Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Uighur Journalist Interviewed on 7.5 Disturbance

Posted by on 2009/07/27. Filed under China. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Jul 27, 2009 – 9:36:18 AM

In its August 2 issue, the Hong Kong newsweekly Yazhou Zhoukan interviews

Heyrat Niyaz (海莱特·尼亚孜), a Uyghur journalist, blogger, and AIDS
activist. In the interview, Heyrat tells of how he tried to warn officials that “blood would flow” in Urumchi on July 5 and gives his thoughts about the background to the ethnic rioting.

* * *
YZ: When did you feel that something could occur on July 5?

HN: After the incident in Shaoguan, Guangdong, I felt that something big
would happen, that blood would flow. Before the Shaoguan incident, there
were already seeds of a disturbance in Xinjiang. After the Shaoguan
incident, I wrote a series of three blog posts analyzing the impact of the
incident and, the more analysis I did, the more certain I felt about my

YZ: Do you believe the July 5 incident was organized and premeditated?

HN: Looking at it from today, it was certainly organized. As for
premeditated, between June 26 and July 5, there was already plenty of time
for that. But the most crucial thing was that the government did not take
prompt measures to prevent deterioration of the situation. On July 4, I was
continually listening to Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. On that
day, World Uyghur Congress President Rebiya [Kadeer] and others were truly a
bit out of the ordinary on that day, with nearly all of the leaders going on
the air to speak.

Around 8 p.m., I called a friend of mine in the government and said,
“Something is going to happen tomorrow. You should take some measures.” I
gave him the URL of Rebiya’s speech so that they could listen for
themselves. They said they would report to their superiors.

The next morning, I called again. At around 10 a.m., I went with a friend to
see a high official in the regional government. I told him that as an
ordinary person of conscience, I have an obligation to remind you that blood
will certainly flow today. You should immediately take steps and mobilize
emergency preparations. Then, I made three recommendations: First, Xinjiang
Uyghur Autonomous Region Chairman Nur Bekri must make a public speech before
12 noon. Second, notify Han merchants in predominantly ethnic neighborhoods
to close shop early and go home. Third, mobilize as many troops as you can,
cordon off ethnic neighborhoods and block and patrol crucial intersections.
After the close of business, impose martial law.

At the time, the official said he would make a phone call to seek
instructions. In the end, not a single one of these recommendations was
taken. In fact, I was not even the first person to warn the relevant
government agencies on July 4. Just after 6 p.m. on July 4 another person
had provided a warning.

YZ: You said that prior to the Shaoguan incident there were already seeds of
a disturbance in Xinjiang. What do you mean by that?

HN: There are two direct reasons that led to something like what happened on
July 5. First is the promotion of bilingual education, and the second is the
government’s arrangements to send Uyghurs away to work. These two policies
were strongly opposed by many Uyghur cadres, but anyone who dared to say
“no” was immediately punished.

The first to bear the brunt of the bilingual education policy were teachers
who had previously taught in ethnic languages. Tens of thousands of teachers
faced being laid off because their Chinese was not up to standard, and this
led to unstable popular feelings among grassroots educators.

As for sending Uyghurs away to work, in the eyes of [Uyghur] nationalists
you can joke all you like, but don’t joke about our women. Almost all of the
workers initially organized to be sent out to work were 17- and 18-year-old
girls. At the time, some elders said, “Sixty percent of these girls will
wind up as prostitutes; the other forty percent will marry Han Chinese.”
This led to enormous disgust [among people]. In carrying out this policy,
the government first failed to carry out proper education work and, second,
failed to realize that such a small thing could have such major

YZ: Before the promotion of these two policies, how were ethnic relations in

HN: In the 1950s, even though Mao Zedong criticized “great Han chauvinism”
in Xinjiang, contemporary ethnic policies in Xinjiang never led to a
rupture. Ethnic relations in Xinjiang really became more tense over the past
20 years or so. After taking office, Party Secretary Wang Lequan adopted a
high-handed posture that would not allow for any ethnic sentiment among
minority populations. For example, if a ethnic cadre were to express the
slightest complaint during a meeting, he would definitely not be promoted
and might even be sacked. [Wang] overemphasized and exacerbated the
anti-separatist issue. In fact, border provinces in any country that have
cultural, linguistic, or ethnic ties with foreign countries are bound to
have such tendencies. The current anti-separatist struggle in Xinjiang is
not simply something [being carried out] by law enforcement agencies but has
become something [carried out] in the whole society.

YZ: Have these tense ethnic relations led to increased thoughts of
independence among Uyghurs?

HN: My father took part in the “Revolution of the Three Districts” [in which
ethnic partisans revolted against Chinese rule in 1944 and established the
second East Turkestan Republic] as a soldier. Logically, he should be a
classic example of someone with thoughts of independence, but as far as I
know not even someone like him is pro-independence—much less so someone like

In fact, looking historically, the Uyghur people transformed early on from a
desert-based [nomadic] people to an agricultural society and developed an
extremely exquisite civilization. The nature of this people has become such
that we don’t spread or seek conflict. Even during its strongest point, this
society was never expansionary. When the Khitan came, Uyghurs quickly
surrendered. When the Mongols came, the Uyghurs basically surrendered
without a fight. Historically speaking, Uyghurs don’t like to fight and have
no foundation for independence.

YZ: How do you view the issue of “East Turkestan”?

HN: This phrase “East Turkestan” is something invented by Europeans and not
something that Uyghurs themselves came up with. However, it has been built
up by the Turks and forcibly thrust upon us. We Uyghurs have no concept of
“East Turkestan.” From historic times to the presnt, Uyghurs have called
Xinjiang “Land of the Uyghurs.” No one has ever called it “Land of the
Turks,” much less “Eastern Land of the Turks.”

YZ: If this is so, why do so many pro-independence types in Xinjiang make a
fundamental claim for “East Turkestan”?

HN: At the time of the Silk Road, Uyghurs had opportunities to travel about
in neighboring countries and their thinking was more open. Later, when
maritime navigation became dominant, Uyghurs found themselves isolated and
closed-off. In such a backwards circumstance, it’s easy to think that “monks
from outside can really chant the scripture” [i.e., outsiders have the
answers]. It’s just as when China first opened up, all sorts of ideas flowed
in, both good and bad, and it wasn’t clear which were good and which were
bad. Moreover, over the past several decades local Uyghur elites suffered
under the repression of the Communist Party’s leftist policies and there
were no opportunities to develop thought. The moment a few people shout
“East Turkestan,” many among our people have no idea what to think.

YZ: How do local Uyghur intellectuals view Rebiya [Kadeer]?

HN: They’re not interested. Rebiya basically has no ideas.

YZ: For outside forces to be able to organize the July 5 incident, doesn’t
it mean that they have considerable influence inside China?

HN: Yes, definitely. I believe that the July 5 incident was organized by
“Hizb-ut-Tahrir al-Islami” [ILP, Islamic Liberation Party], an illegal
religious organization that has spread extremely quickly in southern
Xinjiang. I’ve studied this group, which was founded by an Afghan. When the
Afghan died, a Pakistani doctor among his followers carried out a
reorganization and recruitment drive. Whether in China, Afghanistan, or
Pakistan, the ILP is an underground movement. In 1997, when the ILP had just
begun to appear in Xinjiang, there were probably only several hundred
members. According to statistics made public last year by the relevant
agencies, the organization may now have close to 10,000 members in Xinjiang.

On July 5, I was on Xinhua South Road watching as rioters smashed and
looted. More than 100 people gathered and dispersed in an extremely
organized manner, all of them wearing athletic shoes. Based on their
accents, most were from the area around Kashgar and Hotan, but I did not see
any of them carrying knives. I suspect they were from the ILP because of
their slogans. The rioters were shouting “Han get out!” [and] “Kill the
Han!” Other than these [slogans], there was also “We want to establish an
Islamic country and strictly implement Islamic law.” One of the main goals
of the ILP is to restore the combined political and religious authority of
the Islamic state and strictly implement Islamic law; it is a fundamentalist

This organization is extremely disciplined and its composition rather
unusual. It attracts young men around the age of 20, mostly from rural
areas. In fact, this organization is extremely backwards, so that even among
Uyghurs without any basic social underpinning, those with even a bit of
education don’t have any interest [in the ILP]. The influence of groups like
this that have infiltrated from abroad is ultimately quite small, because
they bring nothing to the table. A serious attack from the organs of state
power could totally wipe them out. There’s no need for anti-terrorism
measures throughout society in Xinjiang.

YZ: What do you think is the main problem for Xinjiang at the moment?

HN: I don’t think the main problem for Xinjiang is ethnic separatism. The
key problem for Xinjiang is still economic development. Actually, so-called
ethnic conflict is really conflict over interests. Last year during the “two
meetings,” I watched video of President Hu Jintao’s meeting with the
Xinjiang delegation many times. President Hu said that Xinjiang should
emphasize development and only at the end did he say anything about
stability. Subsequently, I decided to write a series of articles clarifying
my views on this.

Full Chinese report: http://siweiluozi.blogspot.com/2009/07/heyrat-niyaz-on-july-5-riots-in-urumchi.html

comments powered by Disqus