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China's Uyghurs -- A Minority In Their Own Land?

Uyghur women surround a Chinese riot policemen as they protest in Urumqi on July 7.
Uyghur women surround a Chinese riot policemen as they protest in Urumqi on July 7.
By Breffni O'Rourke
(RFE/RL) -- The Uyghurs of western China are an ethnic Turkic people who are by tradition Muslim, and who feel more kinship with the peoples of Central Asia than with the Han Chinese -- the communist state's dominant population.

The Uyghurs are an ancient race who have made their mark on Eastern and Central Asian history. For more than a hundred years, in the eighth and ninth centuries, they ruled an empire that stretched from Manchuria to the Caspian Sea.

Today, they are concentrated in the northwestern Chinese province of Xinjiang. But they also are sizeable minority populations in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Pockets of Uyghur communities also are scattered widely elsewhere in Asia.

Originally a group of hill tribes from the Altai Mountains, the Uyghurs have their own distinctive culture and a Turkic language. Scientists say that genetically, Uyghurs are an admixture of Caucasian and East Asian blood. They say this is the reason many retain light-colored skin and hair. In terms of religion, they are primarily Sunni Muslims.

After a period of independence in the 1940s as East Turkestan, the Uyghur republic’s leadership agreed to form a confederation with the new Chinese communist state. But it was not long before Beijing maneuvered the republic into becoming the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region within China.

Rozimukhamet Abdulbakiev, the former head of a Uyghur nongovernmental organization in Kyrgyzstan called Ittipaq (Unity), tells RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the name of the province is a misnomer.

"Even though China gave Xinjiang the status of an autonomous Uyghur region, there is no sign of autonomy there. There are no rights for Uyghurs there. Nothing," Abdulbakiev says.

"This is a political and social [matter]. The Chinese totalitarian regime has oppressed all freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of personality, freedom of conscience -- that is why, of course, people have risen against it."

Swamped By Immigration


The rioting that took place on July 5 in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, started after reports arrived from southern China that at least two Uyghurs had been killed by ethnic Han Chinese workers in a dispute at a toy factory.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. The fierceness of the rioting, in which by official count more than 150 people died, points to deeper wellsprings of discontent.

"Why they are so upset at the situation is because, every day, the government brings in hundreds, thousands, of [Han] Chinese into our motherland, East Turkestan -- the Xinjiang autonomous region -- but at the same time our people are sitting without jobs, suffering," says Nizam Sametov of the Uyghur U.K. Association in London.

Sametov asserts that Chinese policy is to offer jobs to Uyghurs elsewhere in China, outside the Xinjiang region, thus reducing the concentration of this ethnic group. On the other hand, in the last five decades, there has been heavy Han immigration, so that today, Uyghurs barely outnumber the immigrants.

But Sametov rejects the vision of Uyghurs becoming a minority in their own homeland.

"Because our land is very rich in minerals, oil, gas, they just keep coming, every day bringing people from inside China to our own land. They hope soon that we will be a small minority, but we won't," Sametov says. "It is our own land."

Blaming Separatists

There have been intermittent acts of violence by underground groups fighting for independence, but they seem to lack popular support.

However, the Chinese authorities have now blamed the separatists for the violence.

"You all know that this incident was caused by people who want to incite conflict, and its roots are deeply political," Chinese Minister for Public Security Meng Jianzhu said in an address to troops and riot police in Urumqi.

"This conflict is between separatists and antiseparatist forces, and is an ongoing political struggle."

Abdulbakiev blames Chinese inflexibility for provoking unrest.

"When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Kyrgyz, Kazakh, Uzbek states became independent, the Uyghurs became especially eager [to struggle] for their independence with a new strength. This is what we have seen today," Abdulbakiev says.

"If the Chinese government was democratic and if it carried out political reforms, then this kind of harsh resistance would disappear”.

Uyghur activist groups in exile have denied fomenting any trouble within Xinjiang.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report
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by: Turan Turk from: Kashger
July 08, 2009 15:13
A Minority In Their Own Land? <br />Yes, it is. Uyghurs were majarity till 1950s, before Chinese coming in. Thank you. <br />http://www.uygur.org/enorg/history/uygurlar_kim.htm

by: Kashgari from: Kashgar
July 09, 2009 14:28
This is China and the Chinese state, who will help the helpless?

by: xy from: Toronto
July 09, 2009 17:49
It works, Islamic Uyghurs are conflicting again Chinese. This is very bad to both sides, but somebody else is happy to see it happen. To bring China in disorder using Taiwan/Tibet-India/Islamic Uyghure/North Korea/Vitnam/SouthChina Sea. Some agencies did a good job. This strategic plan will work to get the best profit for those selfish people, who will get the worst hurt are still Asian people. Poor Asia, conflicts never end.

by: Aditya Patel from: Shimla, India
July 09, 2009 21:31
Dear Breffni. The unrest is certainly instigated by Turkey and its pan-Turkism propaganda directed against Chinese people and China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese government is doing everything in its power to restore ethnic harmony and to ensure safety for all of its citizens. If Uyghurs are unhappy with their home country then they can get out of China and move to Uzbekistan and Turkey which is supporting and arming them. Like any other country, China is for faithful Chinese citizens regardless of their ethnic origin. I’m surprised that China has not yet protested and reciprocated Turkish government’s direct and shameless provocation aimed at destabilizing China. Turkey must be stopped and banned from meddling in internal affairs of other countries.

by: MaGioZal from: S&#227;o Paulo - SP - Brazil
July 10, 2009 10:44
Ethnic conflict breeds in lands where democracy does not exist.<br /><br />Red China policies over the eastern lands of Uyghuristan and Tibet are no different from the former policies of Russian Empire/Soviet Union over Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Latvia.

by: truth from: mars
July 10, 2009 17:13
Before 840 AD, Uyghurs' ancestors inhabited around Lake Baikal to northern Mongolia. Uyghur resettled to the Tarim Basin after being crushed by kirgiz . in 751 AD was a conflict between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty for control of the Syr Darya. so who are the squatters?

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 10, 2009 20:34
Aditya Patel, what are you talking about?<br /><br />&quot;If Uyghurs are unhappy with their home country then they can get out of China and move to Uzbekistan and Turkey&quot;<br /><br />Uyghurs are happy with their home country they are just unhappy about Chinese occupation. Hans are only immigrants in Uyghuristan but they want to dominate that land.<br /><br />Why do you think Uyghurs should leave their homeland?<br /><br />The situation is similar to that of history of North-American aboriginals who were eliminated by European settlers. <br /><br />Chinese Hans are trying to conquere their own &quot;wild west&quot; now just as Americans did. <br /><br />The result? The same as in the US. Indians are living now in reserves.<br /><br />If the trend does not change Uyghurs will be a minority on their own land.

by: Turgai Sangar
July 11, 2009 14:40
The last paragraphs of 'Aditya Patel''s comment about Turkey are identical to that of one 'Vladimir Gryzlov' from Russia:<br />http://www.rferl.org/content/Chinas_Ancient_Silk_Road_City_Of_Kashgar_Facing_Chinese_Bulldozers/1765682.html<br /><br />In other words, cut and paste work of a Chinese CP cyber propaganda squad.

by: Steve Bhola from: Canada
July 11, 2009 19:47
I think it is a political manouvering on the part of the chinese simmilar to that of Tibet, its just a matter of time befre the chinese government impose martial law and its communist rule,after which they would overtrow the central government and put all who oppose their reform in Jail

by: Steve Bhola from: Canada
July 11, 2009 19:49
This is exactly what they did in Tibet Its just a matter of time
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