The Uyghur Diaspora in Central Asia and Europe Against the Chinese Concentration Camps

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As the Chinese state recently intensified its colonial violence against Muslim Uyghurs and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of them in camps, Dilnur Reyhan tells us about the way the Uyghur diaspora currently organizes to build up international solidarity.

Article published in The Funambulist 24 (July-August 2019) Futurisms. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Since the end of 2016, when China brutally worsened its policy in the Uyghur region, there has been major shifts in the responses of the Uyghur diaspora around the world. Since the 1990s, Uyghur organizations in various countries, especially in those that operate through the representative democracy model, have tried to publicize the Uyghur cause by working to raise awareness on the China-Uyghur ‘crisis’ and to influence public opinion — especially in Turkey — generally with the aim of influencing foreign policy and other public policies relating to the Uyghur Region. Yet, many members of the diaspora remained silent in the hopes of being able to travel to China. The designation of Chen Quanguo as head of the autonomous Uyghur region of Xinjiang has changed this situation, cutting off all Uyghurs from their families, including the ability to go to visit them without fearing for their safety. China’s fascist policy of considering all Turkic-speaking peoples, especially Uyghurs, as potentially dangerous and implementing the elimination of their identity has forced many quiet and non-politically active members of the diaspora to speak out and join the diasporic movement.

The Uyghurs of Russian-speaking Central Asia occupy an extremely important place in the Uyghur diasporic movement. For a long time, they were rather underestimated by the leadership of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) even though it included the political figure Qehriman Ghojamberdi of Kazakhstan and the ITTIPAQ (“Unite” in Uyghur) Association of Kyrgyzstan. This has changed in recent years, especially since the Congress is fractured around the presidency of businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer, who is largely supported by the Central Asian diaspora. During the congress of Paris in summer 2015, Central Asian Uyghur representatives came in large numbers to support the former president, even organizing a ceremony of Ton (the traditional dress of honor). The ITTIPAQ Association even proudly re-electing Kadeer despite the unhappy voters.

Their importance in the diasporic movement is even more felt, because of their numbers, since the petitions against the Chinese concentration camps have multiplied. Indeed, estimated between 500,000 to a million, the Central Asian Uyghurs weigh heavily now in the legitimacy of these organizations and in the success of international actions that require a popular mobilization of the diaspora.