Growing numbers of people from China’s mostly Muslim Uighur ethnicity have been fleeing via Southeast Asia in the last year, as China conducts a sweeping counterterrorist campaign in their homeland of Xinjiang. Many of them find refuge in Turkey, which has strong cultural links to the Uighurs, threatening an otherwise robust Turkey-China relationship, The Wall Street Journal reports. Here are five things to know about Turkey’s relationship with China’s Uighurs.
The Wall Street Journal - 30 Jan 2015
By Jeremy Page and Emre Peker
1 Turkish nationalists consider Uighurs kin. Share on Twitter Many Turkish nationalists regard the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, as part of a broad family of ethnic Turks spread across Eurasia. They have lobbied successive Turkish governments to offer refuge to those fleeing Chinese rule and to allow Uighurs to campaign against Beijing’s policies from Turkish soil.
2 Turkey has sheltered Uighur leaders since at least the 1950s. Share on Twitter Turkey offered shelter in the 1950s to Isa Yusuf Alptekin, a Uighur nationalist who was a leader of the East Turkestan Republic established in southern Xinjiang from 1933 to 1934. A small park named after him can be found in Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque in the city’s historic center.
3 Turkish authorities helped establish Uighur communities in Turkey in 1965. Share on Twitter In 1965, Turkey offered sanctuary to a group of some 200 Chinese Uighurs who had escaped on foot to Afghanistan. Turkish authorities airlifted them out of Kabul and settled them mostly in the central Turkish city of Kayseri, where many still live today.
4 Uighurs fleeing China often head for Istanbul. Share on Twitter The Turkish government doesn’t provide official statistics for the number of Uighurs in Turkey. Uighur groups say there are about 20,000, many of whom have never been to China. About 1,500 are in Kayseri, while most others live in Istanbul, especially in the Zeytinburnu neighborhood near old town. There are also hundreds of thousands of Uighurs living in former Soviet Central Asia
5 The Uighur issue makes Turkey-China relations a delicate balance. Share on Twitter After inter-ethnic rioting in 2009 left at least 156 dead in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, Turkey’s then Prime Minister — now President — Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the violence as “genocide,” prompting an angry response from Beijing. In 2012, with relations improving, Mr. Erdogan made his first stop in Xinjiang during an official visit to China.