All posts tagged: Xinjiang

Between Islamophobia and homophobia: Life as an LGBTQ Uyghur in China

I had a friend who was a medical doctor. He was gay and he was Uyghur, like me. We knew he was HIV positive about a year ago, but he never took any antiviral drugs because he didn’t want his family to find out. Last month, very suddenly he got sick and died just like that — complications from AIDS. His family didn’t even know he was sick, so it was very sudden for them. It’s really sad. There are a lot of young boys, 17 or 18, on Blued. I don’t think any of them understand or know to use protection, and there are a lot of male prostitutes that don’t use protection either. Erkin told me this story one day when I was living in Xinjiang. The prevalence of HIV among gay men in China was the main reason he wanted to talk to me. “Erkin” is a common male Uyghur name that means “Freedom,” and is a pseudonym. When we spoke, it was 2017 and I was living in Xinjiang. He had …

Requiem For The ‘Living Dead’: Ten Years After 7/5

Like a frightened flock of sheep, the people’s erratic dreams dividing unbroken Heavenly Mountains: A borderland Great Wall, a natural Wailing Wall Those unrecognized souls are the mud and night of other souls Only the cries of dreams, the tears on faces, like an expression of the heart, need no translation. 像惊恐的羊群 人们时断时续的梦境 隔着一座绵延千里的天山: 一座边地长城,一堵大自然哭墙 那些不被认识的心灵 是另一些心灵的泥淖和长夜 只有梦中的呼救、脸上的泪痕 像内心的表情,毋须翻译 — Shen Wei, an excerpt from “Ürümchi: An Abandoned Bed” (my translation) in the poetry collection Requiem I first heard about the poem “Ürümchi: An Abandoned Bed” from a now-disappeared poet, Perhat Tursun, in 2015. We were sitting in his apartment high above Consul Street in Ürümchi, smoking cigarettes and chatting in Uyghur. He told me that the poem’s author, Shen Wei, was one of the only Han intellectuals he truly respected. He said, “He was the only one who actually acknowledged what really happened during Qi Wu.” Like most Uyghurs, Perhat code-switched when it came to talking about the period of time that surrounded July 5, 2009. It was always just Qī Wǔ (七五) — the Chinese words …

Uyghur voices in Istanbul

It was Mother Tongue Evening (Ana til kechisi) at the Nuzugum Family and Cultural Organization for exiled Uyghurs in Istanbul. Over a hundred fully veiled women, and a handful of men, squeezed into a concert venue kindly provided by the Zeytinburnu municipal government. Several hundred children ran up and down the stairs brandishing light blue balloons printed with the crescent moon and stars of the Uyghur flag, while a group of young women teachers possessed of extraordinary calm and determination ushered them on and off the stage to deliver a series of Uyghur-language poems, theatrical skits, and songs. It was an inspirational event. “The principle struggle of our people,” declared Munawer Özuygur, leader of the Nuzugum organization, “is to preserve our language and culture.” Toward the end of the evening, a group of 10 girls sang, tunelessly but with heartfelt feeling, to a recording of a recently composed song, “No Road Back Home” (Yanarim Yoq). The song is an affective pop ballad created and performed by a young Uyghur couple who uses the stage names …

The Legacy of the Uyghur Rock Icon Ekhmetjan

People still remember where they were the day Ekhmetjan[1] died. It was Thursday, June 13, 1991. He was only 22 years old. As is common with the death of an icon, many people refused to believe he was gone. Instead rumors spread that thugs from a rival disco had knifed him in a back alley or that he had faked his death and gone abroad to marry a princess. Ekhmetjan had been in Ürümchi preparing for a concert across the then (relatively) open border with Kazakhstan when he died. Back in those days before the train reached Kashgar and the highway stretched across the desert to Hotan, it was difficult to carry bodies home for burial. There were no freezer trucks. After a long and bumpy ride around the desert Ekhmetjan arrived in his hometown of Qarakash (near Hotan) covered in celery and ice against the smell of rot. People remember when he arrived. As his official biography puts it, Ekhmetjan died of “an illness.” Although everyone knows he died of a heroin overdose, no …