A middle-aged businessman on Thursday became the first known member of the ethnic Uyghur exile community to die of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Ghoji Abdullahajim Hotan, 55, died at 10:00 a.m. at the VM Medical Park Maltepe Hastanesi in Istanbul, Turkey, where he had lived with his wife Mahpiret and their four children since relocating in 1992 from Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture, in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Mahpiret told RFA’s Uyghur Service that she contracted COVID-19 last month and that Hotan followed soon after.
He had been admitted to the Bakirkoy Devlet Hastanesi, connected to the Bakırkoy Dr. Sadi Konuk Research And Training Hospital, two weeks ago but was sent to Maltepe Hastanesi for intensive care on Monday and placed on a ventilator, she said.
Mahpiret is currently hospitalized and receiving treatment for complications from COVID-19.
She said two of the couple’s children are adults, while the other two are being looked after by family and have not been infected.
Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Hidayettulla Oghuzghan, the president of the coalition of East Turkestan organizations in Turkey, confirmed that Hotan is the first Uyghur from the XUAR to die outside of the region.
“He died because of the coronavirus pandemic, which came from China,” he said.
“We are saddened by his passing and express our condolences to his family.”
There are believed to be less than 10 cases of Uyghurs infected with COVID-19 in Turkey where, as of Thursday, authorities had confirmed more than 42,000 cases resulting in over 900 deaths. The Uyghur patients have reported mild symptoms and are currently self-isolating.
Up to 50,000 Uyghurs live in Turkey—many who fled there to escape persecution in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million members of their ethnic group and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.
Uyghurs traditionally view the majority Muslim nation as a refuge and advocate for their rights.
Reported by Erkin Emet for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by Alim Seytoff. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.