East Turkistan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China, lies in the very heart of Asia. Situated along the fabled ancient Silk Road, it has been a prominent centertur of commerce for more than 2,000 years. The land of East Turkistan gave birth to many great civilizations and at various points in history has been a cradle of scholarship, culture and power.
The current territorial size of East Turkistan is 1.82 million square kilometers. The neighboring Chinese province annexed part of the territory as a result of the Chinese communist invasion of 1949.
East Turkistan borders China and Mongolia to the east, Russia to the north, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the west, and Tibet to the south.
East Turkistan has a rich history and a diverse geography. It has grand deserts, magnificent mountains, and beautiful rivers, grasslands and forests.
The Manchu Invasion
The independent Uyghur Kingdom in East Turkistan — the Seyyid Kingdom, also known as Yarkent Kingdom — was invaded by the Manchu rulers of China in 1759 who annexed East Turkistan into their empire. The Manchus ruled East Turkistan as a military colony from 1759 to 1862. During this period, the Uyghurs and other peoples of East Turkistan valiantly opposed the foreign rule in their land. They revolted 42 times against Manchu rule with the purpose of regaining their independence. The Manchu were finally expelled in 1864 and Uyghurs established Yetteshahar State. However, the independence was short lived, Manchus invaded East Turkistan again in 1876. After eight years of bloody war, the Manchu Empire formally annexed East Turkistan into its territories and renamed it “Xinjiang” (meaning “New Territory”) on November 18, 1884.
Chinese Rule in East Turkistan
After the Chinese Nationalists overthrew the Manchu Empire in 1911, East Turkistan fell under the rule of warlords of Chinese ethnicity who came to dominate provincial administration in the later years of the Manchu Empire. The Chinese central government had little control over East Turkistan during this period. The Uyghurs, who wanted to free themselves from foreign domination, staged numerous uprisings against Chinese rule, and twice (in 1933 and in 1944) succeeded in setting up an independent East Turkistan Republic (ETR). However, these independent republics were overthrown by the military intervention and political intrigue of the Soviet Union.
In October of 1949, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops marched into East Turkistan, effectively ending the ETR. The Chinese communists established the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the territory of East Turkistan.
The Chinese communist reign in East Turkistan can be considered the darkest chapter in the history of the Uyghurs and East Turkistan. Under the current conditions, the very existence of the Uyghur nation is under threat. The Chinese communist government has been carrying out a vicious campaign against Uyghurs and other indigenous people of East Turkistan in order to permanently annex the lands of East Turkistan.
Despite all the brutal and destructive campaigns by the Chinese government against their identity and existence, the Uyghurs and other indigenous peoples of East Turkistan refuse to be subjugated by China and keep carrying the torch of resistance against Chinese occupation, handed down to them by their ancestors.
East Turkistan is the homeland of the Turkic speaking Uyghurs and other Central Asian peoples such as Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars and Tajiks.
According to latest Chinese census of 2010, the current population of East Turkistan is 21.81 million, including 8.75 million ethnic Han Chinese (40,1%), who illegally settled in East Turkistan after 1949 (the ethnic Han Chinese numbered 200,000 in 1949). The Uyghurs make up at least 11 million of the population, although the 2002 census listed their number as around 10.2 million and still constitute the majority of East Turkistan. However, the composition of the population shifts more and more in favor of the Han Chinese, turning the Uyghurs into strangers in their own land. However, Uyghur sources put the real population of Uyghurs around 20 million.
East Turkistan is located beyond the logical boundary of China, the Great Wall. Historically and culturally, East Turkistan is part of Central Asia, not of China. The people of East Turkistan are not Chinese; they are Turks of Central Asia.
Records show that the Uyghurs have a history of more than 4,000 years in East Turkistan.
Throughout the history, independent states established by the ancestors of the Uyghurs and other indigenous peoples thrived and prospered in the lands of East tTurkistan. Situated along a section of the legendary Silk Road, Uyghurs played an important role in cultural exchanges between East and West and developed a unique culture and civilization of their own.
In their early history, the Uyghurs, like most of the other Turkic peoples of Central Asia, believed in Shamanism, Manichaeism and Buddhism. Starting from the 1st century AD and until the arrival of Islam, East Turkistan became one of the great centers of Buddhist civilization.
The conversion to Islam began when contacts between Uyghurs and Muslims started at the beginning of the 9th century. During the reign of the Karahanidin kings, the Islamization of Uyghur society accelerated. Kashgar, the capital of the Karahadin Kingdom, quickly became one of the major learning centers of Islam. The arts, sciences, music and literature flourished as Islamic religious institutions nurtured the pursuit of an advanced culture. In this period, hundreds of world-renowned Uyghur scholars emerged. Thousands of valuable books were written. Among these works, the Uyghur scholar Yusup Has Hajip’s book, Kutadku Bilig (The knowledge for Happiness, 1069-1070) and Mahmud Kashgar’s Divan-I Lugat-it Turk (a dictionary of Turk language) are most influential.
East Turkistan covers an area of 1.82 million square kilometers, which is twice as large as the Republic of Turkey or four times as large as the American state of California. More than 43 percent of this area is covered by deserts and another 40 percent is covered by mountain ranges.
This huge land is charcterized mainly by two basins bounded by three mountain ranges. The two basins are the Tarim Basin in the south, which measures 530,000 square kilometers, and the Junggar Basin in the north, which covers an area of 304,200 square kilometers. The Tarim Basin contains one of the largest deserts in the world — the Taklamakan desert. The Junggar basin contains the Kurbantunggut desert.
Tengritagh mountain range (Heavenly mountain) crosses the central part of East Turkistan, dividing the country into south and north. Within East Turkistan, the Tengritagh mountain range is 1,700 kilometers long and 250-300 kilometers wide. Altay mountain range in the north forms the border of East Turkistan with Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan. Its section within East Turkistan is 400 kilometers long. The Kunlun mountain in the south forms the the border between East Turkistan and Tibet.
The most important rivers are the Tarim River (2,137 km long), traversing almost the whole length of the southern part of East Turkistan and emptzing into the desert; the Ili River flows west to Kazakhstan and into Lake Balqash; the Irtish River flows northwest out of East Turkistan and into the Arctic Ocean; the Karashaar River flows east from central Tengritagh into Lake Baghrash; the Konche River, starting from the Baghrash lake, originally flowed into Lopnur Lake, but now disappears in the desert long before reaching the lake.
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