Uighurs and Turks

The trouble in north western China is a big news item in Turkey. Of course it is bound to be, since the Uighurs are a Turkish people, just like Turkmens, like Uzbeks, Kazaks and Azeris, to name just a few. It struck me that the newspaper Hürriyet predicted the trouble a few days before it started: President Gül had just visited the region, being the first Turkish President ever to do so. The newspaper recalled a visit in 2002 by MHP leader Bahçeli, who was deputy Prime Minister at the time. After his visit, the article says China destroyed a part of the cultural heritage of Uighurs. A representative of Uighurs in Turkey is quoted as saying: ‘Uighurs have always been harmed after these kinds of visits.’

Sad to see that he was right. The ones to speak out the most fiercely against the violence are ultra nationalists, like politicians of right wing BBP (Great Union Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). They are the natural defenders of all the people belonging to the same ethnic group as themselves, so they urge the government to speak out loudly against the violence on the Uighur minority in China – weird to hear the ultra nationalists speak out in favour of respecting minority rights: they never do that when it comes to minority rights in Turkey, since they consider everybody in Turkey as being basically a Turk, and recognising minorities would threaten the unity of the state. Anyway, the ultra nationalists call on Prime Minister Erdogan to condemn China like he earlier this year condemned Israel for violence in Gaza. But the government keeps it low-key, saying things like China is a country on the way to becoming more stable and prosperous and that they believe measures will be taken to prevent this kind of incident in the future.

Maybe both the violence and the lack of strong reaction from the Turkish government are connected to Gül’s recent visit, which was at the end of June. China wants to show the Uighurs that the visit the Chinese authorities allowed by the President of the powerful kinsmen of the Uighurs doesn’t mean they can look forward to any more freedoms in being themselves. The Turkish government’s response was weak because Gül’s visit to China resulted in clinching business contracts worth 3 billion dollars – who wants to jeopardize those kinds of economic ties? It’s also (partly) why Turkey didn’t really speak out against the violence in Iran and was the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his victory: good relations with Iran and China are just too important for Turkey.

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