Uyghurs of Xinjiang
By A. G. Moore 3/24/2014
The Main Uyghur Mosque in Yining, 1882
By Henry Lansdell in Russian Central Asia: Including Kuldja, Bokhara, Khova and Merv
Public domain, Wikimedia Commons
“Chinese out of Xinjiang”; “Independence for Xinjiang”; “Cut off the railroad from China proper to Xinjiang”. Posters with these slogans were discovered in 1985 at Xinjiang University in Urumqi, Xinjiang. The posters were indications of a growing sentiment among indigenous Uyghurs: the immigration of Chinese Han is a threat to the ethnic and culture identity of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang.
That the posters zeroed in on the railroad is not surprising; it is the railroad that carries trainloads of Han Chinese to Xinjiang--so many Han, in fact, that Uyghurs are fast becoming a minority in their own land. Ethnic Han, as a percentage of the population, have grown from under 7% in 1950 to about 40% today. The indigenous Uyghurs realize that, at this rate--a virtual demographic colonization--Han Chinese will soon be a majority in Xinjiang and Uyghur culture will be eclipsed.
Uyghurs are a Turkic people whose roots in Xinjiang reach back some 4000 years. At least, that's what Uyghur scholars and most Western historians believe. However, the Chinese have a different view. They offer an alternate narrative for Uyghur origins, one that does not support this strong indigenous link to the area.
to Dr. Sean Roberts, of George Washington University,
modern Uyghur opposition to Chinese rule may be traced to around
1750, when the Qing Emperor conquered Uyghur lands, an area that lay
along the Silk Road. Since the time of this
conquest, Uyghurs have periodically fought for their independence and
at times have achieved it. However, after the defeat of the Kuomintang in
1949, Mao Zedong sent his army to assert control over Xinjiang's
Uyghur population. Since then, the notion of Uyghur sovereignty has
been vigorously repressed
Xinjiang is important to China not only because of its size--about four times as large as California--but also because the territory is rich in resources.
Mao began transporting Han Chinese into Xinjiang, to exploit natural resources and also to cement a hold on the area. The organization that facilitated the settlement of the Han was (and still is) the XPCC, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp.
According to Remi Castets, of the Center for International Studies (CERI, Paris), Uyghur resistance to Chinese control, though evident in the 50s, 60s and 70s, intensified in recent decades. This has been in response to a conspicuous and widening gap between the opportunities enjoyed by indigenous Uyghurs and those enjoyed by immigrant Hans. As these disparities provoked Uyghur resentment, the central Chinese government doubled down on efforts to suppress expressions of Uyghur religious and ethnic identity.
Gardner Bovingden reports in his book, The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land, that in the 1990s the Chinese government began to demolish mosques and close private religious schools. This suppression of religious institutions strengthened Uyghur resolve. It also drove many in the independence movement to seek support from Islamic groups outside of China. These groups have generally been the only significant external sources of support open to the Uyghurs because China has pressured other countries to reject Uyghur refugees and to offer no assistance.
is the international isolation of Uyghurs that first caught my
Some years ago I read about a group of prisoners at Gitmo who had been transferred from a prison in Afghanistan. These men, 22 in all, were Uyghurs. It turned out that though they had been identified as enemy combatants, they were not. They were apparently innocent of the charge; the U. S. government was eager to release these exonerated individuals. However, there was no place for the men to go.
They could not be repatriated to Xinjiang, where certain persecution awaited at the hands of the Chinese government. Other countries were not inclined to take them because of China's strong protests. And transfer to the U.S. was impossible because the U. S. Congress blocked this move.
for years, the Uyghur detainees stayed at Gitmo. Eventually each of
the 22 was sent to a place that welcomed him, a place that the detainee
found acceptable. Transfer of the last Uyghur detainee was completed
in December of 20013.
As the drama of the Gitmo Uyghurs progressed, periodic reports of Uyghur resistance to Chinese control surfaced. China, especially after 9/11, characterized these actions as terrorism instigated by outside agents. Jonathan Kaiman, writing in the Guardian, explained recently, "The default position of the government has always been to blame foreigners and never admit that ethnic relations in China might have serious problems".
Because China blames outside agitators for Uyghur resistance, it refuses to address the issues that have exacerbated Uyghur discontent: increasing marginalization in their own land. Han Chinese not only occupy most positions of power and enjoy markedly superior economic status, but their children are being groomed to enter the upper echelons of economic and political life in Xinjiang. Uyghur children lack access to good education and are hampered by linguistic barriers. Remi Castets states, "the poor educational access, even more than linguistic handicaps and sometimes discriminatory job recruitment" insure that future generations of Xinjiang Uyghurs will be consigned to "the lowest rungs of society".
Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have cited China for its abuse of the Uyghur minority community. Increasingly, Uyghur grievances are receiving international notice--this despite the fact that China has placed an embargo on diplomatic discussions of Uyghur concerns. But the chorus grows for just treatment of the Uyghur people. With this blog I add my voice to that chorus.
Crimea's Trail of TearsBy A. G. Moore 3/10/2014
A Few Words on the Russian Occupation of Crimea:
As conversations about Crimea and the will of its people continue, some historical context might illuminate the discussion. If it is true that the majority of those who live in Crimea favor alliance with Russia, this is not by chance. It is the result of carefully engineered demographics. The present composition of Crimea was achieved at no small cost to its original inhabitants, the Tatars. Over the centuries, Tsarist and Soviet expulsion of Tatars effectively "cleansed" Crimea of non-Russian peoples.
Russian domination of Crimea began with Catherine the Great, who annexed the peninsula in 1783. There has never been a doubt about the strategic importance of Crimea--not only to Russia, but to Turkey and Europe as a whole.
Catherine understood that mere possession of this land did not insure lasting control; she therefore set about removing the area's Turkic residents. At the same time, she induced immigration from the Ukraine and Russia. Thus Catherine ensured a more Russia-inclined populace.
While Catherine's actions enhanced Russia's relationship with Crimea, coveted control of the Black Sea remained an unrealized goal. In 1853 the opportunity arose to secure that prize when religious differences with Ottoman Turkey flared. A war was fought; Russia won. However, the victory was short-lived. France and England joined forces with the Ottomans and together these allies waged war against Russia. Thus began the conflict known today as the Crimean War.
After three years of fighting, with a total death toll estimated as high as 750,000, Russia relinquished control of the Black Sea, which was then open to all.
The Tsar turned once again to secure his hold on Crimea by "cleansing" the peninsula of its Tatar residents. Many of these fled to Ottoman Turkey. Many were killed.
Though Russia lost control of the Black Sea after the Crimean War and even sacrificed its Black Sea fleet to keep the ships out of enemy hands, one valuable asset was gained from this war: a legend. The Siege of Sevastopol, which lasted 11 months and left the coast city in charred ruins, became iconic in the Russian imagination. Perched on the southern tip of the Crimean peninsula, Sevastopol was fixed as a symbol of Russian heroism.
Flash forward to Russia under Stalin. Nationalist sentiment, which had been rising among Crimean Tatars, was crushed; Tatar leaders were "purged" and aggressive Russification of the peninsula was instituted. Repressive though these measures surely were, they were benign in comparison to what was to follow.
In 1944 Stalin charged all Tatars in Crimea with treason. The Tatar population was deported en masse. Some analysts estimate that as many as 40% of those transported eventually perished either on their journey or in gulags.
After 1944 the Crimean peninsula was truly Russified. Not only had the Tatars been expelled, but the city of Sevastopol had once again undergone a brutal siege, this time by the Nazis. The iconic standing of the Black Sea port was indelibly seared into the Russian psyche.
Tatars who survived the 1944 expulsion were not allowed to return to the Crimea until the 1990's. Today, Tatars represent a small minority of the total Crimean population.
it is reported that Crimeans identify more closely with Russia then
they do with Ukraine, it may help to remember the history of the
Tatars and to recall how they came to be a minority in their own
land. It may also help to recall the way that Russia has fought to
gain and keep control of the strategic peninsula.
When Nikita Kruschev "gave" Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, many in the Soviet Union found the gesture perplexing because of perceived historic ties of the peninsula to Russia. Although Ukraine became independent in 1991, a treaty was signed in '97 that allowed the Russian fleet to be stationed in Stevastopol. The term of this lease was later extended to 2042.
Nothing in Russia' past and current actions suggests that its hold on Stevastopol--and all of Crimea--will be relaxed before, or even after that date.