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Sart is a name for the settled inhabitants of Central Asia which has had shifting meanings over the centuries. Sarts, known sometimes as Ak-Sart ("White Sart") in ancient times, did not have any particular ethnic identification, and were usually (though not always) town-dwellers. There is a suggestion that the name is etymologically derived from Sarı İt ("Yellow Dog" in Turkic) as an insulting term for town dwellers by nomads, and it was this supposed root which led the Soviets to abolish the term as "derogatory" (see below); however, Barthold believes this derivation to be false, and there is no literary or philological evidence to support it.



There are several theories about the origin of the term. It may be derived from the Sanskrit "sarthavaha" (merchant, caravan leader), a term supposedly used by nomads to described settled townspeople. . Or it may be a corruption of the Sogdian ethnonym "Soghd."

The earliest known use of the term is in the Turkic text Kudatku Bilik ("Blessed Knowledge"), dated 1070, in which it refers to the settled population of Kashgariamarker . In that period the term apparently referred to all settled Muslims of Central Asia, regardless of language.

Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in the Jami' al-Tawarikh writes that Genghis Khan commanded that Arslan Khan, prince of the Muslim Turkic Karluks, be given the title "Sartaqtai", which he considered to be synonymous with "Tajik" (It is possible , however, that Rashid al-din, who was Persian, misunderstood the meaning of this, as "Sartaqtai" was the name of one of the Genghis Khan's sons).

Alternative meanings

In the post-Mongol period we find that Ali Sher Nawa'i refers to the Iranian people as "Sart Ulusi" (Sart Ulus, i.e. Sart province), and for him "Sart tili" (Sart language) was a synonym for the Persian language. Similarly, when Babur refers to the people of Margelanmarker as "Sarts", it is in distinction to the people of Andijanmarker who are Turks, and it is clear that by this he means Persian-speakers. He also refers to the population of the towns and villages of the vilayat of Kabulmarker as "Sarts".

A further change of use seems to have occurred with the arrival in the oasis regions of Turkistan of the Uzbeks under Shaybani Khan. They distinguished between themselves as semi-nomadic speakers of a Kipchak dialect, and the settled Turkic-speaking populations already living in the oasis towns, most of whom spoke the Uyghur dialect. It is at this date that the distinction between the terms "Sart" and "Tajik" seems to have made itself felt, as previously they were often used interchangeably. Even after the Uzbeks switched to a settled way of life, they continued to maintain this distinction between Turkic-speakers who were members of one of the Uzbek tribes, and "Sarts" who were not.

Separation between the Uzbek and Uyghur nationalities

Throughout the Qing Dynasty, the sedentary Turkic inhabitants of the oases around the Tarim speaking Qarluq-Chagatay dialects were still largely known as Taranchi, Sart, ruled by their Moghul rulers of Khojijan or Chagatay lineages. Other parts of the Islamic World still knew this area as Moghulistan or as the eastern part of Turkestan, and the Qing Chinese generally lumped all off its Muslim subjects under the category of Hui, without making distinctions among the Chinese speaking Dungan-Hui and other language groups such as the Taranchi, Sart, Salar, Monguor, Bonan etc. This is akin to the practice by Russians lumping all Muslims connected to Ottoman or Muslim Chinggisid spheres "Tatar", irrespective of their linguistic group.

Before being renamed "New Territory" (Xinjiang) by Zuo Zongtang, this eastern part of Turkestan was more often known to the Qing Chinese as Hui Jiang, or "The Frontier of the Huis". Qarluq Turkic speaking Taranchi and Sart are often known as "Chantou Hui" (Turban-wearing Hui), for their headgears distinctive from those of the Chinese-speaking Hui. It was based on this designation of Hui, that Sart-Taranchi participants of the Czarist Central Asian Islamic modernist movement, the Jadid Movement, concluded that the modernized ethnonym of the Sart-Taranchi of Moghulistan should be Uyghur, because the names Hui and Uyghur are cognates. It was from outside of Qing Domain, well within the Czarist controlled parts of Central Asia, that Sart-Taranchi, Uzbek and Russian scholars first propagated the use of the modern ethnonym Uyghur, despite the fact that connections between the Karakhanid-Chagatayid societies and the Steppes Uyghur Empire and Karakhoja, Shazhou Uyghur states, are tenuous at best. To illustrate the artificiality of the distinctions between the modern Uzbek and Uyghur nationality, one only needs to look at General Saipidin Eziz, the first governor of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. General Saipidin was born to a Kashgar Sart merchant family with Andijanmarker roots. Technically, one with Andijanmarker roots would be classified as Uzbek as many Xinjiang people with connections in Uzbekistan, and speaking Turkic dialects local to Uzbekistan, continue to be classified as "Uzbeks in Xinjiang". However, since Kashgar Sarts and Andijan Sarts are hardly different culturally from each other, Saipidin grew up to identify himself primarily with his hometown Kashgar, and has always been identified as an Uyghur. The Uzbek culture does derive largely from the Sart culture common to most of Turkestan during the Karakhanid and Chagatay eras. However the Uzbek Khanate which did not rule Xinjiang, but only Uzbekistan in early modern times, had its ruling culture derived from the true Uzbeks, a Kypchak horde similar to the Kazakhs and Karakalpaks. The modern Uzbek nation did absorb something from this Kypchak ruling culture which can be discerned from the doppas worn by the Uzbeks and Uyghurs. The Uyghurs usually wear the square doppas whereas the Uzbeks usually wear the round doppas in similar make as the Kazakh and Kazan Tatar doppas.

In 1911, the Nationalist Chinese, under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, overthrew Qing Dynasty rule and established a republic, the first in Asia.

By 1920, Uyghur nationalism had already become a grave challenge to the Qing and Republican Chinese warlords controlling Xinjiang. Turpanmarker poet Abdulhaliq, having spent his early years in Semey (Semipalatinskmarker) and the Jadid intellectual centres in Uzbekistan, returned to Xinjiang with a penname that he later styled as a surname: Uyghur. He wrote the famous nationalist poem Oyghan, which opened with the line "Ey pekir Uyghur, oyghan!" (Hey poor Uyghur, wake up!). He was later martyred by the Chinese warlord Sheng Shicai in Turpanmarker in March,1933 for inciting Uyghur nationalist sentiments through his works.

Modern meanings

Vasily Bartold argues that by the 19th century those described as "Sarts" had become much more Turkicised than had previously been the case. In the literature of Imperial Russiamarker in the 19th century the term was sometimes used to denote the Turkic-speaking peoples of Ferghanamarker, Tashkentmarker, Chimkentmarker and the Southern Syr Darya Provincemarker, (also found in smaller numbers in Samarkandmarker and Bukharamarker). "Sart" was also commonly employed by the Russians as a general term for all the settled natives of Turkestan. There was a great deal of debate over what this actually meant, and where the name came from. Barthold writes that "To the Kazakhmarker every member of a settled community was a Sart whether his language was Turkish or Iranian". N.P. Ostroumov was firm in his conviction that it was not an ethnic definition but an occupational one, and he backed this up by quoting some (apparently common) local sayings: "A bad Kirghiz becomes a Sart, whilst a bad Sart becomes a Kirghiz". This confusion reached its peak in the 1897 Russian Empire Census: the Ferghanamarker Province was held to have a very large Sart population, the neighbouring Samarkandmarker Province very few but a great many Uzbeks. The distinction between the two was often far from clear. Although historically speaking the Uzbeks were descended from tribes which arrived in the region with Shaibani Khan in the 16th century, Sarts belonged to older settled groups. It seems that, in Khorezm at least, Sarts spoke a form of Persianised Oghuz Turkic while Uzbeks spoke a Kipchak dialect closer to Kazakh. In Fergana the Sarts spoke a Karluk dialect that was very close to Uyghur and is believed to be the earlier dialect of modern Uzbek. In 1924 the Sovietmarker regime decreed that henceforth all settled Turks in Central Asia would be known as "Uzbeks", and that the term "Sart" was to be abolished as an insulting legacy of colonial rule . The language chosen for the new Uzbek SSR was not, however, Uzbek, but Sart.

It is thus very difficult to attach a single ethnic or even linguistic meaning to the term "Sart". Historically the various Turkic and Persian peoples of Central Asia were identified mostly by their lifestyle, rather than by any notional ethnic or even linguistic difference. The Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Turkmens were nomads, herding across steppes, mountains and sand deserts, respectively. The settled Turks and Tajiks, on the other hand, were Sarts, as they either lived in cities such as Khivamarker, Bukharamarker or Samarkand, or they lived in rural agricultural communities.

Use by the Dongxiang

Interestingly, the Muslim, Mongol-speaking Dongxiang people of Northwestern China call themselves Sarta or Santa. It is not clear if there is any connection between this term and the Sarts of Central Asia.

Use in Siberia

Sart was one of the names applied to the Siberian Bukharans who settled in Siberia in the 17th century.


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