Second East Turkistan Republic (1944-1949)
The second East Republic, officially known as the East Turkistan Republic [Sherqiy Türkistan Jumhuriyiti], was a short-lived state that existed from 1944-1949. It was the second successful attempt by the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan to declare independence and establish a modern state in the 20th century.
The East Turkistan Republic was the primary product of an independence movement led by Uyghur and other Turkic people living in East Turkistan, and multi-ethnic and Turkic in character including Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tatars, and even Mongols in its government and population.
Following the assassination of its leaders in a “plane crash” in August 1949, along with invasion by the then newly established People’s Republic of China (Communist China), the second ETR was overthrown on December 22, 1949. It however, along with the first East Turkistan Republic (1933-1934) serves as a basis and inspiration for the modern Uyghur / Turkic independence movement aiming to re-establish an independent East Turkistan Republic.
Origins of the Second ETR
East Turkistan was governed, with Soviet influence, by the Han Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai between 1934 -1943. Following Uyghur uprisings in 1937, Sheng began a great purge, imprisoning and executing Uyghur and other Turkic leaders, scholars, and anyone he deemed a threat to his power. Among those purged included Uyghur leaders like Khoja Niyaz, who was the Vice Chairman of the region at that time. Under Sheng Shicai’s rule, East Turkistan and its people were subject to brutal repression, similar in many ways to Chen Quanguo’s rule today, and some 200,000 or more Uyghurs and others were arrested and executed during this period.
Kazakhs in Altay under the leadership of Osman Islam (Osman Batur) and Delilqan Sugurbayev rebelled against Sheng’s rule in the Koktokay Rebellion on 1941. By the end of 1941, Sheng’s brutal totalitarian rule of East Turkistan created widespread discontent amongst Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Tatars, and even Mongols living in East Turkistan, and calls for independence were brewing once again.
Although he was initially aligned closely with the Soviet Union, taking advantage of Soviet setbacks in its war with Germany, Sheng began to shift towards the Republic of China (Nationalist China) in Nanjing and expelled all Soviet personnel from the region in 1942.
In April 1942, Isaqbek Munonow, the director of the Society for the Promotion of Kazakh and Kyrgyz Culture, fled to the Soviet Union; around the same period hundreds of other Uyghur, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tatar, and Mongol leaders fled to the Soviet Union as well. The Soviet Union abandoned its policy of supporting Sheng’s regime and shifted towards supporting the Turkic national independence movement that was brewing in East Turkistan.
By mid 1943, the Uyghur and other Turkic peoples had established the East Turkistan National Liberation Organization and began to receive covert support from the Soviets against Sheng Shicai, who by this time had been accepted the Republic of China (Nationalist China)’s authority and was named the head of the Kuomintang in “Xinjiang,” by the Republic of China.
Following the Soviet’s victories against Germany in 1944, Sheng sent a letter to Stalin offering to incorporate East Turkistan ( “Xinjiang”) into the USSR as its 18th Soviet Socialist Republic. Stalin in turn forwarded the letter to Chiang Kai-shek, who removed Sheng from his post and brought him back to Chongqing, China.
Following Sheng’s departure, rebellion began to slowly break out in East Turkistan. In mid-August 1944, Uyghur and Turkic rebels locals formed the “Nilka Guerrillas” group led by Gheni Batur with the goal of securing independence for East Turkistan and succeeded in capturing Nilka County in October 8, 1944.
On November 7, 1944, members of the East Turkistan National Liberation Organization led by Abdulkerim Abbasov attacked the KMT (Republic of China) police headquarters in Ghulja while Uyghur, Kazakh, and other Turkic rebels began to attack the outskirts capturing the city of Ghulja by November 12th as Chinese government forces fled the city.
Creation of the Second ETR
On November 12, 1944, the East Turkistan National Liberation Organization held a large rally at the the Uyghur, Kazakh, & Kyrgyz Club in Ghulja to proclaim East Turkistan’s independence as the East Turkistan Republic. The two main leaders of the East Turkistan National Liberation Organization, Alihan Tore, an ethnic Uzbek, was elected as the President and Abdulkerim Abbasov, an Uyghur, was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs, thus the East Turkistan Republic was officially declared.
Although the founders of the second East Turkistan Republic hadn’t drafted a comprehensive constitution for the newly established Republic prior its declaration of independence, they announced the Nine Political Precepts (Toqquz Maddliq Siyasi Programma), as a precursor to a constitution. Summary of the Nine Political Precepts:
President Alihan Tore fiercely condemned Chinese rule over East Turkistan (what China calls “Xinjiang”) in his speech on November 12, 1944. He called on the Han [Chinese] government to stop creating pseudo history about East Turkistan and he further called on China to “abandon its ambitions for the territory of East Turkistan, and find a way to liberate its own Chinese territories” from the Japanese.
He urged all the people of East Turkistan to “fight in order to liberate the entire nation from tyranny of Chinese rule over the fatherland of East Turkistan,” stating it was not only a civil duty but also a religious duty. On February 24, 1945, the Government Council announced Resolution No. 24, which declared:
The second East Turkistan Republic, like the first ETR, had all aspects of a modern state including a highly organized government with various departments and ministries, a national army, a judicial system, and it even issued currency known as the “East Turkistan Dollar.” It was much more professionalized and solid in comparison to the first East Turkistan Republic.
East Turkistan National Army
On April 8, 1945, the founding of the East Turkistan Republic’s National Army was proclaimed with a large military parade, and the various armed groups scattered across that part of East Turkistan were organized into seven regiments, four independent battalions, and one independent company. General recruitment of all ethnic groups, except for the Chinese, were carried out by the East Turkistan National Army.
At its height in 1946, the East Turkistan National Army had a total of 50,000 active duty troops and some 100,000 reserve troops. A number of departments were established under the East Turkistan National Army Headquarters, including Political Department, War Department, Military Administration Department, Cadre Department, Reconnaissance Department, and a Supply & Logistics Department. The Soviets had also imbedded military advisors into the East Turkistan National Army to help train them and to monitor their movements.
The East Turkistan National Army was armed with mostly German weaponry, along with some Soviet weaponry, and American weaponry captured from the Republic of China. Much of its initial arms were sold to the East Turkistan Republic by the Soviet Union. The East Turkistan National Army’s Artillery Division originally consisted of at least 12 cannons, two armored vehicles, and two tanks. A National Aviation Force was established with forty-two airplanes that the East Turkistan National Army had captured at a Republic of China (Nationalist China) airbase in Ghulja.
By July 1945, the East Turkistan National Army was conducting a three-front-war advancing against Republic of China positions in the rest of East Turkistan. On the Northern Front, the East Turkistan National Army succeeded in liberating the Targabatay and Altay region by September of 1945. On the Central Front, the East Turkistan National Army succeeded in liberating all territories west of the Manas River. On the Southern Front, the East Turkistan National Army crossed the Tengri Tagh (“Tianshan”) mountains and succeeded in liberating much of the Aksu region by September, 1945 and setup a Kashgar Regiment to liberate Kashgar.
After hearing about the East Turkistan National Army’s impending arrival to all of southern East Turkistan, Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples across Kashgar, Yarkent, and other places across East Turkistan began to rebel against Chinese occupation. The East Turkistan Republic was rapidly expanding but that came to halt in October 1945.
The Republic of China (Nationalist China) sent Chinese warlord Ma Fuyang and his Hui (Chinese Muslim) army to reinforce the Republic of China troops and assist them in protecting Urumchi from an impending attack by the East Turkistan National Army. By early September 1945, over 100,000 Han and Hui troops had been deployed to East Turkistan under the command of the KMT (Republic of China).
In September 1945, the East Turkistan National Army captured Manas and made preparations to cross the Manas River in its push eastward towards the main Republic of China stronghold in Urumchi. However, the Soviet military advisors suddenly pressured the ETR’s leadership to stop all of its military campaigns. President Alihan Tore who had been given the nominal rank of “Marshal of the East Turkistan National Army,” tried to reject the Soviet pressure insisting that continuing the military campaigns was necessary to liberate all of East Turkistan and ensure its future survival.
Little did they, the East Turkistan Republic’s leadership, know that the future of their Republic had already been secretly negotiated and decided upon by world powers at the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship signed by the Soviet Union and the Republic of China on August 14, 1945 revealed that the Soviet Union had already decided to sacrifice the East Turkistan Republic for the sake of more important national interests, it not only pledged to cease all aid to the East Turkistan Republic, but also tacitly gave the green light for the Republic of China to suppress the East Turkistan Republic.
Soviets pressured the East Turkistan Republic’s leadership to enter into peace negotiations with the Republic of China. The East Turkistan Republic’s leadership became divided as President Alihan Tore and his supporters in the Government Council fiercely opposed the the idea of a peace negotiation with China. He condemned the peace negotiations as, “An action betraying the interests of the Uyghur people, an action betraying the achievements of the revolution, and an action to court the favor of the Chinese.”
Despite opposition from half of the Government, on October 2, 1945 the East Turkistan Republic issued a resolution responding to the Chinese government’s call for negotiations. The resolution stated that the East Turkistan Republic was willing to negotiate with the Republic of China on the basis that the East Turkistan Republic will continue to seek independence for all of East Turkistan’s territories.
On January 5, 1946, just three days before the “Eleven Articles of Peace” was signed by the delegation led by Ahmetjan Qasimi and the Republic of China, the establishment of the Mongolian People’s Republic (Mongolia) was recognized by the Republic of China. The “Eleven Articles of Peace” called for an extended peace talks and a creation of a coalition government formed by Chinese and other Turkic peoples based on ethnic equality. During the duration of the peace talks, the faction of the East Turkistan Republic led by President Alihan Tore continued to oppose the peace talks and persuaded the Government Council of the East Turkistan Republic to issue a series of resolutions emphasizing the nature of the East Turkistan Republic as an independent state.
Summary of Resolutions passed:
The Decline of the ETR
At the start of the peace talks, the Republic of China (Nationalist China) Government in Chongqing sent General Zhang Zhizong, the Director of the Republic of China’s Military Council, and appointed him as Governor. Along with him came three Uyghurs from Chongqing, Isa Yusuf Aliptekin, Masud Sabri, and Muhammed Emin Bughra, who were working for the Republic of China, with Aliptekin being a member of China’s Parliament, the Legislative Yuan, as a “Representative of Xinjiang Province”. The KMT (Republic of China) employed these “Three Gentleman,”as they became to be known, to attack the East Turkistan Republic and persuade the Uyghur and other Turkic people in East Turkistan to oppose East Turkistan’s independence in favor of autonomy within China. The East Turkistan Republic declared the “Three Gentleman” as “traitors to the people of East Turkistan” and as “puppets of the KMT”, which was using them “to fragment the people’s strength in order to entirely annihilate our lineage.”
The “peace talks” with the Republic of China was accompanied with internal strife between the pro-Soviet faction led by Abdulkerim Abbasov and the traditional faction led by Alihan Tore. The pro-Soviet faction began to slowly push President Alihan Tore aside as the peace talks progressed.
On May 1, 1946, the Soviets proposed a “Final Mediated Plan” that would:
- Reform the East Turkistan National Army and a regiment would be stationed in Urumchi, Kashgar, and Aksu;
- A commander-in-chief with unified command over the reformed National Army troops would be installed, and would serve as the Deputy Commissioner for Military Affairs in the “Xinjiang Provincial Government.”
- The armed forces of the Chinese government would be prohibited from entering the three regions of Ili, Targabatay, and Altay
- The political police force would be disbanded and police organizations for each region would formed by local residents;
- The number of Chinese government forces in East Turkistan (what Beijing calls “Xinjiang”) would be reduced to the levels as of January 1944.
As the East Turkistan delegation and Chinese representatives prepared to sign the “Second Addendum to the Peace Terms,” East Turkistan’s Soviet Advisors started to leave to the Soviet Union. President Alihan Tore and his followers continued to show opposition to the peace talks but failed to stop it. On June 6, 1946 the day which the “Second Addendum to the Peace Terms” was formally signed, President Alihan Tore of the East Turkistan Republic, along with several of his most trusted followers and staff were detained and escorted to Almaty by representatives of the Soviet Consulate. Alihan Tore was subsequently put under house arrest in Tashkent until his death in 1976.
With the signing of the “Second Addendum to the Peace Terms,” the East Turkistan Republic under the new President, Ahmetjan Qasimi, continued to stress East Turkistan’s right to independence. The peace terms called for the downsizing of the military forces of both the East Turkistan Republic and the Republic of China in all territories of East Turkistan (what China calls “Xinjiang”).
The ETR would follow through with the agreement and downsized to roughly 12,000 active troops and withdrew most of its forces from Kashgar, Aksu, and elsewhere and stationed them in the three regions of Illi, Targabatay, and Altay. They were allowed to leave a small peacekeeping contingent in Kashgar and Aksu.
In July 1946, a “Xinjiang Provincial Coalition Government” was setup with various leaders of the ETR taking a double role with Ahmatjan Qasimi taking the role of “Vice Chairman” and Abdulkerim Abbasov taking the role of “Deputy Secretary-General”. As President of the East Turkistan Republic, Ahmatjan Qasimi called for unity and support for the East Turkistan Republic and officially rejected the coalition government and withdrew from it in February 1947.
He had previously led a delegation to the Chinese National Assembly (the Legislative Yuan) in Nanjing to negotiate bi-lateral relations between the East Turkistan Republic and the Republic of China which didn’t prove fruitful.
He explained that the people of East Turkistan had risen in rebellion only to secure their rights guaranteed under the Chinese constitution.
Although the East Turkistan Republic continued to maintain its independence and called for the full liberation of all of East Turkistan from Chinese rule, it wasn’t able to engage in any military campaigns due to economic pressure from the Soviet Union and the Republic of China.
The Fall of the ETR
On July 12, 1947, President Ahmetjan Qasimi and Interior Minister Rahimjan Sabir wrote a letter to the Soviet Consul in Urumchi pleading the Soviet Union and Stalin to protect the interests of East Turkistan and its people. On September 10, 1947 the Soviet Council of Ministers offered four proposals to support the East Turkistan Republic. The proposals included covertly supporting Uyghur rebels in Turpan with military aid, sending immediate military aid to the East Turkistan Republic, and to assist Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples to expand their anti-China partisan movements in Aksu, Kucha, and Kashgar. However, much of the proposal was not followed through.
On April 24, 1948, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union privately held a meeting to announce measures to support the East Turkistan Republic. Some of the measures including giving financial and military aid and sending Uyghurs and other Turkic people, who had left East Turkistan to study in the Soviet Union, back to East Turkistan to help strengthen the administration, economy, and military of the East Turkistan Republic.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union continued to negotiate with Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party over East Turkistan’s status. On February 4, 1949, a meeting between Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party took place. Anastas Mikoyan, the Vice Premier of the Soviet Council of Ministers, met with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Mao raised the issue of “reunifying” Outer Mongolia (independent) and Inner Mongolia (under Chinese control) and incorporating it into his future People’s Republic of China. Mikoyan rejected this proposal, then Mao mentioned about there being a Communist Party in East Turkistan, which Mikoyan stated “there is no Communist Party, but there is a national independence movement.” Mao stressed he wanted to include “Xinjiang” (East Turkistan) as a part of China. He emphasized that he would “not grant independence but autonomy” to the region.
By June 1949, the Soviet Union had agreed to letting Mao take over East Turkistan and on June 27, 1949, Stalin met with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) delegation led by Liu Shiaoqi, the Secretary of the CCP’s Central Committee, and Gao Geng, a Politburo member of the CCP. In the meeting a $300 million low interest loan to China was discussed. Stalin urged the Chinese Communist Party to quickly invade and occupy East Turkistan before the English attempt to intervene. He also stated that the Chinese population in East Turkistan doesn’t exceed 5% and recommended the CCP to bring up the percentage of the Chinese population to 30% after taking over East Turkistan in order to develop the region and strengthening China’s border protection.
In August 1949, the Chinese Communist Party sent a small covert reconnaissance team led by Deng Liqun to the East Turkistan Republic’s capital of Ghulja with the help of the Soviets. Meanwhile, the leadership of the East Turkistan Republic including President Ahmetjan Qasim, Secretary General Abdukerim Abbasov, Commander of the East Turkistan National Army Isaqbek Munonow, Deputy Commander Delilqan Sugurbayev, and their staff totaling 14 people were called to a meeting in Moscow. On August 24, 1945 they boarded a plane in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The Soviet Union informed Seypidin Azizi, the Education Minister of the East Turkistan Republic, that their plane “crashed” on August 27, 1949 and there were no survivors. Azizi was told to keep quiet and make preparations to travel to Beijing.
Official records from that period show that a Il-12P airplane of the Aeroflot company crashed on Thursday, August 25, 1949 in the area of the village of Kabansk (Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) on Mount Kabanya, killing 14 people.
However, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, some former KGB generals and high officers (among them Pavel Sudoplatov) revealed that the five leaders were killed on Stalin’s orders in Moscow on 27 August 1949, after a three-day imprisonment in the former Tsar’s stables, having been arrested upon arrival in Moscow by the Head of MGB Colonel General Viktor Abakumov, who personally interrogated the ETR’s leaders, then ordered their execution. Meanwhile in East Turkistan some 20 other senior leaders of the East Turkistan Republic were arrested by the Soviets and disappeared.
On September 12, 1949, Mao sent a telegram to Stalin asking for 40 planes to transport an entire division of the PLA into Urumchi to quickly occupy East Turkistan. Seypidin Azizi and two others traveled to Beijing and signed a secret treaty agreeing to incorporate East Turkistan into China, he was promised a high level position in the government that would be created following Chinese occupation of East Turkistan. He was also promised that the PRC would develop develop East Turkistan and withdraw its forces from East Turkistan within three to five years.
On October 1, 1949, Mao announced the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Twelve days later, on October 13, 1949, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)’s 2nd Army, led by by Guo Peng and Wang Enmao, crossed the Jiuquan-Yumen-Anxi line separating East Turkistan and China, thus officially starting the People’s Republic of China’s invasion of East Turkistan. By October 18, 1949 the PLA had already reached Turpan, on the outskirts of Urumchi. On October 14, 1949 Stalin sent a telegram to Mao agreeing to airlift an entire division of the PLA into Urumchi, with an expected date of arrival being 1-3 November, 1949.
Various military leaders of the East Turkistan Republic became anxious and called on the Government to make preparations for defending the East Turkistan Republic but was prevented by Seypidin Azizi and the Soviets.
Most of the Republic of China (Nationalist)’s puppet “Xinjiang Government” officials and its forces in Urumchi, including the puppet “Governor” Burhan Shahidi and others, suddenly switched sides and welcomed the Chinese Communist Party. On December 7, 1949 the 80,000+ troops of the Republic of China (Nationalist China) stationed around Urumchi was incorporated into the PLA as its 22nd Corps.
Shortly after the PLA had consolidated control in Urumchi and most of the eastern parts of East Turkistan, including Turpan and Qumul, Seypidin publicly announced in mid December, 1949, that the leaders of the East Turkistan Republic had “died in a plane crash on their way to Beijing.”
On December 20, 1949, members of the PLA entered Ghulja, the capital of the East Turkistan Republic, and the East Turkistan Republic was officially dissolved on December 22, 1949 with the merging of the East Turkistan National Army into the PLA’s 5th Army Corps. December 22, 1949 marked the end of the East Turkistan independence and the beginning of Chinese Communist occupation of East Turkistan, which continues to this day.
Following the occupation of East Turkistan by the People’s Republic of China, most of the pro-KMT Uyghurs in East Turkistan led by Isa Yusuf Aliptekin, who had been appointed the “Secretary General of the Xinjiang Provincial Government” by the Republic of China in 1947, and Muhammed Emin Bughra, who had also been appointed as the “Governor of the Xinjiang Provincial Government,” fled to India. They arrived in Kashmir in early 1950 with several thousand Uyghurs from Khotan, Kashgar, Urumchi, and other parts of East Turkistan. Upon arriving there, Aliptekin began to contact the US, Indian, and Turkish governments claiming to be the “Secretary General of East Turkistan,” and asking them for assistance in resettling the Uyghurs in Turkey.
Yulbars Khan, a Uyghur from Qumul who was also working for the KMT (Republic of China), led Hui forces to fight against the PLA from 1949-1950. After much of his Hui forces deserted and switched sides to the CCP, Yulbars Khan fled to Taiwan. In Taiwan he was appointed as “Governor of Xinjiang” by Chiang Kai-shek and held the title until his death in 1971.
Meanwhile, Uyghurs and Kazakhs continued to resist Chinese occupation. One of the prominent leaders of resistance was Osman Islam (Batur), who had once been the Governor of Altay, under the East Turkistan Republic. His forces continued to engage in guerrilla attacks against the PLA until his capture and execution on April 29, 1951. After Osman Batur’s death many of his followers fled to India and later resettled in Turkey.
As the PLA marched down into southern East Turkistan, they were met with resistance in Khotan and Kashgar but was quickly able to suppress the resistance. However, small scale resistance against Chinese occupation continued across East Turkistan.
Resistance to Chinese occupation appears to have been brutally suppressed. According to an Urumqi Radio report on January 1, 1952, a total of 120,000 ‘enemies of China’ had been eliminated in East Turkistan. Another report from the same radio station in March 1954 said that 30,000 local counter revolutionary insurgents were eliminated in East Turkistan, making a total of 150,000 killed.
By 1954, the PRC had managed to fully control all of East Turkistan and began to initiate its colonial policies. Mao setup the Bingtuan (“Xinjiang Paramilitary Production Corps”) by transferring an additional 300,000 Han Chinese soldiers and their families to settle in East Turkistan. The primary goal of the Bingtuan was to colonize East Turkistan’s lands most rich in natural and mineral resources, it also had the duty of assisting the PLA in suppressing rebellion. The Bingtuan has 3.5 million personnel as of 2020.
Many Uyghur and other Turkic leaders in the government became upset and wrote numerous letters to Beijing urging them to keep their promises. Mao responded by officially designating East Turkistan as the “Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region,” and the PRC gave a few Uyghurs including former East Turkistan Republic officials some high positions in the “Autonomous Region.”
An underground East Turkistan Revolutionary Party had been created by former ETR officials calling for independence. Growing frustrated with the PRC’s oppressive rule, in 1956, 51 prominent Uyghur and other Turkic leaders led by former East Turkistan National Army General Memtimin Iminov ( who was appointed “Vice-Chairman of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” by the PRC) wrote a letter to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai urging the PRC to respect its initial promises and withdraw its forces from East Turkistan.
Iminov would be detained and killed (the Chinese government stated he died from an illness). The rest of those who signed the letter were also purged and the PRC began to take an even more brutal approach by arresting tens of thousands of Uyghurs, executing many of them and labeling them as “counter revolutionaries,” “foreign agents,” and “ethnic nationalists.”
To this day, the Chinese governments attempts to eradicateEast Turkistan and its people have not stopped, and neither has the resistance.