Turkey-based Publisher Keeps Uyghur Letters Alive

2006-02-24
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Uyghur students listen as their teacher reads an Arabic text in a classroom at Urumqi's No.14 Uyghur Middle School. Photo: AFP/Goh Chai Hin

ANKARA—A modest publishing house in Turkey is increasingly keeping the Uyghur language and culture alive from its place of exile, sending out volumes of poetry, history, and Islamic scholarship free of charge even as Beijing clamps down on the millions of Uyghurs under its control.

Since its founding in 2000, the Taklamakan Uyghur Publishing House has published and distributed more than 50 books to Uyghurs overseas, chief executive Jelil Turan told RFA’s Ankara-based reporter, Erkin Tarim.

“Although there are quite a lot of organizations producing Uyghur materials worldwide, the Taklamakan Uyghur Publishing House is the only Uyghur publishing house outside our homeland,” Jelil Turan said.

Within the northwestern region of Xinjiang, which has been part of China since 1949, the Xinjiang Publishing House and Kashgar Uyghur Publishing House produce books in the Turkic Uyghur language.

Editorial independence

But they are subject to controls and raids from the authorities in relation to books considered subversive or "separatist."

“Taklamakan Uyghur Publishing House is not administered by any organization or by any group of people. It works independently,” Turan said.

Uyghurs constitute a distinct ethnic group in northwestern China and Central Asia.

Taklamakan Uyghur Publishing House is not administered by any organization or by any group of people. It works independently.

They twice declared a short-lived East Turkestan Republic in Xinjiang in the 1930s and 40s but have remained under Beijing's control since 1949. Many would like to see an independent Uyghur homeland.

Uyghurs across Xinjiang report increasing controls by Communist Party officials on their religious activities via religious teachers, or imams, at mosques in the region.

Sermons or explanations of the Quran must be approved in advance by Party religious affairs bureau officials, they say.

International rights groups have detailed an ongoing and systematic program of cultural assimilation by Beijing, which includes encouraging large numbers of Han Chinese to move into the region, and privileging those with a strong command of Chinese.

Quranic explanations planned

Islamic tradition requires that every Muslim have a clear understanding of the Quran, but Uyghurs still lacked a complete explanation of the holy book in their own language, Turan said.

“To fill this emptiness, Taklamakan Uyghur Publishing House began translating the Quranic Explanation, and in May 2005 published the first part of Quranic Explanation with the name 'Clear Explanation of the Quran,'" he said.

“The whole translation will be completed in the next three to four years. This honorable mission was undertaken by a young religious scholar, Muhammad Yusuf, who studied in Al Azhar University in Egypt for a long time,” Turan said.

Based on existing explanations in Arabic by Islamic scholars from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the forthcoming Uyghur translation would be the first such project undertaken in 1,000 years of Uyghur history, he added.

Taklamakan books are distributed to Uyghurs living in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, the United States, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, free of charge, Turan said.

The company has also published volumes of history and literature that would be banned in China, including a collection of poems titled “Sorrow” by the religious and political scholar Abdul Aziz, who was jailed for more than 40 years, and “Way to Freedom,” a collection of poems by Mullah Mohammad.

According to official figures published in 2001, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region comprised 8.7 million Uyghurs, or 47 percent of the population, while Han Chinese accounted for 7.5 million residents, or 40.6 percent. Other groups accounted for 2 .3 million, or 12.39 percent.

Beijing says there are more than 20 million Muslims in China, who have access to 40,000 Islamic places of worship, and more than 45,000 imams, or religious teachers.

Prior to the war in Iraq, which it opposed, Beijing backed the U.S.-led war on terror, using the war's momentum to call for international support for its campaign against Uyghur separatists, whom it has branded terrorists.

Human rights groups say Beijing is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse to perpetrate further human rights violations against those involved in a peaceful campaign for an independent Uyghur state.

Original reporting in Uyghur by Erkin Tarim. RFA Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Uyghur

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CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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