Oct 28, 2010

East Turkestan: Uyghurs Support Language Protest


Uyghurs are voicing their objections to a language policy as they back Tibetan protests in western China.


Below is an article published by Radio Free Asia:

Beijing is moving to clamp down the Internet in northwestern China as

ethnic minority Uyghurs express support for protests by Tibetan

students campaigning for language rights, according to Uyghur

residents and intellectuals.


Tibetan students have been protesting over the last two weeks, mostly

in China's western province Qinghai, over fears the authorities will

introduce a Chinese-language-only curriculum.


As the protests spread to Beijing about a week ago, authorities tried

to block information about the demonstrations from reaching Uyghurs,

who have long endured erosion of their language rights throughout

schools in Xinjiang, according to Uyghur students.


"The local government is controlling the university websites and news

about the Tibetan protests in Qinghai but we have already received

information from our friends in inner-China about the protests there

and at Beijing National Minorities University," said one student from



"They told me that the Uyghur university students [in Beijing] are

talking about the Tibetan student protests and are very excited about

it. Even the Kazakh students are in support of the Tibetans," he said.


"But right now, every university is tightly restricting the students

in Xinjiang and also in inner-China. Even groups of Uyghurs who are

studying in inner-China's 'Xinjiang classes' are being controlled,"

said the student, who asked to keep his name and location anonymous

for fear of persecution.


Uyghurbiz.net, a popular website and online discussion forum for

Uyghur issues, recently reported that nearly every student enrolled in

special "Xinjiang classes" for Uyghurs in inner-China has been

approached by school security and told to refrain from joining in any

protests backing Tibetan language rights.


The report said that parents have also received calls from school

security telling them to prevent their children from supporting the



School restaurants serving Uyghurs, and which prepare food according

to Muslim dietary rules, have been dishing out special meals in a bid

to prevent any unrest, the report added.


'No one asked us'


A Uyghur teacher in Xinjiang, who also requested anonymity, agreed

that Uyghur support for the Tibetan protests is high in the region.


"Every Uyghur teacher and student is supporting Tibet right now,

because we have the same problems here," the teacher said.


"We should be using our own language and our students need to be

learning about our culture so that we can stay Uyghurs," she said.


The teacher added that the Uyghur community in Xinjiang has been very

upset with the work of recently appointed Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri

and other officials who claim to represent their interests to Beijing.


"The Chinese central government wants bilingual education here, but

the local government should be asking the local people what they want.

We don't agree with this policy, but no one has asked us," she said.


"The local government is doing everything wrong. The government should

not be enforcing a bilingual policy, especially on the young Uyghur

children in kindergarten."


She said that enforcing the use of Mandarin Chinese in Uyghur schools

has had a detrimental effect on the entire education system in



"After the bilingual policy, many local Uyghur teachers lost their

jobs because they don't speak Mandarin, which has been very bad. Some

high school students no longer want to study at school. All of the

courses require Mandarin now, so the students aren't interested in

class," she said.


"This may end up destroying the Uyghur school system."


Solidarity in Beijing


Ilham Tohti, an outspoken Uyghur professor at Beijing National

Minorities University, and webmaster of Uighurbiz.net, said Uyghur

students at his school have been eager to join in protests with their

Tibetan classmates.


"From the beginning of the Qinghai protests, Uyghur students studying

at my university were all supportive. Some students came to my office

and said they want to protest with the Tibetan students, but I advised

them that we can support them without protesting," Ilham Tohti said.


"If we protest, we may run into trouble."


Ilham Tohti said in a telephone interview that he has been under

constant surveillance by school security personnel since the Tibetan

protests began.


"The other day someone from the Beijing security police came to talk

to me about my ideas on these Tibetan protests. I told them they must

be careful with their policies in the Xinjiang region," he said.


"The Chinese government has been using bilingual education in Xinjiang

for much longer than in Tibet, and Uyghurs have had a very bad

experience with this policy."


"I can 100 percent guarantee that if the government doesn't change

this policy in Xinjiang, Uyghurs will carry out this kind of protest

as well, and it could become another July 5," he said, referring to

deadly riots in the capital Urumqi last year that left nearly 200

people dead, by the Chinese government's tally.


Ilham Tohti called for a rethink in Chinese policies in Xinjiang,

which he said is "essential for the sake of stability in the region."


"I hope the government will find a new strategy for Xinjiang which

will allow the people there more freedom. If they really want to keep

Xinjiang, this is what they must do."


Support from abroad


Erkin Sidik, a U.S.-based senior optical engineer at NASA, agreed that

the Chinese central government must allow the preservation of local

dialects and minority culture if it hopes to maintain stability in the

country's frontier regions.


"All minorities should keep their own language. The Chinese government

says they have a bilingual policy, but it's really a Chinese language

policy. They will destroy these minorities' languages and cultures. So

I am very supportive of the Tibetan students' situation."


Erkin Sidik was named as one of the "splittist elements" responsible

for inciting the July 5 ethnic riots after he had visited Urumqi

earlier to give a presentation at Xinjiang University on language in

the Uyghur school system.


The Uyghur author of several articles on bilingual education in

Xinjiang maintains that his talk was not politicized and merely

summarized the situation according to central government policy and

its implementation in the region.


"It's like the Pakistani independence movement. They fought against

the use of Hindi because they wanted to keep the use of Urdu and this

led to their fight for independence [against India]," he said.


"The Chinese government should learn from this lesson if they want to

maintain control of Xinjiang."


Millions of Uyghurs-a distinct, Turkic minority who are predominantly

Muslim-populate Central Asia and Xinjiang.


Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive

religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite

China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.


Chinese authorities blame Uyghur separatists for a series of deadly

attacks in recent years and accuse one group in particular of

maintaining ties to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.