Memtili Tewpiq (front row, middle) is one of the leading Uyghur intellectuals and educators in the early 20th century.
He was killed by the lackeys of the Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai in Kashgar in May 1937.
By Abdurehim Gheni Uyghur
May 30th, 2022 marks the 85th anniversary of the untimely death of Memtili Tewpiq, a modern Uyghur educationalist, poet, and compositor. He was burnt to his death in arson in 1937.
I mourn for this great Uyghur scholar with all due respect.
He was born in Buyamet village, Atush. His father was a well-known Uyghur traditional physician, and his family attached high importance to his modern scientific education. He lived during the time of widespread oppression as Sheng Shicai., a local militarist, had banned Uyghurs’ education.
Memtili’s father sent the eight-year-old Memtili to the only modern science school in the area. With the help of his tutor, He developed a keen interest in science and an advanced view of the world.
After his school graduation in 1920-1921, he visited Ili, Bortala, and Chochek with his father. There, he met ordinary, uneducated people and realized that the Uyghur people had purposely been deprived of education.
Subsequently, he became determined to make more efforts to make education available to all Uyghurs. Later in life, he wrote many patriotic poems that exposed the brutality of their ruler and awakened the Uyghur nation.
With his increasing popularity, Sheng Shicai saw Mr. Memtili as a threat and planned to send him to prison, as had sent other social figures. His tutor, Mr. Murat, was well aware of Memtili’s potential and helped him flee abroad for further education.
In 1926 Mr. Memtili left East Turkestan for Turkey via Crimea, where he spent two years before eventually fleeing to Turkey in 1928.
While living in Istanbul, Mr. Memtili became a prestigious scholar and connected with other intellectuals. However, he constantly worried about the fate and future of his fellow Uyghurs.
He returned to East Turkestan when he heard that the Qumul Revolution against the Chinese invaders (1931-1934 ) had broken out and spread to all parts of East Turkestan. He confirmed that the time had come to educate the Uyghur people with modern science to be free from oppression and stand up against the brutal regime.
After returning, Mr. Memtili opened twenty-four modern primary schools in twenty-four villages in Atush and initiated an unprecedented educational program.
In 1934, the political climate of East Turkestan changed as Jozef Stalin was assisting Sheng Shicai against the Uyghurs. However, Mahmut Muhiti controlled the city of Kashgar and the surrounding areas. Thus Mr. Memtili could successfully carry out the educational renaissance initiative within Atush from 1935 to 1937.
In 1935, he led hundreds of students in school uniforms and lobbied for the benefits of scientific education in Payziwat, Toqquzaq, Upal, Tashmiliq, Yeghisar, and Kashgar. Mahmut Muhiti, the commander of the Uyghur army, supported the initiative.
Mr. Memtili wrote many patriotic poems and dastans (epic oral narratives), such as “Knowledge makes you great”. After Mahmut Muhiti’s departure to India, the political situation of Kashgar became more critical, and vicious oppression began.
Sheng Shicai targeted wealthy and influential social figures and people with progressive political views. As Mr. Memtili determined to educate people with modern science and contributed his everything towards this goal, he was arrested from the classroom while teaching and taken to jail on May 4, 1937.
Jozef Stalin was likely afraid of the educational renaissance in East Turkestan and sent three high-ranking spies there and arranged them in police stations to eradicate all political leaders and gather information about the situation.
They immediately targeted Mr. Memtili. In his prison cell, Mr. Memtili wrote two lines of a poem with his blood on the dungeon wall to express his solid determination and agony. “Every day when my blood boils with indignation, there is a brick to write my sorrow and dissent”.
On May 30, 1937, Kadir Aji, a traitor who worked for Jozef Stalin and Sheng Shicai, set fire to the dungeons that burned more than three hundred people alive, including Mr. Memtili.