By M.H Uyghur
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It was autumn of 2018, Uyghur females from Syria began to contact Uyghurs at the other parts of the world, seeking help for escaping. At the beginning of 2019, this had become a hot topic among Uyghurs on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp groups. At that time, two different persons contacted me, the first one, a father, who had a son delivered/absconded to the Devlet (means “country”, the other name for ISIS) by his father in law. The other one was an adult female, her 16 years old daughter also taken there by an Uyghur male. Her daughter was his second wife. That is when I started to investigate the cases of Uyghur orphans and widows of Devlet. After I began openly talking about my investigation, an Uyghur female contacted me and met me in person while I was traveling to a European country.
– “We don’t know how many Uyghurs joined Devlet, but one thing is clear, most of them died, their wives widowed and children were orphaned.” Said a young Uyghur female, who has a relative that went to Syria years ago. Recently she received a message about her relatives’ daughter, who was with other females that surrendered to Kurdish forces, and is now in detention in Al Hol camp.
– “Halmurat”, she said, ” please don’t tell anyone I have a relative in there”.
After she told me about her relative, she begged me to keep our conversation confidential. she has been terrified ever since she learned her relative joined Devlet.
– Back in “Weten”, (meaning “homeland” in Uyghur), he was working in a health center as a cashier. He wasn’t that religious, he used to smoke and drink wine. But, he changed after he moved to Istanbul with his family.
I know she was trying to advocate for her relative, she wants to paint him as a victim, but one fact she can’t change is that he made his own decision, and irresponsibly took his family to the war zone. His past can’t change this fact. It is a sort of common self-defense mechanism almost everyone uses when they talk about people who have joined the Devlet.
– I went to Istanbul to work, left my son to my parents in law. My father in law had opened a Qur’an course in his own apartment, my son was a Hafiz (one who has remembered the whole Qur’an), and he was helping him. My father in law is a very respected person, that is why I trusted him. When I went back, I found he had taken my son to the Devlet.
A father looking for his son was telling me this, his story, with his beard and mustache, he looks very much religious to me. With my westernized mindset I was assuming he might support the Devlet. But his following comment really surprised me.
– I have never thought a respected person, who used to teach the religion of peace, went to join the force of hate, an army of evil, that is insane. I can’t believe he took his family and my son to the land of sin, a living hell.
He was angry, his eyes were filled with tears, he was holding a fist, I can’t imagine what he is going through. The logic of Uyghurs always surprises me, I lived with Uyghurs until I was 18 years old, and I myself am an Uyghur, still, I have a difficult time to understand my fellow Uyghurs.
– Have you contacted the Turkish police? What they did?
– No, I didn’t, I was afraid they would take me away to interrogate me for I have close relatives in the Devlet.
– Why not? Don’t you trust them? You are not a supporter of Devlet, you shouldn’t afraid.
Then he started to tell me what has happened back in his hometown and how badly police have treated them. To be honest, I am a product of bilingual education, I am an Uyghur grown up in a Chinese majority community, I am a son of a family have always tried to avoid politics, and protect themselves being model citizens. I admit, until 2008 I was taken to the interrogation for having a romantic relationship and friendship with foreign nationals, I have never experienced anything they have experienced.
– It was very difficult to issue a passport for the whole family, we bribe with almost everything we have saved for years to acquire passports. When we arrive in Turkey, after we paid for the rent for a small apartment, we barely had enough money for food for a few days. Then we moved to Kayseri, Turkey. There free apartments were provided to Uyghurs. Then I returned to Istanbul for work, support my family, I even managed to save some money, and I was planning to start a small business. Life is tough in Turkey, but compared to our homeland, it is like heaven rather than hell. Back in homeland, local police always summoned me and interrogated me because my wife was wearing Hijab.
It is difficult to hear his story, we both speak the same language, but we have very different experiences. My parents have never practiced any religion. For us the persecution Chinese authority have initiated to restrict religious freedom, is not really applicable. We only went to the mosque when it was a festival, to make my grandfather happy, because he was the only one who practiced religion. And he only started to become more religious after he retired. So, the first time I saw religious persecution was in 2016 while I was visiting my relatives. I was in Urumqi meeting with an old friend, the pastor of an underground church, and we heard the call for prayers, I was surprised when he said:
– Let’s go to pray in the most decorated praying place in this city. And, we went to the Mosque located in Da Bazar, the biggest market of central Asia, and one of Urumqi’s most popular tourist attractions. My friend went separately to the gate of the mosque, because he was afraid the guards could recognize him, then, we both would not be able to go in. I lost him among the crowd of people and was stopped by the guard. He scanned me and checked my ID. After he learned I am a foreigner, he called his supervisor on a walkie-talkie, then carefully scanned my body again, then let me go in. During the prayer, we went to Sejde/bow, and someone stepped over my head, which is very rude, I was shocked, raised my head and looked, and I saw a few armed police were walking among people during the prayer.
– Did you see polices were stepping over people’s head while they bowed praying?
I asked my friend about this after we reunited in a café in Da Bazar, and he told me more of similar stories.
– I smell something bad about to happen, I think you should return to Finland as soon as possible. – he said. An Uyghur believer in our church married a Chinese, and we know the sensitivity of intermarriage between Chinese and Uyghur, and how they try to keep a low profile. After a cadre of the village knows about this, he arranged a public wedding for them. Her family invited an Imam for Nikah, but the village cadre was very angry. I don’t understand why he is angry. I think there is about to come to a new and difficult assimilation policy, a new storm is about to start.
He predicted the currently ongoing atrocity, and like many others, I didn’t trust him, at that time because what he was predicting sounded too radical and conspiratorial to me. Unfortunately however, he was right.
– My ex-husband was arrested and sentenced for life. He was a Qari (Muslim scholar), and he owned a book store in Kashgar., and he printed religious books and DVDs. A lady with black Niqab/Nijab started to tell me her story.
2015 she and her daughter managed to escape to Turkey. Once there she remarried another Uyghur male.
– Soon after I married my second husband we went to Syria. We stayed there over a year, and my daughter escaped with an Uyghur male, and married him as a second wife. Upon hearing this my husband was very angry, and he went back to Syria to find my daughter. So far, I still haven’t heard from him.
I am skeptical about the story of her daughter escaping with an Uyghur male, I assume she was forced to marry him, and I don’t think her husband went to find her. I believe her husband went to join the ISIS and died in a fight. She doesn’t want to tell me more about her ex-husband. She doesn’t want to provide a picture of her daughter to look at. I think she came to me because she thinks I could give her some money for her daughter’s escape. I told her I can’t take a chance on becoming a suspect in support of a terrorist group. She was very upset, and since then refuses to contact me.
– Do you want to talk to a journalist, human rights organizations, or some officials? It will be confidential and you don’t have to be afraid of your identity being exposed. I asked them the same question back.
Their response was very much identical, they are all afraid to become a suspect in connection with ISIS.
– You should know it could damage your Uyghur image if you admit that Uyghurs have joined the ISIS. This is a topic we should avoid. This reminds me of something a prominent Uyghur activist has said. I know, it is a topic we should hesitate to talk about, and Chinese authority are always accusing Uyghurs of terrorism, and they try hard to advocate for unlawful detention of millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps, while they tell the world they are dealing with radicalism and terrorism. But, my investigation revealed the opposite as well way, the unbearable discrimination, persecution, and restriction for religious practices is the reason why many have become infected with radical ideologies.
– I was a restaurant owner and police arrested me because I refused to sell alcohol. They forcibly took away my wife’s hijab and then she refused to go out, nevertheless the “community servants” forced her to join the dance team. That was the last straw so we decided to leave for Hijret (migrate to another country). Says Adil (pseudonym), a former ISIS fighter, currently live in Turkey. He came to me with someone I know, we had a long conversation. To be honest, it is a horrific first time experience for me to meet a person who literally fought in a war. I don’t know how many lives he has killed, and I didn’t know why he wanted to talk to me. I was afraid he could later target me because I am not a good Muslim by Muslim standards. The scary reality is, there are former members of terrorist groups living among regular people, and we have no idea how well they have reintegrated to society. However, that was a great opportunity for me to learn how they radicalized and how they end up joining an evil terrorist organization.
– I sold my properties for much lower price than the market rate. Thn i went to Hezret, a person who was organizing escapes to Devlet.
– Who is Hezret?
– He was a businessman, who became famous after he began to teach people Islam in front of the mosque. He was openly criticizing the oppression going on and he was openly promoting the teaching about advancing the Khalifate as the ultimate solution for Muslim oppression.
– What do you mean he was teaching in front of the mosque?
– Every Friday he went there and people gathered around him, and he taught us on the street.
– Have the police ever interfered?
– Sometimes they came, Subhan Allah, Hezret always came back the next Friday and continued his teaching.
– That sounds very strange to me. You said your wife wasn’t allowed to wear Hijab, and you were arrested because you didn’t want to sell alcohol. How it is possible that someone like Hezret could openly preach about the Islamic Khalifate?
– That was before, later he stopped teaching openly, and we gathered secretly in different places.
– Was he the one who organized an escape to Syria?
– He gathered people, and a Hui brother Yusuf organized us together to go to Kunming, and from there he organized us to escape to Thailand via Myanmar, then on to Malaysia. Dawud Qari welcomed us there. He is an Uyghur from Turkey, and he made us Turkish passports. After we have arrived in Turkey, there were people there who organized us to go on Syria to join the Devlet.
All that he told me sounded impossible to me. They had crossed 5 countries’ border without being arrested. The mysterious Hezret was openly preaching radical teachings on the heavily patrolled street where Chinese police were present and this continued from 2013 to 2016. How it is possible? Hypothetically, it is impossible without state sponsorship. Digging deeper, I feel like I am going into a conspiracy.
– Why have you decided to join the Devlet?
– What else we can do? Any kind of resistance within our homeland is equal to suicide. Human rights, democracy is merely propaganda of the west, truly, because we are Muslim, they don’t really care if we die, and that is why China won’t hesitate to kill us. but I say “An eye for an eye”, we should make them pay for what they are doing to us, and violence is the only language the Chinese (government) understands. We joined the Devlet to learn military techniques, and we hope one day Mujahids will join our struggle.
– Do you mean you joined the Devlet not because of it’s ideology? But rather because you want to find allies and support for your retaliation?
– I am not a scholar, I don’t have the knowledge to judge. If it is according to true teaching of Islam, it is my duty to obey it.
His answer really shocked me, obviously, he is not reintegrated enough, he seems to still support the ISIS. I tried to hide my fear, and rush to end our conversation. He and his kind of people could be a potential threat, a source of radical ideologies spreading among Uyghurs.
Since the beginning of 2017, China started initiating so-called re-education camps, and has been sending millions of people to the camps. I would say they are de facto concentration camps. I don’t know what the actual population of Uyghurs is. overseas, the fact is, almost every Uyghur has at least one immediate relative who is detained in those camps. It is already well over two and a half years, and hopelessness among Uyghurs is approaching its threshold. Many are suffering from mental and emotional symptoms. I know Uyghurs are expecting from democratic countries more action than what they are doing now.
– Halmurat, my visa application has been refused, and I don’t know what to do. My passport will be expired less than a year, my university will not continue my contract if I don’t have legal status to stay in here.
An Uyghur female, Ph.D. graduate, teaching in a university in Istanbul left me a voice message on WhatsApp. She and many other Uyghurs are trying to continue their normal life, trying to contribute to their people and the country they are currently living. While their passport is about to expire, the Chinese embassy refuses to renew them, and without having the legal status they are left alone to face the cruel reality of being stateless. Their life and future are not guaranteed. It is not a promising sign for Uyghurs, not for China, not for anyone.
China has silenced even very secular voices like Ilham Tohti, they don’t leave any possibility for Uyghurs to communicate with them about possible solutions. For many years, while Uyghurs casually lived out there lives China kept crying out “the wolf is coming”, and I am afraid our ignorance will eventually lead to “a visit from the wolf”. Current oppression and brutal crackdown could cause a violent response. Hate and retaliation can’t be a solution. Communication opens the door to understanding. Forgiveness will bring people together.