China's Other Genocide: the 'Mother of the Uyghurs' Speaks Out
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Although we often hear of the plight of the Tibetans and the efforts of the Dalai Lama to address the human rights conditions in Tibet, the similar plight of another major ethnic group -- the Uyghurs and other indigenous minorities in the Xinjiang province in northwestern China -- has gone almost completely unnoticed.
While repression, imprisonment, and executions have lessened greatly in Tibet, this has not been the case for the Uyghurs, and persecution has actually increased dramatically since 9/11 and Bush's war on terror.
With Bush's attempt to win China's support for his al-Qaida hunting venture, China redefined the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), at the time an organization with no confirmed terrorist acts in China, as a terrorist organization. Shortly thereafter, the United States included the ETIM on its terrorist organization list, and exiled Uyghurs captured in Afghanistan have been held at Guantanamo without charges.
But more important has been the opportunities America's war on terror offered the Chinese government's to repress the Xinjiang's Muslim minorities without American and European intrusion.Yet one Uyghur voice is being heard beyond the borders of Xinjiang: Rebiya Kadeer, affectionately known as the "Mother of the Uygurs." Besides having taken on the cause of Xinjiang's minority populations, Rebiya also holds the honor of being one of China's "Public Enemies Number One."
After growing up in poverty following Mao Zedong's People's Liberation Army's takeover of her land, she worked her way from a simple laundry person, hand-washing the clothes of oil refinery workers, to becoming the wealthiest woman in China. In fact, she became the seventh-wealthiest person in China and eventually a high official of the National People's Congress.
On the day she was to meet with American representatives on human rights issues, she was arrested and spent the next six years in horrid prison conditions as a political prisoner, two of those years in solitary confinement.
She has been considered for the Nobel Peace Prize a couple of times, but Chinese lobbying and trade relations threats to the Norwegian government have prevented her from receiving this prestigious award. She lives in exile in the United States and is the president of the World Uyghur Congress and the Uyghur-American Association.
She also just released her autobiography, Dragon Fighter: One Woman's Epic Struggle for Peace With China, with an Intro by the Dalai Lama. It's an extraordinary account of a courageous woman trying to live by the highest human values in one of the worst regimes of human rights violations today.
On June 1, Rebiya Kadeer gave a rare interview on WPFW Pacifica radio in Washington.The Chinese have stuck with the story that Tibet was always a part of China, which legitimized their entry into Tibet in the late 1940s; the Chinese hold the same story of East Turkestan or Xinjiang Autonomous Region, where many non-Chinese peoples, most of who are of Turkic and Central Asian origin, including the Uyghurs, live.
WPFW: What was the national status at the time of Mao's communist revolution, and how did the lands of the Uyghur come to be part of Communist China?
Rebiya Kadeer: Historically, both Tibet and East Turkestan were not part of China but they were independent. The Chinese government knows this very well. As you know, today Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan are independent states in Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet empire. We also belong to Central Asia and not the Eastern part of Asia.
Historically, we are part of these other countries. They are called Western Turkistan, and we are called Eastern Turkestan; but now Western Turkistan is free and independent, whereas we are still under Chinese communist rule.