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Concise History of the Uyghur

The Uyghurs are the native people of Uyghur Region in Central Asia, also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in China.


Chinese sources indicate that the Uyghurs are the direct descendents of the Huns.The Huns are the forefathers of the Turkic people.

Ancient Greek, Iranian and Chinese sources placed the Uyghurs with their tribes and sub-tribes in the vast area between the west banks of the Yellow River in the east, Uyghur Region in the west, and in the Mongolian steppe in the northeast as early as 300 B.C

After 210 B.C. the Uyghurs played important roles in Hun (220 B.C.-386 A.D.),Tabgach (386-534 A.D.) and Kok Turk (552-744 A.D.) Turkic empires, which were established in Central Asia

After the fall of the Kok Turk Empire in Central Asia, the Uyghurs established their first state in Mongolia in 744, with the city Karabalgasun, on the banks of the Orkhun River, as its capital.
The founder of this Uyghur Empire was Kutluk Bilge Kul Khan. In 747 his son Moyunchur, a powerful leader who subdued other Turkic clans, succeeded him

After the the Kirghiz replaced the Uyghurs in Mongolia in AD 840, the Uyghurs fled to Kansu province, south and north of Khan Tengri (Tianshan Mountains) and established three separate Uyghur kingdoms. The Kanchou (Ganzhou) Uyghur Kingdom is one of the three kingdoms and would be the place where the Yellow Uyghurs stay. The Uyghurs living in the southern part of Khan Tengri, established the Karakhanid Uyghur Kingdom in 840 with the support of other Turkic clans like the Karluks, Turgish and the Basmils, with Kashgar as its capital. The Uyghurs living in the northern part of Khan Tengri (Tianshan Mountains) in Uyghur Region established the Karakhoja Uyghur Kingdom (Qocho) near the present day city of Turfan (Turpan), in 846. In AD 924, the Mongol Khitans defeated the Kirghiz. In AD 932, the Turkic Qarakhanid Dynasty was established, with its initial center in Kashgar. In mid-10th cent, the Qarakhanids and Uyghurs converted from Buddhism to Islam under Satuq Bughra Khan (d.955): In 934, during the rule of Satuk Bughra Khan, the Karakhanids embraced Islam. Thus, in the territory of Uyghur Region two Uyghur kingdoms were set up: the Karakhanid, who were Muslims, and the Karakhojas, who were Buddhists

In mid-11th cent, the Qarakhanid Empire split into two: one ruling over Western Turkestan (Transoxiana), the other over Uyghur Region (the Tarim Basin).
In 1124, the Tungusic Juchen drove the Mongol Khitans (Liao Dynasty: 916-1124) from China, resulting in the creation of the Qarakhitai State in Semirechye. In 1137, the Qarakhitai defeated the Qarakhanids (now vassals of the Seljuqs) at Khojent and in 1140/41 defeated the Seljuq Sultan Sanjar at the Battle of the Qatwan Steppe, thus gaining power in Transoxiana. In 1194, the death of Tüghril III, the last Persian Seljuq ruler, resulted in the end of Seljuq power in Iran and the rise of the Turkic Khwarezmians in Transoxiana. In 1206, Chingiz Khan became khan of the Mongols. In 1209, the Mongols defeated the Kirghiz of the Yenisei, forcing them to flee south to the Tien Shan Mountains. In 1209, the Uyghurs, under Barchuq, submitted to Mongol rule.

In 1218, the Mongols captured Semirechye and the Tarim Basin, occupying Kashgar. In 1218, the execution of Mongol envoys by the Khwarezmian Shah Muhammad set in motion the first Mongol westward thrust. In 1219, the Mongols crossed the Jaxartes River (Syr Darya) and began their invasion of Transoxiana. In 1220, the Mongols captured Bukhara and Samarkand, defeating the Khwarezmians. In 1221, the Mongol conquest of Khurasan and Afghanistan
In 1397, the Islamic and Buddhist Uyghur Kingdoms merged into one state and maintained their relative independence until 1759.

The Manchus invaded the Uyghur Kingdom of Uyghur Region in 1759 and dominated it until 1862. During this period the Uyghurs revolted 42 times against the Manchu rule with the purpose of regaining their independence. In the last revolt of 1863, the Uyghurs were successful in expelling the Manchus from their motherland, and founded an independent kingdom in 1864. The kingdom was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia, and Great Britain. But for fear of Tsarist expansion into Uyghur Region, Great Britain persuaded the Manchu court to conquer Uyghur Region.
The British Banks granted the money for the Manchu invasion. Large forces under the overall command of General Zuo Zong Tang (Tso Tsung-t'ang ), attacked Uyghur Region in 1876. After this invasion, Uyghur Region was given the name Xinjiang which means "new territory" or "New Dominion" and it was annexed into the territory of the Manchu empire on November 18,1884.
Twice, in 1933 and 1944, the Uyghurs were successful in setting up an independent Eastern Turkestan Republic. But these independent republics were overthrown by the military intervention and political intrigues of the Soviet Union. It was in fact the Soviet Union that proved deterrent to the Uyghur independence movement during this period.

1949 the Chinese Communists defeated Nationalist Chinese. After that, Uyghurs came under Chinese Communist rule

How were they

The Uyghurs are known as educated people, they worked in chanceries and embassies of different states, and they were teachers, military officers, and ambassadors in Rome, Istanbul, and Bagdad, scholars in Tebriz. There are hundreds of famous Uyghur scholars and the Uyghur literature is vast. Some of Uyghur books have been translated into different western languages.
The Uyghurs had been printing their books for hundreds years before Gutenberg invented his printing press. In the 11th century the Uyghur s accepted the Arabic alphabet.

In the Middle Ages, the Chinese poetry, literature, theatre, music and painting were greatly influenced by the Uyghurs. The Uyghurs manufactured 62 different kinds of musical instruments. The Uyghur cities architecture impressed travellers since ancient times. For instance, Wang Yen De, the Chinese ambassador in the Karakhoja Uyghur Kingdom in 981-984, wrote the following in his memoirs:

“I was impressed with the extensive civilization I have found in the Uyghur Kingdom. The beauty of the temples, monasteries, wall paintings, statues, towers, gardens, housings and the palaces built throughout the kingdom cannot be described. The Uyghurs skilfully make things of silver and gold, vases and pitchers. Some say that God has infused this talent into these people only.”

This Uyghur power, prestige and civilization, which dominated the Central Asia for over a thousand years, went into a steep decline since the last two centuries

Who said what
Albert Gruenwedel:
(Along the Ancient Silk Routes: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York April 3 - June 20, 1982)
"Turfan(Turpan) is without doubt a forgotten Asian city of extraordinary interest. The size of it is remarkable: the inner, holy city, consisting only of temples and palace, measures 7,400 feet at the widest point of the still extant walls. Hundreds of terraced temples and grandiose vaulted edifices cover an extensive area of lane."

Fredinnad de Sassure:
"Those who preserved the language and written culture of Central Asia were the Uyghurs." 47

Albert von Lecoq: (Shuyl Unver, Uyghurlarda Tababet, Istanbul 1936. pp. 4,5,6.)
"The Uyghur language and script contributed to the enrichment of civilizations of the other peoples in Central Asia. Compared to the Europeans of that time, the Uyghurs were far more advanced. Documents discovered in Uyghur Region prove that an Uigur farmer could write down a contract, using legal terminology. How many European farmers could have done that at that period ? This shows the extent of Uyghur civilization of that time." 48

Lazlo Rasonyi: (Lazlo Rasonyi, Tarihte Turkuk, Ankara 1971, pp. 105, 107)
"The Uyghurs knew how to print books centuries before Guetenberg invented his press." 49

Wolfram Eberhard: (Wolfram Eberhard, Cin Tarihi, Istanbul 1947, p. 116)
"In Middle Ages, the Chinese poetry, literature, theater, music and painting were greatly influenced by the Uyghurs." 50

G. Sadvakasov, (Uyghur Edebiyatining Kiska Tarihi, Almaty, 1983, p. 7.)
Russian scholar Pantusov writes that the Uyghurs manufactured their own musical instruments; they had 62 different kinds of musical instruments and in every Uyghur home there used to be an instrument called a "dutar". 51


The development of civilisation in the East and West, long assumed to be independent, is once again up for discussion following the publication of Elizabeth Barber's The Mummies of Urumchi. These mummies were found in 1978 in the arid Uyghur desert of Turkestan, and date back 3000 years; their existence was kept secret by the Chinese government of the time because of its reluctance to admit the potential western influence implied by the bodies, which are tall, fair-haired and quasi-Caucasian. More shocking still was that their woollen plaid clothing resembles Celtic textiles in both design and manufacture; warp-weighted looms, known to originate from the Middle East and Europe, must have been used. Found with them were wagons, tools and other evidence of a fairly advanced community. Were they a trading settlement and what were they doing in such an unfriendly environment? [Guardian. 25-1-99]

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