- Djeneba Dembele
The Overlooked Uyghur Genocide
Sometimes we get so caught in our own problems that we tend to forget the plight of others. We have seen and fought against many atrocities throughout our history. When one oppression ends, another one springs from the shadows to persecute and attempt to eradicate a group’s cultural identity. The case of the Uyghurs is a glaring example of a fight against the oppression of an ancient culture.
There is an active genocide happening in China. A group that has been around for thousands of years is being wiped from the face of the earth and pushed out of their homes. The Uyghurs/Uighur ( pronounced we-gur) are a group of Sunni Muslims that live in Northwestern China in a region called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region(XUAR). It’s known for its abundant oil and natural gas and seen as an important trade link due to its proximity to Europe and Central Asia. Uyghurs are an ethnic minority with only a population of about 12 million. Records of Uyghurs date back to the 3rd century CE. The earliest reports of Uyghurs living in what is now the XUAR, date back to the ninth century CE.
In the early 20th century, the Uyghurs declared independence from the Chinese government, but China later annexed the region in 1949. During the 1950’s, the Chinese government allegedly pushed for mass immigration of Han Chinese (China’s ethnic majority) to the region. They also instituted many policies denouncing Uyghur culture. By the 1990’s, Han Chinese made up about two-fifths of the XUAR’s population. Ethnic tensions grew and resulted in many violent hate crimes from both groups. The Chinese state made efforts to imprison the Uyghurs more often than they did the Han. All the tension boiled over in July of 2009 when a violent riot killed 200 and injured 1,700, who were mostly Han. This event caused China to create policies that targeted Uyghurs who they suspected were separatists. Along with these policies, China increased police activity in the XUAR which resulted in many shootings, arrests and long prison sentences, targeting the Uyghurs.
In late 2017 President Xi Jinping stated that all religions in China should be Chinese in orientation. Around that time, in 2018 the government created “political re-education centers” where they imprisoned over 1 million Uyghurs. In these camps, Uyghur women are sterilized and sexually abused by overseers. Children are separated from their families in order to break cultural ties. The Uyghurs are also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol and other expressions of their faith were banned. The Chinese government is being accused of targeting Uyghur activists, restricting religious practices, and destroying mosques and tombs. In 2018, the United Nations called upon China to put an end to these camps, but officials denied the claims calling them “baseless” and “fabricated”. In response to their actions in the XUAR, the Chinese state claims the crackdown on Uyghurs is necessary to the fight against terrorism. As of 2020, there are 380 of these camps.
In 2018, Disney started filming the live action Mulan. When the internet found out that some parts of the movie were being filmed near one of the camps, this along with many other controversies, caused the internet to start a movement boycotting the movie. The credits of the film included a praise of the police security bureau in Turpan, a city in eastern Xinjiang with a large Uighur population. That bureau is tasked with running some of the internment camps. The Uyghurs have a deep history and rich culture that is being erased by an oppressive government. It’s important to recognize and spread awareness to the human rights violations plaguing humanity to this day.