View Full Version : Bir chetellikning Urumqi 7.5 qanliq weqeside bashtin kechurgenliri

01-10-09, 12:34

[ Current Location | Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan ]
[ mood | grateful ]

This is going to be a lengthy piece. It will also be explicit. I have no intention of shocking anyone, showing off, or showing disrespect for those who passed away on that night. The section concerning what I personally saw is all for the record and is as accurate as possible. I hope that those who read it will keep that in mind. My own analyses and opinions of the situation are open for debate. First I'll address what I think happened in China through the course of the July 5th riots.

Unacademic and rough outline:
The event itself July 5th
What I saw
What I heard from reliable sources and what media was available to us
Vigilante Tuesday July 7th
What I saw
What I heard

The event itself
What I saw
Around 8pm Beijing time on the 5th a few of us were finishing up a workout at the gym on Jiefangbeilu. On the streets below we saw massive crowds moving south, comprised of primarily Uyghur people. We meant to meet up with our fellow techers west of the area we were in at a place known as Bob's Cafe. Curious, and perhaps a bit haphazardly, we moved south around 10 minutes later. We crossed over renminlu, the street which more or less separates the southern Uyghur side of Urumqi from the predominantly Han northern side. The street leading into The Grand Bazaar (Jiefangnanlu) was lined with police and para-military forces (special police: wujin). Crowds of curious onlookers had gathered (ourselves included). Black smoke was rising up further down the street, but generally the area was quiet. I couldn't see all the way into the Grand Bazaar but our noseyness was cut short by standard blue shirt police clearing people off the roadside. They were a bit violent, but nothing much more than a short billy club, braced against the forearm pushed up against the back of a few of the slower peoples' necks. They saw Aaron and I and reverted to shouting. I can't say for sure our presence really caused their change in attitude.

I returned to Bob's cafe where the rest of the foreign teachers had camped out as night fell in the city. Over the course of the next hour and a half (between 9pm and 10:30ish) we heard a series of explosions coming from the Erdaoqiao area. Military personnel vehicles had been moving into the area continuously: truck transport, 4X4s, armoured cars, etc. I got antsy around 1030pm and decided to move out on my own and have a look on my bike. I was delayed. A few peole were disagreeing with my decision at the time and I understand why to an extent. I was not trying to be a hero, nor did I think I could really offer the people in the middle of all of it any real assistance. My own reasons for going are really of no consequence, I did it for myself alone. I recalled the riots in Lhasa from a year before and my inability to really speak on the issue with any authority because information coming from the foreign media was allegedly and potentially biased and the information coming from the Chinese Governement could not be given full credit either. Knowing the issues of race and Chinese minority policies etc. were going to be something that was going to generate discussion in the future I felt it was almost necessary for me to take the opportunity.

I rode into the southern end of the city around 11pm. The police blockades were not the most effective, this was intentional I'm sure, they wanted people to be able to get home and have the whole thing over with ASAP. As I moved further south riot police were replaced with People's Liberation Army forces. They were holding intersections and were notably armed (AK-74s or the Chinese equivalent). The streets were littered with cement cobblestones that had been torn up and thrown around. People were still milling about and rubber necking, but in no way similar to the way it was around 9pm. There was a hustle in everyone's step. The PLA troops were young. Some of them looked terrified. I didn't want to hang around. I zigzagged through a few streets (south and east) until I ran into the north-south highway in Erdaoqiao. By now things on the streets were very quiet. I saw two buses, one had been blasted (or had just been burning for longer), the roof was for the most part gone and carbon scoring was everywhere around it. A second had had the windows smashed in and was still on fire. The other side of the highway (you can cross underneath it) the remains of handcarts, burned out cars, bits of melon and other fruit, and a body. People were shouting at each other north of me. I wanted to get out of there and tried to turn around back the way I came (west). Around that time I heard fully automatic gunfire in short bursts. With the people still freaking out at each other to my north, I decided that rather than return to renminlu and the north of the city, I would move further east in an effort to swing around the messy areas and get back north.

The neighborhood I entered had been hard hit by the riots. In total I saw 16 bodies and numerous cars, lorries, buses, that had been trashed. The bodies were all Han. The majority of them had been bludgeoned with stones or concrete from the sidewalk. Two bodies had been mutilated, their arms removed above the elbow. There was one woman who had been killed. In many cases, drivers had been pulled out of their trucks or cars. It seems some of them got away, but not all. Their vehicles had then been turned lengthwise across the street. I seems to have been an attempt to barricade the areas. Otherwise the damage was indiscriminate. Shop fronts had been trashed, cars burnt out, etc.

The streets were empty but for a few Han banded together, trying to make it out of the area. I saw two cars at different times come through the area and pick up Han stragglers (not aggressive, a rescue attempt). I heard shouting in Uyghur from a group of younger men. This is an important observation that I cannot speak on with enough authority. Later reports by the government said the rioters were primarily comprised of migrant workers from south Xinjiang. I did not want to hang around too long with a mob on the loose. What I can say is that they were dressed like any average Uyghur off the street from what I can tell (polo, slacks, cheap loafers etc) and in a group of 10 to 15 people.

I did manage to get around to a more northern part of the highway that runs back to the north. This is now close to 1135pm. I saw two police buses being loaded up with Uyghurs, escorted by fully armed guards. (Later reports say that many Uyghurs taken in had had their slacks and shoes removed. I can't confirm this personally, a center barricade in the highway obscured my view of their lower bodies.)

I used the pedestrian overpasses to move from one side of the highway to the other, avoiding military or police blockades. At one point there was a quarrel below one of these. I don't know what was really happening. There were a few plain-clothes police (they were bearing firearms) and someone was loaded into a minibus. A group of han, trying to get to the north approached from the south. The officers were probably unable to tell who these people were and were on edge anyway. They told them to turn back and not come closer. One leveled a high-powered rifle at them and then turned the barrel upwards, firing a warning shot. This was particularly interesting from my position considering I was stuck on the walkway above and the bullet probably came within ten feet of me. Not that I consider that a near miss, but I thought it in my best interest to stay pinned and not worry about going down the steps with a big metal shiny bicycle until the authorities had driven off.

Eventually I made it home without further incident really. The phones were cut (or jammed with traffic) that night and the internet was down the next morning. Phones came back, no text messages, the next day. The internet is still down at the time of this writing.

What I heard from reliable sources and what media was available to us

One of the teachers had gone out to have a look around on foot. He came back to us around 10pm and reported seeing people streaming into the hospital, bloodied and injured. He said he couldn't identify their ethnicity as many of them had covered their faces with rags or improvised bandages. They had been escorted to the hospital by plain clothes Han individuals armed with basic household weapons (sticks, pipes). The organization of the troops was questionable due to the mass amount of movement overall, fender benders etc.

Friends of mine reported seeing the protest broken up around 3pm on the day of the riot at people's square (northern end of the city). A couple living above the square reported it getting out of control around the same time, the police pushed them out of the area forcibly followed by inaction of the police when civilian Han and Uyghurs began to come to blows.

Han rumored that foreigners were being killed by Uyghurs. Han asserted that external terrorist organizations, funded by external countries (like the US and Germany) were to blame for the riots, the government tenaciously continues to argue this. Uyghurs rumored that a great number of Uyghurs were killed by government forces.

The Government's statistics put the initial death toll between 100 and 200 people. Newspapers released information by the 7th (Tuesday) covering the story with a number of graphic photos. The day after the riots, banners were hung around the city calling for ethnic unity and social stability.


There are a few things I need to touch on regarding the days preceding and night of the 5th itself. One is that I do not completely agree with the Government which places the blame on external forces. It is in their best interest to say that the riots were incited by external forces because it removes and evidence for dissatisfaction in their own policies put forth locally.

From what I understand, I can see an argument for external intervention in that the videos and pictures of the Guangdong killings were circulated on the internet (facebook, which has been shut down China-wide, if I'm not mistake??). Uyghurs were urged to protest. A few days after the videos and pictures had been circulated Uyghur groups applied to the government for the right to hold a demonstration at People's Square. This was in turn rejected, but the demonstration went on anyway. It was broken up forcibly and the situation got out of control.

From what I saw, it was NOT an organized movement of people from other areas of Xinjiang, or terrorist groups from outside Xinjiang. The night itself looked more like a temper tantrum than anything else. As the angry crowd was dispersed, it grew and others joined in on the southern side of the city. All kinds of individuals were involved. The killings were brutal, but improvised on the spot. I see it as the combustion of frustration and an inability on the part of the Uyghur people to diffuse pressure through any officially acceptible means. In my opinion, it is a thoroughly racial and social issue. A strong argument against this is found in pointing out the use of explosives on the night. My counter to this is to suggest that explosives can be kept at the ready for any time, made quickly from most anything, and that the explosions I heard my well have been related to gas tanks or propane tanks exposed to open flame (perhaps a combination of many different explosions).

The day after I was disappointed to say the least. I was upset that my own view of the Uyghur people had suddenly become so negative. It was the aftermath and handling of the situation that has made me even more anti-China's Authorities and more pro-Uyghur.

July 7th ("Vigilante Tuesday")

What I saw

On July 7th (Tuesday) people could be seen on the streets again. We were sitting in a meeting at work when a someone noticed people moving quickly away from the Youhao area (2kms north of the Uyghur area). The Wujin moved in to suppress the area which was out of our line of sight (further west on Karamay lu). People (Han) began to loiter again and many of them were carrying improvised weapons (table legs, shovels, clubs with a nail in them. A few carried machetes and more ferocious weapons).

A mob of Han men began to move to the west but were turned around about 10 minutes later. When they came back past our building they were joined by another mob. The mob that had been tuned around now joined the mob moving west (around 130pm). I followed the group on my bike again into the west, keeping a safe distance. Eventually they grew in number on Xibei lu and after a lot of milling about and an inability to organize anything concrete, someone showed up with a Chinese flag.

This got everyone's knickers in a bunch and the now 200 plus strong mob began to move south and east. Over the course of a few hours they eventually made it to the Nanmen area (north of the Grand Bazaar) where they were cut off by Wujin and not allowed to advance. There was some shouting, people shouted a bit more, but nothing seemed to really happen. A lot of the people were just checking it all out, but other mobs had joined them from other parts of the city, all armed in a similar manner. I spoke with a pair of journalists from Time and the AP at this time.

All the Uyghurs in my neighborhood had disappeared. The didn't open their shops for a number of weeks afterwards. Two shops never opened again. I assume they left the country or were arrested.

We returned to our home neighborhood and spoke with some foreigners about their experiences. A military helicopter was patrolling the area around the Nanhu park (the city government building is located here). Eventually Han crowds came back and protested in front of the government building.

What I heard

Regarding July 7th, what I heard was that people had been told by the government to take up arms to protect themselves in the event of subsequent riot. We, as well as everyone else, had been told not to go to work and to stay home.

I spoke to a journalist from Time when I was down at Nanmen watching the crowds. He told me the story of the Uyghur women protest. The government had taken foreign journalists to a burnt-out car dealership to show the damage of the riots. Security forces had failed to hold back a small crowd of Uyghur women who began to emerge from the surrounding area. They began to pull shoes and slacks out of their hand bags and began screaming, asking where their husbands, sons, brothers were. The journalist, having the chance to ask a few questions in the chaos, asked what had happened. A number of women explained that their men had been taken and humiliated by being forced to remove their shoes and pants upon detention.

A group of foreigners were driving back in a taxi to a youth hostel around the Nanhu (east of Youhao) area. They had been sighted by a number of Han sitting around with weapons and the taxi was attacked. The driver sped through the crowd but the foreigners had been shaken up by the experience. We spoke with them after returning from the Nanmen area where the mobs had been stopped.

Friends reported seeing beatings of Uyghurs around town. Mobs of Han were said to have advanced on hospitals where they knew Uyghurs living in the northern part of the city had taken refuge, fearing they were not safe in their own homes. Many Uyghur shops and restaurants in the north of the city had been vandalized and trahsed.


A Hong Kong journalist asked a hair raising question at a live press conference held on CCTV 9. She pointed out that even if the riots were caused by external forces it is clear that the retaliation of July 7th was not. The government spokesman gave a weak answer and further questions were taken.

The Government, having failed to keep a lid on Lhasa a year before was quick to invite journalists from overseas to the scene of the incident in an attempt to give them their side of the story rather than allow assumptions and heavily biased material to get out. The strategy worked to an extent but also backfired in that many things were still being covered up or presented in a way that removed most of the credibility the Authorities had.

I am still confused as to why the Government was unable to see the monster it was creating on the 7th. Listen: you tell people who have been assaulted by a minority to arm themselves against further attacks. You then tell them not to go to work. The result is an angry population, bored and dangerous. It was inevitable.

I am sickened by what I saw on the seventh perhaps even more so than what I saw on the fifth. In my opinion, the Han who advanced on Nanmen were cowards outright. Many of the Uyghur men had been rounded up in the previous days and there was no way to really defend Erdaoqiao against retaliation. The army was at a loss because they could not push against the Han mob too much, they are their only friends in the area. Although the main mob never made it to the Erdaoqiao area, other beatings and killings took place around the city. As I have mentioned above, people even attempted to get into hospitals.

The July 7th retaliation attempt was racially based, anyone who argues that Urumqi is racially harmonious is only exaserbating the problem by failing to address the issue at hand. It is a combination of disrespect, cultural division, and denial that continue to hinder attempts at peaceful co-habitation. The Han, as individuals, have no interest in learning the Uyghur language, nor do they care to learn abouth their culture outside their own self-constructed image of a backward people living on the frontier. Their view of the Uyghurs mirrors Victorian Colonialism; a far-off and mysterious people of the West who dance, listen to strange music, and sell tacky souveniers to their east-Chinese counterparts.

I will add further information soon regarding some of the other events that have taken place since the riots nearly three months ago.
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