Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill
Subjects of No Nation, Citizens of any State: East Turkestanis and Ethnic Uyghurs in China and Diaspora, 1949-1979

What happens to crossborder populations when new nations form and the borders solidify? How do groups with plausible affiliations with multiple states but undisputable claim to none craft political identities that lend them legitimacy as potential subjects? My dissertation looks at how Turkic Muslims from Xinjiang/East Turkestan – known today as the Uyghurs – navigated developing political systems in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), northern India, and in Turkey after the foundation of the PRC in 1949. Building on scholarship of diaspora, nation-state formation, and borderland communities, this dissertation examines the different grounds on which Uyghurs claimed citizenship in three states: The PRC, India and Turkey. This project will be the first on the subject to unite Chinese and Turkish studies of the Uyghurs – and the first in Uyghur studies to use Indian Archives. In 1949 Xinjiang refugees traversed historic routes to northern India, where they expected to find refuge. However, just three years later a vocal segment of this population accepted a United Nations (UNHCR)-backed offer of Turkish citizenship on the basis of Turkish ethnicity. Once in Turkey, community leaders embarked upon a decades-long campaign of international advocacy for recognition of the [occupied] Turkic Muslim state of East Turkestan. By the 1970s, their efforts had largely failed, due in part to shifting geopolitics, and the East Turkestan political community began supporting a narrative of Uyghurs as ethnic minority refugee potential citizens of any state. Concurrent with the later development of supra-national Uyghur rights organizations, the history of East Turkestanis has been co-opted for anti-Chinese pro-Uyghur narratives that largely write out alternate routes pursued, including those in India. This dissertation uses Chinese, Turkish and Indian archives to examine the possible configurations of political, ethnic, and national identity for populations on the borders in this era of state consolidation.