Jan 06, 2010

East Turkestan: Kashgar’s Destruction Continues

Sample ImageThe historic city of Kashgar – a unique and irreplaceable example of early urban architecture – is being swept clear as Beijing seeks to undermine Uyghur cultural identity

Below is an article published by The Australian:

If there are still shadows of violence in the Chinese city of Urumqi six month after sectarian riots which saw 197 dead and thousands injured, they stretch a long, long way – 1500 kilometres south east to the Uighur cultural capital Kashgar.

While there were no protests or riots in this ancient city during July [2009], the Silk Road trading mecca that nestles near the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan has been a key focus of the Chinese government’s response to the unprecedented unrest.

Wang Li, a senior Communist Party official in Kashgar, described the situation as “tense”. Here, home to China’s largest mosque, the population is 80 per cent Uighur – the nine million strong Turkic-speaking Muslim minority whose protests in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi turned deadly on July 5 last year.

If you can ignore a seven-metre statue of Mao Zedong, the centre of Kashgar is not one scintilla Chinese.

And if the situation in the city remains on tenterhooks, then the Chinese authorities can only be exacerbating it with its breathtaking – in the worst sense of the word – project to demolish most of the old town. The government claims that the buildings are not earthquake safe, yet many have survived hundreds of years.

Once covering all of Kashgar – about 8 square kilometres – the piled-high adobe and brick residences clustered around the old oasis spring made it one of central Asia’s unique sites. There are bits of "old" Kashgar scattered all over the city but it’s fast being eaten away by ugly modern China, as the very plainest and ugliest of apartment compounds spring up around the edges of the city far away from the Uighur mosques and bazaars and even deep into its centre.

The last remaining swathe of mud brick mazes is at the heart and soul of Kashgar but it, too, is riddled with massive holes where bulldozers have ripped away centuries of family living.

One small section near the old oasis spring is being preserved as “a slice of the original Kashgar”. A ticket to get in is 30 yuan ($5). Uighurworld, if you like.

“What can we do about it?” Mushaq Maimati, the shop owner at the old town says, one of dozens of people who expressed a strong sense of desperation about the demolition.

“It’s the Communist Party’s conduct, we can do nothing to it. They always do whatever they want.”

“The new compound is far away, it’s not convenient to buy daily provisions. Many people moved to the new houses came back to the old town later.”

Asiya Ababaikere, 14, who is in her second year of junior middle school says, “The new houses are good looking, but I don’t want to move there.

“If we move to the new buildings, I will lose my friends in the old houses, and I will have no yard and lane to run around with them.”

Five kilometres away is the Pomegranate Compound – an un-prepossessing collection of buildings only a few years old and already showing signs of wear and tear that look like decades of decay. And they, too, are built of simple small farmhouse bricks with no steel girders – hardly cutting-edge quake-safe technology.

“Life in this compound is getting more convenient, there is a new mosque, and two bus routes have opened,” Mehmet Tudi says. He is settling down, “but my parents don’t want to move here, they chose stay in their old houses. They were born there, and all their life they spent there. They don’t want to be changed."

It’s not just in Kashgar proper where ancient building are being destroyed, it’s happening in the towns and villages all around the main centre.

Thirty kilometres outside Kashgar lies the sleepy village of Zanmin. It is here that the two Uighur workers killed in Guangdong that sparked the Urumqi protests came from.

Locals in Kashgar said the police were particularly concerned about the area and were keeping very tight control, they said a number of people from around Zanmin had been arrested. Others said that Kashgar’s jail was now filled with hundreds of people arrested during the riot, its aftermath and subsequent cleanup operations.

“Many of the people arrested came from the south of Xinjiang,” Ms Hou admitted.

Zanmin sits in the midst of fruit and grain fields along a skinny road that winds between bare poplars filtering the weak winter sun. On almost every bare wall along the road, government slogans have been sprayed in red paint in both Chinese and Arabic:

  • Solidify ethnic unity, fight against ethnic separation activities.
  • Promote education on ethnic unity, construct harmonious society.
  • As long as all ethnic groups unite, no body can defeat us!
  • Individual pilgrimage (to Mecca) is violating the law, and is prohibited by the law
  • Ethnic splitting activities won’t win the hearts of the people!
  • Promote education, and protect the people’s freedom in religious belief!

It’s the most intense sloganeering anywhere around Kashgar.

The town centre is a bunch of shops and restaurants clustered around its dusty crossroads: like everywhere in Kashgar groups of men, many young in traditional turmaks – high oval shaped fur hats with a small turned up rims – roam around. A group of them play pool at an outdoor table. The whiff of unemployment is high.

One villager said the town has between 20,000 to 30,000 people – 1000 to 2000 are working in Guangdong, Tianjin, and other places, organised by county and town government authorities.

“They recruit villagers, give them one month training. More women at first, and now men are recruited too,” the villager said.

“Women like to go work in the south, they can earn more than 1000 yuan a month. If they stay at home, they have no income.”

Another young man said he survives on an allowance given to him by his father.

Half an hour after we entered the town the police appeared and the locals, cowed, scuttled off like chickens.

“The situation in the town is calm as ever, even since the social order event in Guangdong in June and the (the riots) on) July 5,” Zanmin police chief Wu Xiaojun says over a bowl of noodles. “You are our guests.”

“The family members of the two dead Uighur workers are all in stable mood, they didn’t go to Urumqi to complain at all. And nobody from our town went to Urumqi, nobody was involved with the riot.

“The families were given compensation according to policy, and the local government has recruited another three groups of villagers to Guangdong to work, some in Shaoguan too.”

“Thank you for coming. Zai jian (goodbye)”