London Uyghur Ensemble

Uyghurche ئۇيغۇرچە
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A brief introduction to Uyghurs & East Turkistan >>

About the Uyghur people

The Uyghur (also spelled Uighur; ئۇيغۇر; Simplified Chinese: 维吾尔; Wéiwú'ěr) are a Turkic people of Central Asia. They are one of China´s 56 officially recognized ethnicities, consisting of 8.68 million people according to the 2004 Chinese census. Throughout the history of Central Asia, they left a lasting imprint on both the culture and tradition.
Total population

8.68 million
(according to 2004 Chinese census; 15 million given in 'official' Xinjiang geography books)

Regions with significant populations
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Other Turkic peoples, ancient Tocharians

Today in China, Uyghurs live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (also known by its controversial name Eastern Turkistan). There are also existing Uyghur communities in Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, and Turkey and a smaller one in Taoyuan County of Hunan province in South-central China.

Historically the term ´Uyghur´ (meaning ´united´ or ´allied´) was applied to a group of Turkic-speaking tribes that lived in the [Altay Mountains. Along with the Gokturks (Kokturks) the Uyghurs were one of the largest and most enduring Turkic peoples living in Central Asia.

The earliest use of the term ´Uyghur´ (Weihu) was during the Northern [Northern Wei Dynasty Wei] Dynasty (386-534 CE), in China. At that time the Uyghur were part of the Gaoche later called Tiele people possibly Turan, a group of Turkic tribes, which also included groups such as Xueyantuo (Syr-Tardush), Basmil (Baximi), Oguz (Wuhu), and Yakut (Guligan) from the Lake Baikal Region. The forebear of the Tiele belonged to those of Hun [Xiongnu] descendants. According to Chinese Turkic scholars Ma Changshou and Cen Zhongmian, the Chinese word Tiele originates from the Turkic Turkler (Turks) which is a plural form of Turk and the word Tujue in Chinese comes from the Turkic word Turkut which is a singular of Turk.[A Historical Collection on the History of the Turks]. (Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1958): 6-7.

Map of the Western (purple) and Eastern (blue) Gokturk khaganates at their height, c. CE 600. Lighter areas show direct rule; darker areas show spheres of influence.

The origin of Gaoche can be traced back to the Dingling peoples c. 200 BCE, contemporary with the Chinese Han Dynasty. Golden, Peter. ´An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples´ (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1992), 94. Sima Qian, Shiji [Records of the Historian] Vol. 110: Xiongnu; and Ban Gu, Han Shu [History of the Han Dynasty], Vol. 94: Xiongnu.[Book of Sui], vol. 84 (c. 600 CE).

The first use of ´Uyghur´ as a political nation occurred during the interim period between the First and Second Gokturk Kaganates (630-684 CE). After the collapse of the Uyghur Empire in 840 CE the Uyghur refugees resettled in the Tarim Basin intermarrying with the local people. It is only after this time that ´Uyghur´ can be properly used as a true ethnic designation.

Modern usage of the Uyghur ethnonym is used to give an ethnic definition to a traditional Central Asian distinction between nomads and settled farmers. It refers to the descendants of settled Turkic urban area [oasis]-dwelling and agricultural populations of Xinjiang as opposed to those Turkic groups that remained nomad ic. It was only after the Communist"liberation" that, in modern history Uyghurs have been called by that name, prior to that they were just called "Tuki" (thus the name Eastern Turkistan). Uyghurs live mainly in Xinjiang, China, where they are the largest ethnic group, together with Han Chinese, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and Russians. "Xinjiang" is the Han Chinese name for the "Autonomous Region" meaning "New Frontier." Uyghurs call their region East Turkistan or Uyghurstan.


             -A brief introduction to Uyghurs & East Turkistan >>

             -Wikipedia: Uyghur people >>

             -Wikipedia: July 2009 Ürümqi riots >>

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