East Turkestan is the eastern portion of Great Turkestan located in the center of Central Asia, which has been under political and economic control of China since 1949. East Turkestan shares borders with Pakistan, India, and Kashmir in south, Afghanistan and West Turkestan in southwest and west, Siberia in north, and finally China and Mongolia in northeast. The people of East Turkestan are identified as Muslims, Turks, Uyghur Turks, Uyghurs, and the people of Uyghur.
What happened after 1949?
When the people of Uyghur, who have been resisting to the occupation since 1944, started struggling with the prohibitions, the tortures and oppression have increased towards them. Chinese people’s liberation army, which has been economically and politically in control since 1949, started torturing people who started to resist such incidents. When China took complete control in 1953, the oppression and torturing drastically increased. In 1979, some of the portion of the country was directly merged into China, and the domestic conflicts had a break out afterwards.
Subsequently, in accordance with the decisions taken by the state of China, while the women wearing hijab and burqa, and the men with long beard were banned from using public transportation, other forced practices were adapted such as they were tormented into using alcohol in weddings. According to the decision, the people who had star and crescent signs could not use public transportation in compliance with this ban.
The violence even increased in 2000s, and many Uyghurs were arrested and tortured. Many Uyghur children and women were massacred right in front of the whole world. And some of them were extradited back to China from the countries they had fled. Cultural and religious limitations gradually gained speed starting as of 2009. Chinese government, which regarded the Uyghurs responsible from the attacks carried out in various places of China, started a new process called “people’s fight against terrorism” as of 2014.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of United Nations held a meeting last year in August about the communities which are exposed to discrimination in Geneva, Switzerland. The Human Rights Watch announced that Chinese government committed “systematic violation of human rights”. And the human rights representatives stated that the domestic governors favor politics and detain individuals, who are deemed as having objectionable demeanor, in political education centers without any judicial foundation, and their number increased up to 3 million.
The satellite footage reveals that the number of concentration camps, which have security cabins, watchtowers, and are surrounded with barbed wire, were tripled in one year on the deserts of East Turkestan. Many buildings served as schools, hospitals, or public institutions in the past were also changed into little camps.
International media located some of the camps by checking the construction tender notices published by the Chinese government. The satellite footage analysis on 39 different concentration camps made by Earthrise Media, a non-governmental organization, revealed that the capacity of these camps had increased 3 times in more than a year between April 2017 and August 2018. The children are separated from their parents, who are tortured in the biggest concentration camps the world has even seen until today, and the families cannot reach out to the people living in these camps.
Chinese government claim these camps, which are surrounded by thick walls, are actually “education centers”, “rehabilitation centers” or “vocational education centers”. However, there are enhanced surveillance systems, cameras to record the students, barbed wire, a system which allows listening telephone conversations, and infrared surveillance devices amongst the materials purchased for such centers after April 2017. It was revealed that the local government responsible from the camps, which Beijing claimed they rare providing vocational education, had purchased 2768 police batons, 550 electro shock devices, 1367 handcuffs, and 2792 cans of pepper spray.
First statement, which would recognize the existence of these concentration camps built by Chinese government, had come from Shohrat Zakir, an officer of Uyghur origins of Communist Party in East Turkestan, in September 2018. Zakir stated that the camps, which were intensely protested by the world public opinion, had been built in order to maintain security and restrain extremism in the region. Amongst the reasons for the individuals to be taken to one of these camps are travelling abroad, visiting or getting in touch with the relatives who are not Chinese, and having WhatsApp application in their phones. The people close to Communist Party blend in with the crowd, and they keep a sharp lookout where many spies are positioned. They collect intelligence and report the people they see suspicious to the security forces.
Moreover, China also continues to erase the legacy of Uyghur history by destroying many structures in Kashmir, which is considered to be one of the most preserved examples of Islamic and Central Asian architectural tradition in the region.
All of the mosques have banners written “love the party”, “love the country” type of texts written on them which demonstrates the commitment to the communist party. During the Friday prayers, the mosques are all empty. The people who go to the mosques on Friday are recorded and blacklisted. Women are forced not to wear long dresses. The longer parts of the dresses are being cut off by the officers in front of everybody in the middle of the street.
Some of the Uyghurs, who are taken into custody by the Chinese police, are forced to sign a document which says that they do not believe in Allah reject the religion. In the region of East Turkestan where the number of people who get arrested and taken into custody increase gradually, many people, who are being subject to intense communism propaganda and forced to wear a single type clothing, are facing assimilation policies by being separated from their children and spouses. The Uyghurs are tweeting and want their voices to be heard with #MeTooUyghur hashtag in Twitter in order to reach out to their relatives.
Deniz Zengin a doctorate researcher focusing on minorities, refugees and immigration.