Who Are the Uighurs? A Contested History
The history of the Uighurs is so hotly contested that everything from the name of the land to the spelling of "Uighur" is up for grabs. The Chinese government says this resource-rich territory has been an "inseparable" part of China for more than 2,000 years. But many Uighurs have a fiercely different view of history, seeing the Chinese government as invaders and their home as occupied land.
for "Uighur": An Encyclopedic Account
Encyclopedia.com has compiled this account of Uighur history,
pre- and post-Communist rule.
White Papers: History and Development of Xinjiang
Beijing's Information Office presents the government's
history of Xinjiang (short for the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous
Region) in this 55-page white paper from May 2003, found
posted on a China Information site. It maintains that
Uighur separatists "fabricated" an independent nation
and that investment from Beijing has boosted living standards
in the region.
The East Turkistan Information Center traces the roots
of Uighur independence going back 2,000 years. This pro-independence
organization, which is now based in Germany, rejects the
name Xinjiang (which literally means "new territory"),
instead calling the region "East Turkistan" or "Uyghuristan"
(also often spelled "East Turkestan" and "Uighuristan,"
depending on the source). The site traces the history
of the region, provides archives and photographs, and
documents reports of human rights abuses.
Orkon Uighur Empire
The first records of the Uighurs date back to the seventh
century. Originally a loose federation of nomadic tribes,
the Uighurs seized power from the Gok Turks around 744,
establishing a Uighur empire that stretched across Central
Asia. This site includes photos and information. Note
that it is written and maintained by members who volunteer
historical information as part of an online community
For more than 500 years, Xinjiang was a key stop on one
of the world's longest trade routes -- the Silk Road.
The Asia Society maps the route of the ancient highway.
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Westward Ho: China's Next Frontier
In 1999, China launched a Go West campaign to develop its vast and sparsely populated western regions. The campaign has radically transformed Xinjiang, filling its arid landscape with pipelines and skyscrapers. But the most radical change to the area has been the change in population. A flood of Han transplants has overtaken the region, threatening to permanently turn the Uighurs into a minority.
Moves Toward Another West: Central Asia"
In this front page New York Times piece, Howard
French explains how China's westward expansion fits into
Beijing's broader bid for power in Central Asia. As French
reports, it's a power bid that may be as much about economics
as it is about politics. [Note that registration and archive
fee may be required to view this article.]
Free Asia: The Battle for Oil
China's western frontier offers something that's sorely
missing in the country's economically developed east --
energy. A third of the nation's crude oil reserves and
gas are located in Xinjiang, along with 40 percent of
the nation's coal. The region is also a pathway to the
oil reserves of Central Asia, to which China is increasingly
turning for its energy needs. Radio Free Asia, a broadcast
funded by the U.S. government, examines how China's hunt
for energy is fueling its westward expansion.
Analyzing China's Energy Market
APERC (Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre), the energy
research arm of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation),
provides a comprehensive overview of China's energy market,
including a forecast of where China will go next in order
to meet its surging energy needs. [Note: This link is a PDF; requires Adobe Acrobat.]
"On the Road in China: The Far West, Journey's End"
NPR's Rob Gifford ends a 3,000-mile road trip across China
at a bowling alley in Urumqi. He reports on how an emerging
middle class is transforming the region and changing life
for China's Muslim minorities.
New York Times:
The New York Times' Joshua Kurlantzick visits the bazaars of modern-day Urumqi for a look at how the new Silk Road is bringing change to Xinjiang.
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Separatists or Terrorists?
Uighur separatists are nothing new in northwestern China. Uighur riots, armed uprisings and bombings date back to the 18th century. After 9/11, however, Beijing's shifted its view of the separatists, describing them as "terrorists" with ties to international groups like al Qaeda. Uighur militants have surfaced on battlefields in Chechnya and Afghanistan. But it's unclear how deep the fraternity is between China's Muslim minority and Muslim militants.
Christian Science Monitor:
Roots of a Race Riot
Underlying separatist sentiments in Xinjiang is a growing
friction between the newly arrived Han Chinese and the
native Uighurs. During the 1990s, tensions between the
two groups boiled over into riots. The Christian Science
Monitor's Robert Marquand dissects one major riot
to try to get to the root of the interethnic strife. To
find this article, search the archives for "Roots of a
Race Riot in China's Wild West" (July 18, 2001). (Registration
may be required).
"China Launches 'Suppression' Campaign in Xinjiang"
Before there was a "war on terror," China had a different
name for the crackdown on Uighur separatists. It was called
the Strike Hard campaign. Part of a nationwide "anticrime"
initiative, the Strike Hard campaign resulted in widespread
arrests and even executions of political dissidents. CNN
reports on the campaign.
"China Issues Terrorist List"
In December 2003, following in the footsteps of the United
States, China issued its first list of wanted terrorists,
appealing for international help in the hunt for 11 Uighurs
who are on the list.
Wall Street Journal:
The Bounds of Uighur Nationalism
The Wall Street Journal talks to one of China's
most-wanted -- a Uighur who admits he was trained in an
al Qaeda camp. Alongside the most militant Uighurs, David
Cloud and Ian Johnson find nonviolent dissidents channeling
their discontent across the airwaves of Radio Free Asia.
This article looks at how China assesses threats to national
security. To find this article, search the archives for
"Uighur Nationalism Tests the Boundaries of Security,
Tolerance" (August 3, 2004). [Registration may be required.]
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U.S.-China Partnership in the "War on Terror"
In the wake of 9/11, the United States struck up an uneasy new security partnership with China. Beijing agreed to back the U.S. "war on terror," and in exchange, Washington offered a tacit endorsement of the Chinese government's fight against the Uighurs. The alliance is starting to fray, however, with the United States growing increasingly critical of China's policies toward the Uighurs.
Angeles Times: "U.S.
Decision to Add Group Pleases China"
In August 2002, the United States added a Uighur separatist
group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, to its official
list of terrorist organizations. The United Nations quickly
of America: "China Protests Establishment of Uighur Government-in-Exile
China protested to U.S. officials after a Uighur lobbying group established a "government-in-exile" in Washington, D.C. The group's announcement, which was not endorsed by the Bush administration, was made at the U.S. Capitol building.
The China-Pakistan Military Exercises
Beijing has gone beyond Washington for help in reining
in its rebellious northwestern region. In August 2004,
China and Pakistan held three days of joint military exercises
in Xinjiang. Colin Mackerras, professor of Asian studies,
argues that the exercises were designed as a show of force
to keep Uighur separatists in line.
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Strike Hard: The Uighur Crackdown
The Chinese government intensified its crackdown against Uighur separatists in the 1990s, a decade marked by bloody street clashes, riots and a surge in pro-independence activism. Although many groups advocated nonviolence, some turned to more militant methods, launching a string of attacks that included bombings of buses in Urumqi. The government's response has been its Strike Hard campaign. Human rights groups say the government has arrested thousands. Although Beijing defends its crackdown on the grounds of security, critics say the government is using its campaign as an excuse to silence political opposition.
Rights Watch: Background on Xinjiang
Human Rights Watch provides a general overview of human
rights abuses in Xinjiang. The site also includes profiles
of the major Uighur independence groups.
International: 2004 Report
Amnesty International takes a critical view of China's
"war on terrorism" in a 2004 report on Uighur persecution.
The report argues that China has embraced the rhetoric
of terrorism as a way of repackaging its war against the
the Uighurs: Cultural Genocide
Human rights concerns aren't limited to political expression
in Xinjiang. Many Uighur activists charge the government
with launching a systematic campaign to destroy Uighur
culture by, among other policies, discouraging religious
dress and banning the Uighur language from universities.
On a Turkey-based Web site devoted to "solidarity" with "East Turkestan," Professor Timur Kocaoglu outlines why he thinks the government's campaign amounts to a policy of cultural genocide.
Human Rights Project
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is a Washington-based
group, funded by the U.S. government, that bills itself
as an impartial research organization. The UHRP site presents
thorough summaries of various human rights issues, including
religious persecution, the plight of refugees, lists of
political prisoners, and economic and cultural assimilation.
Taklamakan Human Rights Organization
The International Taklamakan Human Rights Organization, which refers to Xianjiang as "East Turkestan," runs several mailing lists. The site also maintains a newsletter in cooperation with people from Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and Tibet. Taklamakan is affiliated with the Washington-based Uighur American Association, which has been strongly critical of the Chinese government.
Official National Minority Policy
The official policy of the People's Republic of China
toward Uighurs and other national minorities is outlined
in this white paper.
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