The Assault on Indigenous Peoples in Northwest China Must End

Chinese policemen push Uighur women protesting on the streets of Urumqi, on July 7, 2009. (Guang Niu/Getty Images)

February 26, 2020

By American Anthropological Association

A decade after the protests that sparked the crackdown in the Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang), the Chinese government continues its campaign of eliminating and replacing the Indigenous cultural systems and societies in the Uighur and Kazakh regions of Northwest China. The eradication of these Indigenous identities must come to an end immediately.

More than one million mostly Muslim Uighurs and members of other Indigenous groups have been detained in heavily policed re-education camps, a system that former detainees have said was created to eliminate their language and cultural heritage. By detaining more than 10 percent of the adult population, these internment camps have introduced endemic family separation throughout Uighur and Kazakh societies. In the most densely populated areas of the Uighur homeland, as many as 70 percent of minority children under the age of five have been placed in state-run boarding schools. At the same time, the region itself has been transformed into a surveillance state never seen anywhere else. Such an assault constitutes a deep form of injustice and a broad violation of civil and human rights.

It also presents a clear disregard for academic freedom. We are particularly dismayed by the way the pretext of “terrorism” and “countering violent extremism” has resulted in the disappearance of more than 400 Uighur and Kazakh cultural leaders.  These intellectuals, scientists and artists are the carriers of Uighur and Kazakh Indigenous traditions. Their disappearance throws into question the ability for China’s Turkic Muslims to remain the authors of their own histories and traditions. Among the cultural leaders who have disappeared is our colleague Professor Rahile Dawut, a world-renowned Uighur anthropologist and internationally recognized expert in Uighur folklore and traditions.

In addition to the removal of cultural leaders and the elimination of Indigenous social institutions, the campaign has also resulted in the systematic destruction of sacred lands such as family graves, saint pilgrimage sites, mosques, and traditional Turkic Muslim neighborhoods. The eradication of Uighur native economic activity and burial practices echo many of the most violent forms of Indigenous dispossession throughout history.

The American Anthropological Association is a non-political, non-profit international educational association comprising some 10,000 members committed to the free and open dissemination of knowledge about human society and culture. We are a global community whose work thrives on active interaction between scholars and students from around the world.

The actions targeting Uighurs and Kazakhs jeopardizes international academic cooperation with Chinese institutions and scholars in Anthropology, and raises profound moral questions for non-Chinese academics that wish to work with Chinese colleagues in Anthropology. We strongly urge the Chinese government to ensure civil and human rights for the native Turkic Muslim peoples, cease detentions without due-process, and remove restrictions on speech and movement in the Uyihur and Kazakh regions.

Uyghur Times

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