Who are the Uyghurs?

The Uyghurs are an ethnic group primarily residing in Uyghurstan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of northwest China. Recognized by the Chinese government as the main ethnic group and the titular people of “Xinjiang,” the Uyghurs are native to the region and have a long history and distinctive cultural heritage. Uyghurs speak Uyghur as their language. Uyghurs have an average of approximately 60% European or West Asian (Western Eurasian) ancestry and about 40% East Asian or Siberian ancestry (Eastern Eurasian).  Their culture encompasses the arts, literature, architecture, music, traditional medicine, religious practices, ethnic cuisine, and other traditions.

Uyghur Culture: What does Uyghur culture look like?

As descendants of the ancient Uyghur Khaganate, the Uyghurs have a rich historical legacy known for their contributions to art, literature, and governance. Uyghur culture is a blend of Turkic, Persian, and Islamic influences. It is characterized by captivating aspects such as the melodic 12 Muqam music, dynamic dance forms, collective celebrations like Meshrep, literature, and culinary creations like Laghman, Polo, Samsa-Manta, Toqach, and Etken Chay. Uyghur society embodies a positive outlook on life, a hospitable demeanor towards people of diverse backgrounds, and a reverence for nature, animals, and marginalized communities. Uyghur art and music are renowned for their melodic qualities and intricate craftsmanship, with traditional instruments like the dutar and rawap adding a distinct flavor to their cultural expressions. The Uyghur people hold a significant place in the world’s cultural mosaic due to their heritage, historical significance, and vibrant cultural practices.

Over the course of thousands of years, the Uyghur people have cultivated an adaptable and inclusive approach to coexisting with diverse populations from various backgrounds and cultures. They value honoring and respecting elders and women, with men assuming responsibility for their households and society while also embracing an open-minded and supportive stance towards women’s leadership. Uyghurs prioritize safeguarding marginalized members of their community, promoting mutual assistance, and cherishing an ethos of openness and tolerance towards individuals of different races and religious beliefs.

What language do Uyghurs speak?

The Uyghur people have their own language, known as Uyghur, which belongs to the Karluk branch of the Turkic language family. Uyghur is an official language of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region according to the Chinese constitution. It is widely used in social and official spheres, as well as in print, television, and radio. Other ethnic minorities in the region, such as Kazak, Uzbek, Tatar, and Tajik, also speak Uyghur and use it as a common language. The official Uyghur script in China is a modified Arabic-derived writing system, while Uyghurs in Central Asia use the Uyghur Cyrillic alphabet, and many members of the Uyghur diaspora also use the Uyghur Latin alphabet.

What is the Uyghur population?

There are no exact and universally accepted statistics on the global Uyghur population. In the 2020 Chinese official state census, it was stated that the Uyghur population is 11.6243 million people. However, Uyghurs contest this figure and hold the belief that there is a larger Uyghur population. They argue that the Chinese government intentionally reports lower numbers to manipulate international perception, aiming to justify the effects of their genocidal policies. Uyghurs argue that forced sterilization, imprisonment, and killings within the camps and prisons contribute to the diminished numbers, serving as a cover for the elimination of the Uyghur population.

Uyghur Diaspora: Population and Global Distribution of Uyghurs

Uyghurs are dispersed across the globe, forming diaspora communities in various regions. According to estimates by Amnesty International (2020), it is believed that approximately 1-1.6 million Uyghurs reside outside of China. These communities are found in different parts of the world, including Central Asia (1 million), Pakistan (200,000), Turkey (100,000), Europe (50,000), North America (30,000), Saudi Arabia (50,000), and Japan (5,000).

In their new locations, Uyghurs are dedicated to preserving their cultural heritage and language. They actively establish Uyghur language schools in different parts of the world as a means of promoting and nurturing their language and cultural traditions.

Religion: What Do Uyghurs Believe?

It is highly likely that the next Uyghur generation will be non-religious. Uyghur Beliefs: Islam and the Impact of China’s Anti-Religious Campaign

Most Uyghurs follow Islam, but some are Uyghur Christians. However, China’s extensive anti-religious campaign since 2016 has had significant effects. Uyghurs have been forced to give up their religious beliefs and publicly reject their faith. Islam has been banned, limiting religious activities and knowledge. People in the region are not allowed to have religious experiences, which affects the younger generation’s connection to their religious, cultural, and historical background. It’s important to understand that when Uyghurs are called Muslims, it generally refers to their beliefs before the campaign started. Uyghurs are currently under Chinese control, and future generations will face suppression of their religious practices.

What do you know about Uyghur Music:

Uyghur music is a vibrant and diverse musical tradition originating with the Uyghur people. It is characterized by its unique blend of Central Asian, Turkic, Persian, and Islamic influences. Uyghur music encompasses a wide range of genres, styles, and instruments, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Uyghur people.

Vocal music holds a prominent place in Uyghur musical traditions. It includes various forms such as narrative songs, folk songs, love songs, and religious hymns. Uyghur folk songs often convey themes of love, nature, and daily life, while narrative songs often tell stories or recount historical events.

Instrumental music is also highly valued in Uyghur music. Traditional Uyghur instruments include the dutar (a two-stringed long-necked lute), rawap (a plucked fretted instrument), tambur (a long-necked fretted lute), and dap (a frame drum). These instruments are used to perform instrumental compositions, improvisations, and accompany vocal performances.

Uyghur music has undergone influences and adaptations over time, including the incorporation of modern elements and styles. Contemporary Uyghur music incorporates Western instruments, contemporary pop styles, and electronic music, resulting in a fusion of traditional and modern sounds. Uyghur music is not only a form of entertainment but also plays a significant role in cultural and social gatherings, celebrations, and religious ceremonies. It serves as a means of cultural expression, identity, and preservation of Uyghur heritage.

12 Muqam:

The “Twelve Muqam” is a traditional musical repertoire and cultural heritage of the Uyghur people. It is a complex and comprehensive musical system that encompasses a collection of songs, instrumental music, dances, and oral narratives. The Twelve Muqam has deep historical roots and has been passed down through generations.

Do Uyghurs need independence?

Yes, Uyghurs in the diaspora, under the leadership of Uyghur advocacy groups, have expressed their desire for an independent state called “East Turkistan.” Many also prefer to refer to it as Uyghurstan, in line with other independent Central Asian states that share Turkic heritage with the Uyghur people.

Where is Uyghurstan, aka Xinjiang?

A Land of Significance: An Oil-Rich and Strategically Important Region with Historical Importance

Uyghurstan, also known as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is the largest province-level division of China in terms of area and the 8th-largest country subdivision in the world. It spans over 1.6 million square kilometers (620,000 sq mi) and has a population of approximately 25 million inhabitants. Xinjiang shares borders with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The region is characterized by the rugged Karakoram, Kunlun, and Tian Shan mountain ranges, which dominate its borders, as well as its western and southern regions. The Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract regions, both under Chinese administration, are also claimed by India. Xinjiang also shares borders with the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as the provinces of Gansu and Qinghai. Historically, the famous Silk Road traversed this territory from the east to its northwest border. The major Uyghur cities in the region include Urumchi, the capital, and Kashgar, an ancient capital and cultural hub for the Uyghur community.

What are the major Uyghur holidays?

Uyghurs celebrate several significant holidays, including:

  1. Eid al-Fitr: This is a joyous celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Uyghurs join Muslims around the world in observing this holiday, which includes communal prayers, feasting, and spending time with family and friends.
  2. Eid al-Adha: Also known as the Festival of Sacrifice, this holiday commemorates the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. It involves the sacrifice of an animal, typically a sheep, and the distribution of the meat to family, friends, and those in need.

In addition to these Islamic holidays, Uyghurs also commemorate specific events and days of historical and cultural significance, such as:

  1. Uyghur Day-Uyghur Doppa Cultural Festival: Since May 5, 2009, Uyghurs worldwide have celebrated this festival as the only ethnic and nationalist holiday dedicated to promoting Uyghur identity. It involves cultural events, traditional music and dance performances, exhibitions, and the wearing of traditional Uyghur clothing, including the distinctive Uyghur doppa (cap).
  2. Commemoration of Past Events: Uyghurs in the diaspora hold events or raise national flags to remember significant historical events such as the establishment of the two short-lived East Turkistan Republics and the tragic incidents of the July 5th Urumqi Massacre in 2009 and the Ghulja Massacre of February 5th, 1997.

These holidays and commemorations play an essential role in Uyghur culture, providing occasions for religious observance, cultural expression, and the reinforcement of their identity as a distinct ethnic group.

What are the major Uyghur organizations?

There are several major Uyghur organizations that work to represent the interests and rights of the Uyghur people. These include:

  1. World Uyghur Congress (WUC) (Germany): The World Uyghur Congress is an international organization based in Germany that advocates for the collective interests of the Uyghur people. Its primary goals include promoting human rights, democracy, and freedom for Uyghurs worldwide.
  2. Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) (USA): The Uyghur Human Rights Project, based in the United States, focuses on research and advocacy related to human rights violations against Uyghurs. They conduct research, publish reports, and provide information to policymakers and the public to raise awareness about the plight of Uyghurs.
  3. Uyghur American Association (UAA): The Uyghur American Association is an advocacy organization based in the United States. It works to raise awareness about the human rights situation in East Turkestan and advocates for the rights of Uyghurs.
  4. Campaign for Uyghurs (CFU): The Campaign for Uyghurs is an advocacy organization that raises awareness, mobilizes action, and advocates for Uyghur human rights. They engage in public campaigns, lobbying efforts, and media outreach to support the Uyghur cause.
  5. International Union of East Turkistan Organizations (IUETO) (Turkey): The International Union of East Turkistan Organizations is an umbrella institution based in Turkey. It represents non-governmental organizations in the Uyghur diaspora and works collectively to advocate for the rights and aspirations of East Turkistan. Their joint efforts aim to carry out a global East Turkistan advocacy campaign.
  6. East Turkistan Government in Exile: The East Turkistan Government in Exile is a parliamentary-based exile government headquartered in Washington, D.C. It was established by Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other peoples from East Turkistan. The government claims to represent East Turkistan and its people on the international stage, advocating for their rights and interests.
  7. Republican Ethno-cultural Center of Uighurs of Kazakhstan: The Republican Ethno-cultural Center of Uighurs of Kazakhstan is an organization based in Kazakhstan. It focuses on promoting and preserving the Uighur ethnic and cultural heritage within the country.

These organizations play crucial roles in raising awareness about Uyghur issues, advocating for human rights, and representing the Uyghur people’s interests on the international stage.

Who are the most famous Uyghurs in the diaspora?

Some of the most famous Uyghurs in the diaspora include:

  1. Ilham Tohti
  2. Rebiya Kadeer
  3. Dolqun Isa
  4. Nury Turkel
  5. Rushan Abbas
  6. Wuerkaishi
  7. Omer Kanat
  8. Salih Hudayar
  9. Tahir Imin
  10. Rahima Mahmut

Most prominent imprisoned Uyghur intellectuals:

  1. Arslan Abdulla
  2. Azat Sultan
  3. Abduqadir Jalalidin
  4. Yalqun Rozi
  5. Perhat Tursun
  6. Rahila Dawut

The most well-known political figures in China are:

  1. Erkin Tuniyaz
  2. Nur Bekri
  3. Shohrat Zakir

Well-known artists:

  1. Dilraba Dilmurat
  2. Abdulla Abdurehim
  3. Dilber Yunus
  4. Erkin Abdulla
  5. Abudrehim Heyit

Uyghur Times

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By Erkin, Dec 24, 2023 According to a news report by Xin Hua News Agency, a Chinese state media outlet, “The first session of the 14th National People’s Congress of the autonomous region held its third plenary session on the morning of January 18, and elected Dilshat Sayim as president […]
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