Powerful Voices Within Uyghur Communities in Diaspora: Grassroot Activism and Networking

By Uyghur Aid - December 3, 2018

On November the 6th representatives of over one hundred nations gathered in Geneva for the Human Rights Council Periodic Review on China. There were high hopes that the nations would finally stand up and condemn the atrocities committed by China against its Uyghur population. Many human rights organizations such as World Uyghur Congress had carefully prepared their files on millions of disappeared Uyghurs.

Alas, only thirteen nations dared to challenge China. And China again denied any wrongdoing.

I was wondering how the Uyghur community in diaspora reacts to such disappointments? Sadly, it seems, they are pretty accustomed to the world turning a blind eye to the plight of their nation. Nevertheless, the diaspora Uyghur communities seem to possess immense inner strength amidst a very strenuous national catastrophe. I have observed how after each demonstration till the next one, many are willing to spend their free time laboring for the release of Uyghurs detained in their homeland, East Turkestan.

I presume, most Uyghurs never in their life planned to become activists. Many simply temporarily moved abroad to study or work there. Who would have known, that this move would totally change the course of their lives.

Aygul* (pseudonym), a Uyghur living in the West, is no stranger to grass root activism. She doesn't count the hours, when it comes to advocating for the Uyghurs. She is actively involved in her local Uyghur community and helps to organise Uyghur related events.

  • Aygul, what caused you to become vocal about the harsh mistreatment of Uyghurs in East Turkestan?

  • The continuous, disturbing news that started surfacing from East Turkestan in 2017 puzzled me at the start. I could not believe them. When my in-laws came to visit us in October, the difficulties they experienced while trying get a permission to visit us, frustrated me. They were allowed to stay for two months for a one year visitor’s visa. Afterwards, both my mum and my in-laws begged me not to go back to visit them in 2017.

We had heard, that one of my cousins, who had graduated from one of the best university in China, was taken to detention in April 2017. He was the only child in his family. Since then, we haven’t heard of him.

The oppression from the CCP has caused me to become vocal about the harsh mistreatment of Uyghurs. I will do whatever I can to raise public awareness in my present country of residence.

  • Are you paying a price for your activism?

  • I really don't know, what price I am paying for my activism. I only talk to my mum once a month, just to hear her voice. My four siblings stopped communicating with me since July 2017. My mum always says, they are all fine, but, does not allow me to call them. May Allah bless them with peace. I only wish to see them one day in peace.

The only sacrifice I have paid so far is time. I have my own business. which has significantly slowed down due to insufficient attention given to it.

  • Is the media in your present country covering the situation of Uyghurs?

  • Yes, since September this year, there is frequent media coverage in the major media outlets about re-education camps. In March this year, in order to receive media coverage for a protest, I contacted almost all the media and their correspondents. However, no one except one turned up on the day. They interviewed many our community members. But, there was no coverage on TV nor radio. Now, within the last six months I can see a huge leap of progress, probably as a result of increasing Uyghur voices.

  • Have you sensed increased co-operation with other activists, politicians, and non governmental agencies?

  • I can see the collaboration between different Uyghur organizations. I feel the growing oppression from CCP is actually increasing the pace of unification of Turkic nationalities on the ground level.

  • Where do you get your daily strength to continue?

  • I get my strength from my hope. I pray everyday and ask Allah to help us to get all detained brothers and sisters released soon. Sometimes, I feel like we all having a nightmare. I wish to this nightmare would end soon. I know in history this kind of dictatorship never lasted very long. We are a minority, and we don't have the capabilities to beat China for its cruelty. However, Mighty Allah can make a miracle happen if we don't stop fighting against injustice and inhumanity.

  • How are you able to maintain Uyghur traditions in diaspora?

  • Hard to answer, as I have somewhat failed to encourage my own kids to be proud of their Uyghur and Tatar culture (my husband's nationality). They listen to English songs even though I play Uyghur songs for them. They read English books even though I bought them Uyghur and Tatar books. Very hard to resist the mainstream, unless they go to schools that are managed and taught in their own language. But, it does not mean we should give up. I was proud seeing my daughter reading a famous Uyghur poem on our National day, and dancing a Uyghur dance in a multicultural children's day some weeks ago.

These are little things, but they help the kids to learn their own culture and observe it. Therefore, families and communities must work together to cultivate the pride for who we are, and the sense of belonging. In our country of residence, the Uyghur Ethnic schools funded by government play the vital role to teach language and our culture. Family culture is the most important part to teach kids what is valued in the family.

  • What would you like to say to your next door neighbor, who may not know about the plight of the Uyghurs?

  • In my personal experience, I talk about the international human crisis happening around the world, then introduce our camps as the biggest human crisis happening in today's world. I found that statistics from reliable sources and personal stories touch people more than the generic statements.

A Young Man’s Testimony

A young man named A. found himself stranded on the U.S soil, having completely lost contact with his family members in East Turkestan. - A., What caused you to become vocal about the harsh mistreatment of Uyghurs in the hands of CCP ?

A: I had kept quiet about everything for the safety of my family members, Yet, the silence only made the situation worse. So I decided to become vocal.

  • Are you paying a price for your activism?

A: Not yet. I just started my activism, and most of the time, I am doing things online so I haven't really done much. I don't think CCP has even noticed me yet.

  • Is the media in your present country covering the situation of the Uyghurs?

A: Yes, but in the wrong way. I think some media are covering the issue, but they are presenting it as some kind of religious policy problem or Islamophobia.

  • Has you sensed increased co-operation with other activists, politicians, and NGOs, when it comes to advocating for the Uyghurs?

A: Yes, I have attended some events with other NGOs and activists and we are co-operating very well.

  • Where do you get your daily strength to continue?

A: Not sure

  • How are you able to maintain Uyghur traditions in diaspora?

A: Staying close to the Uyghur community.

  • What would you like to say to your next door neighbor, who may not know about the plight of the Uyghurs.

A: I will first tell my neighbor about the camps and my own experiences then I will tell him/her about the Uyghurs and East Turkistan