Identification. The Uighur, a Central Asian ethnic group of the former Soviet Union, are a distinct ethnic group, although unlike larger Central Asian nationalities (such as Uzbek, Kazakh, or Kyrgyz), they are not identified with an autonomous republic. In 1921 the Uighur were officially recognized as a Soviet nationality during the All-Uighur Congress in Tashkent. An official Uighur district ( raion ) was established in the Republic of Kazakhstan. Uighur comprise the largest minority in China's Xinjiang Province.
Location. The Uighur reside in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, with a smaller number in Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. The Uighur inhabit two main areas of these Central Asian republics: Semirechie in Kazakhstan and Farghana, a territory shared by Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Semirechie and Farghana exhibit a great range of microclimatic variation. In Semirechie, sandy deserts to the north and northwest are interspersed with meadows and lush forests along the Ili River. Southeastern foothills give way to hardwood forests, then spruce forests and alpine meadows along the slopes of the northern Tianshan and Dzungarian Alatau mountains (south and southeast). In Farghana, landscapes vary from desert and oasis to foothills and high mountains with glaciers. Climate tends toward dry and continental, and temperatures vary according to elevation.
Demography. The Uighur, with a population of 210,602 in 1979 (up from 173,276 in 1970), were one of the smaller Soviet Central Asian nationalities. In China, however, with a population of approximately 7 million, the Uighur are the predominant Central Asian nationality. According to 1990 estimates, the Uighur population in the former USSR rose to approximately 300,000 (with about 200,000 in Kazakhstan).
In earlier decades (1925 to 1959), the Uighur population actually declined (108,570 to 95,208). This phenomenon resulted from the assimilation of many Uighur in Uzbekistan into the Uzbek nationality, an ethnic group with a similar language and culture. In 1970, 23,942 the Uighur resided in Uzbekstan, 120,881 in Kazakhstan, and 24,872 in Kirghizia, with 3,581 in Tadzhikistan and Turkmenia combined. Although the majority of the Uighur population lives in rural villages, over 50,000 Uighur reside in urban areas (Alma-Ata, 29,618; Frunze, 11,548; and Tashkent, 9,353) (1970 figures).
Linguistic Affiliation. The Uighur language has been classified as belonging to the Southeastern or Eastern ("Turki") Subgroup of Turkic languages. The northern dialect has come to represent the official Soviet Uighur language. The transliteration of Uighur was changed from modified Arabic script to romanization in 1928, but as of 1947, Soviet Uighur has been written in the Cyrillic script.