“The True Leader” that Uyghurs are desperately waiting for

By Halmurat Uyghur

During the course of the last two years, I have visited countries where Uyghurs are living in the diaspora. I have interviewed hundreds of them, on the topics ranging from their personal stories to their opinions to the current situation, and about problems which may occur in the future, their desires, hopes, and expectations. While I was flipping through my notebook of interviews, I decided to write about some of the popular views among Uyghurs.

One of the most interesting phenomena among Uyghurs is that Uyghurs are waiting for a true leader, who would lead Uyghurs from the current stateless position to fulfill their dream of creating an independent sovereign state.

Along with economic, social, personal desires and ego, this dream of a true leader of the Uyghurs formed the internal relationship of diaspora Uyghur. This phenomenon of the dream of having a true leader could be one of the key points to help you understand why some Uyghur leaders and activists are very territorial when it comes to deal with the imminent urgency of internal cooperation, solidarity, and unity, while millions of Uyghurs, along with Kazakhs and others are suffering in concentration camps. Ironically, they all promote unity in their inspirational speeches.

What is the characteristic of this true leader whom Uyghurs are waiting for? There are many internal disputes and controversial opinions among Uyghur. The relationship between Uyghur figures who have the potential to be “The Leader” is a tendency, formed while doubting, avoiding open conflicts, and satisfying their personal desires for pride and competition of dreaming to be entitled to the authentic and romantic leader – The True Leader. These ambitions, in my opinion, are nothing more than a daydream and unrealistic fantasy. In the past, nations of the middle ages once had similar dreams, which no longer fit contemporary democratic societies. Of course, some populist political figures in several countries are still using the “ideal leader” dream to control, or to maintain their authoritarian regime, or in some other countries to mobilize and deceive people to vote for them during elections.

 Instead of summarizing and categorizing “The True Leader” dream of my fellow kinsmen, I want to just boldly present an analysis along with people’s answers to my questions. In this way, I will try to reveal the mysterious world of Uyghur thoughts. My intention is to let Uyghurs’ thoughts to be noticed, while at the same time providing information to those who study and research.

My questions for interviewees were as follows:

What are your opinions on the leader’s characteristics/What characteristics do you expect from the leader? What should the leader de/achieve/accomplish before and after he or she is entitled as the true leader of the entire nation? Can the true leader be a female? or non-Uyghur? non-Muslim?

Representative of the most common answer given by Uyghurs, I want to present the answers of a Uyghur woman, with a higher education background, who studied economics at the university and who became a housewife after having moved to Turkey. She and her family tried to escape to Europe to seek asylum, but after several attempts, they were stopped by border patrols at the airport and could not enter Europe. When I interviewed them in the summer of 2019, they were living in Istanbul.

– The true leader of our nation, who could lead us to fight against the invaders, will bring us our dignity back, and build our sovereign state, she said to me in confidence.

– The leader has to be moody when dealing with our enemy, merciful to our countrymen. Decisive on the matters related to our interests. Smart and cunning, can deceive and play the game between powers, thereby gain favor and benefit for our nation.

The quality of the true leader of Uyghurs actually fits the characteristics of politicians. Maybe, I should say, the definition of a politician, but in reality, many of them are opportunists. I don’t think that all are like this, but some of them are concerned more about themselves while deceiving people to vote for them. However, in my opinion, the most rational way for making an inclusive and comprehensive decision, is a process of representatives of different parties or groups, debating, and discussing until they come into conclusion or common understanding. They make decisions collectively, but not taking the side of the majority, while sacrificing minorities. And I believe, that is the principle of democracy. Of course, this is true theoretically, and partially in the practice of democratic administration entities of free countries. But, what Uyghurs are awaiting is, according to her and other’s explanations, not a parliament or similar congregation, or ministry of peoples, who made their covenant and oath to serve the interests of peoples, by vote, who gave the power to them, to become a legitimate representative of them. “The True Leader” that Uyghurs are waiting for is, as I understand from her and others description, is more like a monarch, a king, or a queen. I know, her opinion is not, and can’t represent the majority of Uyghurs. Maybe by using the term “the true leader”, I may have misguided her or unknowingly put the idea  of  only “one leader” into her mind. However, I received similar answers from other Uyghurs as well, along with very different opinions to that.

– Do you mean “the true leader” is one person or covenant of a group of people? I asked her to make sure if this “leader” is singular or plural.

– It can be one person or a group of people. But, I think our people need one leader, who could lead us and guide us to the path, which opens the gates of salvation to our nation. She replied while looking at her husband. This small motion of her makes me to ask her the question about gender and faith of The True Leader.

– It doesn’t matter if the leader is male or female, as long as the leader could lead us to the promised desire and destination of our nation. Regarding his or her faith, I think, as a Muslim nation, I believe there are no other possibilities. Then she and her husband laughed out loud, I joined them awkwardly. How can one, who is being oppressed as being a minority, or as due to being in a weaker position gain sympathy of others, if one oneself is ignorant and intolerant towards its own minority groups? I had a similar conversation with many others. Some think the true leader could be a metaphor of a political party or coalition, or central principle, or an ideology, as long as it can unite the nation, and serve the demand.

People explained to me, however, in the end, it will be a person made of blood and flesh, because a political party or a coalition or congregation of people who believe in the same ideology, still needs someone to lead and to be a role model. I think in the world of thoughts of people, who were born and grew up in a one-party ruled authoritarian country, it is difficult to imagine a chaotic multilateral coexistence of different opinions in an abstract decision-making entity that can rule and guide the nation.

It is not a secret that Uyghurs have a desire for independence for the Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China. As an Uyghur, I myself of course share the same desire, and I am not ashamed or hesitate to admit it. Since the Urumqi massacre, this desire for independence among Uyghurs has been getting stronger. The concentration camp policy simply left many people like me with no other choice but to join the resistance. China itself, with its policies and decisions targeting and victimizing Uyghurs, helped to create and to form the resistance movement of Uyghurs today. People like me have spontaneously stood up after they became a victim of its crime against humanity. They lack of an organization or political entity, which could play the role of an organizer or an administrative entity of Uyghurs in exile, make Uyghurs fall even deeper into the dream of “The True Leader”. In my opinion, as someone who has a tendency toward leftist liberal, the idea of anarchism occupies a considerable part of my brain. I think, that is one of the main reasons, why I am being targeted and attacked by some who have a strong desire to be the leader of the nation. Anyway, I wish them a good trip to fulfill their dreams.

Do Uyghurs need The True Leader? Opinions are different, controversial, or opposite to each other. I think the most important reality here is that, regardless of how strong the emotional desire of Uyghurs toward independence is: If Uyghurs don’t dare to stand up, keep hiding and avoiding to rescue their relatives and countrymen from the concentration camps, if Uyghurs are lazy to act and put their ego and fear in front of their unity and integrity, even if “The Uyghur Messiah” comes, nothing will change. I think instead of wasting time and energy on debating and fighting over controversial opinions, and waiting for a Messiah to do the work for them, Uyghurs should learn to tolerate each other, stay in solidarity regardless of differences, and work together. This way, Uyghurs will gradually and naturally form a mechanism of unity. Isn’t this “the entity” Uyghurs so desperately wait for?

Our fate is in our hands, dare to hold it, God will bless us and accompany us in our fight to save our families. Nobody will help you while you are hiding, avoiding, and waiting for a good Samaritan to help you finish the work that you are supposed to do yourself.

We all have the same burden, to fight for our beloved family, friends, and kinsmen. We all drink the water of the holy mountain of Altay at the north, Tengri at the middle, and Kunlun in the south. We lived on the earth in the middle of those mountains which have fed us and our forefathers for centuries. Therefore, I want to remind you that we all are the same people, we all are facing the same atrocity, same persecution, we all are subject to unbearable repression from the same tyranny. There are different kinds of strengths and different kinds of patterns of resistance and fight. But, the same goal, the same burden. There are different kinds of how to work, but in all of them and in everyone, it is the same love and compassion for our beloved nation. The manifestation of everyone’s burden and passion to serve our poor nation should be for the common good.  Someone might have the passion for the work of art, the other one the knowledge of community service, and yet another one for advocacy or activism in different forms and for topics, but always for the same goal. All those are the work of one and serve the same goal, therefore, it is childish to have quarrels.

I know many people used me, and have taken advantage of me. I was willingly to help them, to work on their behalf to create awareness of their missing relatives, while they themselves are hiding and are avoiding to be public. Surely, I didn’t do it for them, I did it because I can’t ignore the pain of those who are incarcerated in those camps. My parents have already been released, yet I continue to contribute and to fight for others freedom. I am not related to them, I have never met them and maybe will never meet them. I can ignore their pain, but I can’t ignore my conscience, built by the teachings of my parents, and gifted by the beloved God I worship. People ignored my pain, left me alone, yet, I don’t blame them, or demand anything in return. I don’t dream to be “The True Leader”, I don’t have such qualities, and such twisted fetish of pretending to have something that I don’t have. Thank God, I am not trapped in this temptation. But, one thing I want to point out is, people always expect others to do things that they are supposed to do themselves, and expect “The True Leader” to load all the work on his or her shoulder, liberate people from fear and responsibility. This kind of attitude will not take anyone anywhere. All I want to say, at last, maybe Uyghurs need “The True Leader” to become the father or the mother of an independent Uyghur nation, but he or she can’t build the nation alone. Without solidarity and a working mechanism of unity, Uyghurs’ dream will always remain a dream. The scariest reality is, currently, at least a million Uyghurs are in China’s concentration camps, prisons, and as slave workers at factories, yet, Uyghurs in the diaspora (I have no idea what is the thoughts of Uyghurs in our homeland) are waiting for a “True Leader” to save them. Therefore, they are cheering to potential candidates, or in some cases to hypocrites. Maybe this is one of the most painful tragedy and irony of the Uyghur history.

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