Exiled Uighur Leader Describes Situation in Western China As "Emotional"
Subjected to an intensive assimilation program, China's Uighurs are becoming "emotional" as they strive to maintain a separate cultural profile, an Uighur leader says.
Chinese Communist authorities have sought to dilute the Uighur identity in northwestern Xinjiang Province, encouraging the immigration of Han Chinese into the region, while cracking down on religious expression. The region, which covers about 660,000 square miles, is the traditional home of Uighurs, a Muslim people with close linguistic and cultural connections to the nationalities of former Soviet Central Asia. Today, Uighurs comprise about half the region's 15 million population.
Although some Uighur nationalist groups have engaged in small-scale acts of armed opposition, most Uighurs engage in passive resistance to Chinese assimilation policies, said Sidik Rouzi, a leading Uighur activist who now resides in the United States. For example, Rouzi said that, in rural areas, Uighur farmers withhold food supplies from government agents. Many also are reluctant to speak Chinese.
However, in recent months Chinese officials appear to have intensified their crackdown. The continuation of arbitrary arrests and systematic discrimination could encourage militancy among Uighurs, Rouzi suggested.
"Lots of Uighurs have been arrested, lots have disappeared, lots have been killed," Rouzi told EurasiaNet in a recent interview. "It is a very emotional situation for Uighurs.