The State of Yette Sheher (1865-1877)
The State of East Turkistan, officially known as the State of Yette Sheher [Yette Sheher Döleti] was a short-lived Turkic state that existed from 1865 to 1877. It was the first successful attempt by the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples of East Turkistan to declare independence and establish a modern nation state in the 19th century following the Manchu Qing conquest of East Turkistan in 1756-1759.
The State of Yette Sheher was established after 42 consecutive attempts, between 1759 and 1864, by the people of East Turkistan to resist Manchu occupation and colonization and restore their independence. The State of Yette Sheher was primarily the product of an anti-colonial independence movement led by the Uyghur and other Turkic people living in East Turkistan, and was Turkic in character, including Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and other Turkic peoples in its government and its population.
The State of Yette Sheher was caught in between the Great Power Competition (the “Great Game”) in Central Asia between the British and Russian Empires. The British Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) financed a second Manchu invasion of East Turkistan in 1876. The State of Yette Sheher was overthrown on December 18, 1877 after the assassination of its monarch Yaq’ub Beg in May 1877.
The State of Yette Sheher, however, served as an inspiration for the founding of the First East Turkistan Republic over five decades later. Like the East Turkistan Republics, the State of Yette Sheher continues to influence the modern East Turkistan independence movement aiming to re-establish an independent Turkic state in East Turkistan.
Creation of the the State of Yette Sheher
Following the Manchu conquest of East Turkistan in 1759, the people of East Turkistan continuously resisted Manchu occupation and rebelled some 42 times between the 1759 and 1864 in an effort to re-establish their independence. In August 1863, the people of Yarkent revolted against the Manchu Empire, around the same time the Tungans (Chinese Muslims) also revolted. By 1864, the uprising had spread all across East Turkistan with Turkic peoples, weary of repression and foreign occupation, revolting against the puppet begs and their Manchu masters. In August 1863, the people of Yarkent, in southern East Turkistan, revolted against the Manchu Empire and by 1864, the uprising had spread all across East Turkistan with Turkic peoples, weary of repression and foreign occupation, revolting against the puppet begs and their Manchu masters.
Following the 1863-1864 national uprising in East Turkistan, Yaq’ub Beg, an Uzbek military official from Kokand arrived in East Turkistan to assist the East Turkistani people in driving out the remanants of the Manchu invaders. Yaq’ub liberated Kashgar in January 1865 as well as Yengisar, and Yarkent by the summer of 1865. It was around May 1865 that the State of Yette Sheher [Uyghur: يەتتە شەھەر دۆلەتى or Yette Sheher Döleti], in East Turkistan was officially established under the leadership of Yaq’ub Beg. By the spring of 1867, Yaq’ub Beg liberated Aksu, and Kucha from the tyranny of the Khojas and their Manchu masters.
East Turkistan and the "Great Game"
After Ya’qub Beg liberated all of southern East Turkistan, then known as Kashgaria, from Manchu Qing occupation, The State of Yette Sheher attempted to sever commercial ties with Russia in 1867-1868, fearing that commercial penetration would lead to Russian military expansion into East Turkistan, as had happened with the Khoqand Khanate. The State of Yette Sheher initially sealed off East Turkistan’s borders with West Turkistan (then under Russian occupation) and amassed troops on the border, but fearing that it would not be enough, the State of Yette Sheher sought to establish relations with the British Empire to balance out against the Russian Empire. In 1871, the Russian Empire invaded the Ili Valley in northwest East Turkistan fearing that the Ili Sultanate would align with the State of Yette Sheher and threaten its control of West Turkistan. The Ili Sultanate was an independent Uyghur state that had been established under the leadership of Alihan Sultan in Ghulja after the national uprising of 1864.
From 1870-1871, the State of Yette Sheher liberated the Turpan and Urumchi regions of East Turkistan which had fall under the occupation of Tunggan (Hui / Chinese Muslim) forces after the 1864 uprisings. In an effort to maintain the sovereignty of the State of Yette Sheher in East Turkistan, Yaq’ub Beg pursued a careful strategy of establishing official diplomatic relations and obtaining recognition from the great powers at the time: British Empire, Russian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire. In June 1872, the Russian Empire and the State of Yette Sheher, which were on the verge of war, reached an agreement. Ya’qub Beg agreed to a commercial treaty in exchange for Russia’s recognition of him as the sovereign of the State of Yette Sheher (all of southern and eastern East Turkistan as well as Urumchi and its surroundings) in East Turkistan.
To counter the Russian Empire’s potential invasion of East Turkistan, the State of Yette Sheher sought assistance from Russia’s enemies, the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The State of Yette Sheher dispatched envoys to the British Empire and the Ottoman Empire on multiple occasions starting in 1871. Yaq’ub Beg established official diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire in 1873 and obtained recognition as the Amir of the State of Yette Sheher. In February 1874, the State of Yette Sheher signed a commercial treaty with the British Empire which essentially formalized diplomatic relations and recognition between the two states.
Worried about a potential invasion by the Manchus or the Russians, the State of Yette Sheher concentrated on modernizing its army and improving its defenses. The army of the State of Yette Sheher numbered over 50,000 troops in the early 1870s, and the State of Yette Sheher spent a significant amount of money and diplomatic resources to obtain modern weapons. The Ottoman Empire supplied the State of Yette Sheher with 1,200 rifles (200 new type and 1,000 old type) and six cannons in 1873. Yette Sheher’s envoys to the Ottoman Empire and the British Empire were tasked with acquiring 12,000 modern rifles, of which only half were obtained due to financial constraints. Simultaneously, with British assistance, the State of Yette Sheher built armament factories to modernize its existing weaponry.
The Decline and Fall of the State of Yette Sheher
By 1873, Manchu Qing officials were debating whether to invade East Turkistan, with Qing Viceroy Li-Hun-Chang opposing an invasion. Chinese General Zuo Zongtang, argued invading East Turkistan was necessary because “capturing East Turkistan is capturing Mongolia, and protecting Mongolia is protecting the capital (Beijing).” Because the Manchu Empire lacked the financial means to launch an invasion, General Zuo Zongtang obtained massive loans from the British Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) to fund a Manchu Qing expedition to conquer East Turkistan. The Qing purchased modern riles and Krupp cannons from the Germans using British loans. Because the Russians were concerned about the existence of an independent Turkic state near their colonial possessions in Occupied West Turkistan (Central Asia), they provided grain and other food supplies to the Manchu armies.
In the spring of 1876, a 90,000 strong Manchu Qing army led by Zuo Zongtang launched an invasion of East Turkistan and captured Urumchi on August 18, 1876. In April 1877, the Qing army then marched into Turpan where the State of Yette Sheher’s armies continued to suffer defeats due to smaller numbers and lack of modern heavy weaponry. After suffering numerous defeats Yaq’ub Beg retreated to Korla to regroup where he was poisoned on May 30, 1877 by the traitorous hakim of Yarkent Niyaz Hakim Beg. After the death of Yaq’ub Beg the armed forces of the State of Yette Sheher, without proper leadership, suffered further defeats and the State of Yette Sheher was overthrown on December 18, 1877. The Manchu Qing achieved the complete occupation of East Turkistan with the fall of Khoten in January 1878.
The State of Yette Sheher was the East Turkistani people’s first successful attempt to re-establish their own independent state following the fall of the Yarkent Khanate in 1678 and the Manchu Qing’s initial conquest of East Turkistan in 1759. The legacy of the State of Yette Sheher in East Turkistan would play a critical role in the East Turkistan national movement in the early twentieth century, and would have a significant impact on the re-establishment of East Turkistan’s independence as the East Turkistan Republic (s) in 1933 and 1944.