On this date in 1951, Kazakh national hero Ospan Batyr was executed in Urumqi.
Ospan — the second name is an honorific, not a family name — hailed from an ethnic Kazakh region in China’s eastern Xinjian region, noted today for its still-robust Uighur separatist movement.
Executed Today does not envy any ethnic group attempting to sort out its national aspirations on the frontiers of great powers, and this was the dangerous matter to which our day’s principal applied himself.
The powers in question here are the Soviet Union and China; their degree of sway over Xinjiang (or “East Turkestan”) shapes the parameters of the struggle.
During the early 1940’s, the Soviets’ dire wartime position gave them less weight to throw around; accordingly, the formerly Soviet-allied local warlord Sheng Shicai — an ethnic cleanser of Kazakhs from way back — made nice with the Koumintang.
As Moscow gained the upper hand over Berlin, however, it had leave to tend its eastern ambitions as well.
When Sheng got bounced from his post trying to re-defect to the victorious Soviets, Ospan Batyr (alternatively, Osman or Uthman Batur) led Kazakh forces in a multi-ethnic Muslim rebellion that established a short-lived East Turkestan Republic, allied with the Soviet Union.
But what the political expediency of great powers giveth, it also taketh away.
The postwar partition of the globe left Xinjiang in China’s sphere of influence, drawing down the East Turkestan Republic’s Soviet support. When that state-like entity became involved in a border conflict with Soviet-backed Mongolia, Osman and the Kazakhs lined up with the Koumintang — not Russia.
As a matter of straight realpolitik, this was an inauspicious moment to get with Chiang Kai-shek since he was on the verge of finally losing China’s long civil war. But it’s a move that would be subsequently vindicated by the way Kazakhs voted with their feet under Mao.
Ospan Batyr had to settle for the judgment of history when the People’s Liberation Army absorbed Xinjiang, and in 1950 finally corralled the remnants of his Kazakh resistance. He repelled demands under torture that he sign on with the Reds and make an appeal to his people in their name: “I can give a life. My nation will continue the struggle.”
Ospan Batyr awaits execution.
Most of the information readily available online about this Kazakh martyr is not in English, and a good deal of it tends to the hagiographical — like this Turkish-language page, lavishly illustrated.