Uyghurs are speaking Turkish and are essentially muslims today. They live in Xinjiang or Eastern Turkistan. Initially nomads who used to live in Mongolian steppes, they increasingly settled. Their settlement began in 744 AD as they took control over Mongolia.
After their conquest of Mongolia, Uyghurs converted to manicheism, which developed until the 11th century. Bogu, the third Uyghur hâkan converted to this religion in 744. Nestorian christianism was also influent among the population. Indeed witnesses certified that a bishop’s palace existed in the 14th century. Islam eventually became the main religion of this nation.
For a millenium, the Uyghur Kingdom escaped from the control of the Manchurian Empire. In 1759, the Manchus eventually succeeded in conquering the kingdom. They had occupied this region for 63 years. This period was marked with rebellions. 42 rebellions occured during these 63 years! The latest rebellion finally led to the independance of the kingdom in 1862. Even if the new state was officially reconnoitred by powerful states like United Kingdom, its future was quickly mortgaged.
Thus, the British, who feared a Russian expansion in the area, quickly pressurized on China to invade the country again. An attack was finally launched thanks to British investments in 1876. The Turkistan was integrated to the Chinese Empire in 1884 with the name Xinjiang (meaning New Fronteer).
As the last emperor lost its power in 1911, Uyghurs tried to rise up against the Chinese power again. A rebellion in 1933 was covered in blood by the Soviet Army. The region became finally autonomous in 1944 thanks to the Guomindang’s acceptance.
As the communists got the power in 1949, the region lost its autonomy and the Chinese authorities began to implement the Han colonization. All the rebellions led since then were put down in blood in 1954 but also in 1990, when 7900 were jailed and more than 60 persons died as policement shot on the crowd.
In 1996, because of the increasing violence in the region, Beijing lauched the operation Strike Strong to fight this phenomenon. But the operation mainly touched activists, about 10 000 people were jailed.
In 1997, 30 influent religious chiefs were arrested the day before Ramadan in Guldja (Yining in Chinese). Their arrestation provoked a sit-in of 600 young people in front of the local government’s building. Demonstrators then faced gas and blows from the police. The next day, thousands of people demonstrated again. The police then shot on the crowd, which caused 167 deaths. More than 5000 people were jailed, including children.
Through repression, Beijing’s authorities want to make examples : 7 persons are executed with a bullet in the neck (which is billed to the family). The dead bodies are shown to the public on a truck driving through Guldja to make Uyghurs understand where is their interest. 9 new victims are killed during this exhibition because they were crying for the deceased people and get too close to the truck.
Many Uyghurs organizations exist today and claim for more autonomy, but the information on these organizations mainly comes from the Chinese government and must be taken carefully. Thus Beijing accused The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movment and the Youth of Eastern Turkistan ( which is sometimes called “Xinjiang’s Hamas”) of being terrorist organizations. The UNo and the USA al so consider these two organizations of being terrorist organizations. Some of their members were actually trained in Afghanistan and jailed in Guantanamo.
Beijing is also watching the Comitee for Eastern Turkistan, an organization based in Astana, Kazakhstan, which is accused of causing the current riots in Xinjiang. Many organizations in exile try to lobby on western governments to ask Beijing for more autonomy in the region.
There has been a democratic government in exile, which is led by Anwar Yussuf since 2004.
Thomas PRADO for www.buddhachannel.tv