Central Asia Program Series Publications Uyghur Papers

Between Utopia and Dystopia: Uyghur Intellectuals (1949-2000)

Uyghur Initiative Papers No. 4, October 2014

By Mamtimin Ala

Traditionally, religious figures and poets were considered by the Uyghurs to be intellectuals who explained the meaning of life, whether religious or mundane, to ordinary people. The spread of the Jadidism movement in East Turkestan at the beginning of the 20th century created a new group of intellectuals made up of modernizers and enlighteners. The re-appropriation of the ethnonym “Uyghur” in a Soviet conference in Tashkent in 1921 and its subsequent widespread use was a turning point in the social, cultural, and political awareness of Uyghur intellectuals. Ever since, Uyghur intellectuals have consciously participated in nation-building activities with a focus on urgent need to shape the collective self-consciousness of the Uyghurs as a prerequisite to the realization of a unified national identity. For this purpose, Uyghur intellectuals have turned to a variety of ideologies—Islam, Pan-Turkism, and Communism—to pursue their religious, cultural, and political aspirations.

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