Authorities in Karamay city in China's northwestern Uyghur region have begun demolishing two Uyghur neighborhoods to make way for a new tourist destination, part of a pattern of government-led demolitions in the ethnic Uyghur homeland.
“I don’t know where we will live after this or how we will live, and I’m scared to think of the rest,” said one Uyghur resident whose home is being demolished and who did not wish to be identified.
The demolitions in Karamay come weeks after authorities began
demolishing Uyghur homes in the Heijiashan neighborhood of Urumqi, the region's capital, which was rocked by ethnic violence in July last
“After the July 5 Incident, the government started to be wary of
Uyghur neighborhoods," said another Karamay resident who did not wish to be identified.
"They are doing this [here] because of stability,
but I think again they are doing wrong,” he said.
An official named Mamatjan from the Karamay Political and Legal Affairs Committee said that over 400 households and 2,000 people, mostly Uyghurs, are living in the areas to be demolished, including some people without proper documentation.
One third of the homes, which are in the Xigou and Daxigou neighborhoods, have been demolished already, he said.
He also said that the purpose of the demolition was to build a tourist destination in the area, but did not say what kind of tourist destination.
Currently, the neighborhoods are home to residents who mostly work as vendors at the weekly local bazaar.
“There is a little bazaar which is only open on Fridays in the city and the people in the neighborhoods basically do business at that market. Some of us sell fruits and vegetables, some of us sell food, and some of us sell clothing like scarves and socks. We just live on the money that we make on Fridays,” a resident said.
Tash Polat, an official from the Karamay regional government administrative office, said that residents are being compensated at the rate of 212 yuan per square meter, or between about 5,000 and 20,000 yuan to each family (about U.S. $31 per square meter, or between U.S. $740 and U.S. $3,000 to each family).
He said that it would be “impossible” for residents to buy new houses with the compensation given them, explaining, “They built these houses illegally. They don’t have any papers.”
“They think the money given is too little. I think those whose homes were demolished in Urumqi were given more money, so they are comparing this case with that of Urumqi and think that the money is too little,” he said.
Demolitions across region
Officials in Urumqi have described the Heijiashan district under demolition as an area of “slum
shantytowns” and a “hotbed of poverty and crime.”
Before the ethnic violence in Urumqi last year, the city had also demolished homes in the Uyghur Yamaliq neighborhood, which is now being turned into a public park.
Further west, demolitions of traditional neighborhoods in Kashgar’s Old City began in February 2009 with the official aim of protecting residents against earthquakes. The project sparked complaints that Beijing is attempting to eradicate Uyghur culture.
Domestic media have also reported on the “reconstruction” of 9,000 homes in Ghulja city (in Chinese: Yining), including homes in the Uyghur Turpan Yuzi neighborhood, begun in June after the area was hit by unusually high snow and rain.
Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim ethnic minority in China, fear that Uyghur neighborhoods in cities in their homeland are being destroyed in order to make way for Han Chinese who have migrated to the region.
Karamay, which means “black oil” in Uyghur, has become a center for oil production since oil fields were discovered there in 1955. Many Han Chinese were recruited from eastern China to work in Karamay’s oil industry, which is run by nationally owned companies.
“There are 230,000 Han Chinese in Karamay and only about 30,000 Uyghurs. Most of the residents of Karamay are government employees. According to the Regional Autonomy Law, at least 60 percent of the government employees in Karamay should be Uyghur, but right now they are about 14 percent,” an unnamed teacher and Karamay resident said.
“The Uyghurs whose houses are being demolished are those who provide services for those government employees, making their lives easier,” he said.
Original reporting by Shohret Hoshur for RFA's Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Uyghur service director: Dolkun Kamberi. Written for the Web in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.