Central Asia Theater
A traditional shaman of Siberia's indigenous Yakut people, who had been walking cross-country for months toward Moscow "to drive [Russian President Vladimir] Putin out of the Kremlin," was arrested in Russia's far eastern republic of Buryatia. The region's Interior Ministry said Sept. 19 that Aleksandr Gabyshev was detained overnight on a highway near Lake Baikal. "Gabyshev is wanted in Yakutia on suspicion of committing a crime," the ministry said without specifying what crime the shaman is suspected of having committed. It added that he will be transferred to his native Yakutia.
Well, this is grimly hilarious. Genocide Watch has issued two "warning alerts" for India—one for Kashmir and the other for Assam, with Muslims held to be at grave imminent risk of persecution and mass detention in both. Pakistan's semi-official media, e.g. Dawn newspaper, are jumping all over this news, which is hardly surprising. But Pakistan is closely aligned with China due to their mutual rivalry with India, so it is also hardly surprising that Pakistani media have failed to similarly jump on the Genocide Watch report on the Uighurs of Xinjiang—despite the fact that the group categorizes the situation there as "preparation" for genocide, a more urgent level than "warning." Even more cynically, China itself has issued a protest to India over the situation in Kashmir. South China Morning Post reports that Delhi shot back that Kashmir is an internal matter "that has no impact on China at all." Beijing has been similarly dismissive of India's protests over the mass detention of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. Most perversely of all, an editorial in the officialist Pakistan Today, protesting the abuses in Kashmir and Assam, absolves China of running "illegal detention centres in Xinjiang."
Just after Chinese officials announced that the detention camps for Muslim Uighurs in Xinjing region had been mostly emptied, reports emerge that women in the camps are facing forced sterilization. Dubious claims of the camps' closure were made by Alken Tuniaz, vice chairman for Xinjiang, who told reporters July 30 that "the majority of people who have undergone education and training have returned to society and returned to their families." He used the official characterization of the camps as "education and training" centers, and of their inmates as "students." He added: "Most have already successfully achieved employment. Over 90 percent of the students have returned to society and returned to their families and are living happily." Both he and Shohrat Zakir, party chairman for Xinjiang, refused to say how many people have been held in the camps.
Chinese official media (Global Times, Xinhua, China Daily) are making much of a "white paper" issued by the State Council Information Office entitled "Historical Matters Concerning Xinjiang," which seeks to deny the national aspirations and even very identity of the Uighur people of China's far western Xinjiang region. It especially takes aim at the "separatism" of the emerging "East Turkistan" movement, asserting that never in history "has Xinjiang been referred to as 'East Turkistan' and there has never been any state known as 'East Turkistan.'" It denies that there has ever been an independent state in what is now the territory of Xinjiang (a name not in use until the 18th century): "Xinjiang was formally included into Chinese territory during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and the central government of all dynasties maintained jurisdiction over the region. The region has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory. Never has it been 'East Turkistan.'" The Turkic roots and identity of the Uigurs are even challenged: "The main ancestors of the Uygurs were the Ouigour people who lived on the Mongolian Plateau during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (581-907) dynasties, and they joined other ethnic groups to resist the oppression and slavery of the Turks."
Last week we were treated to the perverse spectacle of the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China's "re-education camps." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (whose hypocrisy on this matter we have noted before) on July 18 called China's treatment of the Uighurs the "stain of the century," and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. (Reuters) At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. (SCMP)
Satellite imagery posted by activists appears to show that the Chinese government is systematically destroying landmark mosques in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous region. The revelations come as human rights organizations step up their criticism of Beijing over its abuse of the Uighur people and internment of hundreds of thousands in so-called "reeducation camps." Tweets by Uighur activists indicate that at least two landmark mosques in Xinjiang have been destroyed. The website Bellingcat confirmed the claims with before-and-after satellite imagery. Among the destroyed mosques is the historic Keriya Aitika Mosque in the city of Hotan, which was built in 1237, and inducted to the Chinese Architectural Heritage list in 2017. Unconfirmed reports claimed that the Kargilik Mosque was also razed by the Chinese government. (Yeni Safak, Turkey, UNPO, April 11)
In Episode 28 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with trepidation Google’s plans to develop a censored search engine for China, and thereby be allowed back through the Great Firewall to access the world's largest market. But the next and more sinister step is imposing China's draconian standards for control of information on all Internet users, worldwide. Harbingers of this are already seen in Facebook's censorship of the Tibetan struggle, and of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, as well as initiatives to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes. While protesting these moves is imperative, the potential for such abuses in inherent to the technology—and this, ultimately, is a deeper and more complex problem that also urgently demands a critique. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Amid the mass internment of ethnic Uighurs in China's western Xinjiang province, reaction within the greater region has been largely muted. Dolkun Isa, head of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, last month blasted the leaders of Muslim countries for being largely "silent" over the "ethnic cleansing" of the Uighurs, calling it the "shame of the Muslim world." Dolkun said his own mother died in one of the camps last May, and his family did not even find out about it until weeks later. Dolkun charged that some Muslim governments "even support the Chinese government policy." (France24, Dec. 19)