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Taranchis, Kashgaris, and the ‘Uyghur Question’ in Soviet Central Asia

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Up till now, the problem of Uyghur identity construction has been studied from an almost exclusively anthropological perspective. Little Western research has been done on the history of the Uyghur community in the Soviet Union during the period of national delimitation, and the process by which a re-invented ‘Uyghur’ identity was fostered among settled Turkicspeakers of East Turkestani origin. In this paper I have set out to trace some of the key events and debates which formed part of that process. In doing so I provide evidence that challenges certain aspects of the standard account of this period, in particular the role of the 1921 Tashkent conference. In 1921 the term ‘Uyghur’ was not used an ethnic designation, but as an umbrella term for various peoples with family roots in Eastern Turkestan. It was not until several years later that the term took its place beside other ethnonyms in the Soviet Union, provoking debate and opposition in the Soviet Uyghur press. This paper is largely based on the recently republished writings of leading Uyghur activists and journalists from the 1920s, and focuses on the role of the Uyghur Communist Abdulla Rozibaqiev. My paper attempts to demonstrate the importance of basing the study of Uyghur history on Uyghur language sources, rather than Russian or Chinese materials alone.


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