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Vaguely outlined extent of Turkestan and its approximate share in today's Central Asian states.

Turkestan ( Persian ترکستان, 'Land of the Turks'; alternative spellings are Turk Stan, Turkestan and Turkestan ) was the Persian name of a not clearly defined Central Asian region stretching from the Caspian Sea in the west to the desert Gobi extended to the east. The area covered around 2,500,000 km² and today essentially belongs to seven states.


Today's Turkestan was probably mostly populated by Iranian peoples in ancient times and was known as Turan by them . In the period between the 13th and 16th centuries, the region was ruled by Mongols and referred to in Europe as the " Great Tatarstan ". This “Great Tatarstan” also spread to Persian territory in the south . Even today, its lowlands, known as the “Turanian Depression” or “ Turanian Lowlands ”, make up most of western Turkestan.

Concept history

The territory, which is termed “Turkestan” in the sense of a designation for the Central Asian countries in the north of modern Persia and Afghanistan, has been subject to some changes in the course of history and depending on the point of view of the user. In the literature, and especially in travelogues, a division was made between Russian, Chinese and Afghan Turkistan, while some made a division into West and East Turkistan. At the beginning of the 20th century, after the end of Tsarist Russia, a common sense of the unity of Turkestan had grown and in 1917 the second independent state in Central Asia (after the Khiva Khanate ), the cross- ethnic state of Turkistan Äwtanam Hukumäti (so-called Kokand autonomy) was founded. The Bolshevik leadership in Moscow , which was hostile to any ethnic, tribal or local organization, quickly succeeded in counteracting this development and, by cleverly playing off the various ethnic groups against one another, brought about the establishment of the Soviet republics, divided according to ethnic units, in the 1920s . The term "Turkestan" disappeared from the press and was banned as a name and concept by Stalin's censors for decades, so that it was not possible for the Central Asians to determine their own identity.

Today, the term “Turkestan” is often equated with the term “home of the Turks” (ie with the “ancestral land of the Turkic peoples ”).


In the course of history many peoples lived in the area of ​​today's Turkestan, as the area has always been an important passage area for nomadic steppe peoples. The first great cultures in this area were developed by the Iranian peoples who settled in the oases and subsequently founded numerous cities. In the period between the 7th and 8th centuries, a large part of the Turkestan area was ruled by various steppe nomads - including early Turkic peoples - who were under the feudal rule of the Kök Turks . The parts of Turkestan they subjected belonged to their western part-khanate .

Today, different ethnic groups live in the area of ​​Turkestan , of which the Turkic speakers now form the majority. Turkmen , Uyghurs , Uzbeks , Karakalpaks , Kazakhs , Kirghiz , Tatars , Azerbaijanis , Karaim , Crimean Turks , Turk Mesheth and Turks live in Turkestan today . But also Russians , Ukrainians , Germans , Koreans and Chinese live there alongside the long-established Iranian peoples of the Tajiks , Persians and Afghans . In some regions of Turkestan, these peoples are still to be regarded as indigenous people . The large Turkic peoples of the region now form their own Turkic states in the area of ​​Turkestan .


There have always been many languages ​​in Turkestan. This is how the important Turkish literary language Chagataisch came into being in his area , the successor of which has been known as Uzbek since the Russian occupation and is now the most important Turkic language in Central Asia. In addition, Iranian languages ​​are spoken in large parts of southern Turkestan , of which the Persian language is the most important.


There were several starting points for the territorial expansion of Turkestan. Initially it was referred to as " Trans Caspia " - that is: on the other side of the Caspian Sea (as seen from Europe), on the Asian side - because the area that was subject in the 1880s was initially subordinate to the Caucasus region. Until the First World War , the term "Turkestan" became generally accepted and eventually became heavily politicized. A distinction was now made between West and East Turkestan. From 1942 “Turkestan” was defined as follows: West and East Turkestan in the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China , to which the Iranian province of Gorgan and the foothills of the old Khorasan were added. In addition, the north of Afghanistan ("South Turkestan") and the southern and central Kazakhstan were included and Turkestan rounded off.

Today Turkestan is broadly divided into three areas:

  1. Western Turkestan (also known as West Turkestan, Russian Turkestan or Soviet Central Asia ) consists of the southern area of Kazakhstan , which belonged to the Kazakh Great Horde between the 16th and 19th centuries . West Turkestan also includes the current states of Kyrgyzstan , Tajikistan , Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan . Sometimes the area of ​​the former Russian Steppe General Government (North and West Kazakhstan) is included in the term Turkestan due to the former Kazakh Small and Middle Horde . However, this practice is considered controversial, as only the southern territory of the Kazak Khanate (Great Horde) was in the Turkestan region.
  2. Eastern Turkestan (also known as East Turkestan or Chinese Turkestan ) was originally limited to the southwestern area of ​​the Uyghur Autonomous Region ( Xinjiang ), but is now being extended to the entire region. Uyghur separatists often refer to this sub-region of Turkestan as Uyghuristan , the "land of the Uyghurs".
  3. The northern part of present-day Afghanistan is called "South Turkestan" by the Turkic peoples. This "South Turkestan" was originally formed from the southern parts of the Turkestan Khanates Bukhara and Kokand . These were ceded to Persia between 1886 and 1893 . That is why this region was often referred to as Persian Turkestan in the 19th century . With the independence of Afghanistan, this region became part of its territory and the name "Persian Turkestan" was given up. In contrast to other areas of Turkistan, this region was settled late by Turkic peoples.

While South Turkestan still largely belonged to the Khorasan region , the area of ​​West Turkestan once formed (among other things) the historical provinces of Transoxania ( Arabic ما وراء النهر, DMG mā warāʾa n-nahr , literally "that which is beyond the river") and choresmies .

The names "West" and "East Turkestan" are derived from the Russian Timkowskij ( Тимковский ), who used them in 1805 in his embassy report for Central Asia. Sometimes the regions of the Altai and Sajan Mountains as well as the Turkic-speaking peripheral areas of western Mongolia are counted as part of Turkestan. These regions form the historical center of origin of today's Turkic peoples. However, this practice is controversial among recognized Turkologists and is often only used in semi-academic secondary literature.

The name "South Turkestan" was mainly coined in the late 1980s and early 1990s by the Panturkists of Central Asia and extended to the Afghan Hindu Kush region, as there are not only Tajiks but also smaller Kyrgyz and Uighur minorities.

The "Turkestan" military district of the Red Army comprised the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. (The Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were united in the "Central Asia" military district.)

The Turkestan-Siberian Railway , or Turksib for short, runs through Turkestan .



Turkestan has been contested several times as a transit area in the course of its long history. Turkestan has been part of various nomadic empires several times . A large part of the Turkestan region belonged to around 174 BC. To the tribal federation of the Hsiung-nu . But peoples like the Guteans continued to live in this region. Large parts later belonged to the Persian Empire and the Empire of Alexander the Great . The Hellenistic successor rulers could only control the space temporarily. In the years that followed, the region was ruled by different groups and to different degrees.

Around 400, part of Turkestan was ruled by the Rouran , who also formed a nomadic tribal federation. In other parts of late ancient Central Asia , among others, the Iranian Huns ruled . In the southwest was the border to the mighty Sassanid Empire .

Kok-Turks and Tang Chinese

The Tang Dynasty around 669

In the middle of the 6th century, the Kök Turks, now known as On-Ok , invaded Turkestan and established their western part of the khanate in this area, which could last until 745. But as early as 657 the China of the Tang Dynasty established its province of the "four garrisons" in the southern region of the western Gök-Turk empire. The Tang Chinese eventually named this subjugated area 西部 地區Western Territory . Several times in the 7th and 8th centuries, the area subject to Tang China also belonged to the Tibetan empires. After the fall of the Kök Turkish Empire (745), various successor empires of Turkic origin were founded in its area . This is how the Uyghur empire came into being in the area of ​​the former Eastern Khanate (eastern Turkestan and Mongolia proper) , which lasted until 840. It was eventually subjugated by the Yenisei Kyrgyz . In the former Western Khanate, among other things, the empires of the Kipchaks and the Seljuks were founded, whose sphere of influence was to extend to Europe and the Near East . But the Khazar and Oghuz empires also had their roots in Turkestan.

Invasion of the Arabs

Between the years 661 and 750, large parts of what would later become Turkestan were conquered by the Arabs and converted to Islam . At that time, however, there were also strong Christian and Buddhist communities in the region. In the 8th century the Caliphate Empire and China openly quarreled over what would later become Turkestan. Ultimately, the Turkestan territory was divided between the two adversaries: China's sphere of influence extended from the region around the Tarim Basin across the Balkash Sea to the eastern bank of the Syrdarja . The areas west of the Syrdarja to the Mangyschlak peninsula belonged to the sphere of influence of the Abbasid caliphate and after its collapse were ruled by various Muslim regional dynasties such as the Iranian Samanids (9th / 10th centuries) and the Turkish Qarachanids (10th-13th centuries) . During the second half of the 11th and the first half of the 12th centuries, West Turkestan was part of the extensive Seljuq Empire before falling under the rule of the Anushteginid Khorezm Shahs in the second half of the 12th and early 13th centuries and the (non-Muslim) Qara-Chitai found.

Mongolian time

From 1220 the whole of Turkestan belonged to the Mongolian empire of Genghis Khan , which had destroyed the latter two empires. The Mongolian partial khanate Chagatai was founded in Turkestan, which existed formally as Moghulistan in the eastern half until 1510.

In the 15th century, Turkestan was divided into two halves on the border between Altai - Tian-Shan - Pamir: While the western part fell to Timur Lenk and was under Persian influence until the Russian conquest , the eastern part remained under the local Genghisid dynasty. After the end of the Timurid period , however, the whole of Turkestan came under Mongolian rule again when the jungles founded their nomadic steppe empire .

From 1500 the Uzbek western khanates Khiva and Bukhara as well as the Kyrgyz khanate Kokand emerged in the Turkestan territories . In the eastern half, the so-called Uyghur Eastern Khanates Kashgar , Tufan and Chotan were founded. The rest of the area, which was not under Persian and Chinese influence, was merged into a khanate by Kazakh nomads in 1509 , which a few years later split into three apanages (partial rule). These apanages became known as the Small , Medium, and Large Horde .

Period of Chinese and Russian rule

In 1759, the Chinese Empire conquered these areas and expanded its sphere of influence to Lake Balkash. From 1844, China officially called these areas 再 一次 回來 舊 的 地域again returned old territory , or Xinjiang for short - new country . On November 11th of this year, eastern Turkestan was merged with neighboring Djungaria to form the new province of Xinjiang and placed under the Chinese civil administration.

From the middle of the 18th century, the Russian tsarist empire began to expand into the Central Asian steppes and the Kazakh nomads voluntarily submitted to Russian rule in order to have a powerful ally against the warlike jungles . In the period between 1822 and 1854, Tsarist Russia incorporated the northern Turkestan steppe area and subordinated it to General Konstantin Petrovich von Kaufmann as the “ Generalgouvernement Steppe ” . In 1812 the Bökey Horde was founded on the left bank of the Urals , which was derived from the Little Horde and was a loyal vassal of the Tsar.

In the 19th century, Russia fought bloody border wars with China and essentially pushed it back to today's borders. Only today's Mongolia and Tuva as well as Manchuria remained as provinces in China. However, these areas were under strong Russian influence and were partially considered a Russian protectorate .

The Turkic peoples living under Chinese sovereignty felt that they were “an oppressed ethnic group under foreign rule”. So they started numerous uprisings against Chinese rule, in which they were mainly supported by Kazakhs from the Russian part of the region. Some influential dervish orders also played a major role in this unrest. Sheikhs from India introduced the Qādirīya order in eastern Turkestan in the 19th century .

Turkestan around 1900

The emirate of Kashgar

In 1864 Jakub Beg , who later became the Emir of Kashgar , founded a new Khanate of Turkic origin . This was called the "Emirate of Kashgar" and was extremely autocratic . His army eventually numbered 60,000 and he was recognized as a Khan by the Ottoman Empire , Russia and Great Britain . But after the Chinese army had crushed Jakub (allegedly only ten of his 60,000-strong army were supposed to have survived), Kashgaria was returned to the control of China. Russian troops had already occupied the Ili region in 1871, but they vacated it ten years later.

Time until World War II

After the outbreak of the Chinese Revolution in 1911, Eastern Turkestan remained with China, unlike Mongolia and Tibet , but was de facto autonomous. The Muslim population of the region of Turkestan, subordinate to China, rose to armed struggle against the Chinese government. The center of this revolution was the area around Hami . This uprising was put down in 1912 under the administration of Urumqi , Yang Zenxing . In 1913 he was appointed governor general of the region and ruled Xinjiang Province without restrictions until his assassination on July 7, 1928.

After the Russian Revolution (1917), the Soviet People's Republics Bukhara and Khorezmia and the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Turkestan were formed in the area of ​​western Turkestan . From this new republics were formed between 1924 and 1936. Between the years from 1917 to 1920 the so-called Alasch Orda state existed in the northern steppe zone of West Turkestan and to the south of it there was the autonomous area of ​​Kokander members of the Alasch supporters .

When the expropriation of the Kazakh cattle nomads demanded by the Soviets in 1936 was to be carried out, a large number of them, around 300,000 Kazakhs, fled with their herds to China (provinces Xinjiang and Tannu-Uriangchai ) and Mongolia. Another part of the Kazakhs preferred to kill their herds, causing one of the greatest famine in Kazakh history.

After the assassination of Zenxing (1928), eastern Turkestan came under strong Soviet influence for a time. Under his successor, Jin Shuren , governor from 1928 to 1931, riots broke out again in Xinjiang in 1931. Starting from Hami, these now extended to almost the entire province. This time all population groups in the region were involved in this uprising. The leader of the people of Turkic origin was the Hodja Niyaz , who proclaimed the “ Islamic Republic of East Turkestan ” in the Kashgar region in November 1933 . However, this went under again after six months. This "East Turkestan government" was arrested in mid-April 1934 and extradited to the Gansu provincial government . Its members were executed there. The "President" Hajji was executed three years later. In 1937 Sheng Shicai, who was governor of Xinjiang from 1939 to 1945, succeeded in suppressing a new revolution in the area around Kashgar, as a result of which around 80,000 revolutionaries lost their lives. But in the same year he joined the nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek after the Wehrmacht had invaded the USSR on the orders of Adolf Hitler .

In November 1944 the Kazakhs under Alichan Tura rose in the Ili area and proclaimed a new " Republic of East Turkestan ". Tura and his ally, Usman Batur, supplied themselves with weapons in Mongolia and as early as September 1945 the so-called "Kuldscha group" under Tura held the entire Altai region and occupied Urumqi and Kashgar. The rebels sought close alliance with the Soviet Union and hired them to act as mediators between them and the Chinese government. On July 12, 1946, the "Republic of East Turkestan" was dissolved and the Kazakhs received their own autonomous area in Xinjiang with the Ili Autonomous District .

Time after World War II

During the Chinese Civil War in 1949 troops of the communist " People's Liberation Army " marched into East Turkestan, which became part of the People's Republic of China as the Xinjiang Province . The rigid implementation of a policy of sinization triggered at least 58 revolts between 1950 and 1968, in which around 360,000 people lost their lives. In 1964, the People's Republic of China carried out an atomic bomb test for the first time in East Turkestan, which was designated an "Autonomous Region" in 1955 . In 1967 a Chinese hydrogen bomb was detonated for the first time . At the same time, the Muslims in China were banned from using the Arabic script and the forced conversion from a Cyrillic alphabet to a modified Latin script was enforced.

1979 intervened Soviet Union in Afghanistan, after which the Islamist Mujahideen the jihad proclaimed to South Turkestan and the rest of Afghanistan to get rid of the Russian army. On February 15, 1989, the last Soviet soldiers left Afghanistan. Shortly afterwards, on May 19th, armed demonstrators stormed the CCP office in Urumqi .


With the collapse of the Soviet Union , the states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were proclaimed in western Turkestan. In April 1990, the Uyghurs in Xinjiang in particular rose again against the Chinese central government and demanded independence from China and the establishment of an independent Turkic republic. The Chinese government accused exiled Uyghurs, especially İsa Yusuf Alptekin , who was 90 at the time, of causing the unrest. In a speech given in Istanbul , Alptekin described Chinese politics as “the oppression of the East Turkestan Muslims” and their struggle as a “desperate struggle for survival”. The uprising was put down by Chinese troops and the few survivors fled to neighboring Kazakhstan.

Between 1990 and 1997, various Islamist and partly militant organizations were founded in Turkestan to demand a unified Turkestan. In May 1996, the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden moved his main residence to Afghanistan. The terrorist al-Qaeda expanded Afghanistan into their base and set up training camps in which Muslims from Central Asia were also trained.

In 1997 Afghanistan was proclaimed an Islamic emirate by the Taliban, and in Xinjiang, China, members of the Islamic Party of God worked out a four-point program for the establishment of an Islamic Republic of East Turkestan , which also included armed struggle (i.e. terrorist attacks against Chinese government institutions).

Between 1997 and 2001, around 20,000 people received military training from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. According to the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Qian Qichen , around 1,000 of them are Uyghurs from China and Central Asia.

See also

References and comments

  1. "(...) The east of the originally Persian-settled area was conquered by the Chinese General Pan Tschao in the 4th century." In: Erhard Stölting: Eine Weltmacht breaks. Chapter VIII. Genghis Chan's Muslim Heirs 2: Turkestan. P. 164.
  2. “(...) Much has been puzzled over the ethogenesis of this tribe . It is noticeable that many key terms are of Iranian origin. This affects almost all titles (...). Some scholars also want to trace the name turk back to an Iranian origin and to associate it with the word "Turan", the Persian name for the land on the other side of the Oxus. ” In: Wolfgang Ekkehard Scharlipp: The early Turks in Central Asia. P. 18.
  3. ^ W. Barthold- [CE Bosworth]: Turkistan . In: PJ Bearman, Th. Bianquis, CE Bosworth, E. van Donzel & WP Heinrichs (Eds.): The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition . 10 ("TU"). Brill, Leiden 2000, ISBN 90-04-12761-5 , pp. 679-680 .
  4. ^ A b Marie-Carin von Gummenberg, Udo Steinbach (Ed.): Central Asia. P. 322.
  5. Berndt Georg Thamm : Jihad in Asia. P. 163.
  6. "Turkistan" for a description of Central Asia and the Tarim Basin in South Xinjiang China, according to: Chuan Chen: The "East Turkistan Question" - a mixture of terrorism, fundamentalism and separatism. In: Volker Foertsch, Klaus Lange (ed.): Islamist terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Hanns Seidel Foundation , 2006, ISBN 3-88795-307-X , p. 127ff. (Arguments and materials on current affairs No. 50) (PDF; 1.3 MB)
  7. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 166.
  8. Cf. Zarcone: "La Qâdiriyya en Asie Centrale et au Turkestan oriental". 2000, pp. 295, 329.
  9. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 175.
  10. Erhard Stölting : A world power is breaking up. Nationalities and Religions in the USSR. P. 196.
  11. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 178.
  12. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 183.
  13. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 185.
  14. Berndt Georg Thamm: Jihad in Asia. P. 187.
  15. ^ Anthony Kuhn: UN Voices Concern Over Rise in Alleged Abuse of Chinese Muslims. In: Los Angeles Times. November 10, 2001.


  • Wassili Wladimirowitsch Bartold : A Short History of Turkestan. In another: Four Studies on the History of Central Asia. Volume 1. EJ Brill, Leiden 1956, pp. 1-72.
  • Berndt Georg Thamm : Jihad in Asia. The Islamic Danger in Russia and China. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-423-24652-1 .
  • Erhard Stölting: A world power is breaking up. Nationalities and Religions in the USSR. Eichborn Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1990, ISBN 3-8218-1132-3 .
  • Carter Vaughn Findley: The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-19-517726-6 .
  • Walther Stötzner: In the fairytale land of Tamerlans . With seven illustrations based on photographs. In: Reclam's Universe: Modern Illustrated Weekly. 29.2 (1913), pp. 1260-1265.
  • Thierry Zarcone: La Qâdiriyya en Asie Centrale et au Turkestan oriental . In: Th. Zarcone, E. Işın u. A. Buehler (Ed.): The Qâdiriyya Order , Special Issue of the Journal of the History of Sufism , 2000, pp. 295–338.

Web links

  • Turkestan Album , Library of Congress
  • More than 750 publications are recorded in the RussGUS database (there search - form search - geographic register: Central Asia OR Turkm * OR Turkest *)