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Uyghurs in Turkey protest Chinese foreign minister’s visit

A protester from the Uyghur community waves a Turkish flag during a protest
A member of the Uyghur community waves a Turkish flag during a protest against the visit of China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Istanbul on Thursday. Hundreds of Uyghurs staged protests demanding that the Turkish government take a stronger stance against human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region.
(Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)

Hundreds of Uyghurs staged protests in Ankara and Istanbul on Thursday, denouncing Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Turkey and demanding that the Turkish government take a stronger stance against human rights abuses in China’s far-western Xinjiang region.

The crowd gathered at Istanbul’s Beyazit Square, holding posters of missing relatives they believe are being kept in detention camps in China and chanting slogans against Beijing.

Dozens of Uyghurs, Turkish opposition lawmakers and academics also assembled near the Chinese Embassy in Ankara, as Wang met with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and later with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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“We call on Turkey to stand with East Turkestan,” said Burhan Uluyol, who joined the protest in Istanbul, using the Uyghurs’ term for their heartland in Xinjiang. “We call on Turkey to not turn its back on our Uyghur people because of some economic benefit.”

Uyghurs, a Turkic group native to China’s Xinjiang region, have sought refuge in Turkey for decades because of their shared cultural ties with the country. Once a champion of the Uyghur cause, Turkey has become less vocal about their plight in recent years as it has developed economic ties with China.

Initially, Beijing denied the existence of camps detaining Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, but it has since described them as centers to provide job training and to reeducate those exposed to extremism. Chinese officials deny all charges of human rights abuses there.

A vast system of Chinese surveillance, detention, cultural erasure and forced labor has devastated the Uighur people in Xinjiang, their homeland.

After his meeting with Wang, Cavusoglu tweeted that the two discussed the potential for economic cooperation between their countries and agreed to enhance their cooperation against the coronavirus and on vaccines.

Cavusoglu also said he had “conveyed our sensitivity and thoughts on Uyghur Turks.”

China recently ratified an extradition treaty with Turkey that was signed years ago, raising fears among the Uyghur community that they could be sent back to the country they fled. Turkey has yet to ratify the agreement.

Turkey has reached agreement with China’s Sinovac company to purchase more than 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement raised fears among Uyghurs over the possibility that Beijing could use the vaccines as leverage to win passage of the extradition treaty.

Fatma Hasan, a 21-year-old Uyghur demonstrator, said she believes Wang will pressure Turkey to ratify the agreement.

Facebook says hackers in China used fake accounts and impostor websites to try to break into the phones of Uyghur Muslims.

“If there is pressure, and the agreement is signed, we will be returned,” she said. “We are here [protesting] because we don’t want to end up in such a situation.

Both Turkish and Chinese authorities insist that the extradition bill doesn’t aim to target Uyghurs for deportation.

Wang arrived in Ankara as part of a regional tour that is taking him to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain.

Guzel reported from Istanbul and Fraser from Ankara.


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