The Uygurs friendless in Central Asia?

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The Uygur ethnic minority people of Xinjiang China are in really a very unenviable position.

They do not wear saffron robes and are not Buddhists (or at least not any more) so they do not attract the attention of the Richard Gere’s of this world as the Tibetans do. Somehow after "9/11" being Muslim does not elicit a lot of world sympathy.

They live under a regime whose censorship laws are so harsh that you could be imprisoned ( and possibly worse) for handing out leaflets that are anyway negative of the state. So, they can not effectively get the message of their plight to the outside world.

They live in a country that is on the verge of an economic boom which has all the capitalists "free" nations around the world almost salivating to get a part of the bone and who are willing to bury any scruples or ignore any "minor issues" of human right abuses to do so.

But the Uygur are a Turkic people and until fairly recently that meant something important to them. They had a worldwide brotherhood of "kinsmen" stretching from the Central Asian plateaus through to the Caucuses and to Turkey. Among these "brothers" they sought solace, moral support and inspiration. In many instances their lives where saved by being able to step over the borders of Xinjiang into the neighbouring Turkic nations. Generations of Uygur intelligentsia have looked to Turkey for inspiration as leaders and supporters.

However, as recent new articles attest, this is no longer the case. Where, once they sought and received a shoulder, now the Uygur may face a fist. Where once they may have sought sanctuary more than likely now they will be marched back to the borders and forcibly repatriated no matter what their possible fate. Where once in Turkey they had parks named after their nationalist leaders now the Uygur organisations in diaspora are refused the right to hold peaceful international meetings.

This then is the reality of Central Asian and Turkish politics today where "brothers" can be ignored.

Is it because the Uygurs are international terrorists? Do they pose a threat to regional peace and safety? No, it is no more than a desire by these nations to curry favour with the Chinese.

The Central Asian states, predominantly run by near despots who came up from the ranks of the old Soviet regimes, see the wealth of opportunity of being viewed as supportive of Beijing. Trade deals, millions of dollars in potential investment and one plus billion potential consumers can do a lot to turn a fellows head. Being less than vocal in supporting the Uygur is a small investment indeed for the expected returns.

The "Great Game" of the 19th and early 20th centuries that was played out between Russia and Britain over Central Asia and north western China is back on and being joined by the likes of the United States, China, India and some European countries including Turkey. Each is trying for an economic and/or military presence. The Central Asians are falling over themselves in accommodation, hedging bets each way and that all for the sake of almighty dollar, yuan or ruble.

One of the articles I mention ( “Uyghurs offended at newspaper slur” Institute of War and Peace Reporting 23/1/04) cite, among other things, reports how a Kazakhstan newspaper essentially branded the 50,000 – 200,000 plus Uygurs (depending on whose figures you believe) living in Kazakhstan as terrorists and trouble makers. This is not a new story though it has not been as publicly stated before. In Uzbekistan for example there have been rumblings against the Uygur residents there for some time. The publication of this article, however, does mark a watershed for the Uygur.

Whilst the Kazakhstan Interior Minister distances his government from the opinions expressed in the news article one can not help thinking back to the early rumblings against another ethnic group. Not that one expects a "final solution" to the "Uygur question" but the outcome could be less than pleasant for the Uygur in Xinjiang and of Cental Asia generally if they continue to remain friendless in the world.

The Uygur truly are in an unenviable position. Alone in the world, championed by no one and now sold out by their brothers for 12 pieces of silver. It is hoped that those "brothers" will be happy with the money and do not want to take a part in the execution.

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