The Uyghur

The Uyghur (Uighur, Uigur), Chinese (Pinyin) Weiwu’er, are a Turkic ethnic group principally residing inánorthwestern China, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The area is also called Tarim Basin. There are diasporic communities of Uyghurs in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, northern Afghanistan, and elsewhere in Central Asia.áThe Tarim Basin is one of the most arid in the world; hence, for centuries they have practiced irrigation to conserve their water supply for agriculture.

The customary knife of the Uyghur is the bıšak (bichaq, bishaq, bichaq, bichac), also called the pichoq (pichok, pchak, pechak, P’chak). The styleáis especially interesting because the design influenced knife-making from Uzbekistan to the Balkans and throughout the Ottoman Empire. áUzbek (Ízbek) smiths are known to have traveled to the Middle East and shared their wares, designs and skills. An Uyghur population settled as far away as Turkey. Both Uzbek and Uyghur tribes belong to the same ethnic subbranch of Turkic people. áThe word "Bıšak" simply means "knife" in the Turkic language spoken by these groups.

Uyghur man in Kashgar

The oldestábıšak in my collection is from the Central Asian Islamic Emirate of Bukhara, previously Turkistan, present - day Uzbekistan. Bukhara weapons are extremely rare compared to Turkish, Indian, Persian, or Caucasian weapons. This region was not heavily populated and warriors were a very small percentage of the population. The Bukhara arms are hardly ever seen in museums, including museums in Russia. Contributing to their rarity were the actions of the former Soviet Union. They sought to suppress local cultures and customs in favor of approved uniform Soviet designs and confiscated most if not virtually all existingáBichaq, whether they be used as a work knife, kitchen knife or for personal defense. áVery few of the older examples of this indigenous knife survive. New smiths are beginning to recreate the traditionalábıšak, but these are substantially different from the older ones in both workmanship and design.