Uighurs in China becoming 'strangers in their own land'

Conflict in China’s Xinjiang province inflamed by cultural and religious restrictions on its Uighur population, activists say.

Uighurs in China becoming 'strangers in their own land'

World Bulletin/News Desk

A suicide attack by two men on a railway station in Xinjiang (East Turkestan) region last Wednesday has highlighted ethnic tensions in one of China’s most restive regions.

Both men were killed in the explosion in Xinjiang’s western city of Urumqi, along with a bystander, while 79 people were injured. With one of the attackers identified as Sedierding Shawuti, a 39-year-old member of China’s Muslim Uighur community, authorities have been quick to blame the attack - the first in Urumqi in 17 years - on Uighur muslims. 

The attacks, however, are far from one way. Human rights organizations and activists have told the Anadolu Agency that religious, cultural and language restrictions on the Uighur community by Chinese authorities have sparked tension and violence in mineral and oil- rich East Turkestan for years.

"There are restrictions about who can say prayers at weddings, or restrictions about who can fast during Ramadan," Sophie Richardson, China director at the Human Rights Watch, told AA. "There are [even] restrictions on who can grow beards."

Uighurs, a Turkic group, constitute around 45 percent of the population of Xinjiang while Han Chinese constitute 40 percent, according to the 2000 consensus.

Richardson described restrictions to stop Uighurs pursuing their beliefs as "very intrusive."

"There are these very intimate personal family kinds of decisions about people’s daily lives that have been to some extent been removed from their [Uighurs'] control," Richardson said. "I think that is profoundly irritating for a lot of people."

"Strangers in their own land"

Scholars say the rapid influx of Han Chinese migrants to Xinjiang sparks frequent conflicts with the Uighur population. The Han population rose from 6.7 percent (220,000) in 1949 to 40 percent (8.4 million) in 2008, according to the Statistical Bureau of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

"Uighurs have increasingly said that they feel that they are the minority in what has historically been a region in which they have been the majority," Richardson said. "... They have become strangers in their own land."

From 1950s to 1970s, Han migration to Xinjiang was mainly state-orchestrated, according to experts. Migrants were sent to work at the state-run Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), which helped build farms and cities. 

"Infrastructure built in Xinjiang to ‘help’ the local population in fact largely serves to meet the needs of Han Chinese in the economic exploitation of Xinjiang’s vast oil and mineral resources," Stephanie Gordon, a researcher in political science, at the University of Leicester in the U.K. told AA. ''This policy has done little to serve the local Uighur population, and heightened tensions within the region," she added. 

In July 2009, a series of violent riots - which killed around 197 people and injured over 1000 others - broke out in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, targeting mainly Han Chinese. The riots began when police confronted a march calling for an investigation into a brawl in which two Uighurs died in the city of Shaoguan in Guangdong province.

According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), an independent human rights monitoring agency, hiring practices in Xinjiang have reserved job positions in civil servant posts, state-owned enterprises and even the private sector exclusively for Han Chinese in recent years.

In a March 2011 report, the commission found most job postings in Xinjiang were reserved for Han. An announcement for teaching positions in a middle school in a location with 96.3 percent Uighur and 3.5 percent Han population, advertised all open 20 positions for Han.

According to the same report, a civil service recruitment on county-level reserved 93 of 224 open positions for Han and 38 positions for Uighurs, Kazakhs, Hui and Kyrgyz.

"There is a clear policy of discrimination against the local Uighur population," Stephanie Gordon said. "This has prompted many to leave the region in search of employment opportunities, further reducing the percentage of their population within Xinjiang."

Last Mod: 08 Mayıs 2014, 12:45
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