Fight for East Turkestan
In the far western Chinese territory of Xinjiang, the Uigur people have waged a decades-long struggle to establish a republic of East Turkestan. In order to gain a first-hand understanding of the independence movement, this newspaper sent a long-time observer of the ethnic liberation movements in China, New York-based writer Cao Chang-Ching, (曹长青) to the group's headquarters in Turkey. This week, we present his reports in a eight-part series, simultaneously with the Liberty Times
Fighting to free another Chinese `province'
(Part one of seven)
By Cao Chang-Ching 曹长青
The Taipei Times
Monday, October 11th, 1999
Western China experts generally agree that Beijing's vehement opposition to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia is due to its fears that the US and other Western powers might utilize a similar military intervention in China's Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia once problems occur in those areas.
Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia have always been seen as China's powder kegs, within which disturbances may break out at any moment owing to grim ethnic conflicts. Among these three areas, the confrontation in Xinjiang is the most ferocious, and the possibility of violent conflicts is much greater than in Tibet and Inner Mongolia.
In addition, there have been 11 uprisings against Chinese rule in Xinjiang since the communist Chinese took power in 1949. It was reported that in the last six months of 1998, there had been an attack on a police station in Kargilik (Yecheng, 叶城), a robbery at the arsenal in Guma (Pishan, 皮山) and an assault on three prisons in Gulja (Yining, 伊宁) and Mongol Khura (Zhaosu, 照苏), during which eighty political prisoners were taken away.
During an attack on a missile base belonging to the 3824 detachment of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) last February, 18 military vehicles were destroyed, 21 soldiers killed and six wounded.
According to the book Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism (泛穆斯林主义和泛突厥主义), published by the Xinjiang Institute of Social Sciences (新疆社会科学院) in 1994, there were 60 "anti-revolutionary" organizations under investigation by the authorities. The official Xinjiang Daily (新疆日报) recently quoted Wang Lequan (王乐泉), secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, as saying there were 68 underground organizations in the region.
In an interview at the headquarters of the East Turkestan National Center in Istanbul, Abdulhekim, the executive chairman of the anti-Chinese colonists organization, explained that the East Turkestan People's Party (东土耳其斯坦民族中心) alone has more than 60,000 members and 178 underground branches inside Xinjiang.
Abdulhekim refers to Xinjiang as "East Turkestan," because people of Uygur nationality consider Xinjiang, the name used by the Chinese, an insult to the "Turkestanis."
It means "newly conquered territory." The former editor of the Urumqi Evening News (乌鲁木齐晚报), and author of seven books for children, Abdulhekim later became the chairman of the Urumqi Writers' Association, an official Chinese organization.
He left Urumqi for Turkey five years ago to become a leader of the East Turkestan National Center, the largest overseas organization attempting to secure independence for Xinjiang.
"The Uygur people have suffered for years under Chinese discrimination and oppression," said Abdulhekim. "The ethnic hatred is like water boiled to 100 degrees and could explode at any moment. There have been more than 130 uprisings over the past few years. Currently the underground organizations [inside Xinjiang] are working with outside groups to fight for the freedom and independence of East Turkestan people," says Abdulhekim.
At the end of last year, more than 40 leaders from groups in 18 countries that advocate the independence of Xinjiang gathered in Turkey's capital Ankara. After three days of secret meetings, they established the Eastern Turkestan National Center which has the hint of a government in exile.
Riza Berkin, 73, a retired Turkish army general who fought in the Korean War as a lieutenant in the UN forces, was elected Chairman of the Center.
Bekin left Xinjiang with his parents when he was nine, and later ascended to the position of commander-in-chief of NATO's armed forces in Afghanistan. His background as a career soldier seems to have highlighted the alliance's standpoint of using force to fight against Chinese colonial rule.
Despite repeatedly insisting his organization has non-violent principles, Bekin admits that not all pro-independence organizations agree with his point of view.
His assistant Abdulhekim explained that some groups based in Kazakhstan did not join the National Center, for they believe only in using force to deal with the Chinese.
Answering a question about recent bus explosions, robberies of arsenals, hijackings of prisons and missile base assaults in Xinjiang, Yusup, the 80-year-old senior leader of the East Turkestan National Liberation Front, a group that refused to join the alliance, told a Hong Kong reporter that the activities were all done through his organization's orders.
Yusup had been an officer in the East Turkestan Republican Army. After the Chinese took over, he held a position as the deputy director of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum.
Ever since his flight to the Soviet Union in 1957, using force to fight for Xinjiang's independence has become his cause. Joining with 27 other radical groups, Yusup's organization set up a headquarters named "The Sparks of Motherland," to command underground activities in Xinjiang.
Another similar group is called "The Home of the Youth." Some 20-plus members of the group told this reporter in a meeting in Istanbul that the Chinese authorities understand only the language of force. The organization was called "Xinjiang's Hamas," reflecting the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalists notorious for suicide-bombings.
"Everyone of us is a bomb," said the deputy secretary-general of the Home of the Youth. Another member of the group, 30-year-old businessman Khamar Yilturk, indignantly expressed: "We have no choice, our lives are the only weapon we can use to put up a deadly fight with the Chinese."
The Home of the Youth has more than 2,000 members, mostly young people, many of whom have undergone military service in Turkey and have experienced fighting real battles. Some were even able to launch missiles, fly military jets and operate tanks.
"We have come to the most critical moment," said 20-year-old Mamat Noor, "that we have to bring up our own weapons. We'll use lives, guns and blood -- whatever there is to put into the fight."
Mamat Tursunm, a 40-year-old businessman stressed the point: "We will not yield to the Chinese authorities no matter what brutal means they will take against us. We are preparing our fight and waiting for the chance to put up a good fight."
The Xinjiang people consider China's periods of military conflict with other countries a good chance to start an uprising. During the Sino-Indian border war in 1962, the Xinjiang people rioted everywhere.
During the military confrontation between China and the Soviet Union over the Zhenbao island, the Xinjiang people rebelled again. Abdulhekim predicts there would be another chance for the Xinjiang people to rebel if China used force to attack Taiwan. "That amounts to a signal that all the East Turkestan people will respond with riots. If China attacks Taiwan at four o'clock in the morning, we will have an uprising at 3."
(This is the first part of a seven-part series by Cao Chang-Ching, a long-time observer of ethnic liberation movements in China.)