The story of two families, which were persecuted and destroyed for the sole crime of maintaining their Kazakh identity.
by Leila Adilzhan
Every day in Kazakhstan during our work as human rights activists we meet ethnic Kazakhs from Xinjiang who survived the dreaded transformation through education camps, and gather exclusive information and documents about those who did not manage to escape.
Having a relative who moved to Kazakhstan, particularly if the family member abroad speaks out against the CCP, is enough for being regarded as extremist and sentenced to heavy prison terms. Amangul Agimolda, 46, a doctor with an unimpeachable record of ten years of work in a state hospital, and a mother of two, was sentenced to eleven years. There is no information about the whereabouts of her 11-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son. Amangul’s only crime is that her older brother Amantay moved to Kazakhstan in 2017.
She is not the only member of her family who has been targeted by the CCP’s vendetta. Her brother Estay Agimolda, 42, who has a B.D. as accountant and was working for the local police, and his wife Rysgul Kazai, 39, also with a B.D. and a professional translator, were arrested and sentenced to 14 and 12 years respectively. Their six-month infant daughter also “disappeared.” The younger Agimolda brother, Armangeldi, 40, an agronomist, was sentenced to 13 years.
A few days ago, I was visited by an ethnic Kazakh businesswoman who spent a year in the transformation through education camps, Dina Nurdybay. The 28-year-old Dina had her own business in Nilka county of Ile Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, Xinjiang, as a designer of national Kazakh clothing for women, having graduated in Design at the Urumqi College. She worked in public and private companies, before deciding to set up her own small dressmaking business with a bank loan of 70,000 yuan.
When she talks about her business, Dina appears as an energetic girl, very passionate about her job. She encountered several problems with her company but managed to solve them and emerged as a gifted and popular designer with her registered trademark “Kunikei.” Even the Chinese authorities sent her to different exhibitions, where she was able to show her national Kazakh clothes, especially those designed for wedding ceremonies. The exhibitions increased her success, until she was making around $ 17,000 per month.
Dina told me she was very busy with her company and did not have time to follow regional or national politics. But politics followed her. One early morning, when she had just returned from a business trip, Dina noticed several missed phone calls from unfamiliar people. Two local officials came to her home and took her for a 2-hour interrogation. It was the beginning of her nightmare, which coincided with the CCP propaganda about the beginning of the 19th Party Congress.
Four days before the 19th Congress, on October 14, 2017, Dina was put in jail. She asked to be released immediately, as she did not understand what crimes she was accused of. “From the room where I was, Dina recalled, I saw a lot of men forced to get into big lorries. At that moment, I realized that I was in a dangerous situation. I asked many times the reason of my detention, but no one answered me.” She couldn’t hold in her tears when she told about the humiliations and unbearable conditions she was subjected to in jail and during the year she remained in a transformation through education camp.
Dina went into horrific details about tortures in the camps, about blackmailing and threats if she didn’t obey the severe CCP rules. There were a lot of Uyghur and Kazakh women, who did not dare to speak with each other, knowing they will be punished. The most awful thing for Dina was when she was allowed to see her gray-haired grandmother, without a headscarf on her head, on a monitor for just three minutes. They had to hold their tears, as crying was punished, too.
Dina’s parents are citizens of Kazakhstan and she herself holds a residence permit in Kazakhstan. That eventually persuaded the CCP that she should be released from the camp. But her nightmare had not ended. When she came out from the camp, her boyfriend met her with a nice bouquet of flowers, but later she understood this had been arranged by the CCP to take propaganda pictures. She discovered that the bank, who had provided an interest-free loan for her promising startup business, now claimed interests at what she calls a “predatory” rate. Eventually, she married her boyfriend, who proved he cared about her by selling his house and car to repay the bank.
She came to Kazakhstan in 2019, but she should continue to pay the interests on the loan to the bank in Xinjiang, or there will be retaliation against her family. The once rich businesswoman now lives in poverty.
These stories of ordinary ethnic Kazakhs confirm that what is going on in Xinjiang against Kazakhs and other Turkic people is a cultural genocide. One of its tools is depriving them of their money and businesses. The free world should speak with a single voice, and ask China to close all the transformation through education camps and release the unfortunate victims.