Being predominantly Muslim, Uyghurs are closer ethnically and culturally to other Central Asian nations like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan rather than China.
Uyghurs lived in the Xinjiang region for around 1,000 years before it was annexed by China in the mid-18th century.
For centuries prior, Xinjiang’s major cities like Kashgar and Urumqi – its present-day capital – were important trade hubs on the infamous Silk Road.
Following a revolt in the late 19th century, the region was given its current name, “Xinjiang.” This name carries negative connotations for most Uyghurs who privately refer to it “East Turkestan.”
In 1933, the region briefly declared independence but was quickly crushed by China. A decade later, the Soviet Union briefly supported the creation of the “Second East Turkestan Republic,” before withdrawing its support and backing the Communist takeover of China.