Uighurs a dying race under Chinese rule

By Cao Chang-ching, Taipei Times, Wednesday 13 October 1999, Page 9

The Uighurs have always had a harmonious relationship with the Han Chinese and lived happily in the Autonomous Region, the Chinese government declares and the official media reiterates.

The actual situation is quite the opposite, said Turan Yazgan, chairman of the Turkic International Study Foundation, from his office in Istanbul.

Since so many Chinese have been emigrating to East Turkestan, called Xinjiang by the Chinese, ethnic confrontation is unprecedentedly tense.

The so-called autonomous region is only an empty notion. Indeed, Turkics are completely under Chinese control and have been systematically sinicized, he said.

Before the communist forces entered Xinjiang, Han Chinese made up only five percent of the total population there.

Now, Han Chinese account for 37 percent of Xinjiang's population of 17 million. A population change like this within the space of fifty years is far from normal.

When Beijing decided to establish an autonomous region in Xinjiang in 1955, the official documents stated that the Uighurs should make up 93 percent of the total population, and the rest might be the Han, Mongolian, Kazakh, etc, said Abdulhekim Iltrbir, executive chairman of the East Turkestan National Center, working on his computer in the center's crammed office in Istanbul. Now, only 47 percent of Xinjiang's population is Uighur. What's more, most of them have been elbowed out to pastures or remote regions. In big cities like Gulja (Yining\u4f0a\u5be7), Aksu (\u963f\u514b\u8607), Korla (\u5eab\u723e\u52d2), Kumul (Hami\u54c8\u5bc6), Bole (\u6ce2\u7f85), Kuytung (Shihezi\u77f3\u6cb3\u5b50) and Urumqi (\u70cf\u9b6f\u6728\u9f4a), 80 percent of the population is Han. In Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, Uighurs take up only two streets.

In a similar fashion to what it did in Tibet, the Chinese government relocated a great number of Han Chinese to Xinjiang. The influx of Chinese heightened tensions with ethnic Uighurs. The Chinese not only fought with locals over water, land and job opportunities, they also contributed to growing ethnic discrimination.

In the early 1950s, the Han people accounted for less than 10 percent of the population in Gulia (Yining\u4f0a\u5be7). Of today's 1.4 million residents there, one million are Han.

Sixty-one-year-old Shamseden, who like many Uighurs only uses one name, is a retired textile worker from Gulia. Using a pretext of taking a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Shamseden escaped to Turkey with his wife two years ago.

He began working at the textile factory just before it opened in 1960.

I was only 17 years old then. According to the original factory regulations, Han Chinese should take only 25 percent of the jobs and the remaining 75 percent were for Uighurs. But that was changed later, said Shamseden from his new residence in Istanbul.

Today, the balance has swung drastically in the other direction. Of the 8,000 employees in the Yining Textile Factory, 70 percent are now Han and 30 percent are Uighur.

Shamseden had worked in that factory for 33 years.

Whenever it came to a pay raise or a promotion, the Hans always had advantages and better opportunities because performance is judged by one's ability in spoken and written Chinese, Shaamseden said. I began to learn Chinese right after entering the factory, but I still can't read Chinese newspapers.

The Chinese have become a privileged class in Xinjiang and are in authority over all kinds of administrative organizations.

Thirty-year-old Ayxem had left Urumqi only two months before talking to this reporter in Istanbul. Working as a local cadre for the Women's Union of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region (WUXAR), Ayxem experienced endemic discrimination.

Of the 64 cadres in WUXAR, only 21 were Uighur. All 30 department heads and senior researchers were Han, she said.

Speaking to anyone in the Xinjiang exile community in Istanbul, one hears stories of Chinese discrimination against Uighurs.

A reporter for Urumqi TV said, There are 110 employees in our TV station, only nine are Uighur, the rest all Han. Both the director and the party secretary are Han. Like many top cadres in Xinjiang, they are veteran military officials who don't have much knowledge of journalism or education. Besides, 75 percent of the editors and reporters have the same backgrounds as their bosses, and most of them are the children of local government officials and none of them have ever studied journalism.

The 28-year-old Uighur woman requested anonymity for fear retribution against her relatives living in Xinjiang.

The reporter, who majored in journalism at Xinjiang University, said:

When writing news copy for Uighur-language programs, I was asked to write in Chinese for the director because he doesn't understand Uighur.

After passing the director's censor, the scripts then got translated into the Uighur language.

Among the four deputy directors, only one is Uighur, and this deputy has no authority to edit or issue Uighur-language news releases.

Her experience is shared by many others. Now a researcher on Central Asian history at the East Turkestan History Society, Nuraniye was born in Artush, 40km north of Kasgar (\u5580\u4ec0) in Xinjiang.

I learned about discrimination when I was a little girl, said Nuraniye from her office in Ankara. When I was in elementary school, we Uighur children had to go to an adjacent Chinese school to play soccer or volleyball because only the Chinese schools had those facilities. In our Uighur school, we students had to carry rocks to build our own playgrounds.

These are common situations, said Abdulhekim, a former reporter for the Urumqi Evening News.

He recalled a scene he witnessed when covering stories in a village near Kasgar in 1984.

A group of Uighur children were having lessons under a tree because their schoolhouse had collapsed.

There was a Chinese school building nearby, but the Uighur kids were not allowed to use it. Abdulhekim asked their teacher why didn't they raise funds to rebuild the school. The reply: No land.

It was all under the control of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (\u65b0\u7586\u751f\u7522\u5efa\u793e\u5175\u5718,XPCC).

Established in 1954, XPCC is a giant machine in Xinjiang. A mix of collective farms and frontier station troops, the organization is composed of 2.4 million Han people—one third of the autonomous region's Han population.

A recent report in The Economist called the XPCC a country inside a country because it controls 7.4 million acres of land, 172 large farms, 344 enterprises, 500 schools, 200 hospitals and 46 research institutions.

In addition, it has its own police and judicial system. Half of all labor camps in Xinjiang are believed to be under the corps' control.

All members of the corps are Han. They took our land, our jobs, our water and our pastures. We have become a minority and secondary citizens in our own homeland, Abdulhekim said.

As the late East Turkestan leader in exile Isa Yusuf Alptekin once said, the situation in Xinjiang has made the Uighurs like pandas: on the verge of extinction.