In China, Turkish foreign minister calls Urumqi and Kashgar ‘Turkic’ cities

Meanwhile, protesters in Istanbul blast a song-and-dance performance featuring Uyghurs as whitewashing by Beijing.
By Arslan and Erkin Tarim for RFA Uyghur
2024.06.06
In China, Turkish foreign minister calls Urumqi and Kashgar ‘Turkic’ cities Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Hakan Fidan, left, meets with Wang Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CCP) Central Committee, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Minister, June 4, 2024 in Beijing.
@MFATurkiye via X

On a visit to China this week, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan described two key cities in the far western region of Xinjiang as “Turkic and Islamic cities” in clear recognition of the 11-million strong mostly Muslim Uyghurs who live there, and their roots in the region. 

The comments came on Monday after Fidan met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing to discuss regional and international issues, and ahead of his planned visits to the two cities midweek.

“These two cities are ancient Turkic and Islamic cities that have contributed significantly to China's cultural heritage,” Fidan said. “They serve as a bridge between China and the Turkic and Islamic worlds, symbolizing our historical friendship and neighborliness."

On Wednesday, Fidan visited the Yanghang Mosque and the International Grand Bazaar in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and later went to Kashgar.

There was no reaction in the Chinese media to his comments, but Hamutkhan Kokturk, the former president of the East Turkistan Foundation, a Turkey-based advocacy group, said that Fidan’s statement appeared to be a rejection of China’s claims about Xinjiang, which Beijing took control of in 1949.

"Throughout history,... the Chinese oppressors have always claimed that East Turkestan has been an inseparable part of China,” Kokturk said, using the term Uyghurs prefer for their homeland. 

1_ENG_UYG_TURKISH FM_06052024.5.jpg
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited the Yanghang Mosque and the International Grand Bazaar, June 5, 2024 in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People's Republic of China. (@MFATurkiye via X)

“This time, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan’s statement that Kashgar and Urumqi are inseparable parts of the Turkic world is a historic declaration,” he said. “I understand that this was a response to China’s lies.”

The Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities in Xinjiang, who have cultural and linguistic ties to Turkey, have been oppressed by the Chinese government, with an estimated 1.8 million herded into “re-education” camps where they are subjected to forced labor and human rights violations.

Beijing says the camps are vocational training centers and have since been closed. 

The United States has labeled Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs a “genocide."

The World Uyghur Congress said Fidan’s comments “emphasizing the historical truth that Urumqi and Kashgar are Turkic and Islamic cities is of great historical importance.”

The advocacy group said it hoped that Fidan would “raise the issues of crimes against humanity and human rights violations that the Uyghurs are suffering during his trip to China,” and not become “a tool for China's false propaganda."

Istanbul protest

On Sunday, before Fidan’s trip, scores of Uyghurs living in Istanbul, Turkey, staged a protest against China for bringing Uyghur artists from Urumqi to perform traditional songs and dances at a concert hall as part of a “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Place” program they claim whitewashes Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghur people.

Protesters gathered in front of the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall to chant slogans including: “Terrorist China, stop the genocide!” “Terrorist China, stop the lies!” “Murderous China, get out of East Turkestan!” The phrase refers to what the Uyghurs prefer to call their homeland. 

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Protesters gather in front of the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, June 2, 2024 in Istanbul where the Chinese government was planning to let Uyghur performers from Urumqi perform a Uyghur song-and-dance program. (Arslan/RFA)

When the bus carrying the Uyghur performers and the Chinese government officials approached the concert hall, protesters tried to block its way but they were stopped by the Turkish police.

Some Chinese standing on the balcony of the concert hall took photos of the Uyghur protesters below, and the protesters took photos of the Chinese as well.

At an outdoor press conference during the street protest, Kubilay Kerem Buraq, chairman of the Anadolu Members Association, blasted China for falsely portraying Uyghur culture as Chinese culture.

“To cover its assimilation and genocidal policies, the Chinese government has been calling Uyghur dance as Chinese folk dance, Uyghur songs as Chinese folk songs,” Buraq said. 

“They are trying to show Uyghur culture as Chinese culture and implant their false claim, namely, East Turkestan is a part of China, into people’s minds around the world,” he said.

1_ENG_UYG_TURKISH FM_06052024.2.JPG
Protesters gather in front of the Cemal Reşit Rey Concert Hall, June 2, 2024 in Istanbul where the Chinese government was planning to let Uyghur performers from Ürümqi perform Uyghur song and dance. (Arslan/RFA)

Buraq also criticized the Turkish government for allowing the performance and accepting invitations to it. “We condemn them for what they did,” he said.

During the protest, representatives from other Uyghur associations in Istanbul also took turns condemning China.

Oppression and massacres are taking place in East Turkestan, Uyghur men are being sent to the concentration camps, and their wives are being forced to live with Han Chinese,” said Kok Bore, head of the Blue Turk Bodun Association, an advocacy group promoting the rights of Turkic peoples around the world. “How long shall we be silent?” 

RFA reporters tried to enter the concert hall but were not allowed to do so, being told that only those invited by the Chinese Ambassador Wei Xiaodong were permitted to enter.

Translated by Martin Shawn. Edited by Malcolm Foster.

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