Fox News on September 13, 2015, reported on the Uighurs in East Turkestan (Xinjiang), China. Excerpts below:
The Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) are a Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic group native to China’s far western region of Xinjiang, which was sporadically controlled by Chinese dynasties over the centuries. They have long complained of ethnic discrimination and religious restriction under the Chinese government, which is dominated by members of the Han ethnic group. Several decades of economic development have brought an influx of Han people into the Uighurs’ oil-rich home region. Uighurs have felt marginalized in the region’s economic boom, sparking ethnic tensions that erupted in the late 1990s and then again about a decade later, culminating in rioting that left nearly 200 dead in the regional capital of Urumqi in 2009.
Since 2009, there have been frequent attacks on police stations, military checkpoints and government buildings in Xinjiang. The violence has spilled into other regions with Uighur militants accused of mounting attacks in train stations, markets and even a public square in Beijing. In March 2014, a group of Uighurs — including two women — slashed indiscriminately at crowds at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing 31. In May of 2014, a bomb assault on a market in Urumqi left 43 people dead.
Beijing has long been wary of independence-minded militants in Xinjiang and has kept tight controls over the region. Scholars have argued that China’s stifling policies in the region — including restrictions on beards and veils — have marginalized the Uighurs and fueled militancy. Last year, well-known Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, who had urged Beijing to review its policies in Xinjiang to foster reconciliation, was convicted of inciting separatism and sentenced to life in prison. In response to the 2014 attacks, Beijing launched a one-year crackdown on terror cells in Xinjiang, executing and jailing hundreds of people on terrorism-related charges.
Uighurs have been fleeing China in recent years, often by way of Southeast Asia. Rights advocates say they are escaping repressive rule…
Courts in Xinjiang cities of Hotan, Kashgar and Karamay recently jailed Chinese smugglers who helped Uighurs cross illegally into Vietnam, as well as several Uighurs who unsuccessfully tried to emigrate illegally. While there are large Uighur diasporas in Europe and the United States, Turkey is the destination of choice for most seeking to leave China. Turkey’s government is under intense public pressure to support the Uighurs, leading to tensions in Ankara’s relationship with Beijing.
Comment: The Uighurs feel closer to Central Asian peoples than to the Han Chinese. There were insurrections in the 19th century and from 1865 to 1878 a state, Yettishar, existed. The capital was Kashgar. This state had relations with the Turkish Ottoman Empire. It recognized the state and helped it build up armed forces. An Ottoman protectorate was created in 1874. Pan-Turkism after 1878 continued and during World War I Pan-Turkish ideas were studied in Turkish organized schools in the area. Volunteers arrived from the Ottoman Empire and training courses held for the study of the history of Turkic peoples. Cultural and linguistic unity was stressed. A struggle for liberation was initiated. Later the liberation groups were supported by Japan seeking influence in Central Asia. A Japanese Turan Society was formed in 1918. In 1933 Turkey supported the proclamation of a Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan (TIRET). With Soviet help the Chinese later abolished TIRET.
Pan-Turkism is a serious security challenge to China and the Uighur problem is of geopolitical and geostrategic interest. There is reason for detailed research of the geopolitics of Pan-Turkism in Xinjiang.