Uighur separatism and E. Turmenistan
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Sun Mar 21 19:25:19 UTC 2004
>>From the Philadelphia Enquirer
http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/nation/8236386.htm Posted on Sun,
Mar. 21, 2004
China targeting 'terrorism' on its western frontier
By Ted Anthony
HOTAN, China - Down the cramped alleys of Hotan's main bazaar, flat discs
of bread roast in cone-shaped coal ovens. Bearded men in embroidered
skullcaps hawk melons and aromatic cumin from donkey carts. On dusty walls
of mud and brick, the script is Arabic and the language Turkic.
This is China, though you wouldn't know it by looking. And to the
communist government, 2,300 miles east in Beijing, that's precisely the
In Xinjiang, the Muslim region that makes up an Alaska-size swath of
China's far west, the central government says it is fighting terrorism.
But in a region divided from the rest of the land by language and
religion, philosophy and tradition, it's hard to tell who the enemy is.
Is it what the government calls "separatists" - those members of the
Uighur ethnic group who advocate, sometimes violently, the creation of a
country called East Turkistan? Is it Islamic extremists backed by global
terrorist networks? Have they joined forces?
Or, as some activists say, is it all an excuse to come down harshly on
people who won't bend to Beijing's rule?
"Antigovernment activity and religious extremists and terrorists, they are
all the same in nature," said Zong Jian, deputy Communist Party secretary
in Kashgar, a city near the Afghan and Pakistani borders. "They incite
people to be involved in violence. That unites them."
The accusations are vague, and the evidence presented is scant.
Beijing-backed local leaders tell stories of Uighur separatists who worked
with neighboring Afghanistan's Taliban to sow unrest in Xinjiang, of
al-Qaeda involvement in training camps inside China.
This much is indisputable: The Chinese government fears any whiff of
rebellion at the edges of its control, be it by Tibetan followers of the
Dalai Lama or by the leaders of Taiwan, recently accused by Beijing of
waging a "holy war" against it.
In Xinjiang, whose 11 million Muslims are the region's majority, things
have been simmering for years. But the problem took on particular urgency
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
That day changed China's approach in two ways: It made Beijing more wary
of Islamic extremism, and it gave the government - long criticized for its
human rights practices - a globally endorsed excuse to crack down.
"A lot of people sort of feel that they are using the threat of terrorism
to strengthen their control of the region," Dru Gladney, a specialist on
Xinjiang at the University of Hawaii, said.
Today, government-run provincial television airs programs chronicling
al-Qaeda's alleged evils and characterizing the Chinese-Uighur
relationship as close. And Beijing is trying to broaden ties with Central
Asian nations to reduce terrorism at its western edge.
In October, a Uighur named Ujimamadi Abbas was executed in Hotan after
being convicted of "ethnic separatism." No details of his alleged offenses
were given. In December, Hasan Mahsum, one of the country's most wanted
men, the leader of the outlawed East Turkestan Islamic Movement, was
killed in a shootout with Pakistan authorities.
A week earlier, Mahsum's name was among 11 "Muslim separatists" on a list
released by China in a plea for foreign help against Xinjiang's "terrorist
The East Turkestan Islamic Movement was identified by the United States as
a terrorist organization in 2002 - a classification many believe was a
diplomatic bone thrown to Beijing in exchange for its tacit support of the
U.S.-led war on terror.
"China thinks Uighur separatism is two kinds - Islamic extremism and
political separatism. But since 9/11, they've put them together and said
they're the same," said Dilxat Raxit, a Stockholm-based spokesman for the
East Turkistan Information Center.
"Uighurs love their country - because that country is East Turkistan,"
said Raxit (pronounced Rasheed). "The Beijing government knows that. But
they demand that their nationalism is directed toward China."
This dual identity of Xinjiang is the partial result of a deliberate
attempt, through decades of encouraged migration of ethnic Hans from back
east, to make the region more Chinese. It's not easy.
Xinjiang not only seems far from the rest of China; it is. Even the
official time zone set by Beijing is ignored; many follow their own
informal clock that runs two hours earlier. And ancient linguistic ties
link the Uighurs to Turkmenistan, three countries away, and even to
Turkey, on Europe's doorstep.
Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, resembles most Chinese cities evolving from
uninspired communist architecture into profit-making shininess.
But drive south on the rutted desert roads and the landscape changes
dramatically. Mud-hut villages and the serpentine old parts of towns such
as Hotan and Kashgar resemble Kabul more than they do Beijing or Shanghai.
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