The Uighurs or Uigurs, are a minority Turkic ethnic group originating from and culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. They have been recognised as native to only one region, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. There, since the last two years, they have been living in camps, described by the regional government as vocational training centres designed to “carry out anti-extremist ideological education”. The Chinese government looks into the matter and says that Uighurs enjoy the same rights and freedom of religion as other citizens and are not arbitrarily held in the camps. But this month, a network of Chinese human rights groups reported that Uighurs are being tortured in the camps, and more than 20 member states of the United Nations urged China to release the Uighurs.
Around late July, Chinese government announced that most of the people in the camps have been released. But Philip Thai heavily questions that. He is an associate professor at the Northeastern University, studying modern Chinese history. According to Thai, while the government claimed detainees have been released, their relatives and friends haven’t heard from them yet. Whether or not they were released, it is undeniable that there is still considerable control and surveillance in Xinjiang.
Having knowledge of the history of its people and economic significance of the region is important to understand the Chinese government’s fight for control in Xinjiang. Xinjiang possesses the country’s largest coal and natural gas reserves and an estimated 21 billion tons of oil reserves, playing a major role in China’s Belt-and-Road Initiative, a multibillion investment in creating infrastructure in and along designated global trade routes. The region is essentially China’s designated gateway to global trade. The government’s efforts to control the region are based on past tensions in Xinjiang between the Turkic-speaking Uighurs and Han Chinese. These tensions reached a flashpoint in 2009 when a large-scale ethnic riot broke out, resulting in the deaths of 197 people.
“I think the endgame of this is difficult to predict. But there is a strong possibility where Uighurs may be fully assimilated and what we now know as Uighur culture is not going to be what is in the future.” says Thai.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman