A 3-year-old boy skips in front of the White House, playfully poking bystanders, giggling as they shy away from his blue and white flag. Three-thousand miles away in East Turkistan, hundreds of his relatives are being murdered, sterilized, and silenced in concentration camps run by the Chinese Communist Party.
“Since China occupied East Turkistan in late 1949, the Chinese government has executed a brutal persecution campaign against the Uyghur and other Turkish populations in East Turkistan,” said Salih Hudayar, founder of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNMA), at a march against China’s genocide in East Turkistan on Friday. “In recent years, China’s colonization and occupation has exacerbated what is, without doubt, genocide as defined under international law.”
Hudayar, a Uyghur American, political refugee, and prime minister of the East Turkistan Government in Exile, was born in East Turkistan. His great-grandfather was killed when China re-annexed East Turkistan in 1949, capturing the area now known as Xinjiang. Uyghur Muslims have a more than 4,000-year heritage in East Turkistan, and historically, East Turkistan is a part of Central Asia, not China. Friday marked the second time Hudayar’s activist organization has protested in front of the White House.
About 12 million Turkic-speaking Muslims, mostly Uyghurs reside in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. With such an extensive lineage, Uyghur Muslims, whom Hudayar said used to occupy more than 90 percent of East Turkistan and now make up less than 40 percent of the region’s population, are calling on the Unites States for support — specifically for a boycott of the 2022 Olympics, which will be held in Beijing.
“We ask the G7 nations, especially the United States, led by President Joe Biden, to set a moral example by leading the globe in boycotting the Beijing 2022 Olympics,” Hudayar said. “We should not empower China by allowing it to host the Winter Olympics while it is engaged in genocide and other crimes against humanity.”
On his final day in office, then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the situation in Xinjiang an “ongoing genocide.” Pompeo accused China of committing crimes against humanity, calling on “all appropriate multilateral and relevant juridical bodies to join the United States in our effort to promote accountability for those responsible for these atrocities.” Australia and New Zealand have formally declared China’s activity in Xinjiang genocide as well. Despite current Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s classification of China’s acts as genocide during his Senate confirmation hearing in January, the Biden administration has advanced few concrete actions against the Communist regime.
China, of course, denies that this is a genocide. Its foreign ministry said it “firmly opposed” the classification, arguing that the State Department’s declaration “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs.”
“The leaders of Australia and New Zealand, with irresponsible remarks on China’s internal affairs relating to Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the South China Sea issue, have made groundless accusations against China, grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs and seriously violated the international law and basic norms governing international relations,” said Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, in a statement released June 1.
According to a report released in March by the Washington, D.C. think-tank Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, the Chinese government has violated “each and every” provision in the United Nations’ Genocide Convention. Various violations include forcibly transferring children away from their homes, forced birth control, creating conditions that cause physical destruction, causing bodily or mental harm, and issuing long-term prison sentences and executions. Along with physical destruction, the Chinese government has launched attacks against cultural, domestic, and religious norms in the Uyghur community, demolishing about 16,000 mosques and various sites of mass pilgrimage in the region since its occupation.
Evidence from sources inside the camp, refugees, and surveillance footage show the atrocities committed in East Turkistan. Allegations of daily gang rape, sexual torture, human trafficking, mandatory birth control and sterilizations, and separating children from families are only the tip of the iceberg.
Although intense surveillance makes hard evidence of such atrocities rare, the Chinese Communist Party formally confirmed a birth prevention campaign in the region. In January, China’s U.S. Embassy tweeted a study showing that “in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines.” The tweet has since been removed for violating Twitter rules, though Twitter did not explain what rule was violated.
Since 2017, numerous “re-education” camps have been introduced into the region. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs have been thrown into prison or “vocational schools,” and many more Uyghur children have been separated from their families and forced into boarding schools. Although China has disputed the purposes of these camps, it does not dispute the existence and expansion of them.
One Uyghur concentration camp survivor, Tursunay Ziyawudun, who testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May, was physically tortured for a year.
“I was tortured with an electric stick pushed inside my genital tract. I could hear the other woman’s screams in the next room. I knew the guards were raping her. After that, she never stopped crying,” Ziyawudun said. “One time an order came. All the women had to be sterilized, or fitted with an IUD. Many young women were crying, screaming when they were told they would be sterilized and could never have children.”
Hudayar, who last spoke to his Uyghur relatives in 2017, said he spends sleepless nights worrying about the nightmarish conditions his people experience in East Turkistan.
“Every time I hear about more women being raped, or children trying to commit suicide by drinking detergent because they’re deprived from their families and sent to state-run boarding schools, that drives me to continue fighting,” Hudayar said. “No matter what we do, we could be out here for hours, days, years. All of our activism won’t even amount to 30 seconds of the torture they’re going through.”
Amannissa Mukhlis, ETNMA’s women’s and family outreach director, is a Uyghur Muslim from Kazakhstan and says she is the great-granddaughter to a former major general of the East Turkistan Republic’s National Army and the grand-niece to the founder of the United Revolutionary Front of East Turkistan. Mukhlis and her family have experienced loss and grief, but she said she can imagine no greater pain than what families face in East Turkistan.
“Chinese attack women by harvesting their organs, forcibly sterilizing them, and raping them every day. Once I became a mother I understood the pain of the mother, being separated from their child,” Mukhlis said. “But I cannot imagine the pain of the woman in Eastern Turkistan. Each of us have families, mothers, wives, children — so can you imagine being separated from your kids, or being abused by some random man? Uyghurs are not different. They want the best for their families.”
Considering China’s deep ties in U.S. imports and trade, Hudayar noted, the U.S. is in a sticky situation — but in a genocide he likened to the Holocaust, Hudayar said the U.S. can’t stand idly by.
“We have faith, in God and the mercy of democratic, freedom-loving nations like the United States, that the world will come to liberate them from the camps, to liberate them from the prisons, and to essentially liberate our country as a whole and ensure our survival,” Hudayar said. “And that’s what they’re waiting for inside [East Turkistan], as well. They’re waiting for us.”
The United States should act against the Chinese Communist Party for their own interests as well, Hudayar added.
“The Coronavirus was manufactured deliberately by the Chinese government, and they spread it out across the world. If they’re doing this to the world today, God knows what else they will want to do tomorrow,” Hudayar said. “We have to stop them before it’s too late. It’s not about an attack against the Uyghurs or East Turkistan — we’re just the gateway. Once they’re finished with us, they’ll move westward, all the way to Europe, and they’ve already infiltrated various institutions in the United States. Not a lot of people are aware of the threat and danger that China poses to the very existence of the United States itself.”
The Geneva Convention promised that a genocide would “never again” happen. With an estimated 1 million Uyghur Muslims in detention camps, Hudayar said, it’s time the U.S. renews that vow.