Campaign for Uyghurs hosted a Uyghur Advocacy Training Workshop for young activists in Istanbul. Bitter Winter was there.
by Marco Respinti
They kill the future of a nation: this is the most dreadful aspect of cultural genocides, and the cultural genocide that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is carrying on against the Uyghurs is precisely devised to choke the Uyghur nation’s expectations.
“Nation” is a strong concept. It is not a synonym of “state.” A state is the political and institutional organization of either one single nation or multiple nations. While the latter is the typical case of empires, where different peoples coexist within one institutional framework, the first is found in modern nation-states, where the totality of the citizens belong to a single nation. Or this is what modern nation-states more or less pretend to be, while the reality is much more articulated for an evident reason.
Ethnic homogeneity of all citizens is a myth. The citizens of modern nation/states are always the result of different influences and various degrees of blending. Of course, the cultural and religious identity of a certain people living in what is today a certain nation/state is or can be evident, but this has to do with the predominant cultural and religious characteristics that, for whatever historical and sociological reason, a people now displays, not with its non-existent “racial purity.’
A “nation,” a word deriving from the Latin verb “nascere,” or “to be born,” describes a community of human beings that share a common birthplace (an origin), common answers to the fundamental and ultimate questions of life that we call “culture,” and what this culture suggests as a common vocation and destiny. This is much more important than a people’s possible organization into the political and institutional structure that we call a “state.”
In fact, there can be—and there are—nations that have no state (as much as they may aspire to it). Nations can more easily survive than states, and states never succeed, as much as they try, in surrogating the cultural identity of a nation. But chiefly, it is nations that can give birth to states, not states that create and/or impose nations, as ideocracies—including the national-communist People’s Republic of Cina (PRC)—inexorably try to do.
This is why cultural genocides kill the future of a nation. They destroy the very essence of a community of people, and prevent the transmission of what makes a group of persons a people (not only a mass): a culture, a language, a faith.
Even if Uyghurs do not live in a Uyghur state, they are a vibrant nation characterized by specific cultural tracts and a religious identity. They speak an identifying language and produce a unifying literature in that language, they perform national arts, and follow traditional customs. All this makes Uyghurs Uyghurs, while the premeditated and systematic war of annihilation that the PRC conducts against them tries to suppress their nation’s identity.
This awareness is at the core of what the world came to call the Uyghur crises, and the one main reason several organizations of the Uyghur diaspora in the world deserve credit for, is their having internationalized the denunciation of the Uyghur cultural genocide.
But awareness is only the first step in defending one’s nation. The second is reaction. If Uyghurs do not consciously stand to thwart the killing of their nation’s future, the PRC will be facilitated in performing its blatant crime against humanity. Many Uyghurs bravely do just this, but what about the younger generations? The risk of loosing them as a casualty of the massive attack of the Chinese Communist Party against “Uyghurness” is enormous.
Brilliantly, a new form of meaningful reaction was recently demonstrated by Campaign for Uyghurs (CfU) in Istanbul, Turkey, in an event especially dedicated to the youth. CfU is a non-profit organization championing democratic liberties for a battered people, which in 2022 was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Founded in 2017, it is chaired by Rushan Abbas, whose family’s story of harassment is quite exemplary of the PRC’s mischiefs and abuses.
Istanbul is a high place for Uyghur-related activities. Also thanks to strong language relationships, the city is in fact home to many Uyghur expatriates that left Xinjiang, which its non-Han inhabitants call East Turkestan, and cannot go back. The significative presence of Uyghurs in Istanbul (and in other parts of Turkey) is for example testified by the number of good Uyghur restaurants where traditional Uyghur dishes such as laghman (hand-pulled noodles with lamb and fried vegetables) or gosh nan (a flat pie stuffed with fried mincemeat) are served. Uyghur students and young workers are especially represented there.
On March 11-12, 2023, CfU hosted a Uyghur Advocacy Training Workshop in what was once Constantinople, whose three bridges on the Bosphorus Strait significantly unite the West and Asia. The aim was to equip young Uyghur activists and students living in Turkey with the intellectual and practical tools and skills that may enable them to make their voice heard in the most effective way.
Presided by Rushan Abbas, and conducted by Sabrina Sohail, CfU Director of Advocacy and Communications, as well as Arslan Hidayat, CfU Program Director, the workshop featured several speakers of different nationalities: Hurter Özcan, the US Representative of the Republican People’s Party of Turkey and the founding chairman of the Turkish Policy Center in Washington D.C; Uyghur scholar, writer and educator Eset Sulaiman Kutlan, now Senior Editor at the RFA Uyghur Service; Anne Basham, CEO of Ascend Consulting, a human rights advocacy firm based in Washington, D.C.; Faruk Şen, chairman of the Turkey-European Education and Scientific Research Foundation; lecturer in International Relations at Marmara University, Istanbul Alaeddin Yalçinkaya; and Bahadırhan Dinçaslan, the chief columnist for the news outlet “TamgaTürk” and former board member of Turkey’s İYİ Party.
After Sohail and Hidayat took the floor too, in my capacity as Director-in-Charge of “Bitter Winter” magazine I delivered a lecture entitled “Media and Uyghurs: Friends of Foes?” Radio Free Asia Uyghur Service covered the event.
Forty young Uyghurs actively participated for two full days, asking frequent questions to speakers and even trying their own hands with a social exercise in creating an ideal advocacy campaign, divided into teams which competed for victory. Closing remarks were offered by Abdulhakim A. Idris, executive director of the Center for Uyghur Studies, a non-profit facility founded in 2020 and located in Washington, D.C.
Yes, there is only one way to save the future of a nation and it is engaging with its youth, empowering the rising generation, and giving it hope. The successful pilot program of CfU in Istanbul paved the way. “Bitter Winter” is pleased of having been there.