The shocking and sickening news of Uyghur Muslims are making rounds since 2017 but it hardly garners the attention of the mainstream media which it deserves. And as more and more incidents of mass murder, brutal tortures, rapes, and solitary confinements surface, one can only imagine the actual horrors faced by the Turkic origin Uyghur Muslims who are not only ignored and tacitly used by the US as a propaganda tool but are also being deliberately overlooked by the Muslim world.
Today, we’d try to find out from a victim of genocide himself, the persecution he and many like him deal with on a daily basis. We will try to shed more light on the political and social impact, this ethnic cleansing has, on our ever-changing world.
As an Uyghur in exile, advocating for his own people and trying to keep their identity alive, the journey of Aziz Isa Elkun from being a political refugee to an academic and human rights defender came at a heavy price.
A number of unanswered calls to his mother made it apparent that the Chinese police had threatened her of “dire consequences” if she answered any international calls, especially that of her own son. Sheikh Mehmood, the chief advisor of Core Middle East, had an interesting conversation with Aziz Isa Elkun, Director of the Uyghur PEN Centre Online Revitalization Project.
Q: The persecution of the Uyghurs has been going on for quite some time. The Chinese perspective is that they are trying to create unity among the people and not allow the disintegration, what is your take on this?
A: Thank you for your question. Yes, it is the classic excuse of China. They claim that they want to protect the nation’s unity.
Q: Can we draw parallels between how France deals with its Muslim population [restrictions on their practice of faith] and what China is currently doing to the Uyghur community?
A: There’s no way can we compare the level of atrocities of China with that of France. In China, there is a genocide happening as we speak on a full scale, and the lives of about 7 million people are at stake.
There is a kind of confusion regarding the full scale of this genocide that’s currently taking place which nobody fully understands. I have been to Kazakhstan in 2019; people have fished Qurans from the river that the Uyghurs get rid of. If they find you with a Quran, they will arrest you and put you in camps. But nobody in the Muslim world has the guts to stand up to China.
Q: In the Middle East, we know that Saudi Arabia and the UAE stand behind your cause. What powers do these middle-eastern countries hold? Besides Muslim countries, what other countries do you think can side with the Uyghurs? Turkey? It has spoken for the Kashmir cause, but has special ties with Israel and Pakistan; do you think that Turkey can support the Uyghurs for long?
A: I cannot see so far any Muslim-majority country standing with the Uyghurs. Countries like Pakistan have supported China and strengthened their trade relations.
I don’t trust the current administration would because Erdogan in the past had declared that Turkey respects China’s territorial integrity. Human life, dignity, and freedom must be above the territorial integrity of any nation.
Q: Where do you see the United Nations stand on the Uyghur issue? Should there be a new forum to address the problem?
A: Yes, there is a famous saying by Erdogan: “The world is bigger than the five”. As of yet, there is not a single UN resolution regarding China’s genocide. Even if some countries openly condemn it, but we are still in an uncomfortable place especially when the Middle Eastern countries are supporting China.
This isn’t a complicated issue to understand, it is very simple: the genocide is happening, and Muslim majority countries are supporting it is because of their vested interests.
Q: The United States has been very vocal regarding this issue, maybe because of economic motives, but we still don’t have any solid resolution put out by international forums. What is your stand on that?
A: Compared to other countries, having the US support this cause is actually a lot. In 2020, the US congress had passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This bill imposes various restrictions related to China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, including the prohibition of certain imports from Xinjiang and imposing sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations in the region.
With this, we are a bit more hopeful.
Q: Are you satisfied with what the US is doing right now in the UN forum?
A: Since it is not enough, I am not completely satisfied.
Q: China is visibly very interested in Afghanistan and is willing to provide the new Taliban government with its full support. In the haul, do you think that the Taliban can bring China to the table, and play a major role in preventing the genocide?
A: I am not optimistic about their role in the Uyghur issue, but I wish that Afghan civilians are able to enjoy a peaceful existence with their human rights protected. If we speak about China’s investment in the country, we can see from other experiences that they don’t care or pay attention to human rights. They do not have a single good neighbor, except for Pakistan.
Q: Are you optimistic about the possible role of Afghanistan in the future?
A: The Taliban are fighting in the name of Sharia, so I am not sure if they will warn China about the persecution of Uyghurs. Let’s see what will happen.
Q: What’s your stance on formations made by your own Uyghurs?
A: I am very hopeful because we want to initiate a movement that would stop the genocide. We must do what we can in the international ecosystem, organizations, and the legal system. We need to set up more real policies. We are doing our best within the norm.
Q: What are the immediate efforts that are needed to address the current situation of the Uyghurs?
A: Efforts should be put towards helping the Uyghur refugees escape the humanitarian crisis in China.
Q: If not Pakistan, not the US, then who do you think should take the first step?
A: I am expecting that any sane person or country can understand that China is ethnically cleansing its Muslim minority within the bounds of its territory without impunity. It does not matter what country takes a firm stand against the cruel regime of China but it’s imperative the world should unanimously call out China’s crimes against humanity and hold it responsible for state-sponsored terrorism. This isn’t about Islam or any other religion; it is about humanity and seeking justice for a helpless community.
There are 40 countries of the world directly condemning China and demanding to stop the genocide. We the Uyghurs in exile are involved in many activities, exhibitions, and collaborations with many NGOs. Here in the UK itself, there are more than 20 NGOs working to support the community.
Plus, China has its own problems at the moment with the new military alliance formed between the US, Britain, and Australia. It has crossed the red line already and it’s not a peaceful country.
Q: Lastly, I want to ask you about what role you are playing at the moment to bring more awareness to the cause?
A: Thank you for asking this question. I am an academic and work on promoting freedom of expression and bringing awareness of the genocide of the Uyghur Muslims. My role is actually more focused on this while I continue to closely observe all the developments.
Our main objective is to highlight the Uyghurs’ issue and bring the attention of our international audience to the ongoing ethnic cleansing. We call upon the international players and forums such as the UN to go beyond the veto power and resolutely halt this mass murder.
Note: Core Middle East’s journalist Catherine Carey and Editor Shumaila Khan have worked on documenting this interview. Some parts have been modified to make the conversation comprehensible and easy to follow.