Face Music - History: Horsemen – Nomads
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P & C December 1998
- Face Music / Albi

- last update 03-2016

  • Uyghur - Uighur people
    - 4th/5th to 14th century after Christ

- map Sketch: Uyghurs and Uyghurs 2

The Uyghur people developed in the 4th / 5th centuries out of a merger of earlier Turkic-Mongolian groups; the Uyghurs initially settled in the Orkhon and Selenge valleys. There they were surrounded by the Sekiz Oghuz in the East and the Dokuz Oghuz in the North and North-West. Their first noted leader was Ay Uzhru (ruled 487-508 AD); he was leader of the Yaghlaqar clan, which ruled over the nine tribes and was related to the old Xiongnu emperors Aschina. Under the reign of Begchi (ruled 537-41 AD) in 541 AD, also the Uyghurs fell under the supremacy of the Ruanruan (Juan-Juan). In 541 546/50 AD the leader of the Göktürks, Bumin / Tuman forcefully integrated the Uyghurs into his realm. In 605 AD the empire of the Orkhon Uyghurs was founded, with Shigan-Sygin formally declaring his independence of the Göktürks. But already in 681 AD their leader Toghuch was again subjugated by the Göktürks, and the Orkhon Uyghurs re-entered the empire unity. Under the leadership of Iltimis-Kutlug Bilg-Kül they revolted again in 744/5 AD against the Göktürks, and in the course of a number of local conflicts, they developed a new empire in today’s Mongolia (745-840 AD). In this empire, they were the ruling class, dominating neighbouring and closely related groups like the Basmyls, Karluks, Türgesh, Oghuz, Tatars, Khitan and the Kyrgyz, or they forced them into emigration upon resistance. There are records of farming activities and several cities as far as Tanna-Tuwa. Finally the Uyghurs were the leaders of nine tribes belonging to the Eastern Turkic tribes. The Uyghurs had established Char balgas (also known as Kara Balgasun or Karabalgasun) as their centre of power and influence. Their language was Uyghurian, which is nowadays transcribed (which is supported by the Chinese People’s Republic) with the Arabia-Persian script. The majority of the Uyghurs belongs to Sunni Islam. Already under Iltemis’ sons (Bilge-Kül [ruled 747-59 AD] and Tengri [ruled 759-79 AD.]) the empire was separated according to old traditions. The capital of the Eastern half was the Mongolian Char balgas, situated at the Eastern shores of the Orkhon. The capital of the Western empire was Tofar. Especially under Bilge-Kül the young Uyghur empire reached its climax. His role as mercenary for the Tang dynasty which was already shattered by the An-Lushan revolt – province in Southern China, Jiangxi – was the reason why Tengri came to China in 762 AD and, together with a majority of the aristocracy, converted to Manichaeism (aims at assuming wisdom and knowledge of other religions, churches and traditions). But also the Assyrian church and Buddhism started to spread among the Uyghurs. In this way it became possible for the Uyghurs to expand and enlarge their trade relations with the Christian Occident. They adopted the Syrian-Aramaean script (Uighur alphabet), and in the consequence developed a rather important type of literature. The Uyghurs rather concentrated and focussed on trade and religion than war. It was typical– °ighur but also special for the Uyghur state that the Khagan and also his representative, the schad, belong to the people of the Sogdians. This was the reason why the Uyghurian empire did not seem as dictatorial as all its preceding empires. Parts of the aristocracy, however, did not agree with the politics shown by the Sogdians. And so the aristocracy revolted under the leadership of Tun Baga Tarkhan, and Tarkhan commissioned the murder (779 AD) of his cousin Tengri Khagan when this rejected to strip the Sogdians of their power. Tarkhan then assumed the title of Alp-Kutluq Bilge. Alp-Kutluq oriented his politics towards China, and he had many Christians killed. After Alp-Kutluq’s death (789 AD) the Uyghurs temporarily lost their political influence. Külüg-Bilge (ruled 789/90 AD) was his successor, but already in 790 AD his minor brother Kutlug-Bilge (790/95 AD) was proclaimed leader. The power itself, however, was concentrated in the hands of general Kutlug who, nevertheless, was rather unsuccessful: All his crusades of the year 790 were unsuccessful. In 795 AD Külüg-Bilge died without a successor. General Kutluq then took over the name Ay-Tengride Ülüg-Bulmis Alp-Kutluq Ulugh-Bilge (ruled 795-805 AD) and grasped power. Already in 791/792 AD he was able to annul his defeat of 790AD, conquering several cities and towns in the Tarim Basin and defeating the Tibetans. Ay-Tengride restored the Uyghur empire to its former power, this granting long-lasting power to his successors, Ay-Tengride Kut-Bulmis Külüg-Bilge (ruled 805-08 AD) and Ay-Tengeride Kut-Bulmis Alp-Bilge (ruled 808-21 AD). The successor to the latter one, Kün-Tengride Ülüg-Bulmis Alp-Küchlüg- Bilge (ruled 821-24 AD) expanded the good Chinese-Uyghur relations; these were, however, threatened by the permanent attacks of invading Uyghur hordes into China. China did not thank the Uyghurs for their mercenary services as generously as earlier, Ay-Tengride Kut-Bulmis Alp-Bilge (ruled 824-32 AD) was only granted the modest allowance to trade horses and he was offered a few packs of silk. Finally, this led to the bloody revolt against the leading dynasty, and Alp-ilge was murdered by his most intimate ministers in the year 832 AD. His successor was Ay-Tengeride Kut-Bulmis, Alp-Külüg Bilge (ruled 832-39 AD) was seen as a rather weak leader who was faced by a revolt led by his minister Kürebir in unison with the Scha-t‘o (a tribal federation of three tribes). Alp-Külüg Bilge then committed suicide. A severe winter and internal betrayal decisively harmed the empire in Mongolia in the years 839/40 AD so that it was finally defeated by an attack of the Yenisei Kyrgyz. In 839 AD the Uyghur general and leader Külüg Bagha even had to withdraw to the Uyghur enemies, the Kyrgyz. In 840 AD the 40 tribes of the Kyrgyz people attacked the towns Tofar, Char balgas and Ordu Balyk. This resulted in a bloody war between these two peoples. At this time, the leaders of the Kyrgyz were Uje Khan (died in 847 AD) and Külüg Bagha. In the course of this war, the city Char balgas was completely destroyed by the Kyrgyz.

At the end, the Uyghur empire was completely destroyed and defeated, and its leaders Kichik-Tegin (ruled 839-40 AD) and Ughe-Tegin (ruled 840-46 AD) were killed, with the Kyrgyz becoming their official heirs. After the collapse of the empire, the Uyghurs were expelled by the Kyrgyz into all different directions. The majority of the Uyghurs, however, founded two smaller states in today’s Xinjiang (856 AD) and in today’s province of Gansu. The Uyghurs then finally settled down, merged with their neighbours in an urban culture and rejected a return into the Mongolian steppe areas. The Uyghur state in Gansu was taken over by the Tanguts in 1028-36 AD. The Uyghur state in today’s Xinjiang (centre Beschbalyk, Turfan) from about 1130 AD on was dominated by the Kara Kitai and from 1209 on by the Mongols; in the 14th century it was then completely destroyed and devastated. Nevertheless, its cultural influence (their script, administration structure) on its neighbours has survived until today. The Mongolian people took over their scripts, as they had not had any kind of scripture before; nowadays they call their scripts the “Mongolian script”.

Approximately in the middle of the 13th century AD, Islam became the dominant religion among the Uyghurs of today’s Xinjiang (1252/5 AD, accusation/charge and execution of the Buddhist leader because of his islamophobia).

In the middle of the 18th century, the Uyghurs were subdued by the Manchu, their area of settlement being integrated into the Chinese empire. In the second half of the 19th century, the Kokand warlord Jakub Berg attempted to create a new empire in Kashgar and Chinese Turkestan, respectively, but was not successful. His revolt was not backed by all Turk people, the Chinese Muslims even tried to fight this attempts; and the revolt was finally defeated by the Manchu governmental troops. In the course of this war, some millions of Uyghur and Chinese were killed. In further revolts between 1884 and 1949 as well as rebellions taking place between 1949 and 1972, further hundred thousands of Uyghurs and related tribes are supposed to have been killed. The region was established as “Xinjiang“ (new territory, new land) as the frontier land to Russia and came under its influence. The Uyghurs and the Turk people, however, prefer being denominated “Uyguristan” or “Eastern Turkestan“.

September 2010 – Albi – translated by Hermelinde Steiner – January 2011