Beijing (CNN) – Uyghur poet Aziz Isa Elkun fled China’s far western Xinjiang region more than 20 years ago.He’s not welcome in the country. He can’t even phone his mother. She said it was better if he didn’t, because every time he did, police would show up at her door. So, when Elkun’s father died in 2017, there was no way he could go back to China for the burial. To be closer to his family, he would view his father’s grave on Google Earth.”I know exactly where his tomb is,” Elkun told CNN in his north London home. “When I was a kid we would go there, pray at the mosque, visit our relatives. The entire community was connected to that graveyard.”He “visited” his father like this for nearly two years. But in June, something changed. The satellite photo on Google had been updated and the graveyard that used to be there was now nothing more than a flattened, empty field.”I had no idea what happened,” said Elkun. “I was completely in shock.”
Response to the Chinese Global Times & CGTN
After my recent interview with CNN about the destruction of my father’s tomb, Chinese Global Times and China Global Television Network specifically responded spreading fault information about the destruction of my father’s tomb by forcing my 78 years old mother to give an interview. The GT and CGTN claim that they respect Uyghur and other Muslim nationalities graveyards and burial traditions in East Turkistan (Xinjiang), but the claims made about me in the article are not correct.
They said: “Aziz Isa Elkun claimed he could not find his father’s grave, which was located in Xayar county in Aksu Prefecture, from a satellite image on Google. However, instead of checking with his family in Xinjiang, the Uygur poet opted to tell the media of his discovery.”
Let me clarify this:
My father worked for 40 years as a medical doctor for Shayar County, Toyboldi town hospital. He died on 4th November 2017. I heard about his death four days later through a friend. Soon before the end of 2017, all my telephone communication with my mother was cut off. I had no news about my mother and other relatives from our village for more than two years, when I learned from friends living outside the region that my mother was alive and that my sister had been detained in an interment camp for more than a year and a half. I still have no news of my other relatives. Thanks to this Global Times TV Network report I have now heard my mother’s voice for the first time since February 2017.
Aziz is now thirty years old, my old friend, I keep thinking about the story he once told me, the story of how he got his name. “My grandmother was not yet thirty when she and my grandfather firmly decided that to continue to stay in Urumchi for them was a tantamount to death and the only solution for them was to move to the Soviet Union. At that time they already had three children, two five-year-old daughters, twins -my aunts- and a thirteen-year-old son, my uncle, Aziz.
Grandfather was part of the national army. In the Union he had some connections, in Kazan and Alma-Ata. In Kazan he had friends from the Polytechnic Institute, and some of his relatives were in Alma-Ata. As a child I remember always inquiring my grandma of how she got here, she would always look somewhere to the distance and say that she sailed to Almaty on a steamboat, that would always surprised me and I did not believe. How do you come to a landlocked Alma-Ata on a steamboat? But then it turned out that there was a real shipping link across the Ili River.
The East Turkestan Republic was nearly abolished, but the bursts of fighting were still ongoing. Waiting for the necessary documents, grandmother with her children was in one of the villages near Ghulja. The river port was nearby. One of the summer days, the package arrived with documents and a letter from grandfather, where he said that they should immediately be floated on the first ferry without waiting for him. So they did. Only women and children were on the ferry, even the captain was a young girl in her early twenties. Of the male, the oldest were Aziz and a few other twelve and thirteen year olds.