Aziz Isa Elkun
Research affiliate, SOAS, University of London
The Chinese government said this was done in order to modernize us, but their true aim was to destroy Uyghur ethnic, cultural and religious identities. I felt as if my father’s body had been brutally torn out of its resting place in our ancestors’ land.
Over the past century, countries have used the tool of nationalism to pursue their own interests. Nationalism is about people, land and the relationship between them. Nationalist propaganda creates a special relationship between a unique people and a particular territory.
The Uyghurs are one of the many peoples who have been left out of this tidy calculation. We are labelled as an “ethnic minority” that suits Chinese version of statehood. China’s policies aim to cut our ties to our land. Uyghur pilgrims are cut off from their places of worship; villages are uprooted from their fields, and families are torn apart. Islam and Uyghur culture are none separated identities of the Uyghurs, therefor they regard the burial place – gravy yard as a holy place that connects the sprits of the generation past and today. Plus, Uyghur graveyard is a symbol of belonging to each other in the Uyghur community that keep connects Uyghurs spiritually, culturally and politically.
Under the policies being pursued by Chinese President Xi Jinping since 2016, millions of Uyghurs are suffering inhuman treatment in the internment camps within the Uyghur region. Uyghurs in exile are also suffering because China has cut off all communication between Uyghurs at home and abroad. I want to use this opportunity to tell you my own story, as an example of how Uyghurs in exile have become desperate in response to China’s ethnic cleansing policies.
Today’s “Uyghur problem” in China is tragic one not a new one. Probably the current situation is one of the worst crimes that a country has openly committed against a specific ethnicity since the Second World War.
I am going to tell you my story in brief, as an example of how Uyghurs in exile have become desperate in response to China’s ethnic cleansing of the Uyghurs.
My father was born during the time of Republic of East Turkistan in 1945. When I was born, my father and I was citizens of People’s Republic of China, residence of our historic father land East Turkistan but China re-named it “Xinjinag” Uyghur Autonomous Region.
I am an ethnic Uyghur. The Uyghur language is mother tongue. I grew up in the remote village near the Tarim River, it’s 10 kilometers away from East Turkistan’s (Xinjiang) largest prison, and I experienced extreme poverty during the “Chinese Cultural Revolution”
What I remember most about my childhood in the late 1970s, we used to have dark days during which we could not see any sunlight, and dust fell like rain. Afterwards I learned this was linked to China conducting Nuclear Tests 300 kilometers away from our village in Lop Nor.
In the late 1950s, China acquired Soviet Unions Nuclear weapon technologies and started conducting Nuclear weapons test in Lop Nor from 1964 till 1996. Last time China conducted its 45th and final nuclear test was on 29 July 1996.
Geographically, I grew up in the Centre of Nuclear test zones of mankind, as mentioned, 300 km in the east from our village, Chinese Lop Nur Nuclear test, less that 1000 km in the west, Pakistan’s Nuclear test sites, and in the south, India’s Nuclear sites 2000 km from our village in the Northwest, Soviet Kazakhstan’s Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site.
Now I give you some statistics about Uyghur population: in 1949, before Chinese Communist Army’s occupation (Communist party -共产党) or once more inherited from the previous Chinese nationalistic government (Nationalist party -国民党), Uyghur population in East Turkistan was nearly 3 million and the Han Chinese population was less than 250 thousand. Over the 70 years rule of my country by Chinese Communists, they systematically carried out demographic genocide by flooding Han Chinese migrants in mass scale.
Now, in the year of 2019, the Han Chinese population in East Turkistan is more than 15 million, and this number is not including Chinese Armies, Bingtuan (Production and Construction Corps – a unique economic and paramilitary organization belongs directly to Beijing’s administration) while the Uyghur population is 12 million, according to Chinese official census.
What I remember was our large family house with red apple orchard where I was born and spent my first 5 years in my life. Then our family house was demolished along with other villagers and that land given to the Han Chinese migrants to use for farming. My first year of primary school, father built mud brick house with two rooms near the sand dunes after giving away our fertile land.
First year of primary school, my father built mud brick house with two rooms near the sand dunes after giving away our fertile land.
I hadn’t seen two things before I was 10 years old, one- Han Chinese people, second electricity in our village. When I was second year at High School, I wrote on a paper to commemorate 1 year’s anniversary of 1985 Uyghur student demonstration and stacked that paper on the headmasters’ office door. I was arrested by county police for questioning, on the same day I was released.
I studied in Uyghur language school from year one to year 11, and then graduated from Xinjiang University, Urumchi.
In my second year of university, in mid spring of 1989, for more than two months, I participated in the Tiananmen student protests, to gain the rights of democracy. These nationwide student movements were violently ended by Chinese armies and tanks.
This incident became a problem for me after I graduated from University. I was fired from my job and accused of “separatism” in 1992 because of the poster I wrote in 1986 when I was 16 years old, plus my participation in the Tiananmen student protest. I had no other choice left rather than finding a way to leave from my country. I have lived in the UK since 2001.
My father died on 4th November 2017, heard his death four day later through a friend. I wrote a letter to Chinese embassy, appealed giving a visa on humanitarian ground in 2016 when I heard my father health was deteriorated but my appeal was ignored.
After New Year 2018, my telephone communication with my widowed, elderly mother was cut off. Since then, have no news about my mother and other relatives from our village. I hope the best that my mother is alive. I wrote a story named “An unanswered telephone call” in summer 2017. A year later, I produced a short film based on my life story in exile.
I wrote a story named “An unanswered telephone call” in summer 2017. A year later, I produced a short film based on my life story in exile.
On 15th April, I discovered from Google Earth Pro map that the gravyyard and tomb of my father were all destroyed. My father stayed in his tomb for only 623 days. The Chinese government said this was done in order to modernize us, but their true aim was to destroy Uyghur ethnic, cultural and religious identities. I felt as if my father’s body had been brutally torn out of its resting place in our ancestors’ land.
My family home used to have the largest orchards and land in the village, after finding demolition of my father’s tomb, I immediately checked family house, it looks like the house still exist but the whole orchard has completely gone. I only understood the destruction after comparing Google Earth Pro map’s capture timeline in last the 15 years.
Check on Google map: Near Xayar, Aksu, Xinjiang, China
I wrote a poem for my father when I got news of his death. Here is a short excerpt:
Dear father, you were a gardener with green fingers
Now when the thorns grow, you won’t be there to prune them.
You were a doctor, you cured so many patients
Now my heart is broken, but you are not here to cure it.
You left today in your coffin heading towards your tomb
Your son couldn’t carry you because he was not beside you.
When seven spades of soil were dropped on you
People said farewell to you and I was not there.
Let Elkun cry now because he has lost his father
I could not see you alive for the last time.
There are many sad and tragic stories among the Uyghur diaspora community. In London, there are few hundreds of Uyghur community members and they are mostly live in North London. Last month, I received a text message from a friend, it said “We would like to invite you come to our house for funeral. We have received information about of my brother death. He was ill in the camp and died two weeks later after release”.
Now, whenever I think of my family and friends at home, what always come to mind is if I didn’t leave the country, I may be one of them among the more than 3 million innocent Uyghurs in Chinese Concentration camps and I could not imagine the rest.
China is not only mass arresting millions of innocent Uyghurs, but also deliberately targeting Uyghur intellectuals including academics, writers, poets, artists, teachers and medical doctors and son on. China claimed these interment camps propose is “re-educating Uyghurs” for “Vocational training” but these intellectuals no needed re-education or vocational trainings. They are all professionals and used to work in Chinese government. But Chinese authorities specific target on Uyghur intellectuals reveals that China is aiming to destroy Uyghur ethnic existence and force Uyghur to be assimilated into Han Chinese.
Everyone single Uyghur in exile today can tell like me a similar story of lost and disappeared friends. This is a time of crisis for the Uyghur people.
05th May 2019, London
Published for the “Society and Space” Journal on December 2020.
Surveillance and Repression of Muslim Minorities: Xinjiang and Beyond
Watch the live presentation: https://youtu.be/roXeexJ-LH0
This article also published on Aziz Isa Elkun personal website: