Second East Turkestan Republic

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East Turkestan Republicشەرقىي تۈركىستان جۇمھۇرىيىتى (Uyghur)
Flag of East Turkistan Flag
Territorial extent of the Second East Turkestan Republic (red), encompassing the three districts of Ili, Tarbagatay and AltayTerritorial extent of the Second East Turkestan Republic (red), encompassing the three districts of Ili, Tarbagatay and Altay
StatusSatellite state of the Soviet Union
Common languagesUyghur (official, 1944–1945)
Religion Islam (majority; official, 1945–1946)
GovernmentUnitary republic under an interim government
• 1944–1946 Elihan Tore
Vice President 
• 1944–1946 Hakim Beg Khoja
Independence from the Republic of China
Historical eraWorld War II · Cold War
• Start of the Ili Rebellion 7 November 1944
• Independence declared 12 November 1944
• Formation of the Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province 27 June 1946
• Collapse of the Coalition Government 12 August 1947
• 1944 estimate705,168
Preceded by Succeeded by
Xinjiang Province, Republic of China
Xinjiang Province, Republic of China
Today part ofChina
East Turkestan Republic
Uyghur name
Uyghurشەرقىي تۈركىستان جۇمھۇرىيىتى‎
Russian name
RussianВосточно-Туркестанская Республика
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese東突厥斯坦共和國
Simplified Chinese东突厥斯坦共和国

The East Turkestan Republic (ETR) was a short-lived satellite state of the Soviet Union in northern Xinjiang (East Turkestan), which existed from 1944 to 1946. It is often described as the Second East Turkestan Republic to differentiate it from the First East Turkestan Republic (1933–1934), but "second" was never a part of its official name.

It emerged from the Ili Rebellion in three districts of Xinjiang Province: Ili, Tarbagatay and Altay. It was initially backed by the Soviet Union, but the Soviets' wartime alliance with the Republic of China's (ROC) led to the cessation of aid. In June 1946, following peace negotiations between the leaders of the ETR and representatives from the Republic of China (ROC), the Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province was established in Dihua (Ürümqi) and the ETR government was reformed as the Ili District Council, although the region retained its political independence. The appointment of a pro-Chinese Uyghur official as head of the Coalition Government led to its collapse in August 1947, when the former ETR leaders withdrew in protest and established the Three Districts Economic Commission to continue governing the three districts independently from the rest of Xinjiang.

In late 1949, most of the ETR's former leaders died in a plane crash in the Soviet Union, while en route to attend talks in Beijing. Before the end of 1950, the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) had captured most of the area of the former ETR, which ceased to function. The entire region became part of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, in the People's Republic of China (PRC). Most of the area controlled by the ETR later fell under the jurisdiction of Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture.



From 1934 to 1941 Xinjiang, a Province of the Republic of China, was under the influence of the Soviet Union. The local warlord Sheng Shicai was dependent on the Soviet Union for military support and trade. Soviet troops entered Xinjiang twice, in 1934 and 1937, for limited periods of time to give direct military support to Sheng Shicai's regime. After suppressing the 36th Division General Ma Chung-yin in 1934 and the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1935, the Soviet Union sent a commission to Xinjiang to draw up a plan for reconstruction of the province, led by Stalin's brother-in-law, Deputy Chief of Soviet State Bank, Alexander Svanidze, which resulted in a Soviet five-year loan of five million gold rubles to Sheng Shicai's regime. The draft was signed by Sheng Shicai on 16 May 1935, without consultation or approval by the Central Government of China. After Soviet intervention in 1937 and quelling of both Tungan and Uyghur rebels on the South of Xinjiang with liquidation of the 36th Tungan Division and 6th Uyghur Division, the Soviet Government did not withdraw all Soviet troops. A regiment of soldiers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs remained in Kumul beginning in October 1937, in order to prevent a possible offensive by the Imperial Japanese Army into Xinjiang via Inner Mongolia. In exchange, concessions were granted for oil wells, tin and tungsten mines and trade terms highly favorable to the Soviet Union.

On 26 November 1940, Sheng Shicai concluded an agreement granting the Soviet Union additional concessions in the province of Xinjiang for fifty years, including areas bordering India and Tibet. This placed Xinjiang under virtually full political and economic control of the Soviet Union, making it part of China in name only. Sheng Shicai recalled in his memoir, "Red Failure in Sinkiang," published by the University of Michigan in 1958, that Joseph Stalin pressured him to sign the secret Agreement of Concessions in 1940. The Agreement of Concessions, prepared by Stalin and seventeen articles long, would have resulted in Xinjiang sharing the same fate as Poland. Sheng Shicai was informed of this intended result by Soviet representatives in Dihua Bakulin and Karpov.

Following Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and the entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941, the Soviet Union became a less attractive patron for Sheng than the Kuomintang. By 1943 Sheng Shicai switched his allegiance to the Kuomintang after major Soviet defeats at the hands of the Germans in World War II, all Soviet Red Army military forces and technicians residing in the province were expelled, and the ROC National Revolutionary Army units and soldiers belonging to Ma Bufang moved into Xinjiang to take control of the province. Ma Bufang helped the Kuomintang build roads linking Qinghai and Xinjiang, which helped both of them bring Xinjiang under their influence. Sheng was appointed the head of the Kuomintang branch in Xinjiang in 1943 and allowed Kuomintang cadres into the province. To forge his ties with Kuomintang, on 17 September 1942 Sheng arrested a number of Chinese communists sent to Xinjiang by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in 1938 and executed them in 1943. Among the executed was Mao Zemin, brother of Mao Zedong. In the summer of 1944, following the German defeat on the Eastern Front, Sheng attempted to reassert control over Xinjiang and turned to the Soviet Union for support again. He arrested a number of Kuomintang cadres in Dihua and sent a letter to Stalin offering to "incorporate Xinjiang into the Soviet Union as its 18th Soviet Socialistic Republic." Sheng Shicai asked Stalin for the post of ruler of the new Soviet Republic. Stalin refused to deal with Sheng and forwarded the confidential letter to Chiang Kai-shek. As a result, the Kuomintang removed him from the province in August 1944 and appointed him to a low-level post in the Ministry of Forestry in Chongqing.

In 1944, the Soviets took advantage of discontent among the Turkic peoples of the Ili region in northern Xinjiang to support a rebellion against Kuomintang rule in the province in order to reassert Soviet influence in the region.


Many of the Turkic peoples of the Ili region of Xinjiang had close cultural, political, and economic ties with Russia and then the Soviet Union. Many of them were educated in the Soviet Union and a community of Russian settlers lived in the region. As a result, many of the Turkic rebels fled to the Soviet Union and obtained Soviet assistance in creating the Sinkiang Turkic People's Liberation Committee (STPNLC) in 1943 to revolt against Kuomintang rule during the Ili Rebellion. The pro-Soviet Uyghur who later became leader of the revolt and the Second East Turkestan Republic, Ehmetjan Qasim, was Soviet-educated and described as "Stalin's man" and as a "communist-minded progressive". Qasim Russified his surname to "Kasimov" and became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Liu Bin-Di was a Hui Muslim Kuomintang (KMT) officer and was sent by officials in Dihua to subdue the Hi area (Ili region) and crush the Turkic Muslims, who were prepared to overthrow Chinese rule. His mission failed because his troops arrived too late. Several Turkic cavalry units armed by the Soviets crossed into China in the direction of Kuldja. In November 1944 Liu was killed by Uyghur and Kazakh rebels backed by the Soviet Union. This started the Ili Rebellion, with the Uyghur Ili rebel army fighting against Republic of China forces.

Following Sheng Shicai's departure from Xinjiang, the new Kuomintang administration had increasing trouble maintaining law and order. On 16 September 1944, troops that had been sent to Gongha county, a majority Kazakh region, were unable to contain a group of rioters. By 3 October, the rioters had captured Nilka, the county seat. On 4 October 1944, Chief of Ghulja (Yining) Police Department Liu Bin-Di sent telegram to Dihua asking for immediate help: " Situation around Nilka 尼勒克镇 is catastrophic, on the battle of October 03 we suffered heavy losses, rebels captured many weapons and spread their actions south of Kash River 喀什河, our troops in Karasu 喀拉苏乡 and other adjacent villages are under siege, local population is joining bandits and increasing their strength, trucks with troops sent from Yining to Nilka delivered many wounded soldiers on return trip. On the head of bandits are Ghani, Fatikh, Akbar, Kurban, Baichurin and others, number of rebels is over 1,500. They are all mounted on horses. City of Yining is in danger, we arrested 200 suspects in the city as a precaution. Additional troops from Urumchi are in immediate necessity.". During October, the Three Districts Rebellion broke out south of Ghulja in the Ili, also in Altay and Tarbagatay districts of northern Xinjiang. Aided by the Soviet Union, and supported by several Xinjiang exiles trained in the Soviet Union, the rebels quickly established control over the three districts, capturing Ghulja in November. The ethnic Chinese population of the region was reduced by massacre and expulsion. According to United States consular officials, the Islamic scholar Elihan Töre declared a "Turkestan Islamic Government":

The Turkestan Islamic Government is organized: praise be to Allah for his manifold blessings! Allah be praised! The aid of Allah has given us the heroism to overthrow the government of the oppressor Chinese. But even if we have set ourselves free, can it be pleasing in the sight of our God if we only stand and watch while you, our brethren in religion ... still bear the bloody grievance of subjection to the black politics of the oppressor Government of the savage Chinese? Certainly our God would not be satisfied. We will not throw down our arms until we have made you free from the five bloody fingers of the Chinese oppressors' power, nor until the very roots of the Chinese oppressors' government have dried and died away from the face of the earth of East Turkestan, which we have inherited as our native land from our fathers and our grandfathers.

The rebels assaulted Ghulja on 7 November 1944 and rapidly took over parts of the city, massacring KMT troops, however, the rebels encountered fierce resistance from KMT forces holed up in the power and central police stations and did not take them until the 13th. The creation of the "East Turkestan Republic" (ETR) was declared on the 15th. The Soviet Army assisted the Ili Uyghur army in capturing several towns and airbases. Non-communist Russians like White Russians and Russian settlers who had lived in Xinjiang since the 19th century also helped the Soviet Red Army and the Ili Army rebels. They suffered heavy losses. Many leaders of the East Turkestan Republic were Soviet agents or affiliated with the Soviet Union, like Abdulkerim Abbas, Ishaq Beg, Saifuddin Azizi and the White Russians F. Leskin, A. Polinov, and Glimkin. When the rebels ran into trouble taking the vital Airambek airfield from the Chinese, Soviet military forces directly intervened to help mortar the Airambek and reduce the Chinese stronghold.

The rebels engaged in massacres of Han Chinese civilians, especially targeting people affiliated with the KMT and Sheng Shicai. In the "Ghulja Declaration" issued on 5 January 1945, the East Turkestan Republic proclaimed that it would "sweep away the Han Chinese", threatening to extract a "blood debt" from the Han. The declaration also declared that the Republic would seek to especially establish cordial ties with the Soviets. The ETR later de-emphasized the anti-Han tone in their official proclamations after they were done massacring most of the Han civilians in their area. The massacres against the Han occurred mostly during 1944–45, with the KMT responding in kind by torturing, killing, and mutilating ETR prisoners. In territory controlled by the ETR like Ghulja, various repressive measures were carried out, like barring Han from owning weapons, operating a Soviet-style secret police, and only making Russian and Turkic languages official and not Chinese. While the non-Muslim Tungusic peoples like the Xibe played a large role in helping the rebels by supplying them with crops, the local Muslim Tungan (Hui) in Ili gave either an insignificant and negligible contribution to the rebels or did not assist them at all.

The demands of the rebels included termination of Chinese rule, equality for all nationalities, recognised use of native languages, friendly relations with the Soviet Union, and opposition to Chinese immigration into Xinjiang. The military forces available to the rebellion were the newly formed East Turkestan National Army, which included mostly Uighur, Kazakh and White Russian soldiers (around 60,000 troops, armed and trained by the Soviet Union, strengthened with regular Red Army units, that included up to 500 officers and 2,000 soldiers), and a group of Kazakh Karai tribesmen under the command of Osman Batur (around 20,000 horsemen). The Kazakhs expanded to the north, while the INA expanded to the south. By September 1945, the Kuomintang Army and the INA occupied positions on either side of the Manasi River near Dihua. By this time the ETR held Zungaria and Kashgaria, while the Kuomintang held the Dihua area.

The East Turkestan National Army, which was established on 8 April 1945 as the military arm of the ETR, was led by the Kyrgyz Ishaq Beg and the White Russians Polinov and Leskin, and all three were pro-Soviet and had a history of military service with Soviet-associated forces. The Soviets supplied the INA with ammunition and Russian-style uniforms, and Soviet troops directly helped the INA troops fight against the Chinese forces. The INA uniforms and flags all had insignia with the Russian acronym for "East Turkestan Republic", VTR in Cyrillic (Vostochnaya Turkestanskaya Respublika). Thousands of Soviet troops assisted Turkic rebels in fighting the Chinese army. In October 1945 suspected Soviet planes attacked Chinese positions.

As the Soviet Red Army and Uyghur Ili Army advanced with Soviet air support against poorly prepared Chinese forces, they almost reached Dihua; however, the Chinese military created rings of defences around the area, sending Chinese Muslim cavalry to halt the advance of the Turkic Muslim rebels. Thousands of Chinese Muslim troops under General Ma Bufang and his nephew General Ma Chengxiang poured into Xinjiang from Qinghai to combat the Soviet and Turkic Uyghur forces.

Much of the Ili army and equipment originated from the Soviet Union. The Ili rebel army pushed the Chinese forces across the plains and reached Kashgar, Kaghlik and Yarkand. However, the Uyghurs in the oases gave no support to the Soviet-backed rebels and, as a result, the Chinese army was able to expel them. The Ili rebels then butchered livestock belonging to Kyrgyz and Tajiks of Xinjiang. The Soviet-backed insurgents destroyed Tajik and Kyrgyz crops and moved aggressively against the Tajiks and Kyrgyz of China. The Chinese beat back the Soviet-supported rebellion in Sarikol from August 1945 – 1946, defeating the siege of the "tribesman" around Yarkand when they had rebelled in Nanchiang around Sarikol, and killing Red Army officers.

The Chinese Muslim Ma Clique warlord of Qinghai, Ma Bufang, was sent with his Muslim cavalry to Dihua by the Kuomintang in 1945 to protect it from the Uyghur rebels from Ili. In 1945, the Tungan (Hui) 5th and 42nd Cavalry were sent from Qinghai to Xinjiang where they reinforced the KMT Second Army, composed of four divisions. Their combined forces made for 100,000 Hui and Han troops serving under KMT command in 1945. It was reported the Soviets were eager to "liquidate" Ma Bufang. General Ma Chengxiang, another Hui Ma Clique officer and nephew of Ma Bufang, commanded the First Cavalry Division in Xinjiang under the KMT, which was formerly the Gansu Fifth Cavalry Army.

A ceasefire was declared in 1946, with the East Turkestan Republic in control of the Three Districts and the Chinese in control of the rest of Xinjiang, including Dihua.

Formation of the Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province and dissolution of the ETR

Coalition government representatives in 1946 including Chairman Zhang Zhizhong (front row fifth from right) and Vice-chairman Ehmetjan Qasim (front row fourth from right). Ehmetjan Qasim and Abdulkerim Abbas with Chiang Kai-shek in Nanjing on 22 November 1946. Ehmetjan Qasim and Abdulkerim Abbas with Sun Fo, the son of Sun Yat-sen in Nanjing on 24 November 1946.

In August 1945, China signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance granting the Soviet Union a range of concessions that the United States promised at the Yalta conference. This ended overt Soviet support for the East Turkestan Republic. The Kuomintang's central government of China reached a negotiated settlement with the leaders of the ETR in June 1946. On 27 June 1946, the Interim Government of the ETR passed Resolution 324 to transform the Interim Government of the ETR into the Ili District Council of Xinjiang Province and dissolve the ETR (the resolution used 'East Turkestan' to denote Xinjiang Province). The new council was not a government, and the Three Districts were respectively and directly led by the newly founded Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province along with the other seven districts in Xinjiang.

On 1 July 1946, the Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province was established in Dihua. This government was constituted by three sides: the central government of China, the Three Districts, and the Uyghur-inhabited, anti-revolutionary Seven Districts (at the time, Xinjiang Province was divided into ten districts, and the Seven Districts were treated as a unit in the Coalition Government). In the 25 members of the Committee of the Coalition Government, there were seven from the central government, eight from the Three Districts, and ten from the Seven Districts. The communist Ehmetjan Qasim, the leader of the Three Districts, became the Provincial Vice Chairman.

As the establishment of the Coalition Government, the unpopular governor Wu Zhongxin (chairman of the Government of Xinjiang Province) was replaced by Zhang Zhizhong (chairman of the Coalition Government of Xinjiang Province), who implemented pro-minority policies to placate the minority population in the Three Districts.

After the establishment of the Coalition Government, in effect, little changed in the Three Districts. The Three Districts remained a de facto separate pro-Soviet area with its own currency and military forces. At the beginning, all the three sides of the Coalition Government placed their hopes in it. The Three Districts side discussed with the Coalition Government and the Seven Districts the union of the economy, finance, transport, postal-service systems of the ten districts in Xinjiang again. They discussed the army reorganization of the Three Districts, too. The Three Districts had withdrawn their army from the Seven Districts.

However, as the domestic and international situation changed, and the contradiction in the Coalition Government deepened, the Coalition Government was on the verge of collapse in 1947. During 1946 and 1947, the Kuomintang actively supported some local leaders opposing the Three Districts. By this time, these opposition figures included Kazakh leader Osman Batur, who broke with the other rebels when their pro-Soviet orientation became clear. In the Coalition Government, there were several important anti-revolutionary Uyghurs appointed by the Kuomintang, such as Muhammad Amin Bughra, Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Masud Sabri. These three Uyghurs returned to Xinjiang with Zhang Zhizhong in 1945, when the negotiations started.

As there were too many difficulties, Zhang Zhizhong, the chairman of the Coalition Government, decided to escape from Xinjiang. Bai Chongxi, the Defense Minister of China and a Hui Muslim, was considered for appointment in 1947 as Governor of Xinjiang. But finally, according to Zhang Zhizhong's recommendation, the position was given instead to Masud Sabri, a pro-Kuomintang, anti-Soviet Uyghur. Ehmetjan Qasim strongly opposed Masud Sabri becoming governor and demanded that Masud Sabri be sacked and that prisoners be released from Kuomintang jails as some of his demands to agreeing to visit Nanjing.

On 21 May 1947, the central government appointed Masud Sabri as the new chairman, and Isa Yusuf Alptekin the secretary-general of the Coalition Government. This was fiercely opposed by the Three Districts side, but supported by the Seven Districts side. Masud Sabri was close to conservatives in the CC Clique of the Kuomintang and undid all of Zhang Zhizhong's pro-minority reforms, which set off revolts and riots among the Uyghurs in the oases like Turfan (one of the Seven Districts. Riots in Turfan started in July 1947). On 12 August 1947, Ehmetjan Qasim (the vice-chairman of the Coalition Government and the leader of the Three Districts) left Dihua and returned to Ili. Soon afterwards, all the representatives in the Coalition Government from the Three Districts side returned to Ili. The Three Districts leaders then established the Three Districts Economic Commission to govern the region independently from the rest of Xinjiang, marking the collapse of the Coalition Government.

Takeover by the People's Republic of China

Ehmetjan Qasim, Chairman of the Xinjiang Democratic League of Peace Safeguarding, in 1948, Ghulja Saifuddin Azizi, Xi Zhongxun (father of 6th paramount leader of China Xi Jinping), Burhan Shahidi in July 1952 after quelling the Ospan Batyr Kazakh insurgency in Xinjiang.

In August 1949, the People's Liberation Army captured Lanzhou, the capital of the Gansu Province, threatening Kuomintang administration in Xinjiang. The Kuomintang Xinjiang provincial leaders Tao Zhiyue and Burhan Shahidi led the KMT government and army's defection to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) side in September 1949. By the end of 1949, some Kuomintang officials had fled to Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, but most crossed over or surrendered to the CCP.

On 17 August 1949, the Chinese Communist Party sent Deng Liqun to negotiate with the Three Districts' leadership in Ghulja (Yining in Chinese). Mao Zedong invited the leaders of the Three Districts to take part in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference later that year. The leaders of the Three Districts traveled to the Soviet Union on 22 August by automobiles through Horgos, accompanied by Soviet vice-consul in Ghulja Vasiliy Borisov, where they were told to cooperate with the CCP. Negotiations between Three Districts and Soviet representatives in Alma-Ata continued for three days and were difficult because of the unwillingness of Three Districts leader Ehmetjan Qasim (whose strategy was opposed by two other delegates-Abdulkerim Abbas and Luo Zhi, while Generals Ishaq Beg and Dalelkhan supported Ehmetjan) to agree to incorporate the Three Districts into the future Chinese communist state, supposedly in 1951. The People's Republic of China was proclaimed two years earlier, on 1 October 1949. Ehmetjan regarded the current situation as a historic opportunity for Uyghurs and the other Turkic peoples of Xinjiang to gain freedom and independence that should not be lost. So, the Three Districts delegation was offered to continue negotiations in Moscow directly with Stalin before departure to Beijing.

On 25 August, the eleven delegates, Ehmetjan Qasim, Abdulkerim Abbas, Ishaq Beg, Luo Zhi, Dalelkhan Sugirbayev and accompanying officers of the Three Districts, boarded the Ilyushin Il-12 plane in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, officially heading to Beijing, but the flight was diverted to Moscow. On 3 September, the Soviet Union informed the Chinese government that the plane had crashed near Lake Baikal en route to Beijing, killing all on board. On the same day Molotov sent a telegram to Ghulja to inform Saifuddin Azizi (interim leader of the Three Districts when Ehmetjan Qasim was not in Ili, and a member of Communist Party of Soviet Union) about the "tragic death of devoted revolutionaries, including Ehmetjan Qasim, in airplane crash near Lake Baikal en route to Beijing." In accordance with instructions from Moscow, Saifuddin Azizi kept the news secret from the population of the Three Districts and it was unreported by Beijing for several months until December 1949, when Saifuddin Azizi departed to Moscow to join Mao Zedong's delegation to sign the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship with Stalin and to retrieve the bodies of the Three Districts leaders (their already unrecognisable bodies were delivered from the Soviet Union in April 1950) and when the People's Liberation Army had already secured most of the former Xinjiang Province.

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 Three Districts leaders, then ordered their execution. This was allegedly done in accordance with a deal between Stalin and Mao Zedong. The remaining important figures of the Three Districts, including Saifuddin Azizi (who led the second delegation of the Three Districts, which participated in Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in September in Beijing, which proclaimed the People's Republic of China on 1 October 1949), agreed to incorporate the Three Districts into Xinjiang Province and accept important positions within the administration. However, some Kazakhs led by Osman Batur continued their resistance until 1954. Saifuddin then became the first chairman of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which replaced Xinjiang Province in 1955. First People's Liberation Army units arrived at Dihua airport on 20 October 1949 on Soviet airplanes, provided by Stalin, and quickly established control in northern Xinjiang, then, together with units of the National Army of the Three Districts, entered southern Xinjiang, thus establishing control over all ten districts of Xinjiang Province. Earlier, on a single day, on 26 September 1949, 100,000 Kuomintang Army troops in the province switched their allegiance from Kuomintang to the Chinese Communist Party together with the Chairman of Xinjiang Provincial Government Burhan Shahidi, who was among the few who knew what actually happened to the First delegation of the Three Districts in August in the Soviet Union. On 20 December 1949 the East Turkestan National Army joined PLA as its 5th Army. The province's final status was instituted in 1955, when it was reorganised into an autonomous region for the 13 nationalities of Xinjiang (Uyghur, Han Chinese, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Hui, Mongol, Tajik, Uzbek, Tatar, Russian, Xibe, Daur, Manchu people).

Local opposition to the ETR

The KMT CC Clique employed countermeasures in Xinjiang to prevent the conservative, traditionalist religious Uyghurs in the oases in southern Xinjiang from defecting to the pro-Soviet, pro-Russian ETR Uyghurs in Ili in northern Xinjiang. The KMT allowed three anti-Soviet, pan-Turkic nationalist Uyghurs, Masud Sabri, Muhammad Amin Bughra and Isa Yusuf Alptekin to write and publish pan-Turkic nationalist propaganda in order to incite the Turkic peoples against the Soviets, angering them. Anti-Soviet sentiment was espoused by Isa while pro-Soviet sentiment was espoused by Burhan. In 1949, according to Abdurahim Amin, violence broke out at Xinjiang College in Dihua between supporters of the Soviets and supporters of Turkey following the screening of a film on the Russo-Turkish wars.

American telegrams reported that the Soviet secret police threatened to assassinate Muslim leaders from Ining and put pressure on them to flee to "inner China" via Dihua, White Russians grew fearful of Muslim mobs as they chanted, "We freed ourselves from the yellow men, now we must destroy the white."

The pan-Turkist 3 Effendis (Üch Äpändi), Aisa Alptekin, Memtimin Bughra and Masud Sabri were anti-Soviet Uyghur leaders. The Second East Turkestan Republic attacked them as Kuomintang "puppets".

Uyghur linguist Ibrahim Muti'i opposed the Second East Turkestan Republic and the Ili Rebellion because it was backed by the Soviets and Stalin. The former ETR leader Saifuddin Azizi later apologized to Ibrahim and admitted that his opposition to the East Turkestan Republic was the correct thing to do.


Interim Government Council of the East Turkestan Republic
Name Ethnicity Position(s)
Elihan Tore Uzbek President of the Interim Government
Hakim Beg Khoja Uyghur Vice President of the Interim Government
Abdulkerim Abbas Uyghur
  • Minister of Internal Affairs (initially)
  • Minister of Propaganda
  • Political Commissar of the ETNA
Mahmautjan Mahsum Uyghur Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Jani Yoldaxup Uyghur Director of the Supervisory Committee
Rahimjan Sabir Ghaji Uyghur
  • Vice Minister of Military Affairs (initially)
  • Minister of Military Affairs
  • Minister of Internal Affairs
Salam Bay Uzbek Minister of Agriculture
Zunun Taipov Tatar
  • Assistant Director of the Supervisory Committee (initially)
  • Minister of Military Affairs
  • Deputy Commander of the ETNA
Anwar Musabay Uyghur Minister of Finance
Abulimiti Ali Halipa Uyghur Minister of Religious Affairs
Abdulla Heni Uyghur Chief Judge of Military Tribunals
Habib Yunich Tatar Minister of Education
Ubulhari Tora Kazakh Minister of Nomadic Pasturing
Piotr Alexandrov Russian
  • Commander-in-Chief of the ETNA
  • Minister of Military Affairs
Povel Maskolyov Russian
  • Minister of Internal Affairs (initially)
  • Chief of Staff of the ETNA
Puja Abal Mongol Representative of the Mongol community
Ehmetjan Qasim Uyghur Minister of Internal Affairs
Saifuddin Azizi Uyghur Minister of Education
Sources: Wang 2020, pp. 150–151; Forbes 1986, p. 259.


The National Army of the Second East Turkestan Republic was formed on 8 April 1945, and originally consisted of six regiments:

  1. Suidun infantry regiment
  2. Ghulja regiment
  3. Kensai regiment
  4. Ghulja reserve regiment
  5. Kazakh cavalry regiment
  6. Tungan regiment
  7. Sibo battalion
  8. Mongol battalion

General conscription of all races, except the Chinese, into the National Army was enforced in Ili District. Over 60,000 soldiers were in the Ili army according to General Sung.

Later, Sibo and Mongol battalions were upgraded to regiments. When Kazakh irregulars under Osman Batur defected to the Kuomintang in 1947, the Kazakh cavalry regiment of National Army also defected to Osman Batur. The motorized part of Army consisted of an Artillery Division, which included twelve cannons, two armoured vehicles, and two tanks. National aviation forces included forty-two airplanes, captured at a Kuomintang air base in Ghulja on 31 January 1945; all of them were damaged during the battle for the base. Some of these aircraft were repaired and put into service by Soviet military personnel in ETR. These airplanes participated in the battle between Ili rebels and the Kuomintang for Shihezi and Jinghe in September 1945.

This battle resulted in the capture of both KMT bases and oil fields in Dushanzi. During the battle, one more Kuomintang airplane was captured, detachments of National Army reached Manasi River north of Dihua, which caused panic in the city. Government offices were evacuated to Kumul. An offensive on Xinjiang's capital was cancelled due to direct pressure from Moscow on Ili rebels' leadership, which agreed to follow orders from Moscow to begin peace talks with Kuomintang. Moscow ordered the National Army to cease fire on all frontiers. First peace talks between Ili rebels and Kuomintang followed Chiang Kai-shek's speech on China State Radio, offering "to peacefully resolve Xinjiang crisis" with the rebels. These peace talks were mediated by the Soviet Union and started in Dihua on 14 October 1945.

The National Army enlisted 25,000 to 30,000 troops. In accordance with the peace agreement with Chiang Kai-shek signed on 6 June 1946, this number was reduced to 11,000 to 12,000 troops and restricted to stations in only the Three Districts (Ili, Tarbaghatai and Altai) of northern Xinjiang. National Army detachments were also withdrawn from Southern Xinjiang, leaving the strategic city of Aksu and opening the road from Dihua to the Kashgar region. This obvious mistake of Ili rebels allowed the Kuomintang to deploy 70,000 troops from 1946 to 1947 into Southern Xinjiang and quell the rebellion in the Pamir Mountains.

This rebellion had broken on 19 August 1945, in the Sariqol area of Taghdumbash Pamir. Rebels led by the Uyghur Sadiq Khan Khoja from Kargilik and the Sariqoli Tajik Karavan Shah captured all the border posts near the Afghan, Soviet and Indian borders (Su-Bashi, Daftar, Mintaka Qarawul, Bulunqul), and a Tashkurgan fortress, killing Kuomintang troops. The rebels took Kuomintang troops by surprise as they celebrated the capitulation of Japanese Army in Manchuria. A few Kuomintang forces in Sariqol survived and fled to India during the rebel attack. The original base of the rebellion was situated on the mountainous Pamir village of Tagarma, near the Soviet border. On 15 September 1945, Tashkurgan rebels took Igiz-Yar fortress on the road to Yangihissar, while another group of rebels simultaneously took Oitagh, Bostan-Terek and Tashmalik on the road to Kashgar.

By the end of 1945, Tashkurgan rebels had attacked Kashgar and Yarkand districts. On 2 January 1946, while the Preliminary Peace Agreement was signed in Dihua between Ili rebels and Kuomintang representatives under Soviet mediation, rebels took Guma, Kargilik and Poskam, important towns controlling communications between Xinjiang, Tibet and India. On 11 January 1946, the Kuomintang Army counter-attacked the Yarkand military zone, bringing reinforcements from Aksu Region. The counter-attackers repelled Tashkurgan rebels from the outskirts of Yarkand, recaptured the towns of Poskam, Kargilik and Guma and brought the Tashkurgan Region back under Chinese control by the summer of 1946.

Only a few hundred of the originally 7,000 Tashkurgan rebel force survived. The survivors retreated to the mountainous Pamir base in Qosrap (village in present-day Akto County). The National Army was inactive in Kashgar and Aksu from 1946 to 1949 until the arrival of People's Liberation Army (PLA) units in Xinjiang.

Deng Liqun, a special envoy of Mao Zedong, arrived at Ghulja on 17 August 1949 to negotiate with the Three Districts leadership about the districts' future. Deng sent a secret telegram to Mao about the Three Districts forces the following day. He listed these forces as including about 14,000 troops, armed mostly with German weapons, heavy artillery, 120 military trucks and artillery-towing vehicles, and around 6,000 cavalry horses. Soviet military personnel were present in the Army and serviced fourteen airplanes, which were used as bombers. On 20 December 1949, the National Army was incorporated into the PLA as its Xinjiang 5th Army Corps.


The ETR government's 1946 national budget indicated that its largest source of revenue was trade with the Soviet Union. The largest export was oil from the Maytag oil fields; livestock and other goods were also exported by locals. The ETR had exorbitant military expenditures and incurred massive debts to the Soviet Union. As the region had not yet industrialised, the authorities turned to confiscating Han Chinese property, imposing heavy taxes, issuing deficit bonds and paper currency, collecting donations, and levying fines for unpaid and forced labour as sources of income. The ETR government justified its expropriation of Han Chinese property by issuing a resolution (its ninth) which argued that the Han Chinese had stolen the wealth of the indigenous populace through the "tyranny of the Han Chinese government".


Ethnic breakdown of the ETR (1944)
Ethnicity Percentage
Kazakhs 52.1%
Uyghurs 25.3%
Others 22.6%
Source: Wang 2020, p. 265.

The ETR had a total population of 705,168 people at the end of 1944. Kazakhs made up 52.1% of the population, or 367,204 people, while Uyghurs made up 25.3% of the population, or 178,527 people. Altay District had the highest percentage of Kazakhs at 84.6%, while Ili District had the highest percentage of Uyghurs at 35.1% (Kazakhs still made up a plurality of Ili's population at 44.7%).


The official newspaper of the ETR government was Azat Sherkiy Turkistan (Free East Turkestan), later renamed Inqlawiy Sherkiy Turkistan (Revolutionary East Turkestan). It was published in four languages – Uyghur, Russian, Kazakh, and Chinese – and began circulation on 17 November 1944, five days after the ETR was founded. The Tatar polyglot Habib Yunich was its editor.


The flag of the Second East Turkestan Republic was a green field charged with a white star and crescent.


The Soviet Union set up similar puppet-states in Pahlavi-dynasty Iran in the form of the Azerbaijan People's Government and Republic of Mahabad. The Soviet Union used comparable methods and tactics in both Xinjiang and Iran upon establishing the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad and Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan. The American ambassador to the Soviet Union sent a telegram to Washington DC noting the similarity of the situations in Iranian Azerbaijan and in Xinjiang.

After the Sino-Soviet split, the Soviet Union supported Uyghur nationalist propaganda and Uyghur separatist movements against China. Soviet historians claimed that the Uyghur native land was Xinjiang and Uyghur nationalism was promoted by Soviet versions of Turcological history. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union supported the publication of works which glorified the Second East Turkestan Republic and the Ili Rebellion against China in its anti-China propaganda war.

According to her autobiography, Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace with China, Rebiya Kadeer's father served with pro-Soviet Uyghur rebels under the Second East Turkestan Republic in the Ili Rebellion (Three Province Rebellion) in 1944–1946, using Soviet assistance and aid to fight the Republic of China government under Chiang Kai-shek. Kadeer and her family were close friends with White Russian exiles living in Xinjiang and Kadeer recalled that many Uyghurs thought Russian culture was "more advanced" than that of the Uyghurs and they "respected" the Russians a lot.

See also


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