ALMATY -- Uyghurs in Kazakhstan have commemorated victims of 1997 violence in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Some 500 people gathered at restaurant in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, and held a collective prayer to commemorate the victims and protests Beijing's current treatment of Uyghurs and other indigenous people in the region.
Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and members of the Bashkir, Nogai, and Azerbaijani diasporas took part in the ceremony on February 3.
Leaders of the World Uyghur Congress in Europe took part in the event via Skype.
On February 5, 1997, police in Qulja (also known as Yining), the capital of Ili-Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang, violently dispersed a large demonstration by Uyghurs.
The demonstrators were protesting the arrests of several popular Uyghur leaders and a crackdown on traditional Uyghur self-governing communities called mashraps.
Chinese officials said at the time that nine people were killed when police dispersed the rally, but international human rights organizations and Uyghur activists say at least 100 protesters were killed.
An organizer of the commemoration, Qaharman Qozhamberdiev, told RFE/RL that the gathering was also meant to voice opposition to Beijing's policy of assimilation of Uyghurs and other indigenous people and its use of so-called reeducation camps in the Xinjiang.
Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim Uyghurs are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs, and the region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, Tajiks, and Hui, also known as Dungans. Han, China's largest ethnicity, are the second-largest community in Xinjiang.
The United Nations said in August last year that an estimated 1 million Muslims from Xinjiang were being held in "counterextremism centers."
The UN also said millions more had been forced into reeducation camps.
In recent months, several demonstrations protesting against reeducation camps for Muslims were held in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia's Republic of Tatarstan.