Turkey is home to over 50.000 Uyghurs, people who originate from former East-Turkistan, now known as Xinjiang province in China. 50.000 people eager to talk about what is happening in China. But in Turkey, the media do not cover their story.
Text and photos by Julia van den Muijsenberg
Since 2017, millions of Uyghur people locked away in Chinese re-education camps. The Chinese government is erasing their culture, forcing them to speak Chinese and obey the communist ideology, through torture and ill-treatment. Uyghurs living in Turkey worry about their family members. It is impossible for them to contact their family and friends in Xinjiang; since 2017, phone calls do not come through anymore, no explanation given. So, they do not know whether their relatives are locked up, alive, or dead.
The Uyghurs in Turkey feel safe among the people they call ‘their brothers’. They are free to practice their religion and free to speak their own language. But many feel disappointment as well: “The Turkish government wants to strengthen their relationship with China and won’t risk speaking up,” Uyghur activist Musajan Er (42) explains.
And in Turkey the unwritten rule is; if the government will not, the media cannot either. So, even though ‘brother Turkey’ welcomes the Uyghurs, no one is listens to their story. That’s why every chance the Uyghurs get, they will take. Every international journalist they meet, is asked to share their story. Because there are too many things going on the world needs to know about.
Nurahmat Muhmut (32)
“In 2017 my father’s side of the family has disappeared, all of them. I do not know anything. Please take their pictures. Please tell the world what is going on. Free them.”
Yasen Zunong (36)
“The Chinese one-child policy still applies to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Up until 2015, we had to pay a fine for each child that was ‘too much’. I have nine children so I paid many fines. But in 2015 the rule changed. Instead of being fined, you will get imprisoned now for having more than one child as an Uyghur. So, we fled to Turkey. Me, my wife and the four oldest children went first. Once we were settled, a female relative would fly over with the five youngest children. Then we could live in peace, together as a family. But at the airport they were all arrested.
We have not heard anything from them ever since. It is not possible to contact anyone in the region. I saw one of my children however, on a picture on a website of the camps. A picture that propagates the concentration camps as a ‘happy place’. But in fact, my children are stolen and put into the camps in order to accomplish China’s goal: erase the Uyghur minority. They make my children forget their language, religion, culture and they make them forget us, their family. Please, tell my story. Please, free my children.”
Ömar Hamdullah (30)
“October 2017 was when I received the news that my two older brothers, both successful real estate developers, were taken by the Chinese authorities to the concentration camp. They were sentenced without a reason. Also, an estimated $100 million of my brother’s wealth was seized by Chinese government, including their bank accounts, companies and restaurants. They have committed no crime other than being Uyghur and being businessmen who were getting wealthy through hard work.
The news that my brothers were arrested, was the last news I heard from Xinjiang. I do not know what happened to my other family members; my mother and two sisters. I don’t know whether they are in concentration camps or whether they have died. What we do know is that the people in camps are getting tortured. There are even stories of people receiving poisoning injections.
I fled to Turkey, the people here are our brothers. The Turkish people are supportive but the government is not speaking up.
I request from all the countries to help me find my family members and pressure the Chinese government to release them from jail. And also, allow me to contact them in a normal way, I haven’t heard from them ever since, please.”
Musajan Er (42)
“I haven’t spoken to my relatives in the Uyghur region – Xinjiang – since the Chinese are putting people in camps. I do not know if they are dead or alive. A US report estimates that there are 1,2 million Uyghurs in the camps, but we believe it might be over 5 million people that are locked up for no reason. As a woman, you can get arrested for wearing a headscarf and men get arrested for having a beard.
There are stories of Muslim being forced to eat pork and are forced to drink wine. Just to humiliate them. But this is more than a Muslim issue. In fact, the Uyghur issue is not a one nation issue. The whole world should beware!
China is a threat all around the world. With the new Silk road project – a project that expands Chinese infrastructure globally – they are gaining power. Yet, the world is silent. The Turkish government doesn’t speak out, though they support Uyghurs, they don’t want to ruin the economic relationship with China. I think this is not very smart because China is a threat to the world: their aim is to migrate Chinese people to as many countries as possible and expand, not only their economic power but also their political power.
This is a very dangerous idea. All countries should support the Uyghur issue, the Tibet issue and the freedom of Hong Kong. Those take overs are just the start. I request the support of all people and countries. Insha Allah. [if Allah wants it]. We get freedom one day Insha Allah. Thank you.”