Uighurs, or Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group from Central and East Asia. Native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Northwest China, Uighur are considered one of China’s 55 officially recognised ethnic regional minorities within its multicultural nation.
Traditionally, Uighurs have inhabited a series of oases scattered across the Taklamakan Desert, which lies within the Taraim Basin. It is an area that has been variously under the influence of the Chinese, Mongolian, Tibetan and Turkic politics and sometimes existing as independent states. Islam plays an important role in Uighur identity and culture with most Uighurs identifying themselves as Muslim by the 16th century.
DNA indicates that peoples of central Asia, such as the Uighurs, are all of mixed Caucasian and East Asian ancestry. Uighur activists identify with the Tarim mummies, the remains of ancient inhabitants of the region, but genetic research remains problematic. Chinese government officials are concerned with the ethnic separatism brought by genetics, while the Uighur are apprehensive about the affect on indigenous claim.
The Chinese, using their own pronunciation, called them ‘Weiwuerh’ in the 1970s. As a matter of fact, no all-encompassing name was used for centuries; people identified themselves with the oasis they came from, such as Kashgar or Turfan.
The Uyghur population has long been the subject of some dispute. Chinese authorities place the Uighur population within the Xinjiang region at just over 12 million, which is approximately half the total inhabitants of the region. Smaller subpopulations in other parts of the country are estimated as being between 5000 and 10000. Population disputes have continued for almost two decades with Uighur groups claiming their population is being vastly, systematically and intentionally miscalculated by Chinese authorities, and that the Uighur population actually exceeds 20 million.Some claim the real number is more than half that again. These claims however, are generally rejected by scholars, with American Professor Dru C. Gladney, whose research focuses on ethnic and cultural nationalism in Asia, published that there is “scant evidence” to support Uighur population claims of numbers exceeding 20 million.
So what’s the issue?
Since 2014, Uyghurs in Xinjiang have been affected by extensive controls and restrictions imposed upon them by the Chinese government regarding religious, cultural, economic and social practices.Police surveillance is used to monitor for signs of ‘religious extremism’ that includes growing a beard, quitting smoking or drinking, having a prayer rug, or possessing any literature of any kind related to the peoples or culture of the Uighur. There are reports that the government has also installed cameras in the homes of private citizens.
Further, at least 1% of the Chinese claimed Uighur population of 12 million are being held in mass detention camps – and it’s very possible that number could be as high as one million. Termed ‘re-education camps’ the aim is to change the identities and political and religious beliefs of these detainees; sometimes in centres around the clock, other facilities allow returning home at night. According to Chinese government operating procedures, the reason for the camps is to ensure adherence to Communist Party ideaology, upon which they are regularly tested over their minimum of 12 months in captivity.
In 2017, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that, “The Chinese government agents should immediately free people held in unlawful ‘political education’ centres in Xinjiang, and shut them down.”The internment, along with mass surveillance and the scheme to insert intelligence officials into Uyghur families, led to widespread accusations of cultural genocide against the Chinese Communist Party. Most particularly, the scope of the operation doubled in 2018.Satellite evidence suggests China destroyed more than two dozen Uighur Muslim religious sites between 2016 and 2018.
Initially denying the existence of the camps, the government then changed its stance and asserted that the camps are there to combat terrorism, and give vocational training to the Uighur people.This gave call for activists to demand the camps be opened to visitors to prove their claimed function. Media groups report that detainees are held in rough and unhygienic conditions, while undergoing relentless political indoctrination.There are also lengthy isolation periods between Uighur men and women, and this is interpreted by some analysts as an attempt to inhibit Uighur procreation and therefore change the ethnic demographics of the country.
It appears that the Chinese CCP state and social media cannot be relied upon, and the weight of activist claims seems evidenced by international media reports.
According to a major new report by a US-based think tank, Beijing is currently breaching every single provision of the UN Genocide Convention with “intent to destroy” the Uighurs as a group.
Evidence published by Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, includes mass detention, mass birth prevention, forcible transfer of children, forced labour schemes, eradication of Uyghur identity and the targeting of intellectuals and other community leaders.
It is the first independent expert application of the 1948 Genocide Convention to the ongoing treatment of the Uighurs in China. Uighurs in Australia live with survivor’s guilt and want the federal government to take action.
What electricians with a conscience and high ethics may be able to achieve in this situation is limited only by their belief in what’s right, what’s possible and how it will be done.