February 16, 2023
The Uyghur government-in-exile in the US and World Uyghur Congress have celebrated the 26th anniversary of the Ghulja massacre, which is a stark reminder to the world that China had made its intentions clear towards the Uyghur Muslim minority many years ago and it continues to tread that path even today.
The 5th of February 1997 is a day which the Uyghur community will always remember. On that date the Uyghur had gathered in Ghulja (East Turkistan) to save their land, but they were massacred in cold blood by the Chinese Police as per the instructions of the CCP high command. China has always used cruelty to induce fear in the mind of the Uyghur. The Ghulja massacre was only the start.
According to a contemporary report, more than 100 people died, and thousands were arrested. Since Ghulja, harsh repression of the ethnic Uyghur in Xinjiang has continued. Salih Hudayar, Prime Minister of the East Turkistan government-in-exile, recently stated that despite the United States and other countries recognizing the atrocities committed by China as genocide, the Chinese state continued its repressive policies in Xinjiang.
According to several estimates, the Chinese regime has detained more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are subjected to torture, rape, forced labour, and political indoctrination by the Communist Party of China (CPC). Back in 1997, the news of China mistreating 30 Uyghur freedom activists sparked protests in the city of Ghulja. Another incident involving a group of women taking part in Meshrep (a cultural practice including dance, music, and poetry) also caused people to take to the streets.
Meshrep typically consists of social, religious, and cultural activities such as music, dance, the recitation of poetry, the teaching of basic principles of Uyghur religion, or simple conversation, as well as organized sports, primarily among young men. Through this form of community building and the creation of a social support network, many youths were able to give up drinking, drug abuse and other civil crimes. To suppress the independence movement, China cracked down on every symbol of Uyghur identity: faith, culture, lifestyle, and everything was seen as a threat. The protests in Ghulja were a result of these harsh actions. After two days of demonstrations where protesters shouted Islamic and freedom slogans, the police used clubs, water cannons, and tear gas to disperse the crowds. Chinese authorities showed no mercy while beating people black and blue.
Today, 26 years later, the situation of the Uyghur has only gotten worse. Now China is openly harassing the Uyghur, treating them inhumanely by putting them in reeducation camps, destroying their Mosques, banning the celebration of Ramadan, snatching away children from their parents, and forcing them to rot in orphanages. There are thus only two kinds of Uyghur: those live in the diaspora, away from their homeland, and those living under Chinese occupation but dying a little each day. Not even a single member of the Uyghur community is left untouched by the brutality wrought on them by the Chinese. The reality is that China has no respect for our religion or ethics. The incident of the Quran burning in Sweden grabbed the headlines and was condemned by the Islamic world. When the same thing occurs in Xinjiang, the Islamic world keeps mum. This is because the Chinese have entered the Islamic world with their economic clout. This double standard approach will not help them when China starts showing its true intentions.
In 2020, the Trump administration had declared China’s repression of Uyghur as a genocide. “The US recognition of the genocide has led to similar recognitions by nearly a dozen Parliaments in the EU, the United Kingdom, Canada … and so forth. It’s also brought more awareness on what’s happening to the Uyghurs and the other Turkic peoples of Eastern Turkistan,” Hudayar told “China in Focus” (18 January 2023) on NTD, a sister media outlet of The Epoch Times.
“But sadly, it hasn’t been enough to stop the genocide,” he noted, saying, “The Chinese government continues to carry out genocide, even in 2023. It continues to deny the fact that it’s carrying out genocide,” he added. Hudayar highlighted the instance of the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act signed into law by President Biden in December 2021, which bans imports from Xinjiang unless companies can prove that the products weren’t produced using forced labour. Hudayar believes the legislation is not strong enough to end the practice of forced labour. To effectively put an end to forced labour in Xinjiang, he suggested “legislation that would essentially ban all products made in China.”
For those historically minded, perusal of a Reuters dispatch (22 November 1953), from Leh that appeared in The New York Times with the headline “Indians get out of Red Sinkiang” would be of interest. The dispatch reads: “After a journey of 500 miles through the western Himalayas, nineteen Indians have arrived here from southern Sinkiang in Communist China”. These were the last Indians who left Xinjiang, ending a presence that lasted at least several hundred years. The group was led by the Indian Vice Consul in Kashgar, who looked after Indian interests for three years, after the Indian consulate was closed. Thus, India has a historical link and understanding of Xinjiang, which needs to be firmed up and awareness intensified.
Why so? This is because India is ideally placed to focus its attention on the plight of the Uyghur. While the West has for long spoken and criticised China for its actions in Xinjiang, India needs to step up its efforts in this direction. The tenor of India’s voice would have to necessarily add to the growing chorus of global voices in support of the Uyghur in China. The Ghulja movement ended with a massacre, but its spirit will live on forever, the spirit of fighting for freedom, the Uyghur identity and a free homeland (Hong Kong Free Press, 7 April 2021).
What happened on 5 February1997 is a scar in the Uyghur consciousness, and a reminder to us that China cannot and should not be able to get away with the brutality it continues to inflict on innocent Uyghurs.