Uighur - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Unlike Central Asian nomadic and seminomadic groups, the Uighur have lost all sense of tribal and clan association. Social organization and identity among the former Soviet Uighur differ according to regional ties (and, to some extent, class affiliation). The northern Uighur, living in Semirichie, retain a stronger sense of Uighur identity. Intellectuals of this region have promoted ethnic unity with the Uighur across the Chinese border. On the other hand, southern Uighur often identify with a Muslim, Turkic, or Turkistani social group rather than a specifically Uighur one. Such social ties relate to current residence patterns, as well as older affiliations. Whereas southern Uighur have been assimilated to a large extent by the Uzbeks, northern Uighur, living in more isolated groups near the Chinese border, retain a stronger sense of ethnic identity. Such divergence may be influenced by older cleavages as well: southern Uighur were more completely integrated into the Islamic aegis, whereas northern Uighur retained a separate identity (if closely linked to the Chinese and Mongol empires) for a longer period.

Political Organization. Although the Uighur are not identified with a national territory (except for the Uighur National District of Kazakhstan), several official institutions demonstrate evidence of Uighur autonomy. Five newspapers are published, including Kommunizm tughi (Communist Flag), Yengi hayat (New Life), and Bizning watan (Our Homeland). A Uighur linguistic department and Uighur institute were established (1949 and 1969) in the Kazakh Academy of Sciences. The Institute for Uighur Studies was established in Alma-Ata in 1980 as a separate entity. The Uighur are the only nontitular nationality group in Kazakhstan to be granted a special language school.

The evolution of the (former) Soviet Uighur nationality indicates two alternate and sometimes contradictory trajectories, which were promoted at various periods by Soviet policy: merging ( sblizhenie ) and fragmentation. Yet assimilation among Central Asian groups, as with the Uighur with Uzbeks, may precipitate pan-Islamicism or pan-Turkism. Alternately, promoting distinct nationalities, while allowing for a "divide-and-rule" program, may engender ethnic separatism or interethnic conflict.

Social Control. After the Soviet system prevailed, the influence of Sharia (Islamic law) and adat (customary practice) courts were gradually undercut and replaced by Soviet courts. Today, an unofficial system of community coercion operates to sanction social and religious activity, such as persuading young people to participate in Islamic rituals.

Conflict. Modern Uighur history is fraught with border conflict involving both Soviet and Chinese governments. During the period of economic and political turmoil of the Chinese Communist "Great Leap Forward" in the late 1950s and early 1960s, thousands of Uighur fled to the Soviet Union. As Sino-Soviet relations deteriorated in the 1960s, propaganda wars raged on both sides of the border, each attempting to discredit the other's policies while wooing Uighur and Kazakhs. During recent uprisings (1980s-1990s) among Soviet Islamic groups, the Chinese government has become increasingly concerned about the influence of Soviet rebellions on its own Uighur and other Turkic ethnicities. Thus, the Uighur minority, despite its small size, may remain an important consideration, as the former Soviet republics and China carve out policies with respect to ethnic protest and religious or political conflict. The degree of disaffection among Uighur and related Turkic or Islamic groups will also be influenced, to some extent, by the policies of Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Turkey and their relation to the former Soviet Central Asian republics. The Uighur Institute in Alma-Ata is involved in researching moral and political questions that play into conflict within the Middle East as well as the Soviet Union. While eschewing Islamic fundamentalism, it advocates the development of Islamic religious principles among the Uighur.


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