Uyghur desperation at home and in exile

Aziz Isa Elkun
Research affiliate, SOAS, University of London

In our world, when prehistoric humans had their first conscious of their humanity, they have understood how important it’s to protect their own interests against others. Since then, human history has been filled with periodic wars against each other and it caused great tragedies. Until today, many nations in the in world have suffered some forms of tragedy that caused by humans own wars. In the digital world of the 21st century, the Uyghur tragedy is none of the example and not exceptional.

Particularly beginning in this century, countries have found useful methods to peruse their interests with the tool of nationalism. The nationalism is about people, land and the relationship between them. Nationalistic propaganda seeks to define a special relationship between a unique people and a particular piece of the earth’s land.

Under the current 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, but Uyghurs in exile are also suffering because China has effectively cut off all communication between Uyghurs at home and abroad.

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 organizationbelongs 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.

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 in order to save my life, so I was able to leave in spring 1999 and stayed in Kyrgyzstan for 8 months before I arrived in Europe. I became a British citizen in 2005.

I am only child of my parents. I and travelled to East Turkistan with my wife to conduct filed work three times before our whole family were refused giving visa in summer 2015.

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 deterioratedbut my appeal was ignored.

After New Year 2018, my telephone communication with my widowed, elderly mother was cut off. Since then I 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.

Now almost a year later, I become stressed and had sleepless nights. 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.

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 all of the orchard 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

There are many sad and tragic stories among the Uyghur diaspora community. In London, there are few hundreds of Uyghur community member 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 Uyghur’s, 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.

You may have heard about the author of “Wild Pigeon” story Numuhammet Yasin. He was given 10 years prison sentence for his story, which was officially published in Kashgar Literature Journal in 2004. We don’t whether he was still kept in a Chinese prison or released after finished his prison terms. I recently found an old newspaper dating back to 1992, in which our poems were published in the same column on Aksu Newspaper. Though I also suffered but I am free and I can talk to you here and my colleague is in prison. I was at university in the same year as Ilham Tohti, and until few months before his arrest, we kept email exchange. Now he is sentenced to life imprisonment. A have an old friend from the same hometown, his name is Omerjan Hasan Bozqir, who was a translator, commentator and web master of an Uyghur language website “Bozqir”. For many years I regularly published my poems and other literary articles in his website, keeping in close contact with him until before his website was blocked and he was arrested in July 2016. Now his fate is unknown, but I am free here talking about him.

In the last 15 years, I have known Profession Rahile Dawut well. We worked in collaboration with her but she was arrested in May 2018, she was kept one of the cold Chinese interment camps, but we don’t know any information about her.

There are many more similar stories. I met a famous Uyghur singer and composer Sanubar Tursun for the first time in Summer 2006. Since then we have kept contact. In 2014, with our support, she came to London, Edinburgh and Paris for performance. I wrote in Uyghur a book about her and importance of Uyghur song and dance part of Uyghur identity. She was arrested in Summer 2018, and we don’t know anything about her situation. Like this, there were estimated figures of more that 500 Uyghur intellectuals were arrested or being kept in Chinese interment camps.

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


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