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H i s t o r y   o f   t h e   U i g h u r s   i n   B r i e f


The Uighurs is one of the ancient Turkic peoples. They settled on territory of Eastern Turkestan (at present Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of Peoples Republic of China), and of present Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan long time ago. Nowadays the population of the Uighurs is about 8-10 millions. The Uighur language belongs to the Qarluq group of the Turkic languages. There are 3 stages in history of the Uighur language: 

  1. The Ancient stage consisting of 2 periods: the Most Ancient (up to the   5th century AD) and the Ancient (the 6-11th centuries) ones;

  1. The Medieval stage breaking up for 2 periods: the Early Medieval (the     11-14th centuries) and the Medieval (the 14-18 th centuries) ones;

  1. The Modern stage divided into the New (the 18-19th centuries) and the Newest (the 20th centuries) ones.

At various stages of historical evolution the Uighurs created a number of states. The First Uighur Qaghanat was established in Khanghaj in 323. It existed 200 years. The Second Uighur Qaghanat was founded in 523 and existed 80 years. It was destroyed by the Turkic Qaghanat in 603. In 743 the Third Uighur Qaghanat was built on the ashes of the Eastern-Turkic Qaghanat  located on territory of the present Northern Mongolia. It was ruined in struggle with the ancient Khaqases in 840. The Third Uighur Qaghanat was a feudal state with the tribal vestiges. 


However, despite these vestiges, the association of the Uighurs, formation of the Qaghanat, declaration of the Qaghan with hereditary authority are to be considered as a new stage in ethnic and political development of the Uighurs. The important expression of awareness of necessity of ethnic and political unity on the certain development stage was the acceptance of the self-name "the Uighurs". New union resulted in formation of the Qaghanat and in acceptance of common name "the Uighurs" appeared to be a stronger ethnic formation, which should be regarded to as a replacement of the tribal-patrimonial union by the ethnic group and in the aspect of public development - as a replacement of the patrimonial relations by the feudal ones.


In the Third Uighur Qaghanat the various crafts, agriculture and cattle breeding were highly developed. " The monuments and relics prove an originality of the Uighur civilization. Though the material culture of the Uighurs has deep Central Asian roots it was the Uighurs who began seriously to spread settled civilization with construction of large multi-quarter towns and fortresses in the Central Asian steppes." 


The Uighurs already had high culture and written language in the beginning of the 5th century AD. Their script was developed from the Sogdian one. Along with the Sogdian script the Uighurs adopted Manicheism from the West. With accepting of Manicheism in 762 the Uighur society got acquainted closer with painting and other elements of the Sogdian culture. 


After the fall of the Third Uighur Qaghanat in 840 the Uighurs created a state on territory of Eastern Turkestan with the center in town of Turpan. The Uighur state at the feet of Eastern Tian-Shan mountains (the 9-14th centuries) achieved high level of development in all areas. Territory of the state was approximately 500,000 sq.km. Its borders laid to the west of the town of Qoutchar and far to the East of the town of Khami, to the north of Urumchie and in the south at Khotan. In 902-1036 the Uighur Ghanjou state was formed. The Uighur Koutchar Princedom existed in 11-12 centuries. 


The Uighurs practiced Buddhism before they were converted into Islam. 

The culture of Buddhist Qashqar was enriched by influence of Central Asia, Iran, Byzantium and adoptions from Syrian, Sogdian and other cultures of the Asian Middle Ages. 


Albert von Lecoq, a German researcher of Eastern Turkestan in 1909 shared his impressions of excavation of the site of ancient settlement of Turpan dated back to the 7-8th centuries. In Qashqar architecture of that period the archaeologist marks prevalence of the Western Asian traits and partly Indian ones . The German expedition found many manuscripts dated 7-8th centuries. Among them the most numerous were the Tokhar, Persian, Sogdian, Syrian-Nestorian and Indian texts. Ordinary Chinese Tibetan documents were found only on the sixth sheet. 


It is necessary to take into account the original history course of the Turpan oasis after the 3d century. The Chinese or Turkic cultural and political influences were penetrating into this Eastern Qashqar town as favorable conditions enabled to. The town was under the rule of a mixed dynasty of the Uighur-Chinese origin. There was a Chinese colony in the town. Nevertheless, till definite time the Turkic influence appeared poorly (possibly because of immaturity of the Turkic culture). The same, proved by the Lecoq expedition excavations, is possible to say about cultural influence of the Chinese Tang empire which (not without help from the Eastern Turks) created an imperial district Xijou in Turpan town. Other oases were influenced by China and the Turks even to a lesser extent.


The Turkic influence on culture of Qashqar region began to appear in the 9th century when the Western Turks (later led by the Qarakhanid dynasty) overrode towns and oases in the west of Qashqar region. And the Uighurs who came from the Orkhon river regions in 840, strengthened themselves at northern slopes of the Eastern Tian Shan Mountains by moving their capital into Bashbalyq (nearby present Guchen town). The new Uighur state comprised towns of Qumul, Turpan, Qarashar. Turpan under the name Kocho became second capital of the new Uighur state. The west of Qashqar region was the subject to a gradual turn into Islam from the 10th century. The eastern Uighurs accepted Buddhism from the local Indo-European population. 


Uighur culture of Eastern Turkestan (the 10-14th centuries) is a continuation of two traditions: the local Buddhist tradition of Indo-European population in towns-states; and Uighur tradition of Orkhon period. Since the Uighurs of Qashqar region replaced Manicheism with Buddhism and the written languages of the newly come and local Uighurs were similar, the perception of elements of Tokhar and Samanid and earlier Ghandhar population was not an obstacle for the newly come Uighurs.  The process of rooting the Uighurs firmly into a complex of the Buddhist culture of Qashqar region started in the 10th century. 


The epoch of the Uighur Kingdom Kocho in the east and the Qarakhanid khanate in the west of Qashqar region appeared to be the Golden Age for the Buddhist culture of the Uighurs and for Muslim culture of the related Turks in towns of Qashqar, Yarkend, Khotan, Qouchar and Aqsu. 


The originality of historical period of the 10-14th centuries is that as politically so culturally Qashqar region strengthened and expanded the steady relations with Central Asia. Earlier oasis towns-states of Qashqar region were of the same type as the Central Asian communities but during the period part of Qashqar region and part of Central Asia were united within the Qarakhanid state with the center in Balasaghun (Semirechye (Seven River Land)) at first which was moved later into Qashqar. 


Tradition of periodic uniting the Central Asian territories with the Eastern Turkestanian ones in the form of united states and united cultures occurred even brighter during complete process of turning Eastern Turkestan into Islam (15-16th centuries). Thus, for example, the creativity of Alisher Navoyi, his contemporaries, predecessors and followers became, in equal degree, national proud of both cultures of Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan. 


The Uighurs who created a state in town of Turpan, in contrast to previous nomadic coalitions whose population had no stimulus for settling in oases of Eastern Turkestan, already on the Orkhon river were not aliens to agriculture, settled and urban life. After they overrode eastern oases of the Qashqar region the Uighurs gradually began merging all together with local Indo-European population. As a result, the originality of the Eastern Turkestan Buddhist culture was preserved, however this culture "started speaking" new, the Uighur language and became Turkic. The culture was discovered at this stage of transformation by the Chinese ambassador Van Yandhe. In the 10th century he was sent  to re-establish relations with the Uighurs who had moved to the west and had been lost by China long time ago. The Chinese ambassador hardly recognized them. The Kocho Uighurs did not show interest in re-establishing regular relations with China in contrast to their Ghanjou kindred people. Furthermore, in the 11th century the Tanghaut state separated them completely from the Chinese Sung state, which absorbed the Ghanjou Uighurs. 


In the 12th century the Kocho Kingdom and the Qarakhanid Khanate fell in vassalage to part of the Kidans (named later "the Qarakitais") who moved in from the east. However, the Qarakitais themselves were the subject to heavy influence of the Turks and did not intend to break the rules and orders that had been formed in the state organization and cultures of states located in Qashqar region. After it was annexed by the Ghinghis-khan Empire and became its fifth ulus (venue) in the first third of the13th century the Kocho Kingdome had to take the brunt of aggressive campaigns and ruinous taxes upon itself. 


Uighur culture exerted great influence on development of Mongolian culture (script, literature, religious traditions were borrowed wholly or partially from the Uighurs. Educated Uighurs were taking important positions at the Mongolian court). On the contrary, the Muslim Qarakhanid khanate along with other Central Asian states was simply destroyed. 


In the same 13th century the large part of Qashqar region (up to the Turpan town) was included in Central Asian ulus (region) ruled by Chaghatai. Turpan and Qomul oases - strongholds of Buddhism - existed neutrally some time or as "apple of discord" between Chagataid (Chagatai adherent) Khaidu and his Mongolian rival Ugedei. Struggle between them exacerbated to such an extent that almost simultaneously with the foundation of the Mongolian dynasty Yuan in Beijing, the king of Kocho was compelled to move to Gansu forever. 


The 14th century introduced many changes to Eastern Turkestan history. In 1348 part of ulus (region) ruled by Chagatai broken away earlier proclaimed itself the Mogol khanate. New dynasty was founded by Tughuluq Timir-khan. The new state with a semi-nomad life mode occupied territory of Jungariya, Ili region and Semirechye (Seven River Land). It also overrode a significant part of Eastern Turkestan territory, first of all former territory of the Qarakhanid khanate, Muslim part of Qashqar region. In the beginning of the 15th century the Mogols were forced out from territory of present Jungariya by the Western Mongolian tribes of the Oirats (the Jungars). They lost their capital Bashbalyq (which in the 9th century was the first capital of new Uighur state). In 1420 the Mogols finally annexed Turpan. After this it was converted into Islam rapidly. Struggle for Qomul lasted almost one hundred years after events described above.


Size and borders of the Mogol state changed many times. The extent of the state’s consolidation varied also frequently. Thus, during the 15th century from time to time it spread from Qomul to Tashkent, though, on the other hand, the Mogol noble family of Churas actually ruled in Qashqar town independently at the same time. The Mogols fought much Timir (Tomerlan) who once devastated the southwest of Eastern Turkestan, the Oirats, Uzbeks-Sheibanids, the Kyrgyzes, who later carved away from them modern territory of Jungariya. However, after they occupied Qomul the Mogols founded the Mamlakat and Moguliya state which for the first time comprised all territory of Qashqar region. Yarkend became the main and Qashqar - the second (residence of the throne successor) capital of new Mogol khanate. Turpan turned into an important center of the boundary appanage. 

It is easy to trace the heritage of political division of the united Eastern Turkestan Mogol state into two states of Qarakhanid khanate (center) and Kocho (autonomous, almost independent eastern appanage of new Mogol khanate).


In the 16-17th centuries the state organization of the Mogol khanate was similar to one of its contemporary Central Asian feudal states with their appanage system. The role of khan (king), of the city and village estates, of temporal power and of the top Muslim clergy was usually the same as in Central Asia. There was cast of duplication in the state organization of Mogoliya - the khan power had pretensions of the absolute rights, however in all spheres it had to coexist with appanages because the khan army was supplemented with people's volunteer corps and armed forces from appanages. The same duplication existed in administration, finance, etc. 


However, in the 17th century not like in Central Asia, the heads of Muslim religious orders - the Khojas, took the exclusive place in Eastern Turkestan. In the 16th century the khojas appeared in Eastern Turkestan as leaders of two sects of Nakshbandiye Sufi order - so-called the White mountaineers and the Black mountaineers. After taking extremely essential positions in social and political life of country, for their followers were even khans and princes, the khojas soon also obtained informally huge temporal power. Actually any political solution in the Mogol khanate of the 17th century could not be accepted without approval of the khojas.


The two sects constantly were at war with each other. Discords and intestine wars caused by specific appanage state system exacerbated their hostility. During the 17th century the Mogol khans’ power was weakening more and more. It was a matter of time when the khojas would wish to turn their indivisible political influence into the official temporal power. In the beginning of 1680s the White mountaineer Appaq-khoja who was a talented politician, discharged Ismail-khan from authority and actually became the ruler of the state. The rise of the khojas and aggravation of intestine wars in the western part of the Mogol state did not assist in rallying with the Turpan appanage in the east. Its secular governors of the Mogols dynasty did not allow the khojas to seize the authority. However, they succeeded in this by further isolation of their appanage. Gradually weakening Mogol khanate in the 17th century failed to control willfulness of the Kirghiz who settled in mountains and foothills of Eastern Turkestan in the 16th century. Equally with the khojas the bijs increased their pressure on the Mogols. By the end of the 17th century, not without help from the khojas and the bijs, the Jungar-Oirat khans accessed to political control levers in Eastern Turkestan. Their own state was rising from the second third of the 17th century. By the end of the 17th century the Mogol khanate actually became a vassal of the Jungar khanate. The full absorption of it by the Jungars was prevented only by the fact that the opposition groups of Eastern Turkestan leaned on opposition groups of the Oirats. More than half-century (till the middle of the 18th century) two states existed in status of a disparate symbiosis. Turpan independently from the Mogol khans and khojas established specific relations with one of the Oirat camps. The rulers-khojas of different oasis in Eastern Turkestan were periodically replaced till the middle of the 18th century; sometimes either taken hostage into Jungariya or returned back.  


In the middle of the 18th century Qin China took advantage of intestine wars in Jungariya and destroyed the Jungar khanate. The Han feudal lords feared unification of Mongolia by the Oirats (hence, participation of the Han armies in military campaign against and massacre of the Oirats). And the Black Mountaineer khojas of a number of cities feared the White Mountaineer khojas of Qashqar. The both factors played a significant role in defeat of the Oirats. Qin China succeeded in quite fast seizure of Eastern Turkestan in 1759. A year later on territory of devastated Jungariya and enslaved Qashqar region it created the Imperial Xinjiang region ruled by governor-general. The occupation of Eastern Turkestan by Manjur dynasty Qin which ruled in China was possible because the policy and military strategy of the Qins combined revealing weaknesses of their rival, using the weaknesses, dividing a rival and destroying it part by part. Weakened by intestine wars the Eastern Turkestan states failed to resist Chinese policy and fell under despotic oppression of the Manjur feudal lords. 


Decline in economy, and national and social yoke caused national revolts in 1816, 1818, 1827-28, 1830, 1847, 1855, and 1857. These revolts seriously weakened stance of Qin China in Central Asia. The largest revolt was the national liberation movement of the Uighurs and the Dungans in 1864. As a result of the revolt two Uighur states appeared on territory of Eastern Turkestan - Yettishar and the Ili sultanate.


The Russian Tsar government, being afraid of spreading national liberation ideas throughout territory of Semirechye (Seven River Land), brought its military forces into Ili region or Gulja region in 1871. Temporary occupation lasted 10 years. During this time the Qins defeated states of Yettishar and the Dungan khanate. Question about giving up of Ili region to China emerged. According to the Petersburg Agreement of February 12, 1881 Ili region was to be given up to China. Under Article # 3 of the Agreement inhabitants of the region who whished could move into the Russian territory. The rumors about giving up of Ili region to the Qins spread long before the signing the Petersburg Agreement. Considering negatively such outcome, the Uighurs who lived in Ili region in 1875 wrote to the Russian authorities: " If we submit to the Chinese they will not keep us alive. They will put  to death everyone. Therefore we wish to submit to Great Russia ". 


Population of Ili region was afraid of punishment and reprisal for participation in anti-Qin revolts.


According to the Agreement's Article 9 3 many of the Uighurs inhabited Ili region expressed desire to leave their settlements and move to Russia. On the other hand, the Russian government showed interest in settlers who could raise economy of underdeveloped parts of Semirechye region (Seven River Land). The Russian administration representatives noticed that the Uighurs had high culture of land cultivation: "... In the settled emigrants we find colonists for Semirechye (Seven River Land) who are irreplaceable by anyone for perfection of land cultivation and gardening which they used for turning territory in upper reaches of Ili river into a rich country ... Improved by long experience, agriculture and gardening of the Chinese emigrants (the Uighurs) from towns in Western China could be implanted onto our soil and could turn some valleys occupied by the nomads into those granary and fields covered by clover, tobacco, cotton, fruit trees, that represented towns between Ghulja and our border before the revolt (meaning anti-Qin movements)". 


It is necessary to note that the agriculture in this territory was not something new. The matter is that according to the notes by Ch. Valikhanov, this region as well as other parts of Ili valley was inhabited by the gaogyui, the ancestors of the Uighurs in the 6th century and later by the doulou. He marked further: " In Genghis-khan period, certainly, Genghis-khan went to Turkestan town through Ili valley. In Aboulghazi about this year we find these countries by name of Alatava in possession of the Uighur khans". The historical destiny developed so that the agricultural settlements during dissociation of Genghis-khan Empire disappeared. 


However, they were revived in later period. From the middle of the 17th century the Uighurs of Eastern Turkestan set up new farmers settlements in years of the Jungar khanate (1635-1758). After devastating intestine wars the Jungar khans decided to move the Uighurs from southern areas of Eastern Turkestan. By moving the Uighurs, the Jungar khans pursued the purpose of supply of agricultural products. In the Jungar khan Galdan-Tseren's time, agriculture and various crafts reached rather high level. It is possible to judge it by the notes of the Russian ambassadors and merchants who visited the Jungar territories. An interpreter M.Etigirov, who was sent from Siberia in 1729 to the Jungar khan, marked in his diary that near Talkinskij pass " there are the ploughings in possession of the Boukharers (the Uighurs), I saw ploughed fields in valleys of the rivers of Ili and Emel as well as in Tarbagatai cities". The Russian ambassador L.Ugrimov who visited territories of Galdan-Tseren in 1731 and 1732 noticed that ploughed fields in Ili valley at the feet of Talkinskij pass were irrigated through system of ditches. In valley of river of Durbuldjin the land was cultivated by the Uighurs who constructed their houses and settled whole villages. Near the khan camp there was the khan garden. " I was in that garden..., - L.Ugrimov wrote, - we were met by a Bukharer (a Uighur)..., who was in charge for those gardens by the order of the owner. In those gardens, quite many trees were seen. And the size of that garden, for example, would be about three verstas in circle (1 versta = 1, 06 km =3500 feet)... It is surrounded by a fence made from adobe, a sazhen (2.13 m) in height ". According to the notes of L.Ugrimov there were lots of such gardens in Jungariya. They were laid out and cared by the Uighur gardeners but owned by the Jungar khan and feudal nobles. Above-stated notes say about existence of the Uighur settlements in Ili valley long before resettlement of a part of the Uighurs in 1881-83. It is also possible to say this by a routing map of Ch.Valikhanov which he drew during his travel to Ghulja in 1856. On the map he marked such Uighur settlements as Yarkent (Jarkent), Aq Kent, etc. 


The mass development of Semirechye (Seven River Land) by the farmers refers to middle of the 19th century. And it was connected with Russian, Uighur and Dunghan settlers. 


Resettlement of the Uighurs occurred during 1881-1884. A number of settlers accounted up to 50 thousand persons. After moving in Semirechye (Seven River Land), the Uighurs set up town of Yarkent (Jarkent) and about 90 villages, and 4 suburbs in town of Vernyi (Alma-Ata) Nowadays, this is a territory of Kazakhstan. 


The resettlement of a part of the Uighur population in Semirechye (Seven River Land) influenced not only structure and ethnic palette of the region. It caused diverse consequences of economic, social and political, and cultural character. As a matter of fact the resettlement affected not only the Uighurs. To great degree it affected other peoples inhabited Semirechye (Seven River Land) by one way or another, directly or indirectly; and stipulated nature of development of ethno-cultural relations on the territory, and also economic development of various ethnic groups. As a result of this migration the processes of integration of various ethnic groups as carriers of various types of economic and cultural activities, various traditional and household culture took place in the region.


Speaking of adaptation process of the Uighurs in new to them economic, social and political environment, it is necessary to take into consideration that at the moment of their resettlement in Semirechye (Seven River Land) the Uighurs represented deeply generated ethnic and social organism with the complex stereotype developed within centuries, characterized by a combination of rather original features and ethnic attributes. Consequently the first adaptive reaction of migrants was the mutual adaptation of old traditional adaptive mechanisms to new natural, economic and social conditions. Thus, they joined social, economic and political movements of Semirechye (Seven River Land). 


The Uighurs passed a difficult way of their development including loss of their best daughters and sons, and deformation of national culture, etc. 

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