Communist China’s Control over East Turkestan
As we have seen, there are many economic reasons why East Turkestan is very important to China. That country's interest in east Turkestan goes back thousands of years and the region has frequently been occupied by China, either fully or in part.
The latest Chinese occupation, that is still in existence today, began in the middle of the 1700s. The civil conflicts in East Turkestan in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries not only damaged popular unity, but also weakened the state itself. At the same time, the Manchus came to power in China and the Manchu dynasty began. Throughout their rule, East Turkestan was run by centrally appointed governors and bureaucrats. In 1911 the Manchu Empire was overthrown and replaced by the Chinese Republic under Sun Yat Sen, the leader of the Kuomintang party, and East Turkestan was totally enslaved.
The cruelty inflicted on the people of East Turkestan by the Kuomintang regime led to a popular uprising and a declaration of independence in 1931. Up until then, the Muslims of East Turkestan, aware of the political realities of the time, avoided any initiatives aimed at securing independence. It was not only China that had its sights set on the region, but Soviet Russia was also waiting for an opportunity to take it over. The people of East Turkestan were aware of this (and of the sufferings the Russians had inflicted on the Muslims of West Turkestan) and for this reason preferred to accept the status quo rather than fall into communist hands. However, the 1931 move towards independence left the Muslims facing the very threat they had feared. China was able to put the movement down only with help from Soviet Russia, and a large part of the region came under Soviet control.
That interesting outcome was the result of a number of developments: China realized that it would be unable to quell the East Turkestan uprising on its own, and signed a secret agreement with Soviet Russia. As a result it acquired weapons and troops from the Russians. Despite this move, however, it still proved impossible to put the uprising down. In 1933, the Red Army invaded East Turkestan by land and defeated the Muslim forces. Following a number of battles in 1934-1937, East Turkestan found itself under de facto Soviet rule. The savagery and oppression inflicted on the peoples of the Soviet republics were now visited on the Muslims of East Turkestan. The Red Army carried out mass killings, tore down mosques, and even raped women.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, the Russians withdrew their forces from East Turkestan. As the nationalist Chinese government was defeated by Mao's communist guerillas in various regions of the country, it fled to Formosa (Taiwan). China fell to the communists, and East Turkestan with it.
Within the course of that process, the people of East Turkestan once more made a bid for independence, and the independent Republic of East Turkestan was declared in 1944, though it only lasted until Mao took control of China in 1949.
The "Red" Age in East Turkestan
The first communist government in the world came to power in Russia. The Muslims of East Turkestan closely followed the developments in West Turkestan (Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Tajik) territories under Soviet domination, with which they shared common borders and historical, religious, ethnic and cultural links. In particular, those such as the late Isa Yusuf Alptekin (who served in West Turkestan and witnessed the communist Russian oppression at first hand), warned both the Chinese government and the Muslims of East Turkestan against the communist menace. It was a common communist tactic to pay lip service to such concepts as equality, social justice and the freedoms of nations until they came to power, at which time things change. Equality would be replaced by the orders of the Politbureau, social justice by exploitation, and freedoms by expulsions, torture, labor camps, and mass executions.
Indeed, those same developments were experienced in East Turkestan. At the 7th Congress in 1945, before coming to power, Mao declared that when the communists did come to power, they would allow different ethnic groups to determine their own futures and establish their own administrations.23As soon as they came to power, however, they ignored those promises and declared:
"For two thousand years Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of an indivisible China; therefore, there would be no sense in dividing China into federated republics; this is a demand hostile to history and socialism…"24
Cruelty and oppression followed. First, the leaders of the Republic of East Turkestan were martyred in a mysterious plane crash on their way to a meeting with Chairman Mao. Later, the Red Chinese government, which regarded East Turkestan as part of its own territory (and was unwilling to let it go) set about ruthlessly martyring the Muslim population. The first war was waged against the Muslims' beliefs. Schools providing religious instruction were closed, religious leaders were arrested, and the majority of them were martyred. Portraits of Mao and Communist Party flags were hung up in mosques, and Muslims were ordered to show them due respect. Some Muslims were arrested and executed on the pretext of being pan-Turkish, others of being pan-Islamic. Another aspect of the repression was forced exile. Many Muslims who were forced off their lands died en route because of the weather conditions. Between 1949 and 1952, 2.8 million East Turkestan Muslims were martyred by various means. The figure was 3.5 million between 1952 and 1957, 6.7 million between 1958 and 1960, and 13.3 million between 1961 and 1965.
As the Muslims were being systematically exterminated, Chinese were brought in to replace them in an attempt to prevent Muslims' rightful claims to their own land. Another method employed by the Mao regime, which wanted to turn East Turkestan into a province of China, was "family planning" by means of forced abortions. This communist brutality, which is still going on today, will be considered in more detail in subsequent chapters of this book.