History repeats itself: Chinese state terror and the dismantling of Uyghur neo-Jadidism

Entrepreneurs Ablimit Halis Hajim (left), Abduweli Muqiyit (center) and Nurtay Hajim İskender (right) were pillars of Uyghur national education and central figures in the development of Uyghur civil society. All three have been the targets of the Chinese state's assault on Uyghur society.

 Written by Dilnur Reyhan
 25 June 2020 18:28 GMT

The city of Ghulja is reputed as a center of Uyghur rebellion, and has, in fact, often been a locus of resistance to Chinese power. Capital of the second independent Republic of East Turkestan from 1944 to 1949, Ghulja boasts many legendary heroes, such as Nuzugum, Sadir the Brave and Ghéni the Brave. That is just part of its identity: the city also claims renowned artists and literary figures such as Lutpulla Mutellip, Zunun Qadiri, Tiyipjan Eliov and Zordon Sabir.

Ghulja is located in Ili, an autonomous district bordering Kazakhstan. Ili was colonized for 10 years at the end of the 19th century by Tsarist Russia and has acted as a gateway for Western influences coming through Russian-speaking Central Asia. It is also the cradle of Uyghur Jadidism, a late 19th-century-early 20th-century renaissance movement led by intellectuals and entrepreneurs who aimed to reform Islam and Turkic Muslim societies as part of a broader modernization drive inspired by Western and Ottoman models. This movement of societal and religious reform played a role in the awakening of Uyhgur society and its struggle against Chinese colonialism and religious obscurantism. This gave rise to the first rebellion in the south of the Uyghur lands, which gave birth to the first Turkic Islamic Republic of East Turkestan which lasted from 1933 to 1934.