A Chinese government policy paper has claimed that the Turkic-speaking Uyghur ethnic group, whose homeland is in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), has no Turkic ancestry, a move critics said was a further bid by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to erase Uyghur culture and identity.
The report, released by the State Council Information Office on Sunday, also made the claims that Islam isn’t an “indigenous” belief system of the Uyghur people, that the XUAR has long been inseparable from China, and that minority cultures have “developed in the embrace of the Chinese civilization.”
“Since the modern times, some Pan-Turkism advocates with ulterior motives have described all peoples of the Turkic language family as ‘the Turks’ using the untenable argument that the Turkic-speaking tribe integrated with the ancestors of the Turkish people after migrating westward,” the report said.
“A language family and an ethnic group are two essentially different concepts. In China, ethnic groups speaking Turkic languages include the Uyghurs, Kazaks, Kirgiz, Uzbeks, Tatars, Yugurs, and Salars, each with its own history and unique culture. These peoples cannot be referred to as ‘Turks.’”
The report suggested that conversion to Islam by Uyghurs “was not a voluntary choice made by the common people, but a result of religious wars and imposition by the ruling class,” although the government under the People’s Republic of China now protects “the Muslims’ right to their beliefs.”
In an article on Sunday, the official Global Times newspaper welcomed the report, saying it would help people to “distinguish between right and wrong,” while forcing “malicious agitators [to] zip their lip.”
Uyghur exiles, academics, and rights groups, however, dismissed what they deemed a revisionist history Beijing is using to justify a crackdown in the XUAR that has seen authorities detain up to 1.5 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a network of internment camps since April 2017.
Though Beijing initially denied the existence of internment camps, China has tried to change the discussion, describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.
Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.
The mass incarcerations are part of a broader set of policies in the region that include widespread security deployments, the regular surveillance of residents, and the political indoctrination and cultural assimilation of the Uyghur community.
“The purpose of Beijing’s white paper is to deny the history and culture of the Uyghurs, to use lies to weave a so-called historical basis for its rule, and to cover up its colonial-style political, economic, and cultural policies in Xinjiang,” Dilshat Rashit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress (WUC), told RFA.
“China is becoming more and more concerned at Uyghur resistance and anger, because they fear losing control over Xinjiang,” he said.