Uyghurs Push Self-Determination

'Autonomy' is ruled out at global talks among diaspora.

uyghurs-protest-305.jpg Uyghurs protest in Urumqi, July 7, 2009
Uyghur exile groups have decided at a landmark international conference to push ahead with the right to self-determination for the people of China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

While most delegates to the "East Turkestan Uyghur Summit: The Future of Uyghur People in East Turkestan" in Washington supported independence for the region, they decided it was "not politically realistic," said Alim Seytoff, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, among the groups that co-sponsored the talks.

The seven-day conference last week attended by 100 Uyghur delegates from 20 countries however rejected autonomy, as pursued for Tibet by many exile groups, he said. 

"The overwhelming majority of the Uyghur delegates said they are in favor of independence but absolutely rejected autonomy," Seytoff said in an interview.

"However in light of current international and political realities, they have approved that the World Uyghur Congress should continue to pursue the right of self-determination for the Uyghur people," he said.

"Our position has always been the right to self-determination for the Uyghur people. It's different from that of demanding autonomy or the 'Middle Way' pursued by the Tibetans," Seytoff said.

"We had vigorous discussions about the Tibetan way of dealing with the Chinese. Tibetans got absolutely nothing from China by pursuing autonomy," Seytoff said.

Political future

The World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based international organization, says it represents the "collective interest" of the Uyghur people both in the Xinjiang region and abroad.

Its aim is to "promote the right of the Uyghur people to use peaceful, nonviolent, and democratic means to determine the political future of East Turkestan."

The meeting of the Uyghur diaspora community last week also discussed Beijing's "violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights suffered by the Uyghur people in East Turkestan."

The delegates also took stock of the situation of Uyghur refugees around the world in order to find effective solutions to provide legal and moral assistance and support.

Uyghur groups use the term “East Turkestan” to refer to an eventual separate state they are eyeing in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or to assert their cultural distinctiveness from China proper.

Uyghurs in Xinjiang say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.

China has accused Al-Qaeda of links to groups operating in the Xinjiang region, home to more than 8 million Uyghurs, a Turkic, largely Muslim people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

Many Uyghurs resent increasing Han Chinese immigration into Xinjiang, which was briefly run as the Republic of East Turkestan in the years prior to the Communist Party's victory in China's civil war with the Nationalists in 1949.

On July 5, 2009, deadly riots between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi left 200 dead and 1,700 injured, according to state media, and two years later, ethnic relations remain uneasy in the capital.

Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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