Uyghur people struggle in China
Anwar Yusuf hasn't seen his parents or siblings in 15
"It is impossible for me to return to my homeland," he
said. "I would be killed because of what I am doing
right now -- telling my different political opinion."
Yusuf, director of the Eastern Turkistan National
Freedom Center in Washington, D.C., spoke to students
Thursday, Nov. 6, about the political and social
issues facing his people, the Uyghurs, in Islamic
The Uyghurs are from an autonomous region in northwest
China historically known as the land of Eastern
"The people have always been there and have never been
Chinese before, but they are now," Yusuf said.
Communist China took control of the area in 1950.
"Since then, the situation became more horrific
because of the communist regime," Yusuf said. "The
lands of the indigenous people were confiscated by the
government, [as well as] their property and clothing.
Uyghurs are the worst-liked people if you look at the
whole world picture in terms of enjoying human rights,
democracy and justice."
Yusuf compared the treatment of the Uyghur people to
the treatment of the people under the former Soviet
Union communist regime.
"There is a saying in China that 'today's Soviet Union
is China's tomorrow,'" Yusuf said. "China says this,
but they don't accept this statement as fact because
they don't want to end up like the former Soviet
Though the Uyghur people are now considered part of
China, Yusuf maintains their cultural independence.
"We are Turkish people by race," he said. "We are not
Chinese, even though our people carry Chinese
passports and the name of our country is in Chinese
right now. We speak Turkish languages and we look
Caucasian like European people."
The homeland Yusuf calls Eastern Turkistan is
currently known as Sinkiang, meaning "new territory,"
But Yusuf said changing the name of the country is
just another example of how China is good at changing
"That's why you see and hear resentment from
indigenous people," he said.
Yusuf explained the situation in scientific terms.
"I am a physics teacher," he said. "Scientifically
speaking, the more pressure you apply, the more
reaction and the stronger the explosion. That's
exactly what is happening in our country now."
The Chinese government views the Uyghur people as
separatists and after Sept. 11, 2001, had an excuse to
convince the United States and United Nations that
terrorist organizations exist in Eastern Turkistan.
Yusuf denies any terrorist affiliations.
"I have never heard of a terrorist organization in my
life," Yusuf said. "The people found out who Osama Bin
Laden was after Sept. 11. Before that, they didn't
know if Osama Bin Laden was a type of tree or animal.
They didn't know what the Taliban was. They were under
Yusuf, his wife Gulzighre and their son Turkel
performed music and dance at the lecture. Dancing, an
outward expression of their religion, is one of the
only things they have left, Yusuf said. China is
trying to take that away, too.
"According to Chinese legislation, every citizen has
the right to religious freedom," Yusuf said. "This is
not real. If you look at mosques, there are signs that
restrict entrance to anyone under the age of 18.
Everybody must practice his or her own religion in a
designated government-recognized mosque."
Yusuf's lecture was sponsored by the Utah Humanities
Council, Amnesty International, Asian and Middle East
Studies, Eastern Arts and the David M. Kennedy Center
for International Studies.