By Cao Chang-Ching 曹长青
The Taipei Times
Sunday, October 17th, 1999
During a severe famine brought on by Mao's Great Leap Forward, a large number of Uighurs starved to death. When they protested against the policy that brought about the lack of food, the Chinese rulers answered with mass detentions and systematic torture
The Chinese revere the dragon, an imaginary creature with sharp fangs and claws. Turkics worship wolves.
Legend has it that the Turkic people survived on wolf milk years ago while taking refuge in the mountains after a defeat in battle. Thereafter, they thought of wolves as their saviors. Many Turkic people display wolf pelts on the walls of their homes and offices as decorations and nationalist symbols.
"The Chinese call us wolves' babies (狼娃子)," said Abdulhekim, former Chairman of the Urumqi Writers Association, in his office in Istanbul. "They think we are as untamed and unruly as wolves."
Perhaps it is this wolf-like quality that keeps Uighurs from giving in to Chinese rule. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Uighurs instigated two uprisings to establish their own republic, although both were crushed by local Chinese warlords.
In the early 1960s, like many other Chinese provinces, a serious famine occurred in the large prefecture of Yili (伊犁) as a result of Mao Zedong's (毛泽东) Great Leap Forward (大跃进政策). Unlike the more docile people in China, the Uighurs revolted.
"In Bay [Baicheng, 白城] in East Turkestan, as many as 60,000 people starved to death," said Abdulhekim in the headquarter of the East Turkestan National Center. "Many of them died crawling on the ground."
When several thousand starving Uighurs gathered outside the Yili local government building in Gulja (Yining, 伊宁) and shouted "We want food," and "Resist Han migration," Wang Zhen (王震), the Chinese commander of the People's Liberation Army in Xinjiang, ordered his troops to open fire.
No one knows how many protesters were killed. One witness said he saw several hundred bodies lying in the street.
The killing enraged the Uighur, the Kazakh and other minority groups. Hundreds of thousands of people besieged and destroyed the local government office and then led a mass exodus from the prefecture.
"Even top Uighur officials fled," says Bache, a visiting scholar of Uighur history at Columbia University in New York, "including the deputy commander and the deputy chief of staff of the Xinjiang Military Command, the governor and the police commissioner."
Beijing estimated that after the incident, 150,000 to 200,000 people left Xinjiang and swarmed into the Soviet Union. By Abdulhekim's estimation, the number is closer to 600,000.
The Turkic exiles formed seven military legions in the Soviet Union and established an Eastern Turkestan National Liberation Committee to free their homeland with the help of the Soviets.This made Beijing nervous.
Although resistance to the Chinese rulers continued in many areas in Xinjiang after that incident, the largest Uighur demonstration in Gulja didn't take place until February 1997.
The protest began after Chinese authorities prohibited Uighurs from holding a meshrep (a traditional Turkic gathering for entertainment) and arrested organizers when they went to the city's Party Committee to complain.
Following the arrests, several hundred young Uighurs held a rally on the streets. Much the same as all the previous protests, the rally was met with a large group of PLA troops. According to Amnesty International's Human Rights Report on Xinjiang released last April, 3,000 to 5,000 people were arrested and several hundred detained for hours in a soccer stadium flooded with freezing water and ice. Some of the young men and women were forced to run barefoot on the ice. Many children and women suffered severe frostbite.
"The hospitals refused to treat injured women and children after they were released," said a physician from the Gulja Municipal Hospital who later escaped to Turkey. "In addition to the 200 who were injured, four froze to death."
Witnesses said Chinese soldiers unleashed a wolfhound on a young Uighur man in front of the stadium entrance when he tried to negotiate with them.
Many participants in the demonstration were imprisoned, and some sentenced to death. Retired Yining Textile Factory worker Shamseden's 33-year-old son was among those who received a death sentence. His execution has not yet been carried out thanks to appeals from international human rights organizations.
In an interview in Istanbul, Shamseden said he did not know why the police issued an arrest warrant against him on charges that he encouraged his son to protest. Shamesden escaped to Turkey with his wife under the pretext of making a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. Shamseden, 61, and his wife now live in a small room in the headquarters of the East Turkestan National Center.
After the Gulja Incident, the Chinese authorities conducted mass arrests of suspected separatists and imposed harsh penalties on them. According to the Amnesty International report, 210 people in Xinjiang have been sentenced to death since January 1997. Among them, 190 have been executed. Most of those who have been sentenced to death or already executed were Uighurs.
Various sources indicate that those in prison are treated abominably.Urumqi police officers beat up 70-year-old Nizamidin Yusayin, a former Xinjiang Daily reporter who later died in prison.
"He was tortured because he wrote a series of articles on the independent history of East Turkestan," said Abdulhekim, the old man's former co-worker.
A former Xinjiang court official told Amnesty International that 90 percent of the detainees told judges that they had been tortured into confessions during police detention. The judges turn a deaf ear to those complaints, the court official said.
Reports from Xinjiang received by the Eastern Turkestan National Center show that a variety of torture methods are used in Xinjiang prisons. They include severe beatings with fists or other objects, sticking electric cattle prods into prisoners' throats, hanging, burning, biting by dogs, tying detainees outside in cold weather, sticking needles and bamboo sticks under detainees' fingernails and pulling the fingernails out altogether.
The Amnesty International report confirmed the use of these kinds of torture techniques. It also added testimony from one Uighur political prisoner whose interrogator repeatedly stuck strands of horse hair into his urethra. The torture continued for 25 or 30 minutes until the prisoner's penis was swollen and began to bleed. He was granted probation only after his friend bribed police with five thousand yuan. The prisoner said that for the following two months, he bled every time he urinated. He had to undergo six months of medical treatment, he said.
"The Chinese authorities accuse us of being separatists," Uighur writer Abdulhekim concluded with wrath, "but they're killing our people and beating our children. They are the ones practicing state terrorism. We have reached the end of our rope. The only thing we can do now is resist. Sooner or later blood will be shed between the Uighurs and the Chinese."
If the wolves wage a holy war against the dragons, the hatred will surely spread.
(This is the seventh part of a seven-part series by Cao Chang-Ching. )