"In the Land of Milk and Honey: On Uyghur Migration from China to Soviet Central Asia in the 1950s and 1960s"

June 26, 2018


SPEAKER: Gulnisa Nazarova, PhD John D. Soper Senior Lecturer at Indiana University Bloomington

Abstract: This talk concerns the Uyghurs who crossed the border and moved to Soviet Central Asia from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the 1950s and 1960s. It focuses on the process of the Uyghur migration, the reasons behind it, and the lives of Uyghurs in the Soviet Union. The talk is based on oral interviews conducted in the summer of 2016 in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The interviews show that in addition to harsh Chinese policy towards the local peoples of Xinjiang, Soviet propaganda played a significant role in encouraging people to leave their homeland for the USSR, depicted in the propaganda as a land of paradise. Propaganda tools included books and textbooks, magazines and newspapers published in the Uyghur, Kazakh, and Russian languages published in Soviet Central Asia for use in Xinjiang, as well as Soviet films which romanticized the revolution and the happy life of the Soviet people. The paper looks at how expectations of migrants corresponded to the Soviet reality, which turned out to be the quite opposite. Interviewees shared personal stories of their suffering while crossing the Sino-Soviet border, and their personal accounts convey the horror that followed the migration to the Soviet Union. The migrants gradually adjusted to Soviet life and a new generation grew up in this country that did not have connections with the homeland of parents. The interviews record the attitude towards and assessment of the events of the 1950s and 1960s by Uyghur migrants after the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of new nation-states. In new political, social, and economic conditions in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uyghur immigrants revise their evaluation of the migration, espousing more negative views of the role of Soviet propaganda, which depicted the Soviet Union as a paradise.

Bio: Gulnisa Nazarova is an ethnic Uyghur who was born in Kyrgyzstan, grew up and graduated from high school in Uzbekistan, obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Russia, and received her PhD in Kazakhstan; however, she considers Xinjiang (The Uyghur Autonomous Region in China) her homeland since both of her parents were born in that region and moved to the Soviet Central Asia in 1960s. Gulnisa Nazarova is a Senior Lecturer at Indiana University. Besides teaching Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced level of Uyghur, she occasionally teaches a cultural course entitled “Central Asia: Cultures and Customs” as a part of the Central Eurasian Studies Department's expanding undergraduate curriculum. In 2015 Gulnisa Nazarova received the Trustees Teaching Award in the At-Large NTT Faculty competition.