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China moves to close down Uyghur cultural, language organizations

‘This is proof’ of the effort to eradicate Muslim traditions in Xinjiang, a Uyghur exile says.

By Mihray Abdilim 01.032022

Children play soccer in front of a gate with a mural depicting Uyghur musicians at the International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi in northwestern China's Xinjiang region, as seen during a government organized trip for foreign journalists, April 21, 2021.

The Chinese government’s move to shut down more than 150 Uyghur cultural research and language organizations is another indication of the cultural eradication of the mostly Muslim community, those once involved in the organizations and Uyghur artists said.

The Civil Affairs Bureau of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) on Feb. 22 issued a “notice of revocation of registration certificates and seals of the legal representatives of social organizations,” according to Chinese media reports published and information on the websites of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and the Urumqi (in Chinese, Wulumuqi) municipal government.

The list issued by the bureau includes 160 organizations devoted to researching traditional Uyghur culture and to the teaching of foreign languages, including the Uyghur Classical Literature and Muqam Research Association, Dolan Farmer Painters’ Association, Atlan Vocational Training School, Intil Language School and Miraj Vocational Training School.

“This policy of elimination the Chinese government is carrying out — or, in its own words, this ‘war on terror’ — is a war against the Uyghurs,” said Kasimjan Abdurehim, who founded the Atlan Vocational Training School.

“This is proof,” he added. “We can see the cancellation, the elimination, of these Uyghur-run schools and organizations on the list as one small piece of evidence that the policies of the Chinese government continue to operate at ever-new highs.”

Kasimjan, who now lives in the United States, pointed out that most of the social organizations, research centers and schools on the list were founded by Uyghurs. He said the campaign to close Uyghur cultural institutions began at least four years ago.

“As part of this process, they’ve already used all sorts of pretexts to deal with the leaders of these schools and organizations,” he said. “Today, we’re seeing the results of this in this list.”

The issuance of the list also makes clear that the new Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Ma Xingrui will follow the same path as previous Chinese leaders in the region concerning the repression of the Uyghurs, he said.

Authorities had already revoked the certification of the vocational school, registered in 2013, and the separate Atlan Language School, registered in 2006, Kasimjan said.

The Atlan School, which taught foreign languages and computer programming to Uyghur youths, had branches in different prefectures across Xinjiang, he said. More than 100,000 students took classes from 2006 to 2017.

At the time, authorities said it was because Kasimjan, the schools’ legal representative, left the region to live with his family in the U.S.

“At the end of 2017, after I came to the United States, it was the language training school that [the authorities] said would have its registration revoked if the legal representative didn’t come back and show himself,” Kasimjan said. “It’s managed directly by the Urumqi Municipal Department of Education [which] gave the school written permission to operate.”

The recent regionwide deregistration announcement that lists the two schools was only a formality, he added.

‘One piece of clear evidence’

China has repressed the Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang through forced labor, forced displacement and cultural obliteration. Authorities have purged Uyghur society of intellectuals, prominent businessmen, and cultural and religious figures, imprisoning many of them in a vast network of internment camps, as part of a campaign, purportedly, to prevent religious extremism and terrorist activities.

The U.S. Congress and the parliaments of other Western countries have declared that such actions constitute genocide and crimes against humanity.

The inclusion of the Uyghur Classical Literature and Muqam Research Society on the list of deregistered organizations caught the attention of Uyghur musicians who live in exile.

The European Uyghur Ensemble has performed Uyghur muqam, a musical mode and set of melodic formulas that guide improvisation and composition in Uyghur music, and other repertoires in countries across Europe.

Ensemble members Kamil Abbas, based in the Netherlands, and Muhtar Abdukerim Janbaz, based in Sweden, denounced the closure of the Muqam Research Society as “one piece of clear evidence of the ongoing elimination of Uyghur culture.”

“Now, I’ve heard this news that they have shut down this great research society,” Abbas said. “I’m really shocked to hear this. How can they look at something so important and just eliminate it?”

Abbas criticized the authorities’ elimination of cultural relics like the “Twelve Muqam,” a quintessential Uyghur work comprising 12 sets of ancient music that include sung poetry, stories, and dance, and is protected internationally.

He noted that Uyghurs have made significant contributions to the development of muqam, which was listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2005, and recalled how he performed it as a violinist while employed in the XUAR Opera Troupe in Urumqi in the 1980s and 1990s.

Uyghur artists have worked hard to develop muqam, Abbas said.

Muhtar Abdukerim Janbaz, who learned Uyghur folk music from the playing of master Abdurehim Heyit, and is a self-taught performer of muqam, also criticized the closure of institutions devoted to Uyghur classical music research, such as the Muqam Research Society, as a great loss for Uyghur culture.

“The disappearance of a place where muqam can be researched, negotiated, and presented to the descendants, of a place where standards can be preserved, is unfortunate and distressing for our people — and, we can say, for the world,” he said.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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