Salih Hudayar

State rights for some, but why not for East Turkistan?

Members of the Uyghur community in Washington, DC, demonstrated in front of the White House on October 12, 2023, protesting the 74th anniversary of the PRC's invasion of East Turkistan. (Photo credit: East Turkistan National Movement)

Supporting East Turkistan’s independence aligns with the principles of justice and self-determination that underpin the international order

In a world increasingly defined by geopolitical shifts and the assertion of national rights, one cannot help but notice a glaring inconsistency in the application of these principles. As the global community acknowledges the rights and aspirations of various peoples, the plight of the Uyghurs and other Turkic peoples in East Turkistan remains conspicuously overlooked. This is not merely an oversight; it is a moral failure with profound geopolitical implications.

East Turkistan, located at the crossroads of East and West, has historically served as a bridge between civilizations. Today, it stands as a testament to the resilience of a people facing a relentless campaign of colonization, genocide, and occupation under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led Chinese state. The ongoing genocide in East Turkistan has not only decimated its culture and identity but also poses a significant threat to global stability.

It is no secret that the Chinese government has been actively supporting the Palestinian narrative and is likely behind the well-funded anti-Israel campus protests across the world. China’s aim is to draw attention away from its ongoing campaign of colonization, genocide, and occupation in East Turkistan. By spotlighting the Palestinian issue, Beijing seeks to deflect international scrutiny from its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity, against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Turkic peoples in the Occupied East Turkistan.

Unlike Palestine, East Turkistan was historically an independent state until the Manchu Qing occupation from 1759 to 1864. In 1865, East Turkistan regained its independence before falling under Qing occupation once more in 1877. In 1884, East Turkistan was renamed “Xinjiang,” meaning “new territory” or “colony,” and formally annexed as a province of the Manchu Qing Empire. It regained its independence twice in the 20th century: from November 12, 1933, to April 16, 1934, and again from November 12, 1944, to December 22, 1949, as the East Turkistan Republic.

This historical precedent underscores the legitimacy of East Turkistan’s claim to statehood and the injustice of its current plight under Chinese occupation. The existence of the independent state of Yette Sheher in East Turkistan and two independent East Turkistan Republics, albeit brief, stands as a testament to the East Turkistani people’s enduring desire for freedom and national independence.

In a world where the principle of self-determination and the importance of national rights and sovereignty are widely recognized, it is crucial to question why the East Turkistanis should be denied the same rights that are championed elsewhere. The historical struggles for homeland and independence in various regions serve as powerful reminders of the right to exist and thrive in one’s own land. It is in this spirit that I appeal to the conscience of the international community: why should the East Turkistanis be denied the same rights that are acknowledged and supported for others?

The strategic significance of East Turkistan cannot be overstated. Situated between the East and the West, East Turkistan is pivotal in the global contest between democratic values and authoritarianism. Allowing China to maintain its stranglehold over this region not only perpetuates a humanitarian crisis but also emboldens a regime that seeks to undermine the democratic world order. China’s control over East Turkistan gives it a strategic advantage, enabling it to exert influence over Central Asia and beyond, furthering its agenda of global dominance. China’s growing influence and its anti-Western sentiments are no longer confined to rhetoric; they are manifested in aggressive policies and expansionist agendas.

East Turkistan serves as the cornerstone of China’s multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative for global dominance. The BRI is not just an economic venture but a strategic maneuver to extend China’s geopolitical influence. By supporting the restoration of the independence of East Turkistan, the international community can create a bulwark against the rise of communism and the spread of anti-Western ideologies spearheaded by Beijing. Moreover, an independent East Turkistan could serve as a deterrent against the Chinese government’s expansionist policies. A free, democratic, and independent East Turkistan would inspire other oppressed regions under the PRC Empire and beyond to demand their rights, thereby destabilizing the CCP’s grip on power. This would have far-reaching consequences, potentially curbing China’s ability to project power globally and challenging its ambitions of hegemony.

The international community’s focus on the Palestinian issue should not overshadow the urgent and severe humanitarian crisis in East Turkistan, rooted in Chinese occupation and colonization. China’s crimes in East Turkistan, including the mass internment of millions in concentration camps and prisons, the enslavement of millions more East Turkistanis through forced labor, forced sterilizations and forced abortions, and the destruction of cultural and religious heritage, and the forced separation of nearly one million East Turkistani children from their families, all constitute the gravest genocide since the Holocaust.

The global community’s silence and inaction only embolden China to continue its policy of genocide with impunity. The path toward restoring East Turkistan’s independence is fraught with challenges, but the rewards are immeasurable. An independent East Turkistan would not only secure the rights and freedoms of its people but also contribute to regional stability and global peace. The establishment of a democratic East Turkistan would serve as a counterbalance to authoritarian influences in the region, promoting the values of freedom and democracy.

The international community would do well to support East Turkistan. This is not merely a regional issue; it is a global one with profound implications for the future of democracy and human rights. By championing the cause of East Turkistan, we can send a powerful message to authoritarian regimes everywhere: the world will not stand by idly while oppression and tyranny go unchecked. Supporting East Turkistan’s independence aligns with the principles of justice and self-determination that underpin the international order. It is a stand against the pervasive and insidious influence of authoritarianism.

China’s actions in East Turkistan are not just a violation of the rights of the East Turkistani people; they are an affront to the values that democratic nations hold dear. In conclusion, the struggle of the East Turkistanis is a litmus test for our commitment to the principles of justice and self-determination. It is a call to action for all who believe in the sanctity of human rights and the necessity of a rules-based international order. Let us not falter in our resolve to support those who seek the same freedoms that we hold dear. The time to act is now, for the sake of East Turkistan and the future of global democracy. By acknowledging and supporting the rights of the East Turkistanis, the international community can reaffirm its commitment to the values of freedom, self-determination, justice, and human dignity.

About the Author
Salih Hudayar is the leader of the East Turkistan National Movement and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Security of the East Turkistan Government in Exile. A refugee and tireless advocate, he champions the rights and self-determination of Turkic peoples in East Turkistan.
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