How Uyghurs define Uyghur Nationalism

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by M.H Uyghur

At the same course of the year of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, Chinese troops led by the general Wangzhen invaded the Xinjiang Province and was governed by the coalition of East Turkistan Republic interim government administration and Republic of China Xinjiang Provincial administration. Following its annexation to the PRC, the name Xinjiang was changed in 1955 to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Since then, the Uyghurs have demanded their independence and have strived to establish a separate political entity in Xinjiang, according to the Uyghur diaspora community abroad, Uyghurs prefer to call their ancestral homeland as East Turkestan or Uyghuristan, which is culturally close to the Central Asian republics.

During the course of the cultural revolution era, Uyghur nationalism was almost interrupted under the influence of “class struggle” and the “reform” movements. In the 80s, Under the looser regional autonomy policy, Uyghur literature and art had made unprecedented progress. The economic life of Uyghurs had begun to improve, and many books with strong nationalism were published.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union alarmed the Chinese government, from which they feared any sign of Uyghur cultural growth, would result in awakening the Uyghur national identity, and at some point, in the future, it would cause greater autonomy. The Chinese constitution allows for greater autonomy for these minority groups. The Chinese government began to undermine the progress of Uyghur literature and art that began to revive in the 1980s. However, this is the shifting point when China started to demonize the Uyghur image. With the artificially raising of Han chauvinism, Uyghurs received a policy of discrimination, the Chinese government began to distrust Uyghurs even more. As a result, Uyghur nationalism began to rebound.

Since 2017, Qin Chuanguo, the Chinese communist party secretary of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region came into power. He has started the so-called re-education network initiative across the region, wherein millions have been detained. For rescuing my parents from one of the concentration camps, I became a human rights activist, I founded a human rights organization called Uyghur Aid, and traveled to more than 20 countries, visited the local Ministry of Foreign Affairs, contacted and spoke with media, local human rights organizations and the Uyghur diaspora. In my travels, I have interviewed members of the Uyghur diaspora community, and the following are a few cases I found quite interesting, and it would reflect the Uyghur definition of Uyghur nationalism.

These individuals that I have interviewed are randomly selected, they are not representatives of any group, or organizations. their opinions are unique to themselves, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of other people who have the same faith or social divisions.

 

1st Case:

Abdullah (pseudonym), male, ethnic Uyghur, born in Kashgar, currently based in Istanbul Turkey. He identifies himself as a faithful Muslim, polygynist, husband of three wives, practice Islamic rituals on a daily basis. This interview took place during my trip to Istanbul in December 2018.

  1. How do you define yourself? As an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

This world is temporary, it is a duration that Allah has given us to accomplish our examination to heaven, nationalism is forbidden according to the teaching of our prophet, which is why I refuse to identify myself according to ethnicity. There are only two different kinds of people, one who accepts the oneness of the creator and the prophet Mohammad as a messenger of Allah and follows his model. And the others are people who have been blinded by ignorance and arrogance, Allah will place them in burning hell.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

The land of Muslims in East Turkestan is part of the holy lands owned by Muslims, the rape of China is intolerable, it is an obligation for each and every Muslim to fight back to liberate the land, which is an important task and test for us.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? What is your political opinion?

There is only one teaching and one way to administer and maintain daily life, that is the teaching of Islam.

  1. Do/Will you teach your children Uyghur?

All my wives are Uyghur, they speak Uyghur to my children and I teach them how to read Qur’an, religious teachings and Arabic.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

Uyghur is a term created by the Chinese and Russians, people who have been deceived by satanic ideologies identify themselves as Uyghur.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

A Muslim man can marry a Muslim woman or women from the people of the book, but Muslim females are only allowed to marry Muslim males, which doesn’t include the people of the book.

 

2nd Case:  

Ayisha (pseudonym), female, ethnic Uyghur, born in Kashgar, currently based in Istanbul Turkey. She identifies herself as a faithful Muslim. She thinks polygyny is ok for Muslims, but not part of the Uyghur culture. She has received a Uyghur language education, has graduated from Yili Teachers Institute. She is a former teacher at a primary school in Hotan. Married twice, her ex-husband is possibly detained in China’s so-called re-education facilities. She prays five times a day and practices other Islamic rituals. This interview took place during my trip to Istanbul in July 2019.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

I am an Uyghur and a Muslim female, Allah created me as Uyghur, and I choose to be a Muslim. Nothing to compare, you can choose to be Muslim, but you can’t choose to be Uyghur. For being Uyghur, you have to be born from Uyghur parents, but for being Muslim, you can convert to Islam regardless of what is your ethnicity or initial faith.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

We were an independent nation, China occupied our homeland since 1949, we are struggling to regain our independence.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? What is your political opinion?

Obviously, democracy is better than socialism, socialism is a scam. I believe Uyghurs will establish an independent democratic nation.

  1. Do/Will you teach your children Uyghur?

Absolutely, as an Uyghur, we have to preserve our language and culture. Our mother tongue forms our soul, without the Uyghur language there is no Uyghur soul.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

Born from Uyghur parents, belief in Islam, speak Uyghur, what else, I think these are the most important things to be an Uyghur.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

Uyghurs can marry other Turkic people, and Muslims, maybe with European, but definitely can’t marry Chinese.

3rd Case:

Alim (pseudonym), male, ethnic Uyghur, born in Turpan, currently based in an EU member state. He has received education in Mandarin Chinese language schools. He identifies himself as Muslim. He has migrated out from the Uyghur region after the Urumqi Massacre 2009. Married once, divorced. Doesn’t pray every day, occasionally goes to Friday prayers, fasts during Ramadan.  He is a smoker, drinks alcohol. This interview took place during the summer of 2018.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

I am an Uyghur, and I define myself as an Uyghur nationalist. I practice Islam. Nothing to compare, they are two different things, you can leave your religion but you leave your ethnicity.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

I am dreaming about an independent Uyghur state, if we have a country, we would not be discriminated by others, we would not have to escape to other countries. But I think it is a very difficult path to regain our independence, nobody is willing to sacrifice, I think it is nearly impossible.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

Democracy is the only choice, that is why we seek refuge in Europe, why? Because of democracy. Because only in democratic countries can people live in dignity. Socialism sounds beautiful, but not practical.

  1. Do you teach your children Uyghur?

I don’t have children, but if I did, I will try to teach him or her to speak Uyghur. I think our second generation will be able to speak some level of Uyghur, but after the third generation, I am afraid they will melt into European society, the only thing left could be their faith in Islam.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

You, me and others from our homeland, born from Uyghur parents, speaks Uyghur, loves Uyghurs, that’s it. Maybe in the near future, we can only identify Uyghurs according to Chinese ID cards, because China is destroying our language, see, I don’t speak Uyghur well. But still, I am an Uyghur.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

At our homeland government forces us to marry Chinese, here our women start to marry Europeans, Arabs, Kurds, Turks. My opinion is not important, the reality is, if you are weak, you women go with others.

 

4th Case

Sarah (pseudonym), female, ethnic Uyghur, born in Korla, she wants to keep her current location confidential. She has been received education in Bilingual schools. She thinks she is an atheist, married to a non-Uyghur male, was an open relationship with an Uyghur male before her marriage. This interview took place during the summer of 2018.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

I have no choice, I am an Uyghur, but most importantly I am a good person. I am definitely not a fan of old fashion moral kidnappers.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

I hope Uyghurs could have an independent country, but that is not the most important struggle Uyghurs need to focus on now. Millions of our countrymen are being detained in modern-day concentration camps, we can’t contact our family members, we are vanishing, disappearing. Preserving our existence, defending our rights are the most important things for us.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

Is this a question or an irony? There are no other options, democracy, it’s not perfect, but I prefer democracy than anything. If there is a heaven, it is heaven because it has democracy, that is my opinion.

  1. Do/Will you teach your children Uyghur?

I hope I will teach my babies Uyghur, but we don’t have the environment. I thought I could take my children to our homeland, in that case my children could learn our mother tongue, and I can enjoy Uyghur food.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

What kind of question is this? Uyghur is Uyghur because we are Uyghur. Even if you stay in Europe for years you will not turn blond, that is the fact, we are who we are. My children will be Uyghur because I will teach them they are Uyghur. They may not speak Uyghur, but they will feel themselves to be Uyghur.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

My husband is not Uyghur, I guess, you already know my opinion.

 

5th Case

Matthew (pseudonym), male, ethnic Uyghur, born in Ghulja, currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. He has been received education in Uyghur schools. He is a new-born Christian. Married, father of three. This interview took place during July of 2019, during my trip to Turkey.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

I am an Uyghur and a new-born Christian. The Uyghurs are majority Muslim, but it doesn’t mean to be Uyghur you have to be Muslim. There are about half a million Uyghur Christians among Uyghur Muslims, and Islamic elements are a very important part of the Uyghur culture.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

That is up to God, but I would be willing to sacrifice everything I possess, even my life to fulfil the dream of Uyghurs.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

If I can practice my religion freely, I don’t care what system, it is two different political ideologies, there were many political ideologies in the past, the only thing maintains is the realm of the Lord.

  1. Do you teach your children Uyghur?

Yes, I do

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

Uyghur is a blessing of God to us; every member of this beloved nation is precious on His eyes. One who thinks he or she is Uyghur, and being accepted by other Uyghurs, then one is an Uyghur. Being Uyghur means, you need to learn the language and culture.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

Marriage is up to each and every individual, couples love each other, they decide to claim their union to the public with the blessing of our Lord. But our nation is under the threat of being assimilated, I think avoiding interracial marriage could be necessary in some cases. Again, love comes, and you can’t stop it.

6th Case

Erkin (pseudonym), male, ethnic Uyghur, born in Urumqi, currently based in Scandinavia. This interview took place via the internet in January of 2020.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

First I am a good person, then I am an Uyghur. I am not sure if I am still Muslim since there are so many questions in my head. I feel myself more like an agnostic.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

We must regain our independence. No other choice. I am not a fan of violence, but not a fool to believe in a non-violent struggle, especially when our enemy is China.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

I am kind of a socialist, nothing wrong with socialism and it’s not conflicting with democracy. China is kidnapping the name of socialism, they are not even communists.

  1. Do you teach your children Uyghur?

I will try my best to teach my kids Uyghur, but their interests/willingness should be considered too.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

Hard to define as Uyghurs are a very mixed group and culture. For me, belonging is the most important factor. If a person feels himself an Uyghur, then this person is Uyghur. Simple.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

As long as it is based on their own will, I don’t care. If Uyghur man wants to have Uyghur women, they must stand up to protect them, secure them, let them feel that they are safe and precious, instead of just putting all blame on them.

7th Case 

Salam (pseudonym), male, ethnic Uyghur, born in Aksu, currently based in the USA. Doesn’t pray at home, prays while he is with other Uyghurs, fasts during Ramadan. This interview took place via the internet in November of 2019.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

First Uyghur, second Muslim. but I am against dogmatism.

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

I don’t believe the independence of Uyghur is possible, China is too strong. We can’t openly say this to the Uyghurs abroad, but I think autonomy is good enough.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

I don’t know the difference, but I think socialism is the only option because China is a sociologist country.

  1. Do you teach your children Uyghur?

They are all adults already, they speak understandable Uyghur, but they dream in English.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

You can tell who is Uyghur and who is not based on their look, their behaviour, the language they speak, and their social circle.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

One of my children is married to a Turkish American

8th Case 

Elisa (pseudonym), female, ethnic Uyghur, born in Korla, currently based in Norway. Doesn’t pray, doesn’t fast during Ramadan. This interview took place in Oslo in November of 2019.

  1. How do you define yourself? as an Uyghur or as a Muslim, which is more preferable for you?

Uyghur Muslim, but I know there are Uyghurs who are not Muslim, so what is the problem, they are still my countrymen

  1. What is your opinion toward the independence of the Uyghurs?

I will die for it, but I don’t think it is possible.

  1. What do you think of democracy and socialism? what is your political opinion?

I prefer the socialistic democratic system, just like in Norway.

  1. Do you teach your children Uyghur?

No, I don’t, I tried, my child has autism, he can’t learn two languages at the same time. I still try to speak Uyghur to my child, but my child doesn’t take it seriously if I don’t speak in Norwich.

  1. How do you define Uyghur? What are the most significant and key elements to identify one as Uyghur?

The most important significant to be Uyghur is one who is from Uyghur family.

  1. What do you think about an interracial marriage between Uyghurs and non-Uyghurs?

I have had a few relationships in the past, most of them were Uyghurs as well as other Muslims, I did have relationships with Europeans too. I don’t like being judged by other Uyghurs, that’s why I keep a distance from them.

 

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