Year: 2018

‘As If You’ve Spent Your Whole Life In Prison’: Uyghurs Starving & Subdued

When Chinese state authorities prepared to release Gulbahar Jelil (Gulbakhar Jalilova), an ethnically Uyghur woman born and raised in Kazakhstan, they told her that she was forbidden to tell anyone about what she had experienced over the one year, three months, and 10 days in which she had been detained. She was not to mention the stench and sickness that hounded her, and pervaded her crowded cell. But most critically, the prison workers stressed that she not talk about the food she had been served. They told her to get her story straight regarding her starvation diet: She was not to mention that she and others had received only about 600 calories per day — equivalent to two or three plain bagels— and that she had lost close to 100 pounds over the course of her detention. “You will eat more food now, since you will soon be released,” they said. They told her that the food she had been given and the filth that she had lived in — a cell with an open-air toilet and 30 unwashed bodies pressed together — were a thing of the past. It was a nightmare that she should put behind her. Jelil, …

This is what the Stanford Prison Experiment would look like if it targeted an entire society

The situation in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in north-western China has been rapidly deteriorating over the past few years. Local ethnic minorities are targeted by central government’s re-education campaign seeking to sinicize and “normalize” them. Sinopsis interviewed Darren Byler, an anthropologist studying the Uyghurs (currently at the University of Washington) who has recently visited the region to conduct field research. He has been a prominent voice in the international debate about this human rights crisis affecting millions of lives, namely through his website The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia. What follows is an interview about Uyghur history and culture, the oppression from Chinese state and also about the situation of an academic abruptly entering a heated public debate closely related to his studies. Why and when did you get interested in studying Uyghurs? I first became interested in Uyghur society and culture when I visited their homeland in 2003. At the time I was a photography student. I was really taken with the vibrant street life in the Uyghur oasis cities. The courtyard houses …

“The Uyghurs of Kazakhstan have been pressured into inactivity”

The following is a translation by Gene Bunin of the Azattyq interview of Kakharman Kozhamberdi by Ayan Kalmurat, published in Russian on October 4, 2018. Gene decided to translate it as it answers a question that he often found himself asking during his time in Kazakhstan: “So, where are the local Uyghurs in all this?”  The Kazakhstan Uyghur Association has not been active in searching out relatives arrested in Xinjiang, nor has it made many statements regarding the issue. Azattyq talked to a main advisor of the World Uyghur Congress, Kakharman Kozhamberdi, about the reasons behind this state of affairs. Azattyq: It’s been over a year now that both activists and Chinese Kazakhs have been talking of the “oppression of ethnic minorities” in Xinjiang. However, there does not appear to be any activity among the ethnic Uyghurs in Kazakhstan with regard to this issue. Why is that? Kakharman Kozhamberdi: The reason is the pressure that comes from the law enforcement authorities. As an example, I was taken to administrative court three times [editor’s note: the …

How is Abdukerim Rahman surviving without his books?

For decades there was an inside joke that was told by generations of Uyghur students in the School of Humanities at Xinjiang University. The joke went: “How can you be a doctoral advisor without having a Ph.D. degree?” In response they would say, “Work as hard as Abdukerim Rahman!”  Mr. Rahman is a legendary figure among students and faculty not only for his knowledge but also his humble and caring attitude toward his students. Students know that if a Uyghur language book had been published, it could be found in his home library. Everyone knows that even those books that are not available in the university library can be found there. Mr. Rahman is known for his passionate scholarship, for his love of book. But most importantly students recognize him as the father of Uyghur folklore studies. His humor, inspiration, and positive feedback always encourages their young souls. All folklorists, anthropologists or Uyghur literature researchers who are interested in Uyghur culture view him as an essential resource. His scholarship has become the critical texts in …