View Full Version : San Francisco Chronicle: Article on Uyghurs

31-10-07, 01:52
Uyghurs introduce themselves to Americans at UC Berkeley

Jonathan Curiel, Chronicle Staff Writer

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Culturally speaking, they are known for tightroping and performing on instruments that date back centuries. Religiously, they are Muslim, though many don't actively practice their faith. Their province - once part of the ancient Silk Road - is the largest in China, though they are ethnically Turkish and thus not Chinese.

The Uyghurs (pronounced "Wee-gurrs") are a unique people by any gauge, but their history and traditions are little known in the United States, which is why Uyghur Americans have organized a cultural proceeding tonight at UC Berkeley - the first time Uyghurs have held a public celebration of this kind in the United States.

Uyghurs from around the country are flying in for the event, which they say is nonpolitical. But the history of Uyghurs is laden with politics: China has clamped down on their province for more than 50 years, and Uyghurs - like Tibetans - have seen their freedoms significantly eroded within their own borders.

"This event is important because, through events like this, we show who we are - our culture, our dress, our food - and then people will realize we're not ethnically Chinese, and we are not what the Chinese government portrays us" (as), said Alim Seytoff, general secretary of the Uyghur American Association, who is attending the event from his home in Virginia.

Beijing frequently refers to Uyghurs as terrorists and separatists who want to establish an independent country called Uyghuristan. It's true that Uyghurs refer to their province as Uyghuristan or East Turkestan, while Chinese officials call it Xinjiang or the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The province, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, is home to 8 million Uyghurs. Only 1,000 or so have immigrated to the United States, but many are involved in Uyghur activist organizations.

"It's probably one of the smallest immigrant communities in the United States, and probably one of the most politically active," Seytoff said.

Dilshat Erkin, a freshman at UC Berkeley and one of the organizers of tonight's event, visited the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region last summer and says Uyghur students under 18 can't practice their religion and face other restrictions. Erkin, who spent the first four years of his life in the province, says the limits "really impact their lives."

San Francisco lawyer Steve Baughman is representing one Uyghur man who is seeking asylum in the United States. The 24-year-old man said in a phone interview from the East Coast that Chinese authorities regularly interrogated him because of his nonpolitical activities, such as forming a Uyghur student union designed to offer religious guidance to members. Police beat him while they questioned him about his sister's work in the United States, he said.

Chinese authorities labeled him "a politically dangerous person. They put me on the blacklist," said the man, who did not want his name used for fear that Chinese authorities would punish his family.

Human Rights Watch regularly issues reports on China's crackdown on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, which the country took control of in 1949. In a 2005 report based partly on previously undisclosed Communist Party and Chinese government documents, Human Rights Watch detailed systematic surveillance, arrests and executions of Uyghurs, and China's wholesale assault on Uyghurs' religious practices.

As in Tibet, China has moved millions of ethnic Chinese into the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, leading Human Rights Watch to report that "the Uyghurs in Xinjiang are concerned for their cultural survival in the face of a government-supported influx of ethnic Chinese migrants."

The Uyghurs' cultural survival will be on the minds of Erkin, Seytoff and the other Uyghur Americans who attend tonight's event at UC Berkeley's International House, which starts at 6 p.m. It features a dance performance, Uyghur food, music, an introduction to the Uyghur sport of tightroping known as dawaz, and other traditions.

Erkin is leading the talk about tightroping, a practice he says is rooted in the days of the Silk Road, when the Xinjiang province helped connect Europe to Persia, India, China and beyond.

"We're trying to keep it nonpolitical - we're not going to talk about any of the problems that Uyghurs are facing," Erkin said. "We're just trying to introduce people to the culture, because people don't know who we are."
Uyghur event

The Uyghurs on the Silk Road: A Celebration of People and Culture starts at 6 p.m. tonight at UC Berkeley's International House, 2299 Piedmont Ave., Berkeley. Admission is free for I-House residents, members and alumni, $5 for the general public. More information at uyghuramerican.org/news.

E-mail Jonathan Curiel at jcuriel@sfchronicle.com.

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

01-11-07, 21:35
Epsus, Bu paliyetning Uygur mediniyitini namayen qilalmay yaman tesir bergini.