Hindu Vivek Kendra
«« Back
HVK Archives: Uighurs smoulder under China's yoke

Uighurs smoulder under China's yoke - The Guardian, London

John McCarthy ()
4 September 1997

Title: Uighurs smoulder under China's yoke
Author: John McCarthy
Publication: The Guardian, London
Date: September 4, 1997

They dispute the name of the land they seek to liberate, and their Chinese
oppressors condemn them as "splittists". Trapped between farce and tragedy,
exiled Uighur nationalist groups have lacked credibility.

But early this year, as Uighurs in China stepped up their popular guerrilla
campaign against Beijing's rule in East Turkestan, the United National
Revolutionary Front of East Turkestan and the Uighurstan Liberation Front
shelved their differences and united. From their base in neighbouring
Kazakhstan, they could help forge a coherent independence movement.

Inhabiting the mainly desert territory of Xinjiang - China's
660,000-square-mile "new dominion", 1,000 miles from the sea and
periodically closed to foreigners - Uighurs have a degree of nominal
autonomy from Beijing.

Though they are Muslims, fundamentalist Islam plays little part in their
rhetoric of nationalism and social reform. They proudly liken their
struggle to that of the Chechens and Afghans, small nations which threw off
the yoke of big oppressors. They draw inspiration from their recently
independent Turkic cousins, the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbeks of
former Soviet central Asia.

Many are turning to guns, grenades and home-made bombs for political ends.
What Uighurs want is freedom from China and an end to daily racial
discrimination. They see the Chinese as colonists, settling ethnic Han
peasants on their land and reserving the best jobs for migrants from
eastern China.

Government incentives give skilled Han migrants salaries 50 per cent above
those they earn at home. Meanwhile, more than one in four Uighurs is

With Xinjiang emerging as the strategic key to its urgent search for
energy, markets and influence in and beyond central Asia, Beijing can
little afford Uighur unrest.

Impelled to open the region's long, tense frontier with Kazakhstan, China
has found Xinjiang unstable as nationalist and pan-Turkic ideas, money and,
some say, weapons percolate in.

In February the smouldering Uighur rebellion burst into flame when three
young separatists were executed in Xinjiang's capital, Urumchi. Several
hundred demonstrators took to the streets of Gulja, near the Kazakh border,
demanding that Chinese colonists quit the region.

When the police turned water-cannon on them in freezing temperatures, the
demonstration exploded into a two-day running battle.

Official figures put the death toll at 10. Independent reports say nearly
200 Uighurs and Chinese were killed in the country's worst ethnic violence
in 10 years.

A smuggled-out film of the fighting shows bodies lying in pools of blood,
one apparently bayonetted. Burning vehicles litter the streets.

Simultaneous uprisings in half a dozen large oasis towns and about 80
smaller settlements overstretched the 1 million Chinese troops in the
volatile west of the region.

In the more remote towns, a heavy security presence still remains;
elsewhere, China's slick propaganda machine ensured that evidence of
conflict was quickly swept away. Even so, spent Kalashnikov rounds lie on
Kashgar's streets.

The February revolt sparked increasing violence. Later that month Uighur
separatists planted bombs on three Urumchi buses, killing two people.
Between March and May Uighurs claimed responsibility for a series of fatal
bombings in Beijing. The revolutionary front says separatists have set fire
to an oil refinery near Karamay and attacked several oil convoys.

Reports have also surfaced of a clandestine Uighur radio station uncovered
by Chinese police and attacks on military depots and strategic rail and
road links to the rest of China. A machine-gun and grenade attack which
left 16 policemen dead in the tense south-western city of Khotan was also

China has reacted with a series of "anti-splittist" crackdowns, arresting
tens of thousands of Uighurs and executing hundreds.

Nine more were shot in late July. At least seven tons of explosives, 600
illegal firearms and 31,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as truckloads of
separatist literature, have been seized.

Some Han settlers have begun to question whether the government's
incentives are worth the risk of Uighur attacks. And for the first time
since China's Communists absorbed the East Turkestan Republic under the
Mao-Stalin deal of the 1950s, China's authoritarian grip on Xinjiang is

The chairman of Xinjiang's regional government, Abdulahat Abdurishit,
reportedly said last year that "all methods are acceptable" to fight
separatism - "penetration, propaganda, killing".

Bulldozers now level ancient bazaars, the focus for popular unrest and the
commercial heart of historic Silk Road cities. Wide streets of anonymous
white-tiled tower blocks are exposed to armoured vehicles, and
ambush-points and alleys ruled by demonstrators are eradicated.

Despite the 6.5 million Han settlers who have colonised Xinjiang since
1950, China's veto in the Security Council prevents the United Nations from
recognising China's rule there as colonial.

Meanwhile, countries are afraid of offending Asia's emerging superpower,
allowing Beijing to persecute Uighurs and other minorities in its vast empire.

Tibetans have long drawn world attention, but have not taken up arms. Most
Uighurs are not prepared to suffer Tibet's fate.

Back                          Top

«« Back
  Search Articles
  Special Annoucements