The Uyghur diaspora
Lost Nation: Stories from the Uyghur diaspora
by Yitzhak Shichor
(The University of Haifa, Israel)
One of China's fifty-five nationalities, Uyghurs are a Turkic-Muslim ethnicity which has been living in East Turkestan for generations. Reoccupied by the Qing Dynasty in the mid-18th century, this region had become a Chinese province named Xinjiang in 1884 and in 1955, after the communist takeover in late 1949, was reorganized as the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region. According to latest official statistics Uyghurs now number close to ten million, Xinjiang's largest minority or nearly 50 percent of its population (down from 95 percent in 1949 due to Chinese settlement). Claiming Xinjiang as their historical homeland, Uyghurs have tried to gain independence and set up their own state but failed repeatedly. Considering them a separatist and splittist group, Beijing has used a variety of means – cultural, social, economic, political and military – to crush any sign of restiveness among Uyghurs.
For many years Beijing had regarded Uyghur unrest in China as an internal problem that should and would be settled without external interference. Since the early 1990s, however, Beijing has become aware of the growing international community concern about the Uyghurs persecution in China, a concern kindled and promoted by Uyghur Diaspora organizations all over the world. Most Uyghurs outside China have settled in Central Asia, the majority in Kazakhstan (some 350,000), but also in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (around 50,000 each). Precise numbers are not available because of the occasional similarity between Uyghurs and other Central Asia nations (primarily Uzbeks) and their gradual assimilation into the local population. Also, having settled in Central Asia already in the 19th century, many Uyghurs have since been intensively Russified. Altogether, the Uyghur Diaspora may number 550-650,000.
Uyghurs migrated from China in waves, usually following deteriorating conditions or, conversely, when the doors were opened. Some left by the mid-1930s after the first – and short-lived – Eastern Turkestan Republic had collapsed, mostly to Turkey and to Saudi Arabia. Several hundred Uyghurs, among them Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Mehmet Emin Bughra, former leaders of the (second) Eastern Turkestan Republic, fled China in late 1949, following the communists' seizure of Xinjiang. They first settled in India and then moved to Turkey where they headed the Uyghur Diaspora organizations with Ankara's support. Driven by the hardships related to the Great Leap Forward, in 1962 over 60,000 – some of them Uyghurs – fled China to the Soviet Union (Kazakhstan). Post-Mao China's reforms and Open Door Policy have enabled more Uyghurs to leave Xinjiang and, since the 1980s, altogether few thousands of them have settled all over the world, some with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Uyghur Diaspora communities have formed their own associations, occasionally more than one, aimed at preserving Uyghur collective identity (i.e. culture and language), as well as sustaining and promoting shared national aspirations and, ultimately – Eastern Turkestan independence. In trying to overcome the fragmentation and disagreements that characterized these associations, attempts have been made to set up international Uyghur umbrella organizations, such as the Eastern Turkestan National Congress, set up in Turkey in 1992 and the East Turkestan Government-in-Exile, formed in autumn 2004 in Washington. Most of these attempts, however, failed. One that has a chance to survive is the World Uyghur Congress, inaugurated in April 2004 in Munich. Led by its first president Erkin Alptekin, son of Isa Yusuf (its second president, elected in November 2006, is Rebiya Kadeer who had earlier been compelled to leave China), the World Uyghur Congress now represents most Uyghur Diaspora associations and displays a moderate agenda underlining a quest for human right, democracy and self-determination, without mentioning independence.
This policy appears to be more attractive to foreign governments and NGOs which are reluctant to irritate the Chinese Government. In fact, it has been under Chinese threats and pressure that Ankara was forced to officially adopt a more hostile attitude toward Uyghur expatriates. Consequently, the Uyghur Diaspora headquarters had to dislocate to Western Europe and North America, far away from Beijing's reach. Beijing's tough reaction reflects its growing concern about the effective activities of Uyghur Diaspora organizations. These include petitions, demonstrations, briefings of parliamentarians and government officials, a sophisticate use of the Internet with some sixty websites, all devoted to the issue of Uyghur persecution, the abuse of human rights in Xinjiang, Beijing's Strike Hard campaigns and its denial of self-determination. While a minority of Uyghur Diaspora organizations and leaders are more militant and consider the use of force against China as the most efficient means to change its policy, the majority of Uyghurs prefer the use of peaceful means. Beijing's repeated attempts to link Uyghurs to international terrorism have been mostly dismissed as sheer unfounded fabrications.
The case of the Internet by Uyghur diaspora
Internet by Uyghur diaspora Ethnic media and politics: The Uyghur diaspora
by Kilic Kanat
Since the 1990s, different disciplines of the social sciences have witnessed an increasing number of studies and discussions on the Internet and politics. Some of these studies have examined the use of the Internet by ethnic groups, migrants and minorities and their political and social impacts. As a result of this, today there is an emerging subfield of Internet studies dealing with minority and diaspora use of the Internet. Although we have witnessed an increasing amount of papers on these topics, from scholars, including Dru Gladney , Shayam Tekwani  and Piet Bakker , the field is still understudied and under–theorized. In this paper, I will state some of the findings of my study on the role of the Internet for Uyghur migrants living in the West. How influential is the Internet on the politics and identity of the Uyghur diaspora in the West? This paper seeks an answer to that question.
Although ethnic diaspora and communities have always formed networks for communication and trade with their homeland and among themselves, the interaction seems to have never been so intense. With the advent of mass communication technologies, interaction among members of different ethnic groups from around the world has increased markedly. The spread of the Internet has accelerated this pace and caused the emergence of new networks of ethnic groups. Compared to other forms of communication, the Internet has become quite an appropriate communications medium . For many, it is relatively inexpensive, fast, and accessible.
The Internet and Uyghur diaspora
Since the mid 1990s, the Internet has become the most widespread communications vehicle for Uyghur migrant groups living in different parts of the world. Different Uyghur organizations and individuals have created Web sites in order to generate interest in the Uyghur question and to seek support for their struggle for freedom and independence. The majority of these Web sites have been created by Uyghurs who live in the West. The language of these sites is mainly English or occasionally Uyghur with Latin scripts. The target population for these sites remains limited to Uyghurs abroad and other interested parties in the West, due to the censorship and other restrictions on the use of the Internet in China.
There are commonalities to Web sites of Uyghur organizations, such as the flag of Eastern Turkistan, a short history, human rights violations in the region and links to the other Uyghur organizations. Since Uyghur folk music has been an influential way of communication among Uyghurs, many sites also include links to download Uyghur music and even movies. Many of these sites are devoted to recent developments on the Uyghur question and press releases related to Uyghurs. Some sites, such as www.uyghuramerican.org and www.meshrep.com, have discussion fora and message boards. Listservs and e–mail groups are also important parts of cross–border contact among Uyghurs internationally. There is some circulation of newspaper and journal articles published in different countries, sometimes with Uyghur translations. Uighur–l is the major e–list, commonly consists of Uyghur organizations and political activists around the world.
There are several sites which necessitate particular attention. Firstly, Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service’s site (www.rfa.org) provides opportunities to download programs that are broadcasted to the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Uyghurs in different parts of the world have a chance to listen news and other programs in their own language. It is also the most frequently updated and most professionally designed site. It is in Uyghur, with traditional Arabic script.
The site of the Eastern Turkistan Information Center (www.uygur.org) is also popular with Uyghur migrants. Since it represents the first attempt by Uyghurs to express themselves in virtual world, it is extremely important for the Uyghur nationalist movement. It provides information about Eastern Turkistan in different languages, including Chinese, German, English and Turkish. The Center was established by Abdujelil Karakash in Munich in the mid–1990s, and since then it increased its source of information by means of voluntary correspondents from different parts of the world. Especially in the late 1990s, the Center was the sole source about conflicts in the region. Because of these activities, China declared the Eastern Turkistan Information Center as a terrorist organization and its founder Abdujelil Karakash as one of the ten most wanted terrorists in December 2003.
Two more sophisticated and professional sites for Uyghur migrants include the Uyghur American Association’s (UAA) site (www.uyghuramerican.org), and the site of meshrep, a cultural gathering of Uyghur men living in the United States (www.meshrep.com). For many Uyghurs, these two are the most active sites in terms of communication and discussion. The fora on these sites have hosted heated debates among Uyghurs and Uyghur organizations from different parts of the world. Additionally, the daily updated Uyghur news section of these sites provides current information about the Uyghur Autonomous region and the activities of UAA and other Uyghur organizations. Other important information and advocacy sites of Uyghur Diaspora are also affiliated with Uyghur American Association. These are Uyghur Information Agency www.uyghurinfo.com and Uyghur Human Rights Project www.uhrp.org.
The users of these sites are mainly Uyghur nationalists and political activists. Virtual Uyghur world is mostly male–dominated and administered. It is also composed of overwhelmingly well–educated Uyghurs. The majority are in college or college–educated. Most of them are articulate in a second language other than their native languages. Apart from students, Uyghurs who visit these sites belong to the middle– or higher–income level in their host societies. These Web users may not represent an accurate sample of the Uyghur community or Uyghur migrants at large, but they constitute a very representative sample of the Uyghur political activists and nationalists all around the world.
The role of the Internet for Uyghur diaspora
Earlier I mentioned that the Internet has become a very common vehicle for communication among different members of Uyghur diaspora. I will now examine some of the functions and influences on the Internet usage. One of the important functions of the Internet for Uyghurs is to provide them a venue to promote Uyghur culture. A common feature of Uyghur sites is their attempt to promote Uyghur culture and history. Almost in each and every site, designed either by a nationalist organization or by an individual, one can see the endeavor to present Uyghur culture or Uyghur history to visitors.
There are some commonalities in these sites. First of all, in almost each and every Uyghur site, one can find a presentation of Uyghur symbols. Usually it is the blue flag of the 1944 Eastern Turkistan Republic or the national emblem. In some sites, there may be other less political symbols of "Uyghurness," such as the portraits of Uyghur national icons, like Mahmud Kashgari or a picture of a historical monument, like Idgah Mosque in Kashgar. Secondly, it is very common for these sites to feature a map of the region. In most of the sites this region is labeled with its historic name — Eastern Turkistan. Finally, the history of the region and the Uyghur people is available on almost all of these sites. For many, the establishment of the Eastern Turkistan Republic constitutes a turning point in history. More recent sites also dedicate considerable space to the pre–Islamic Uyghur Empire.
Another major contribution of the Internet to the Uyghur nationalist movement is its advantage to connect different Uyghur organizations and activists from different parts of the world. Because of the dispersed migration pattern of Uyghur groups, Uyghur migrants have settled in different countries. For long years these groups had little information about the lives and facilities of other Uyghurs. At an organizational level, there were rare interactions by means of annual congresses. With the spread of the Internet, it has become the major tool for communication among Uyghur political activists around the world. Under the umbrella of Web sites, Uyghur nationalists have constructed comprehensive networks for sharing information and to initiate collective actions concomitantly with other Uyghur groups. These networks have been particularly important for inter–organizational communication and the establishment of a central authority among diverse Uyghur nationalist organizations. Listservs among the leaders of these organizations provide cohesion for particular viewpoints relative to the Uyghur cause. Various Uyghur organizations today express their grievances and criticisms about Chinese policies in the region much more consistently and coherently. In addition, protests and commemorations are taking place simultaneously in different countries. As a result of this, these campaigns have become widely heard and supported in Uyghur communities.
Inter–organizational networking provides a fertile ground for improvements in explaining the Uyghur cause and for the maturation of the Uyghur nationalist struggle outside the Uyghur Autonomous Region. Intra–organizational communication is also providing cohesion within each participating organization, helping all members understand activities of the organization and informing them about facilities. Particularly important is the www.meshrep.com Web site.
The virtual world is transnational, uniting different Uyghur groups from different parts of the world together. It helps to reinvigorate the Uyghur identity among these migrant groups. The idea of homeland and the feeling of the belonging to a specific territory link Uyghurs to each other. Today, this linkage between Uyghurs also plays an increasingly important role in the construction of a "diasporic Uyghur identity." This new identity is much more Uyghur than "East Turkistani." Although the name of the territory is hardly contested, Uyghur migrants identify themselves as Uyghurs rather than Eastern Turkistanis in virtual space. Virtual Uyghurs have no interest in linking themselves with any other country or community in the world. It is a much more independent Uyghur identity and history. Islam has a place in their identification as Uyghurs, but being Muslim never exceeds being Uyghur in Web sites. There are only a few references to Muslimism in the region but in these rare instances Uyghurs usually aim to emphasize the secular character of Islamic understanding in the region and differentiate their organizations from radical groups. Actually, there is an emphasis on the pre–Islamic Uyghur empires in the virtual world. In fact, the virtual Uyghur identity is a secular, nationalist and western–oriented.
The usage of the Internet is not only helpful for organizational reasons. Uyghur Web sites, particularly forums and chat rooms, bring forth many different ideas and views on the Uyghur question. Many Uyghurs have long avoided to express their views about the resolution of ethnic conflict in the region. This caution was largely because of possible threats by Chinese security forces to their relatives in the homeland. They kept silent and refrained from contributing intellectually to the Uyghur cause. Through the Internet and by joining discussions with nicknames, many ideas and opinions have been expressed and discussed by the Uyghur community. Overall, this polyphony of Uyghur migrants has contributed to the intellectual and political improvement of Uyghur organizations and their struggle. The wide spectrum of views expressed has also led to tolerance and respect for different opinions on the Uyghur question and has led to the development of democratic ideals among Uyghurs — at least virtually. Uyghur movements and organizations have become much more mature thanks to these discussions and constructive criticism.
The role of ethnic media is steadily growing in importance around the world. The use of the Internet by diasporic groups has attracted the attention of scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences. Although it is still very much understudied, the use of the Internet by Uyghur migrant groups is providing new insights into understanding the relationship between ethnic migrant groups and the Internet.
The use of the Internet undoubtedly enhances the capacities of Uyghur political activists. As noted earlier, the Internet helps Uyghurs in Western countries to promote their culture, music, history and homeland. It also enhances organizational power and interconnectedness of Uyghur migrants groups living in different countries. As a result, the Internet boosts inter–organizational and intra–organizational solidarity among different groups. In addition, the Internet plays an important role in the creation of a new Uyghur identity and fostering of nationalist ideas among Uyghur migrant groups.
This study is only an introduction to the study of ethnic media in general and Uyghur groups in particular. There is a clear need for better quantitative data on access and use of digital media by ethnic groups. Content analyses of materials produced by diasporic communities as well as more ethnographic research will help to construct a better picture of the use of digital media by ethnic groups.
(this article first time was published on July 2005)
Kilic Bugra Kanat is a PhD student at Syracuse University in the Political Science Department. E–mail: kbkanat [at] maxwell [dot] syr [dot] edu
The author is grateful for the assistance of Barrett McCormick and Dru Gladney. NotesA different version of this paper was presented at the Association for the Study of Nationalities Annual Convention, 14–16 April 2005. Notes 1. Dru C. Gladney, 2003. "Cyber–Separatism and Uyghur ethnic nationalism in China," Center for Strategic and International Studies (5 June), at http://www.csis.org/china/030605gladney.pdf, accessed 10 May 2005. 2. Shyam Tekwani, 2003. "The Tamil diaspora, Tamil militancy, and the Internet," In: K.C. Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth C.C. Yang (editors). Asia.com: Asia encounters the Internet. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, pp. 175–192. 3. Piet Bakker, 2001. "New nationalism: The Internet crusade," Paper presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention, Chicago (20–24 February), at http://www.tamilnation.org/selfdetermination/nation/bakker.pdf. 4. Shyam Tekwani, 2003. "The Tamil diaspora, Tamil militancy, and the Internet," In: K.C. Ho, Randolph Kluver, and Kenneth C.C. Yang (editors). Asia.com: Asia encounters the Internet. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, p. 175.
Disappearing Diaspora in Uzbekistan
Recently, bad news for Uyghurs came from the heartland of Central Eurasia. The Uzbek authorities agreed to Chinese demands to further clamp down on any activity of Uyghurs in Uzbekistan that has a flavor of supporting and advocating human rights and greater political as well as cultural rights for the Uyghurs in East Turkistan (Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region). On June 15, 2004, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Uzbekistan to take part in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is scheduled to begin on June 16 in Tashkent. During the visit, Hu and his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov signed a joint statement on further developing a partnership of friendly cooperation between their two countries. According to the joint statement, “China and Uzbekistan agreed that terrorism, separatism, and extremism still pose a major threat to regional security and stability. China and Uzbekistan will, in accordance with Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Combating Terrorism , Separatism and Extremism and the China-Uzbekistan Agreement on Cooperation in Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism, further strengthen coordination and cooperation among relevant agencies of both countries and continue to adopt powerful measures to fight all forms of terrorism, including terrorism waged buy the so-called "East Turkistan terror groups" in order to engender peace and tranquility in the two countries and in the region. The two countries agreed that the crackdown on the "terrorist forces of East Turkistan" is a major part of the international anti-terrorism campaign “.
China also announced it would give Central Asian countries US$900million in credits and gave Uzbekistan about US$2.5 million in humanitarian assistance.
According to Uyghur intellectuals in Uzbekistan, Uzbek authorities will strengthen their control over any activities of Uyghurs in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics. New Sino-Uzbek cooperation against the Uyghur movement for independence and democracy will cast a dark shadow over the future of Uyghur people. Uzbekistan is one of the countries in Central Asia, which has a large number of the Uyghur diaspora. Uzbekistan’s stance on this matter is unique in Central Asia. Although other Central Asian countries, particularly Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, have also curtailed and limited Uyghur movements of the same character, they did allow Uyghurs to carry out some activity within the boundary of their existing laws. However, Uzbekistan has not given any chance for Uyghurs to organize in support of their ethnic brothers in East Turkistan.
Uzbekistan’s stance on this issue is not new. It is a historical fact that the Ferghana Valley has been a rear base for the Uygur national liberation movement since the 19th century. Uzbek -Uyghur relations in the fields of politics, economics, and culture has affected Uygur liberation movements throughout history. Well aware of these facts, Uzbek authorities, just after the country’s independence, closely monitored the Uyghur movements that were gaining momentum in its territory. Fearing that Uyghur movements in Uzbekistan, which are aimed at supporting the Uyghurs’ struggle against the Chinese government, would negatively affect Sino-Uzbek relations, the Uzbek government has clamped down on the Uyghur movements since independence.
The Uygurs of Uzbekistan have made significant contributions to the development of social, economic, and cultural life in Uzbekistan. Today, as citizens of Uzbekistan, they are faithfully fulfilling their civic duties and roles. However, the Uyghurs in Uzbekistan are currently going through rough times. Just like other people in Uzbekistan, their freedom of speech and expression are severely curtailed by the current Uzbek regime. Their freedom to carry out political and human rights campaigns aimed at supporting the political, social, and cultural rights of their ethnic brethren in East Turkistan is particularly severely restricted. Uyghurs thus feel the need of democratization in Uzbekistan even stronger. Following the intensification of economic and political relations between Uzbekistan and China and the entry of Uzbekistan into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Uyghurs’ problem has increasingly come under the spotlight. The Uzbek government has prohibited pro-Uygur and anti-Chinese messages in the state and any other media outlets.
According to some Uyghurs in Uzbekistan, who asked not to be identified, the Uyghur press in Uzbekistan has encountered severe restrictions. The Uzbek press refuses to publish papers, in which the political problems of the Uyghurs are mentioned. Furthermore, the importing of books and newspapers and any other publications concerning to East Turkistan, which are published in Turkey, Germany and other countries, is now prohibited. Hence, there is no publishing house in Uzbekistan that publishes literature in the Uyghur language. Only a short Uyghur service is allowed on Uzbek Radio and is conducted under strict control. Actually the Uyghur radio service was created in 1947 and used as a tool for its anti-China purposes. The current Uyghur radio service is the continuation of that old service but operates under a very different mandate. Anything about Uyghur human rights issues or political problems in East Turkistan is not allowed to be broadcast.
The restrictions on the Uyghur movement in Uzbekistan came into force in 1994 after the visit of Chinese premier Li Peng to the country and the signing of a bilateral agreement between the two governments. Since then, establishment of Uyghur organizations that advocate human rights and independence for the people in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is prohibited. Therefore, there are currently no Uyghur political organizations in Uzbekistan. Only the Uyghur Cultural Center is functioning as a non-political organization. This is in sharp contrast to other Central Asian Republics, specifically Kirghizstan and Kazakhstan, where Uyghurs are allowed to organize into political organizations. According to some Uyghur intellectuals in Uzbekistan, who wanted to remain anonymous, Uygurs are not even allowed to participate in conferences and meetings about Uygur issues which are held in other countries. The Uzbekistan government considers any pro-Uyhgur activities in Uzbekistan or by Uzbek citizens as harmful to Sino-Uzbek relations and Uzbek national interests. After joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Uzbek government quickly responded to the call of Chinese government to crack down on terrorism, ethnic separatism and religious fundamentalism. By actively supporting China’s crackdown on Uyghur independence movements, Uzbekistan wanted to get China’s help in its own fight against Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
As a people united by its national origin, history, culture and tradition, Uyghurs have a relatively long history in Uzbekistan. From the second half of eighteenth century they began migrating to the land which is now called Uzbekistan. The majority of immigration took place in the following three different periods. The first period was between 1759-1911. This is the period in which Uygurs periodically revolted against Manchu rulers. In this period, many Uyghurs migrated to the Ferghana Valley to escape Manchu-Chinese persecution. The second period is from the beginning of 20th century to 1937. During this period, many Uyghurs came to Uzbekistan in search of a better life. The third period is between 1955 and 1962. In this period, many Uygurs who were against the deal reached between their leaders and Chinese Communist government and who were skeptical of Chinese communist rule in East Turkistan (Xinjiang) moved to Uzbekistan.
The exact number of Uygur population in Central Asia has been a very contentious issue. In the 1920s, Abdulla Rozibakiyev, one of the Uyghur leaders of that time, asserted that the Uyghur population in Soviet Central Asia was 600,000, the majority of which was living in Uzbekistan. According to official Soviet demographic information in 1930s, there were about 300,000 Uyghurs living in the Soviet Union at that time. In 1937, during the Stalin’s campaign of purging "counter-revolutionaries" across the Soviet Union, many Uyghurs were forced to change their ethnic affiliation. There is no precise information concerning the number of Uyghurs living in Uzbekistan during the period 1950-60. Soviet official statistics in 1979 put the Uyghur population at 29,104 and official statistics in 1989 put that number at 35,700. Today, there is no official data on the number of Uyghurs in Uzbekistan, however, Uygur intellectuals in Uzbekistan assert that a great number of Uyghurs live in Uzbekistan. One member of the Uygur Cultural Center of Uzbekistan said that approximately 200,000 Uygurs live in Uzbekistan. And according to a Uyghur professor of the Uzbekistan Academy of Sciences, who did not to be named, there are approximately 500,000 Uyghurs currently living in Uzbekistan.
In the beginning of 20th century, Uyghurs in Uzbekistan enjoyed a brief renaissance in art and literature. The cities of Tashkent and Andijan became the main centers of Uygur culture. The first Uyghur language newspaper "Kembigheller Avazi"(the Voice of Poor) was published in these two cities in 1921. The first Uyghur novel written by Momen Hamraev (1907-1955) was published in Tashkent in 1930. Following in the footsteps of Hamraev, other Uyghur novelists such as Nur Israilova(1910-1953), Abdulla Muhammadi(1901-1937) and Omar Muhammadi (1906-1931), published outstanding works of Uyghur literature. A new genre of free verse in Uygur poetry was introduced by Uyghur poets such as Hezim Iskandarov (1906-1970) and Hebib Zakiri(?-1937) during this period. The State Uyghur Theater of Uzbekistan was created in Andijan in 1930 and soon the motion picture industry was also created with the participation of Uyghur actors. A series of drama performances were presented in the theater. Also Uyghur technical schools were established in Andijan in 1930.
However, the Uyghur cultural renaissance in Uzbekistan did not last long. In 1937-1938, during Stalin`s campaign of purges, Uyghur cultural centers and activities became targets for persecution. In this campaign, a great number of Uyghur scholars were arrested and executed, Uyghur cultural centers, theaters, newspapers and schools in Tashkent and Andijan were closed. Uyghur cultural organizations were moved to Kazakhstan.
However, following the Sino-Soviet break in the 1960s, the Soviet government restored Uygur cultural centers in Uzbekistan. Tashkent became a center of anti-Chinese propaganda that targeted the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Uygur theaters, radio stations and other centers in Tashkent became very active. The Uyghur radio service in Tashkent broadcast two hours exclusively for the audience in Xinjiang. The Soviet government launched Uyghur study programs in the Institute of Oriental Studies of State Academy and Tashkent State University. All this had a profound impact on the Uyghurs’ independence sentiment in Xinjiang. As mentioned earlier, all of the Uyghur activity in Uzbekistan came to an end following the collapse of Soviet Union.
Today, the Uyghurs are recognized as an ethnic minority in the Republic of Uzbekistan. However, their right to establish cultural and political organizations was severely restricted and vehemently opposed by the Uzbek government. Uyghurs in Uzbekistan are not allowed to form or join political organizations that advocate independence for Xinjiang. Uyghurs are even restricted from attending political activities in other countries, which is related the East Turkistan. As a result, there are no Uyghur political or social organizations in Uzbekistan which advocate and support human rights and greater political and cultural rights for Uygurs in East Turkistan. The Uyghur movement in Uzbekistan is in a stage of hibernation.
After September 11, Uzbekistan became an important ally in American’s war on terror. The Uzbek government provided military bases for American’s war in Afghanistan. Since then, US-Uzbek relations in the spheres of politics, economics, and military cooperation have grown significantly. Relations with the United States have become one of the cornerstones of Uzbekistan’s foreign policy. Unlike other Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan previously refused to participate in any regional organizations, except for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, led by Russia. The international community hoped that closer US-Uzbek relations would help change the autocratic character of the Uzbek regime and make it more democratic and respectful of human rights. However, two years later nothing has changed in the Uzbek regime’s treatment of its dissidents and in its human rights records. After September 11, China is using its economic power to strengthen cooperation with Central Asian countries and crack down on Uyghur political activities in the region, under the false cover of fighting terrorism, separatism, and extremism.