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Geography of   Eastern Turkistan)

Chinese have come to call the land Xinjiang which means "the new territory" or "the new frontier." It was a name applied in 1884 when the then Chinese Imperial government formally annexed what had for centuries been known as Sharqi Turkistan -- "The Land of the Eastern Turks."

As its traditional name implies, Eastern Turkistan is a Turkic country populated primarily by Muslims who can trace their history back to at least the 7th century. Culturally, linguistically, even economically, Eastern Turkistan is tied far more closely to nations which lie to its north and west than to its current overlord, China.

To meet an Eastern Turkistani is to know instantly that those who live in Sharqi Turkistan are not Chinese. While they suffer under the rule of what can perhaps be seen as the last great empire on Earth, Eastern Turkistanis yearn for the day when they can once again guide the course of their own nation.

                             The Land  Located in Central Asia, 1500 miles from Beijing, Eastern Turkistan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Mongolia to the northeast, and Kirghizstan and Tajikistan to the northwest and west. To the west and southwest lie Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to the south are Tibet and India. To the east lies China.  Eastern Turkistan is a vast land of 640,000 square miles -- one sixth the total of all China. Geographically, it is China's largest province. Mountains ring most of the land. To the north and northeast lie the Altai Mountains. The Tarbagatai Mountains are in the northwest, forming part of the border with the former Soviet Republics. To the south are the Tibetan ranges: the Pamirs, the Karakorams, and the Kunlun Mountains. To the east are the Qilian Mountains which complete the circle.  Only a few natural corridors pierce this wall of moutains. The Gansu corridor links the province to China proper, through the Gobi Desert. While Beijing has sought to strengthen that link, mountain passes to the north and west provide far easier access to the outside world -- a fact which has shaped commerce, culture and history through the centuries.  Still another range of mountains, the Tangri Taghlari, runs east to west across the province forming two basins: the Dzungarian Plain to the north and the much larger Tarim Basin to the south. Each basin has its own desert, but by far the largest desert -- the Taklimakan ---- is to be found in the extremely arid Tarim Basim. It is the largest desert in all China.  The extent of the deserts in Eastern Turkistan is but the most dramatic demonstration of the dryness of the climate. Far from any ocean, Eastern Turkistan receives little rain. Its winters are cold and summers hot. Sandstorms are frequent. But for the rivers, fed by melting snow found on the surrounding mountains, much of Eastern Turksitan would be completely unlivable. Natural Resources

Agriculture in the province depends on irrigation fed by rivers flowing from the mountains and oases. Crops include winter and spring wheat, corn, rice and millet. The province's farmers are a major producer of long-fiber cotton for China; fruit from the region such as the seedless grapes of Turfan, melons of Artush and Peyzawat, and apples of Ghulja are well known. The province is one of China's biggest producers of livestock. Large numbers of sheep, cattle, horses, goats, donkeys, camels, mules and yaks are to be found grazing on the provinces vast natural grasslands.  Potentially of greatest importance is the natural wealth to be found beneath the land -- a fact not lost on China. The province is rich in uranium, platinum, gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and and other precious stones. Iron, lead, copper, silver, suphur, tin, and mica are abundant as well.

Most significantly, Eastern Turkistan has vast and largely untapped deposits of coal and reserves of oil. China estimates that one third of its total coal and oil is to be found within the province. By the year 2000, confirmed oil reserves are expected to reach 6.5 billion tons -- along with billions of cubic meters of natural gas.  According to The Washington Post, "oil in China's Tarim Basin may contain nearly as much crude as Saudi Arabia."  Despite the natural wealth of Eastern Turkistan, the Turkic people of this land remain poor, living in what China itself acknowledges to be one of its poorest provinces. Indeed, according to China's own statistics, 90 percent of the Turkic people live below the nation's poverty line.

 

The People and Their Culture
The indiginous peoples of Eastern Turkistan are mainly Turkic. Uighurs represent the largest population group by far, but about a million Kazakhs and thousands of Kirghiz, Uzbeks, and Tatars are also to be found. A small number of Iranian speaking Tajiks live in eastern Turkistan as well.

Since reasserting control of Eastern Turkistan in 1949 (see below), Beijing has transported millions of Han Chinese to the province.

The population of Eastern Turkistan is unclear. China claims that 16 million people live there, 6 million of them Han. Other sources place the total far higher -- perhaps more than 25 million inhabitants. The overlooked 10 million are, clearly, not Han. While the Han speak Chinese, overwhelmingly the people of Eastern Turkistan speak Turkic languages -- Uighur Turkic, Kazakh Turkic, and so forth -- which are closely linked with one to the other. These and other languages, including Turkic itself, are branches of the ancient Altaic language family. The religion of the province's Turkic majority is Islam, reflecting a conversion that occurred a thousand years ago. The People's Republic of China has sought to suppress the practice of Islam, closing thousands of mosques and religous schools. Every aspect of the life of Eastern Turkistanis is different from that of Chinese: clothing, marriage ceremonies, funerals, sports, music, theater, dancing, and more. While China seeks to gloss over these differences, they are clear to anyone who visits the province.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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