Uyghurs – The Other Tibet
The Uyghurs are the other Tibetans that you never hear about. Uyghurs are an ethnic minority that live in the northwest province of China known as East Turkistan, which is referred to by China as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, meaning of Xinjiang is “new dominion” or “new territory.” Its people are not Chinese; they are Turkic people of Central Asia. Uyghurs practice a moderate form of Islam and share a similar ancestry to the people of Turkey. After living autonomously in Central Asia, the Uyghurs lost their homeland to China with the help of Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1949. China has taken full-control of East Turkistan’s oil and other natural resources. Since then, China has systematically oppressed the Uyghurs through deliberate displacement, mass Han Chinese migration, prohibition on exercise of religious beliefs, suppression of cultural rights, denial of economic opportunity, mass arrest, torture, and public execution. Uyghurs have protested Chinese colonialism and denial of basic human rights. Uyghur resistance has been met with a swift and violent response by China. Since 9/11, the heavy-handed state repression of all activities associated by the Chinese government with “Separatism” has created a dire human rights environment for the Uyghurs. Beijing has for more than a decade claimed to be confronted with “religious extremist forces” and “violent terrorists” in East Turkistan, a vast region one-sixth of China’s land area.
Nury Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney and human rights activist, speaks eloquently about the state of the Uyghurs, including how geopolitics, China’s oppressive policies and the greed of the Pakistani tribal community landed two dozen Uyghurs in Guantánamo. Nury has been very active on legal matters pertaining to human rights and the rule of law at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and has shared his expertise and cultural advice with members of the U.S. Congress and senior officials at the Department of State, as well as the pro bono attorneys who have represented the Uyghurs detainees at Guantánamo all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He has traveled to Guantánamo several times to meet with the Uyghur prisoners. Nury is an attorney in Washington where he represents both U.S. and international clients on matters involving federal administrative law, antitrust, government and congressional relations, commercial transactions, as well as on immigration law matters. Prior to entering private practice, he served for several years as Secretary General and President of the Uyghur American Association. In that capacity, he co-founded the National Endowment for Democracy funded Uyghur Human Rights Project. Nury has given presentations at various academic and government institutions, including the National Defense University and the United States Military Academy. He has written policy-oriented editorials for The Wall Street Journal Asia and Foreign Policy, and appeared in both domestic and international media including CNN, BBC, Fox News, NPR, and The Washington Post. Nury holds a JD and a Master of Arts in International Affairs from American University. He was born and raised in Kashgar and speaks Uyghur, Turkish, Chinese and English fluently.