Not A Good Time To Be East Asian

This is Happy China. It is a Chinese restaurant in Beyoğlu that was just opened six months ago by Cihan Yavuz. Just this past week, Happy China was vandalized by Turkish protesters who are angry at China over the mistreatment of their Uighur population (or Uygur, or Uyghur depending on who is doing the reporting in which language). The bitter irony of the whole thing is that Cihan Yavuz, the owner of this restaurant is himself Turkish and the restaurant’s head cook is Uighur. These vandals just cost the employment of one of the very people they are supposedly defending.

This isn’t the only case of misguided protest. Just this past weekend some protesters near Topkapi Palace saw a group of Koreans and attacked them thinking they were Chinese. Fortunately, nearby police were able to break it up before any serious injury was done. (Read More Here)

Of course, China now gets to play this up and has officially declared a travel advisory against Turkey citing “many attacks against Chinese citizens” and warning those in Turkey to register with the embassy and avoid traveling alone. (Read More Here). In truth, this is a boon to them because they now have the opportunity to redirect attention away from the fact they truly have been persecuting Uighurs.

Uyghur_empireSo who are the Uighurs? Technically they are the descendants of the Uyghur Khaganate, a short lived empire that existed in the same area that is now Mongolia. This empire was actually a coalition of multiple tribes and that coalition broke apart long before the advent of both Genghis Khan and the spread of Islam to the east. This empire lasted less than a hundred years and the term “Uighur” in all its variants seemed to have died with it. The identity was actually resurrected by some Soviet historians who brought the term back into use just over a hundred years ago to refer to Turkic Muslims living in the Xinjiang provence of China. For quite a while those in Xinjiang had no idea they had “officially” been renamed and continued to refer to themselves as “Turki” or “East Turkestani”. It was only with the rise of communism in China that someone got around to telling them of the change. In truth, there is another group, the Buddhist Yugar who have a much better claim to the ethnic and cultural heritage of the Uyghur’s of old, but who is going to argue with Big Brother?

Getting back to the present, Big Brother has been a bully of late. Apparently, China has put some severe restrictions on how Muslims in China may celebrate Ramadan. This has led to protests which in turn led to even greater repression and persecution of the Uighar minority in Xinjiang. The details of all this seems to vary based on which source, Turkish or Chinese, is doing the reporting. What is not disputed is that on Monday, June 22, a car arrived at a police checkpoint in the city of Kashgar. When an officer tried to stop the car, the driver backed it up running over the policemen’s leg. When two other officers rushed in to help the man, they were stabbed to death by the car’s occupants. More attackers joined in, more police arrived, and chaos ensued. When some armed officers finally reached the scene, they began shooting assailants on sight and the tally was fifteen dead Uighur, three dead police. You can only bully a people for so long before they push back.

This isn’t the only Uighur flash point between Turkey and China right now. 173 Uighur women and children have recently arrived in Turkey after being detained in Thailand for over a year. These refugees are part of a larger group who had been detained there after fleeing the persecution they had experienced in Xinjiang back in March last year. The men are still being held but it is expected that they will soon be released to join their families.

Of course China claims that those detained in Thailand are not refugees but rather illegal immigrants and has officially protested against Turkey offering them shelter. According to an official Foreign Ministry spokesperson, “Uighurs live and work in peace and contentment and enjoy freedom of religion under the rules in the constitution, so the so-called ‘Xinjiang ethnic problem’ that has been raised in some reports simply does not exist.” I won’t buy that denial for a dollar, lira, or even a yuan.

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