Army, made up of four divisions. Their combined forces totalled 100,000 Hui and Han troops serving under KMT command in 1945. It was reported the Soviets was eager to "liquidate" Ma Bufang. Gen. Ma Chengxiang, another Hui Ma Clique officer and nephew of Ma Bufang, commanded the First Cavalry Division in Xinjiang under the KMT, which was formerly the Gansu Fifth Cavalry Army. A cease-fire was declared in 1946, with the Second East Turkestan Republic in control of Ili and the Chinese in control of the rest of Xinjiang, including Ürümqi.
The unpopular governor Wu Zhongxin was replaced after the cease-fire with Zhang Zhizhong, who implemented pro-minority policies to placate the Uyghur population. Bai Chongxi, the Defense Minister of China and a Muslim, was considered for appointment in 1947 as Governor of Xinjiang, but the position was given instead to Masud Sabri, a pro-Kuomintang Uyghur who was anti-Soviet. Masud Sabri was close to conservatives in the CC Clique of the Kuomintang and undid all of Zhang Zhizhong's pro-minority reforms, which set off revolts and riots among the Uyghurs in the oases like Turfan.
The Turkic (Uyghurs) were being subjected to Soviet propaganda.
In Ürümqi (Uyghur) Muslim women who married Han Chinese men were assaulted by hordes of (Uyghur) Muslims on July 11, 1947, and the women were seized and kidnapped by the hordes. Old (Uyghur) Muslim men forcibly married the women. In response to the chaos a curfew was placed at 11 p.m.
The marriages between Muslim (Uyghur) women and Han Chinese men infuriated the Uyghur leader Isa Yusuf Alptekin.
Ma Chengxiang, a Kuomintang Chinese Muslim General and the nephew of Ma Bufang, allegedly used his Chinese Muslim cavalry to butcher Uyghurs during an uprising in 1948 in Turfan. Ma Chengxiang was the commander of the 5th Cavalry Unit, which was stationed in Xinjiang.
Over 60,000 soldiers were in the Ili army according to General Sung.
Achmad (Ehmetjan Qasim) was strongly against Masud Sabri becoming Governor.
Ehmetjan Qasim (Achmad-Jan), the Uyghur Ili leader, demanded that Masud Sabri be sacked as governor as one of his demands to agreeing to go to visit Nanjing. All races in the Ili region were forcibly conscripted into the Uyghur Ili army except the Han. The Uyghurs and Soviets massacred Han living in Ili and drove them from the region.
The Salar Muslim Gen. Han Youwen, who served under Ma Bufang, commanded the Pau-an-dui (pacification soldiers), composed of three 340-man battalions. They were composed of men of many groups, including Kazakhs, Mongols and White Russians serving the Chinese regime. He served with Osman Batur and his Kazakh forces in battling the ETR Ili Uyghur and Soviet forces. The ETR forces in the Ashan zone were attacked, defeated, and killed by Osman's Kazakh forces during an offensive in September 1947, supported by the Chinese. Osman's Kazakhs seized most of the towns in the Ashan zone from the ETR. The acting Soviet consul at Chenghua, Dipshatoff, directed the Red Army in aiding ETR Ili forces against Osman's Kazakhs.
The KMT CC Clique employed countermeasures in Xinjiang to prevent the conservative, traditionalist religious Uyghurs in the oases in southern Xinjiang from defecting to the pro-Soviet, pro-Russian ETR Uyghurs in Ili in borthern Xinjiang. The KMT allowed three anti-Soviet, Pan-Turkic nationalist Uyghurs--Masud Sabri, Muhammad Amin Bughra and Isa Yusuf Alptekin—to write and publish pan-Turkic nationalist propaganda in order to incite the Turkic peoples against the Soviets, and the Soviets were greatly angered by this.
Uyghur linguist Ibrahim Muti'i opposed the Second East Turkestan Republic and was against the Ili Rebellion because it was backed by the Soviets and Stalin. Former ETR leader Saifuddin Azizi later apologized to Ibrahim and admitted that his opposition to the East Turkestan Republic was the correct thing to do.
American telegrams reported that the Soviet secret police threatened to assassinate Muslim leaders from Ining and put pressure on them to flee to "inner China" via Tihwa (Ürümqi), White Russians grew fearful of Muslim mobs as they chanted, "We freed ourselves from the yellow men, now we must destroy the white."
The Mongolian People's Republic became involved in a border dispute with the Republic of China, as a result of which a Chinese Muslim Hui cavalry regiment was sent in response by the Chinese government to attack Mongol and Soviet positions. As commander of the First Cavalry Division, Maj. Gen. Han Youwen was sent by the Kuomintang military command to Beitashan with a company of troops to reinforce Ma Xizhen. They arrived approximately three months before the fighting broke out. At Pei-ta-shan, Gen. Youwen was in command of all the Muslim cavalry defending against Soviet and Mongol forces. Han Youwen (Han Yu-wen) said to A. Doak Barnett, an American reporter, "he believed the border should be about 40 miles to the north of the mountains".
Chinese Muslim and Turkic Kazakh forces working for the Chinese Kuomintang fought Soviet Russian and Mongol troops. In June 1947 the Mongols and the Soviets launched an attack against the Kazakhs, driving them back to the Chinese side. However, fighting continued for another year, with 13 clashes taking place between 5 June 1947 and July 1948. Elite Qinghai Chinese Muslim cavalry were sent by the Kuomintang to destroy the Mongols and the Russians in 1947.
Political accession of Xinjiang to Chinese Communist Rule
The conflict ended with the arrival of the Chinese Communists in the region in 1949. On August 19, 1949, Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communists, invited the leaders of the Three Districts to attend the Inaugural Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to be held in Beijing. Mao Zedong telegrammed"You did a great contribution to liberation of Xinjiang and China" On August 22 five leaders of the Three Districts—Ehmetjan Qasimi, Abdulkerim Abbas, Ishaq Beg, Luo Zhi and Delilhan Sugurbayev—boarded a Soviet plane in Almaty and were headed for Chita but were said to have perished in a mysterious plane accident near Lake Baikal. On September 3 three other former ETR leaders, including Saifuddin Azizi, arrived in Beijing by train and agreed to join the People’s Republic of China, which was founded on October 1. The deaths of the other former ETR leaders were not announced until December, after the Chinese Communists' People's Liberation Army (PLA) had control of northern Xinjiang and had reorganized the military forces of the Three Districts into the PLA. Several former ETR commanders joined the PLA.
On September 25 Nationalist leaders in Dihua, Tao Zhiyue and Burhan Shahidi, announced the formal surrender of the Nationalist forces in Xinjiang to the Chinese Communists. On October 12 the Communist People's Liberation Army entered Xinjiang. Many other Kuomintang generals in Xinjiang like the Salar Muslim Gen. Han Youwen joined in the defection to the PLA. They continued to serve in the PLA as officers in Xinjiang. Other Nationalist leaders who refused to submit fled to Taiwan or Turkey. Ma Chengxiang fled via India to Taiwan. Muhammad Amin Bughra and Isa Yusuf Alptekin fled to Turkey. Masud Sabri was arrested by the Chinese Communists and died in prison in 1952.
The only organized resistance the PLA encountered was from Osman Batur's Kazakh militia and from Yulbars Khan's White Russian and Hui troops, who served the Republic of China. Batur pledged his allegiance to the Kuomintang and was killed in 1951. Yulbars Khan battled PLA forces at the Battle of Yiwu and fled through Tibet, evading the harassing forces of the Dalai Lama, and escaped via India to Taiwan to join the Republic of China, which appointed him the governor of Xinjiang Province in exile. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the PRC was established on October 1, 1955, replacing the Xinjiang Province (1884–1955).
Multiple telegrams were exchanged among the Chinese government, the Mongolians, the American government, the Uyghur Ili regime and the Soviet Union. These were preserved by American agents and sent to Washington, DC.
Related events and people
The Soviet Union set up a similar puppet state in Pahlavi dynasty Iran in the form of the Azerbaijan People's Government and Republic of Mahabad The Soviet Union used comparable methods and tactics in both Xinjiang and Iran when they established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad and Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. The American Ambassador to the Soviet Union sent a telegram back to Washington DC in which he said that the situation in Iranian Azerbaijan and in Xinjiang were similar.
In the Xinjiang conflict, the Soviet Union was involved in funding and support the East Turkestan People's Revolutionary Party (ETPRP) to start a separatist 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.
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 1944-46, 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.
There was a split in the East Turkestan Independence Movement, between two branches- one of them pro-Soviet, supported by the Soviet Union- the other was pan-Turkic, Islamist, anti-Soviet and its members were based in Turkey and western countries.
The Soviet Union encouraged former East Turkestan Republic members and Uighurs in general to migrate into the Soviet Union from China and used to broadcast pro-independence separatist propaganda at the Uyghurs which led to the creation of the "Eastern Turkistan People's Revolutionary Party".
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