Xinjiang Conflict


The East Turkestan independence movement is a broad term that refers to advocates of an independent, self-governing East Turkestan in the region now known as Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the People’s Republic of China. Prior to the 20th century, the cities of East Turkestan, hosting Turkic ethnicities such as Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Kazakhs and persophone Tadjiks, held little unified nationalistic identity. Identity in the region was heavily “oasis-based”, that is, identity focused on the city, town and village level. Cross-border contact from Russia, Central Asia, India and China was significant in shaping each oasis’ identity and cultural practices.Under Qing and Republic of China rule, a largely Uyghur, but also multi-ethnic Turkic, based identity began to coalesce. A rebellion against Chinese rule led to the establishment of the short-lived Turkish Islamic Republic of East Turkestan (1933ā€“1934) with secret aids from Soviet Union (Russia took consistent effort to annex Chinese territory since the 17th century). Sheng Shicai (a secret member of the communist party of Soviet Union) came into power after a military coup. He disobeyed the decree and order from the central government but still ruled the region under the name of the Republic of China.

Sheng Shicai lately became anti-Russia when he was aware of Russia’s intent to control his government. He expelled Soviet advisors and executed many Han Communists. Joseph Stalin was very angry with his convert and dispatched troops to invade Xinjiang. The Soviet troops helped the rebellion at Ili during the Chinese civil war. The rebellion lead to the establishment of the Second East Turkistan Republic (1944ā€“1949), which existed in three northern districts (Ili, Tarbaghatai, Altai) of Xinjiang province of the Republic of China. After winning the Chinese civil war in 1949, the People’s Liberation Army reasserted control of East Turkestan, ending its independence.

After the declarations of independence of the constituent republics of the area of West Turkestan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) from the Soviet Union in 1991, calls for the liberation of East Turkestan from China began to surface again from many in the Turkic population.