Friday, July 07, 2006

The Oyrats come west   posted by Razib @ 7/07/2006 12:00:00 AM

In a post below I made an allusion to the Oyrat Mongols. If you want to know more about one of their tribes, in particular, the one which is the source of the only indigenous European Buddhist nationality, check out John Emerson's essay on the Torgut exodus. One interesting tidbit about the Oyrats is that some were called "Dzunghars," and they inhabited roughly what is today the northern half of Xinjiang province, Eastern Turkestan, still called Dzungharia. But, there are few, if any, Mongol speaking peoples in this region now, the "indigenous" folk are Kazakhs and Uyghers. What happened? The Manchus & cannon happened (in the 18th century), in short, the Western Mongol tribes were exterminated & expelled, in part because of their meddling with the politics of high Central Asia and their inevitable conflict with the Manchu Empire. So with the connivance of the Khalkha Mongols of the east, who were descended from Genghis Khan and did not appreciate the arriviste Oryat ascendency, the last steppe nomad power was broken by a gunpowder empire. There are two reasons this is important. First, it highlights that genocide is not a European monopoly, given weapons of mass destruction human does as human sees. Second, the idea of "indigenous" peoples like the Uyghers has to run up against the reality that ethnicity in a local area is often fluid and historical roots are not always deep. So the Han colonization of northern Xinjiang is less the displacement of indigenous peoples (the Kazakhs and Uyghers) as it is one in a long sequence of ethnic transitions (the Oryats themselves probaby displaced a Turkic speaking people, perhaps the Kirghiz or even Kazakhs).