Issue 9, Volume 18
I am Uyghur. I cannot visit the homeland of my people, as beautiful as it has been described, for fear of imprisonment or endangering my family. I cannot share nice pictures with my family because that will put them in more danger – if they are even alive. I have instead gathered a collection of publicly available photos in an attempt to put a human face to our people. For the last four years, my family have lost contact with family members in what is today known as “Xinjiang”. We know it as East Turkestan.
East Turkestan is our homeland and we are its Indigenous people. Any contact with my family in East Turkestan likely results in worse treatment for them; even writing this article is a risk to them. Stories of Chinese embassy officials making intimidating and threatening calls and visits to houses are common. Having relatives abroad is a reason for incarceration. When we contacted the Australian government to make inquiries into whether our family are alive and where they are, we were told that even asking the Chinese government these questions could put them in increased danger. As early as 2016, passports were confiscated, and our international movement was already severely limited.
When Central Asia, then known as Turkestan, was divided by the then colonising Imperial powers Russia and China, it was divided into Russian Turkestan and Chinese Turkestan. Turkestan, literally “land of the Turks” in Persian, has been called Xinjiang (“New Territories”) since the 18th century. We are related to the ancient Iranian peoples who inhabited the Tarim Basin in the first millennium, and to the Turkic people who moved into the area in the last 2000 years. We are the custodians of the Turco-Persian and Turco-Mongol traditions. Our colonial domination by China has meant that, since its formation as a nation-state by the Chinese Communist Party in the 1950s, we Uyghur-Turks have experienced ethnic cleansing and erasure under the Chinese Communist regime. Today, after decades of fighting for our existence, we are experiencing genocide at the hands of the Chinese President, General Secretary of the Communist Party, and Paramount Leader of China, Xi Jinping. Through leaks of government documents, there is ample evidence that he is personally responsible for directing these measures, as well as other high-level CCP members.
“Xinjiang” is a colonial possession of China, like Tibet and Inner Mongolia. We are not Chinese, we have never considered ourselves Chinese, and despite claims to the contrary in De Minimis we did not just start rioting out of the blue on July 5th, 2009. We have always resented our national domination by China and have been rebelling since as early as the Qing dynasty, and during periodic Chinese rule before that.  That is why there has been a history of rebellion and two East Turkestan Republics in the 20th century, the second of which was a Soviet-backed Republic. We were no less Russian during that period than we are Chinese today.
As an almost entirely Muslim people, we frame our legitimate resistance against the Han supremacy and nationalism of the Chinese Communist Party in the moral language of Islam, just as Algerians did against the French, and just as countless other colonised Muslim peoples have. However, with the rise of racism and Islamophobia globally, it has been politically expedient for the CCP to label any resistance from us as “terrorism”. Our desires and legitimate demands for basic and fundamental rights, including freedom of expressing our ethno-religious identity, are not rooted in “terrorism” but enshrined in international law and human rights. The conflation of Muslims’ demands for their basic human rights to be met as being acts of “terrorism” is Islamophobic in and of itself and perpetuates global narratives that minimise the value of Muslim lives. While there have been many critiques of China using the same rhetoric and racist logic as the West in its War on Terror, it is important to note that China has a long history of anti-Muslim racism, just as the West does. 
To the author of last week’s article, “From a Xinjiang Girl”, – you recently made a video project, and the first in the series was about First Nations peoples struggle for land rights under Native Title. You think it is frankly offensive that you never spoke with a First Nations Person in Property Law. The lack of self-reflection and critical thinking, the most impressive mental acrobatics and cognitive dissonance required for both the indignance at the situation in Australia, and the horror unfolding in your “home state” is astounding. To have settled on our land, to not have bothered to learn our language, and the fact that you do not mention having Uyghur friends. The fact that many Han Chinese people live in separated communities where they are able to earn a living with completely separate facilities and opportunities. All of these things should have alerted you to the fact that you live in a settler colony.
For Chinese settlers, visiting and living in our land might be a quaint, folksy experience. We have always resented it. Han Chinese settlement into China has been part of a policy of settlement since before the Communist Revolution. While it has sometimes been to chase economic opportunities, the benefits that have accrued to Han Chinese people in East Turkestan have only multiplied at the expense of Uyghurs as a result of this policy. To imply that we have naturally come from a Han/Uyghur ratio of 70/30 to 50/50 split in less than 20 years is farcical. This is not a story of, as you put it, the corrupting influence of money and power; it is a longer story of colonisation and genocide.
To suggest that the tension is recent is to silence the Uyghur-Turk experience. One of my relatives, an intellectual during the Cultural Revolution, was disappeared for criticising the CCP and was never seen again. His body was never returned. We have faced such measures for decades. Any Uyghur will tell you of the widespread discrimination  in jobs and in everyday life – which have beset us for all of our PRC history. Any characterisation of Uyghur history as part of the PRC as idyllic or even-handed is a dangerous fairy tale.
You write about your upbringing and experience with your own name, while I cannot in fear of my family’s safety. You write about our land as your home, while I write yearning for a homeland that I’ve been deprived of. You get to include photos of your childhood on that land, a nostalgic privilege that was ripped from my family and me. You get to learn your language openly, while we have to learn it in secret. You got to grow up with your family whereas, once we leave, we lose all contact and connection to our families. Your family moving to “Xinjiang” to chase prosperity is no different from other British migrants and early settlers moving to Australia to chase prosperity on stolen land.
All of us, as non-Indigenous Australians, have an obligation, at minimum, to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we live. We have an obligation to understand the ongoing impacts of colonisation and dispossession. We have an obligation to reflect on how we benefit from the settler-colonial system that this country was built on. So too, do Chinese people from ‘Xinjiang’ have an obligation to acknowledge, understand and reflect on how they benefit from our colonisation, dispossession, and genocide. To write and publish a whole article without any such reflexivity is out of touch. In the next section of this article, I have tried to raise awareness of the economic, labour, demographic, linguistic and cultural policies and practices being perpetrated against us, in an attempt to spark some semblance of reflection.
Between 1 and 3 million Uyghurs – 8.3% or 25% of our total population in East Turkestan – have been put in detention camps. Up to a third of that number are in forced labour. Our culture is sanitised of any meaningful expression to serve the economic interests of the Chinese state, including through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Belt and Road Initiative is a trillion-dollar project that has as a central plank the “development” of “Xinjiang” as a gateway to Central Asia and Europe. “Xinjiang” has 1/5 of all oil in China, 40% of its coal, and its largest natural gas reserves. In practice, BRI has clearly meant the “development” of “Xinjiang” to the overwhelming benefit of Han Chinese settlers, while potentially millions of Uyghur-Turks pay for their own mass detention through forced labour. Our resources are being used to pay for our own cultural destruction and genocide and going to improve the colonial Chinese state’s economic clout around the world. The significance of Chinese-occupied East Turkestan to BRI should not be underestimated and is inextricably linked to the ethnic cleansing policies of the CCP towards us.
This includes forced marriages by Uyghur women to Han Chinese men, our children forcibly being taken away and put into boarding schools or Han Chinese foster care – where they do not learn their own language or culture.
The Genocide Convention prohibits ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group’ (Article II (d)), and ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’ (Article II (e)). China is a signatory to the Genocide Convention. Despite this, our women are being forcibly sterilised. Birth rates in Hotan and Kashgar, major Uyghur population centres, have fallen more than 60% from 2015-2018 in Chinese government statistics. Birth rates in Xinjiang have fallen 24% in 2019-2020, compared to 4.2% in China as a whole.  Further, nearly 500,000 Uyghur children had been separated from their families as of 2019, according to a Communist Party planning document on a government website.  The separation of children from their parents, under the guise of “poverty reduction”, and with the goal of assimilating us to be Chinese, should horrify anyone who is familiar with the Stolen Generations and similar racial “assimilationist” practices in Canada and the US.
The contradictions do not end there. The preamble of the PRC Constitution states “all ethnic groups…are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the ethnic minorities and upholds and develops a relationship of equality. “Discrimination against and oppression of any ethnic group are prohibited”. Article 4 of the Constitution states all ethnic groups have the freedom to ‘use and develop their spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs’. However, Chinese has been mandated as the language of instruction in “Xinjiang”, starting in preschool, and the use of Uyghurçe script (as in the title of this article), signs and pictures is unpatriotic and can lead to being sent to a “re-education camp”. 
Cultural destruction is and always has been central to attempts at genocide, although it did not ‘survive treaty negotiations in the 1940s’ to what eventually became the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. Nevertheless, Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term genocide and was instrumental in the formation of that Convention, held attacks aimed at the destruction of culture and identity to be the essence of genocide, as distinguishable from mass murder broadly.  This is no doubt why the CCP has embarked on the destruction not only of our sacred and historical sites but banned our books except for in CCP-approved journals. It is also why our scholars, intellectuals, and artists have been incarcerated. It is why poets, central to our culture and identity as in so much of the Muslim world, are also being locked up.
While it is true that there were more mosques than all of Europe in “Xinjiang” at one point, it is now the case that Xi Jinping and his party have destroyed or damaged 16,000 mosques, 65% of the total and mostly since 2017. 8,500 of these have been demolished outright, the rest have had damage in some way, usually by the removal of Islamic features like domes, minarets, or gatehouses.  Another 30% of important sacred sites have been demolished, including shrines, cemeteries, and pilgrimage routes.  Islam is inseparable from our culture and yet is held to be an “ideological virus”.  As well, the destruction of Kashgar, the last major old city of the ancient Silk Road route since the destruction of Kabul, predates the current overt genocide attempts, and predates the rise of Xi Jinping. The razing of the Old City to make way for a rebuilt version that, according to the CCP, is safer in earthquakes. Uyghurs and Chinese conservationists had pointed out that many of these buildings had survived centuries of earthquakes, and that the buildings which had collapsed in recent earthquakes were newer, concrete buildings. The main aim is clearly the destruction of Uyghur cultural identity.  The thinking is exactly the same as that underpinning other settler colonial “development” drives – that indigenous peoples have nothing to contribute to modernity, and their lack of property rights is used against them. Most residents in the Old City lacked property rights. 
For those Uyghurs who escape being sent to the camps, a surveillance police state like no other awaits. The Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese state, openly admits that Uyghurs are forced to host ethnic Chinese CCP members in their houses.  By the end of 2018, it claims that 1.1 million ‘civil servants’ had been ‘paired’ with more than 1.69 million Uyghurs. There is evidence of Uyghurs feeling forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which most Muslims avoid, in order to escape being branded extremist or radical by these agents.
An electronic surveillance network, including facial recognition technology made in the West, and a network of military and police stations and checkpoints dot the entire region.  Iris recognition technology, phone confiscation and the downloading of data on them at police checkpoints, and all shops and restaurants in some population centres, like Hotan, must have a police officer on duty part-time. By law, every person in “Xinjiang” must download a smartphone app to track calls, online activity, and social media use. Records kept include fingerprints, blood type, DNA information, detention record, and “reliability status”. Biological information is forcibly collected under the “Physicals for All” program.  This is Western, racist, over-policing on steroids.
It is of course ironic that in the quest for “national rejuvenation” after the “century of humiliation” the Communist Party is engaging in an even more brutal campaign of oppression against Uyghurs than was waged during the Second Opium War. The destruction of the Old Summer Palace by Lord Elgin and the looting of the priceless works of art it contained come to mind. Except this is not merely a palace – this is the destruction of an entire peoples and their culture, traditions, history, and stories.
You write that your grandfather used to quite harmlessly don our traditional clothing as a form of cultural appropriation. This would be immaterial if we were allowed free cultural expression. Instead, our traditional music, dances, and UNESCO Intangible Heritage of Humanity-listed muqams are used to drum-up tourism for the Chinese “Wild West”. Any semblance of real ethnic divergence, anything hinting at our Turkic heritage, which is held by the CCP to encourage separatism, is sanitised. In the words of one observer, Chinese tourists “have access to this Disneyfied version of the region. It’s being exoticized at the same time as the system is annihilating that culture’.  What’s left of our culture is a commodified shell for Chinese consumption and appropriation. We do not want to emulate the parody and hollowness of Chinese culture which is wheeled out by the CCP as though it is somehow an example of resistance to Western imperialism. It is in fact the thoroughly Westernised, hyper-consumerist cadaver of that culture.
Since there is no prospect of China’s leaders being held to account through any international judicial organ or through widespread sanctions, it falls to those of us in democratic countries to pressure their governments to stand up to this brutality.
It means we must hold accountable leaders who have legitimised China’s actions, like Premier Daniel Andrews, who in 2017 signed onto the Belt and Road initiative for Victoria. Victoria should have nothing to do with BRI and we should not accept investment from genocidal regimes. This money is tainted with the blood of my people.
It has also been painful for me that in the time I have been at this law school, while my people and culture are being destroyed, there have been no events or seminars on the genocide and other crimes against humanity being experienced by my people. The omission is conspicuous due to events on similar horrors, like the Rohingya genocide. The scale and severity of what is happening demands a response from anyone who claims to care about justice. It seems vanishingly unlikely that the law school has not heard from any of the academics in Melbourne who understand what is happening.
You cannot know how difficult it has been to study with genocide happening in the background; to be unable to speak to loved ones, to not know if they are alive. You will not ever have to think, before going to sleep in your comfortable beds, what conditions family members are living in. You will never experience the guilt and helplessness of being unable to save your own family. You will never feel the outrage of people who claim to care about justice and human rights doing nothing to help. To read constantly about forced labour, forced sterilisation, ethnic cleansing, sexual violence and rape, and torture. To have Disney use your ethnically cleansed land for its exotic opening in ‘Mulan’.
Speeches by Xi Jinping in 2014 called for showing “absolutely no mercy” against separatism and terrorism in Chinese-occupied East Turkestan using the “organs of dictatorship”. This week, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, Xi Jinping called the policies of the CCP in “Xinjiang” “totally correct” and made his intentions clear: to “Incorporate education about a shared awareness of Chinese nationhood into education for Xinjiang cadres, youth and children, and society” and to “make a shared awareness of Chinese nationhood take root deep in the soul”. 
You can see a map of the concentration and forced labour camps, as well as destroyed and damaged cultural sites here: https://xjdp.aspi.org.au.
Anonymous is a JD student.
 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/11/16/world/asia/china-xinjiang-documents.html; https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-25/china-cables-beijings-xinjiang-secrets-revealed/11719016.
 https://www.aspi.org.au/news/xinjiang-data-project-website-launch; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/07/revealed-new-evidence-of-chinas-mission-to-raze-the-mosques-of-xinjiang.