Uyghur, a Central Asian Turkic language, stands as a linguistic testament to the rich cultural tapestry of its speakers. According to the Chinese Main Data of the Seventh National Population Census, Uyghur is spoken by 11,624,257 Uyghurs within China, with a notable diaspora of 1-1.5 million extending mainly across Central Asia. This language serves as a key identifier for a community spread across diverse geographical locations.
The heart of the Uyghur population lies in Xinjiang, a region with historical significance often referred to as East Turkistan, Turkestan, Uyghuristan, or Chinese Turkistan. This area, like Tibet, is theoretically autonomous, implying a degree of self-governance. However, in reality, both regions face substantial constraints imposed by the central government, a circumstance that has contributed to the ongoing discourse surrounding autonomy and cultural preservation.
Xinjiang's strategic importance is underscored by its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, coupled with its geographic proximity to Central Asia and Europe, making it a pivotal trade link according to Beijing's perspective. As among the oldest Turkic-speaking peoples of Central Asia, the Uyghurs trace their roots back to the 3rd century AD, with a historical footprint including the establishment of a kingdom in the 8th century. Over time, they have navigated periods of independence. However, this importance has also been a source of contention, leading to historical episodes such as the Uyghurs briefly declaring independence in the early 20th century, only to be fully absorbed into China's Communist government in 1949.
Linguistically, Uyghur belongs to the Turkic language family, specifically the Karluk (Southeastern) branch, sharing affinities with modern Uzbek. Characterized by agglutination and vowel harmony, Modern Uyghur exhibits distinctive features like vowel raising and lowering. Its written form utilizes a modified Arabic script, adding to the complexity and richness of its linguistic heritage.
Within Xinjiang, officially designated as the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), approximately 12 million Uyghurs, predominantly Muslim, navigate a delicate balance of preserving their unique language and culture. Despite being culturally and ethnically aligned with Central Asian nations, Uyghurs constitute less than half of Xinjiang's population, a demographic landscape that has undergone transformation due to a reported orchestrated migration of Han Chinese, China's ethnic majority.
To delve deeper into the multifaceted dimensions of Uyghur history, culture, and the contemporary challenges faced by the community, the following reading list offers a diverse array of perspectives:
The diverse collection of these works offers a comprehensive understanding of the Uyghur community, addressing historical, cultural, and contemporary issues from various perspectives, making it an invaluable resource for academic exploration.