In school, we learn about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust – we are constantly reminded of its importance so that history does not repeat itself. I look back at the lessons and think about the irony: we are already facing a second Holocaust.
I am Uyghur. Throughout my life when people asked me where I was from and I said East Turkistan, I was met with confusion. “Did you mean Pakistan?” They would ask. “Is that like Turkey and Pakistan combined together?” I don’t blame them – you can’t find East Turkistan on the map because it’s not an independent country yet; however, this does not mean that it does not exist
Trigger Warning: military violence
The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic group whose homeland is in central Asia. We call our land East Turkistan but the Chinese have occupied it since 1949, turned it into an autonomous region in 1955 and it became the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR). Since then, Uyghurs have faced many decades of oppression and repression. Uyghur culture is rich and the religion and language are vastly different to the Chinese and because of this, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has seen it as a threat and are now on the mission to ethnically cleanse any non-Han Chinese people.
A note should be made here to realise that Uyghurs are not ‘Chinese Muslims’ as the media often says. Chinese Muslims are Hui people who are racially Chinese but practise Islam, whereas the Uyghurs are Muslim but not Chinese. Uyghurs and Hui people do not face the same level of repression. Since 9/11 the Chinese government has used the incentive of fighting against ‘religious terrorism’ to justify their actions against the Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim.
However, religion is only a small part of the bigger picture. The real reason we are facing such repression is because of our ethnic differences which is a threat to the government’s ideals of being “one state race” and because of the Uyghurs’ desires to be a separate country.
I began to understand the idea of repression in my home country when I visited it in 2009 as a seven year old. My aunt lived in Urumqi, the capital city of East Turkistan and it was the first place we went. She lived in a tall apartment near the top floor – you could look out of the window and see the city below you. Outside, I was surprised to see so many armed soldiers: it made me feel uneasy but I was told I shouldn’t worry. They were always there.
As a child, I didn’t take much notice of them, even after the night of the Urumqi massacre which took place on 5th July 2009. What started off as a peaceful protest in the morning soon became a bloody massacre. Of course, I was not aware of this at the time – all I remember is how tense my mum and her sister suddenly became. They closed the curtains and didn’t let us near the window. I started hearing loud noises and I asked my cousin what they were. He said “bombs” in Uyghur but I did not understand. I kept asking again and again but they kept saying the same thing. Bombs. I don’t think I even knew what it meant in English. I remember sneaking a quick peek out the window when my aunt opened it a crack. I saw long lines of soldiers and tanks in the distance, filling the roads. They looked like toy soldiers to me.
 “Xinjiang – Wikipedia.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xinjiang. Accessed 27 Jul. 2020.