On March 3, 2020, Bitter Winter published an interview introducing a new book on the transformation through education camps, Gloom: Sunset on East Turkestan. Here is the book, translated for us by the author.
by Turarbek Kusainov
Index: When did the repression in Xinjiang begin? – Ant in a concentration camp – There is “plenty of coal” in Xinjiang – “…tears well up in my eyes” – “Sayragul’s Story”- Lost Hopes – Fight in the home country – Consequences of Genocide in Xinjiang – Photo gallery
The scales of extreme levels of severe persecution and repression that is an integral part of the genocide against Turkic-speaking nations and other ethnic groups practicing Islam in Xinjiang region of the People’s Republic of China (i.e. East Turkestan) must be considered from the perspective of the existing situation in Kazakhstan. Several aspects should be noted here. Currently Kazakhstan has many living witnesses of Chinese repression, of existence of prisons and concentration camps, so-called “centers of political re-education.” Until recently those people were kept in prison, and relatives of thousands of them still remain in captivity. However, they managed to voice their pain and despair to the world community. In this situation the position of the Kazakh authorities, who consider the gross violation of human rights in East Turkestan to be China’s internal affairs, and ignoring the distressful situation of the Kazakh diaspora on the other side of the border, not to mention other ethnic groups, exposed the issue to the full.
Among the people who went through the hell of Chinese concentration camps are several citizens of Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, the Kazakh government has not sent a single note of protest, nor has it put forward a single strict demand against China for blatant lawlessness on the part of its communist power, which separates Kazakh families who have Kazakh citizenship or residence permit. By throwing them into concentration camps they created many “orphans” in Kazakhstan whose parents are actually alive and “widows” who have spouses. The authorities of Kazakhstan put large-scale trade with China, obtaining loans and implementation of investment projects above the observance of human rights. As a result of such government policy the public organizations aimed at protecting the rights of returnees (“oralmans” in Kazak) and assisting them, instead are avoiding the problems of Kazakhs in China (Chinese Kazakhs). Also, the Kazakhstan media sources almost completely ignore the appeals of Chinese oralmans and Kazakhs of East Turkestan. The Kazakh national patriots, who at a critical moment screamed at the top of their lungs, “every Kazakh is their brother,” and “the love of the brothers is stronger than the rock,” went into deep silence when the grips of genocide, that obliterate the national identity of the Turkic people of East Turkestan, tightened even more strongly. And mullahs (priests) of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan, persistently preaching “Muslim brotherhood” refused to hold a memorial service for the souls of the missing Muslims who were tortured and died in Chinese prisons, whose bodies were not even released to their relatives and they were not buried with proper rituals. They explain this by “unwillingness to mix religion with politics.”
Kazakhstan’s “neutral” position towards repressions in East Turkestan demonstrates that China’s sordid policy overpowers Kazakhstan’s commitments to observance of human rights. A new concept of “pro-Chinese,” a “soft power of China“ has emerged in Kazakh society. These groups that pursue certain political interests are present both in the government and among the indigenous people of Kazakhstan, and even among Chinese oralmans. This indicates that Chinese communist power systematically and intensively continues to pursue a policy of expansionism.
In these circumstances the tactics of unmasking and countering China’s horrendous oppression of East Turkestan’s national minorities in front of the world community gained a new character. As it is known, in the last century the Turkic people of western China were inspired by the idea of independence of East Turkestan. This is evidenced by the formation of the East Turkestan Islamic Republic with the support of the White Russian Movement (1933), the East Turkestan Republic with the center in Kuldja (Xinjiang, China) that was in the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union (1940-1945) and the uprising of Altai Kazakhs under the leadership of Ospan Batyr (1940-1949). When the rule in China passed over to the Communists, the threat to the Soviet Union from the southeast came to naught. Thus, the Soviet Union stopped supporting the East Turkestan Republic, as well as Ospan Batyr who had a status of the sole ruler of the Altai Territory. Stalin and Mao Zedong concluded the treaty of friendship, alliance and mutual assistance.
China’s communist power brutally suppressed an uprising organized by Ospan Batyr. The Kazakhs of Altai and Tarbagatai regions were forced to retreat. Fighting with the punitive forces that pursued them, they advanced to the south and not to the territory of the Soviet Union that lay westward. They crossed the Himalayas and then, through India and Pakistan, headed for Turkey where they found refuge. The extended voyage, coupled with thirst, hunger and cold, took the lives of thousands of people. After these events the Kazakhs in China never disputed the vast territory that they inhabited and did not claim to establish an independent republic or as a member state of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Since then, they started to consider Kazakhstan as their homeland that was at the time the part of the Soviet Union.
There is another circumstance that turned out to be unfavorable for the Chinese Kazakhs. Geographically and ethnically, the East Turkestan can be divided into two parts. The main population in the region are Uyghurs and Kazakhs. The Uyghurs are concentrated in the south, and the Kazakhs inhabit the northern part. Between them there are mountain ranges. With the establishment of communist power in China, the territory inhabited by the Kazakhs became known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region with its centre in the city of Urumqi (in this case this area is an administrative unit equated to an autonomous republic). The Uyghurs, who for ages had longed for independence, were surely happy with the presence of the word “Uyghur” in the name of the administrative unit. Since Uyghurs represented the majority of the populous, the local government officials were mostly often the representatives of Uyghur ethnos.
In the middle of the last century the mass relocation of Hanzu (Chinese) people began in the region, which together with the all-Chinese “cultural revolution,” has significantly changed the ratio of the indigenous people of East Turkestan in favour of the Chinese. Today, the number of Chinese in the region is equal to the number of Uyghurs. According to unofficial data, about 22 million Uyghurs and 3 million Kazakhs live in Xinjiang. This predominance is one of the factors contributing to the persistence of the Xinjiang Uyghurs in their aspiration for independence.
By the end of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, which had united 15 national republics under the Communist Party, collapsed. It seems that this event had a double-natured impact on Xinjiang Kazakhs and Uyghurs: the belief that independent Kazakhstan is their historical homeland has strengthened in the minds of the Kazakhs. The invitation from the Republic of Kazakhstan to the Kazakh foreign diaspora to return to their historical homeland, as well as the adoption of the law on migration, gave additional impetus. As a result, the first flow of Chinese Kazakhs went to Kazakhstan.
As for the Uyghurs who didn’t have their own state, the hope was that China would also be affected by the collapse of the Soviet Union, resulting in East Turkestan gaining independence.
Let’s consider another factor that pushes Uyghurs to fight for independence. At the end of the last century, two communist empires with a collapsed state-planned economy – the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China – introduced into the national economy the elements of the market economy. As a result, private property appeared and it became possible to engage in collective or private entrepreneurship and trade with foreign countries. All this had a very favorable impact on the Uyghurs, who long ago had chosen a settled lifestyle. The Xinjiang region has become a trade route, linking domestic China with the countries located in the west. In turn, this gave impetus to the development of industry in the major cities of Xinjiang, strengthened trade relations with neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Russia. The active participation of Uyghurs in economic processes and, accordingly, the growth of well-being and the improvement of the quality of life is an objective reality.
It is natural for a man who achieves some economic independence to begin to seek political independence. This process also affected the Uyghurs of East Turkestan. For a whole century they were harassed and humiliated by China’s central government and began to work towards making the East Turkestan a truly independent republic. The Uyghurs have raised the issue of violating the rights of China’s national minorities, particularly in Xinjiang as a purely political issue, as a struggle to restore the ancient Uyghur Kaganate. This process is similar to Northern Ireland’s desire to withdraw from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or Catalonia’s intention to break away from Spain. The central authority of any country regards such phenomenon as separatism, a threat to its territorial integrity and independence. Therefore, a positive outcome is very doubtful.
When the issue on the agenda becomes purely political, then the issue of violation of human rights by discrimination on the basis of nationality, religion, etc., remains in the background. Thus, the World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer and more than thirty Uyghur organizations abroad demands that Xinjiang Uyghur autonomy be recognized as an independent state. During the protests and rallies we don’t see in the hands of Uyghur leaders any striking photographs of specific people – victims of discrimination and monstrous repression of China towards national minorities or banners telling about their fate, but a blue flag with an image of a crescent. Thus, the issue of human rights violations in Xinjiang was left without coverage.
With the beginning of mass repression against the indigenous population of East Turkestan, Kazakhstan established the Kazakh Human Rights NGO called “Atajurt Eriktilery” (Volunteers of Homeland), that raised this issue in the legal field, in the context of human rights. Serikzhan Bilash, the leader of “Atajurt,” stated that the fascist policy of communist China posed a threat to all mankind and called on all the victims, regardless of race, nationality and religion, to appeal to international organizations. He stated that the organization would also support Chinese nationals who had been victims of political repression by the communist authorities of the People’s Republic of China. Soon, Uyghurs, Kyrgyz, Tatars and Uzbek people along with Kazakhs reached out to the volunteers of “Atajurt.” Among them were the oralmans who resided in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia and whose relatives were kept as prisoners in Chinese concentration camps.
Turkic-speaking Muslim people, because of their natural temperance, are not inclined to talk about the violence that they suffered, especially sexual violence. In addition, the Chinese authorities have established total control, terrorizing and intimidating even those traveling abroad: every Kazak receives strict indoctrination. “Atajurt” and Serikzhan Bilash made an appeal to the people to voice the stories of victims suffering under Chinese repression, to make public statements because those are the only ways to achieve positive results. Tens of thousands of people contacted the organization. Almost all those who made public statements were Kazakhs. The events narrated in audio/videos and written statements by the former concentration camp prisoners and those who were under the house arrest made it possible to determine the scale and nature of the political repression associated with the genocide in China.
When did the repression in Xinjiang begin?
China’s pressure on the indigenous people of East Turkestan is continuing since its conquest of the region. By the end of the last century Uyghur, Kazakh schools, as well as educational institutions for children of other “non-Chinese” nationalities, had been closed. That was the shock phase of Xinjiang’s sinicization process. In 1997, after Uyghurs protests in Kulja, repressions became even more horrendous. The Chinese authorities mercilessly suppressed the protests and announced that they had been evoked by the “East Turkestan Liberation Front” which pursued extremist terrorist goals. However, there is no evidence of the existence of such an organization. In any case, the Chinese authorities view the Uyghur protests as an opportunity to untie their hands in the light of the concept of a “global fight against terrorism.” Official Beijing stated that behind the clashes between Uyghurs and Hanzu in Urumqi in July 2009 also stands “East Turkestan Liberation Front” that operates underground on the territory of the country. Thousands of Uyghurs were sentenced to long prison terms on the charges of affiliations with the organization and dozens were sentenced to death.
China’s authorities, along with brutal punitive measures, have intensified information attacks, linking the so-called “East Turkestan Liberation Front” to “Al Qaeda” terrorist organization, known worldwide for its ferocity. There have even been attempts to present all Xinjiang Uyghurs as a nation that will never abandon extremist ideas and will always be prone to terrorism.
It is also important to answer the following question: “What were the relationships between two main nationalities in the region – Kazakhs and Uyghurs?” Periodic unrests of the Uyghurs did not find support from the Chinese Kazakhs. One of the reasons was mentioned above. Therefore, most of the Kazakhs, as well as other ethnic minorities in the region, viewed brutal punitive measures of the Chinese authorities against Uyghurs as “retaliation” for the riots. Residents were inclined to think that “Uyghurs do not want a peaceful life in Xinjiang, that they will always be unhappy.” Such views were consistent with the concept of “combating separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” promoted by the Chinese authorities. So another wedge was driven between Uyghurs and other East Turkestan nationalities, and the “divide-and-rule” tactic stroke up with renewed force.
There is another cause of discord between the indigenous people of East Turkestan. Uyghurs have always had numerical superiority and held positions in local government. Even today China’s central authorities appoint an ethnic Uyghur as the first leader of Xinjiang Uyghur autonomy.
The presence of certain contradictions between the government and people is natural. This factor also contributed to increased internal protest against Uyghurs among other national minorities in the region. The central government of China considered this situation as the basis for weakening the potential of Uyghurs, introducing into the society an ideology justifying mass repression.
Between 2000-2014, only Uyghurs were searched at the border or at police stations in the region. According to Tursynai Ziyaud, an ethnic Uyghur woman, born and raised in Xinjiang, who married an ethnic Kazakh and later moved to Kazakhstan, “by physical signs Uyghurs differ from the representatives of other nationalities of the region. During an inspection at any checkpoint the police remove Uyghurs from the buses. The rest of the passengers sit on the bus waiting for them to return, often accusing Uyghurs of losing time because of them. “Uyghurs are also subjected to strict checks at the entrances to city markets and large shops. In order to undergo inspection they must line up in front of special gates and wait for their turn, while Chinese, foreigners and representatives of other nations pass freely through other doors,” – recalls Tursynai Ziyaud.
As a result of protests in Xinjiang, not only Uyghurs were persecuted, but also representatives of other “non-Chinese” nationalities, who directly conducted business or traded with Uyghurs and were captured on a video camera during several protests in the region, as well as friends and buddies of arrested Uyghurs. For example, Kaster Mussahanuly, who fled China last year, has been trading cattle and meat since 2009. The authorities found out that he was in Urumqi during Uyghur protests. A few months later he was arrested on charges of participation in protests and was tortured. The authorities did not find any convincing evidence of guilt, but they had no intention to release him, so Kaster Mussahanuly, being unable to stand any longer the tortures, agreed to plead guilty to “cattle theft” and was sentenced to four years of imprisonment.
The spouses Rahimjan Zeinolla and Farida Kabylbek, who have lived in Kazakhstan since 2000 with two children, decided to travel to China in 2004. By this time the decree of the President of Kazakhstan on granting them Kazakhstan citizenship was issued, but the couple has not yet received Kazakh citizenship. Upon crossing the border, Rahimjan Zeinolla was arrested by the Chinese police on suspicion of “human trafficking.” Eventually, he was accused of espionage and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. According to Farida Kabylbek, her husband was never a public servant neither in China nor in Kazakhstan, he was engaged in small trade only.
When Rahimjan Zeinolla served 13 years of his sentence, the Chinese authorities held him in a “political training” camp for another year and a half. The 58-year-old man is now under the house arrest and the Chinese authorities have no intention to return him to Kazakhstan. This story shows that the wave of repression of the 2000s that swept Xinjiang was directed not only against Uyghurs. Representatives of other nationalities of the region, including Kazakhs, fell under the flywheel of the political campaign.
As is well known, the Chinese authorities linked Uyghur protests to religious extremism and terrorism. As a result, mullahs in mosques were severely affected in the first place; most of those sentenced to long terms of imprisonment are clergymen. Of course, Kazakh priests also have not escaped Draconic repressions. There is only one reason for the late disclosure of information about them and it lies in the fact that those accused of religious extremism and separatism are immediately sent to closed prisons with maximum security. It is very difficult to get any information from there, all verdicts are classified. Secondly, almost all Xinjiang Kazakhs probably did not question the official Beijing’s claims of “counter-terrorism,” unduly believing that “there is no smoke without fire.” Thirdly, until mid-2013, Kazakhs on both sides of the border communicated freely with each other, participated in trade relations between the two countries, relatives visited each other in China or Kazakhstan, and everyone thought that this would always be like this.
Serikzhan Bilash reasonably assumed that Kazakhs in the Xinjiang region would be subjected to mass repression. Starting in 2010, using the Chinese messenger WeChat and placing posts under the user name “Zharkyn 7” he warned Chinese Kazakhs of the impending threat and called to speed up the relocation process to Kazakhstan and obtaining citizenship. According to him, already at that time the intention of the authorities to fully Sinicise the Xinjiang region and destroy the national uniqueness of the Turkic people in China was quite obvious.
In 2013 the situation in Xinjiang has changed dramatically. In some areas, especially in the southern part of the region, inhabited by Uyghurs, and in the suburbs of Kulja, the mass confiscation of passports from Turkic-speaking people started. The local authority imposed a partial restriction on the usage of Islamic attributes and the usage of household items that have unique national traditional elements of decoration. There is evidence that since 2014 some Kazakhs have been summoned to police stations or public order institutions where “political clarification” and “re-education” have been conducted. The local population took these measures as another temporary campaign like the “cultural revolution” carried out by the Communist Party of China in the second half of the 20th century. Therefore, Xinjiang Kazakhs, immersed in day-to-day hassles, did not spare a minute to look around and assess the situation. They felt bad about abandoning their homes, farmlands and pastures that they rented for fifty years, small businesses, pensions that they received and they stayed in their habitable homes. As for Kazakhs who moved to Kazakhstan, many of them still hesitated and did not hurry to obtain citizenship, and others, after receiving a residence permit, engaged themselves in trade making trips back and forth. They believed that they were the part of China’s “One Belt-One Road” economic initiative, designed to promote the development of the European market. They believed that a link in Kazakh-Chinese trade relations would remain forever and they did not fear the Chinese authorities.
It cannot be stated that the Chinese authorities gave Xinjiang Kazakhs sufficient time to relocate to Kazakhstan and only after that they began the process of sinicization. Among the victims of political repression that was launched by China in East Turkestan are Turkic-speaking residents of Xinjiang – the citizens of the People’s Republic of China, the citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Kazakh oralmans who are in the middle of the process of obtaining citizenship. China’s authorities show obvious disrespect for Kazakhstan’s state independence, leave alone the failure to comply with its obligations to the United Nations to respect human rights. It is easy to see that the scale and consequences of the genocide in Xinjiang, associated with repression, are enormous and severe.
Ant in a concentration camp
By the end of 2016 Xinjiang had been hit by a wave of mass repression, and general education schools, colleges and other cultural and social facilities in major cities in the region had been turned into concentration camps. This time people were not divided into Uyghurs, Kazakhs, etc., arrests affected everyone. The Chinese authorities again explained this as “a continuation of the fight against terrorism and extremism.” Concentration camps surrounded by iron fences and no different from prisons are referred to as “political re-education centres” and “vocational training centres.”
The analysis of the evidences of former prisoners shows that “political re-education centers” and “vocational training centers” are identical. No trades are taught there, instead, they conduct brainwashing; violently erase the national uniqueness of “re-educated.”
Prisoners are forced to learn Chinese, and only Chinese can be spoken in the camp. Camp inmates who speak Uyghur or Kazakh by negligence are subjected to physical punishment: they are tortured in “black rooms” in basements, equipped with special tools for torture. Then not only the “offender” but also all his “classmates” (prison cells in concentration camps are called “classrooms”) are left without food, etc. In some camps the Chinese are taught by the teachers, ethnic Kazakhs or Uyghurs, and in some “centers” the prisoners study the language themselves without assistance.
Once or twice a day prisoners watch on TV the performances of leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, special programs about “intensive development of China,” perform in a choir the Chinese anthem and sing “red songs.” At other times the prisoners write essays in Chinese where they should praise the Communist Party “leading them to a bright future…” “Political error” in essays is punished by administrative action.
One of the inmates of the camp acts as “supervising teacher.” Everything that happens in “classrooms” is controlled by the camp administration via special video cameras, and it gives instructions to the “supervising teacher” to draw up a list of discipline violators and other orders through a microphone.
People locked up in “political re-education” and “vocational training” camps are not charged with criminal charges and there is no court verdict. Their “guilt” is established by the local administration officials, communist activists (Xinjiang Kazakhs call them “cadres”) or public order guards, who send them to concentration camps. Therefore, the prisoners themselves are obliged to invent new “crimes” that they committed. For this purpose, they write letters listing the “types of crimes” they have committed, such as: “I always had bad intentions,” “I came under the influence of nationalists or religious instigators,” “I damaged the friendship of peoples in China,” “spoke badly about the communist leader,” “had a bad opinion about him,” “I listened to the songs of Kazakh performers,” “read books of Kazakh writers,” etc., and then the writer should “admit what he did and repent of it” and end the letter with the phrase: “I am limitlessly grateful to the Communist Party that corrected my poisoned consciousness, enlightened, educated in the creative spirit of the Great Country Zhongguo and guided on the right path.” The camp inmates make every effort to ensure that the “confession letter about crime” sounds convincing for the prison administration. If the prisoner does not succeed in this and his letters are “inconclusive” then punishment cannot be avoided.
On November 24, 2019, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published China’s central government secret instruction on the procedure for holding prisoners in Xinjiang concentration camps. The document with the conditional name “Telegram,” prepared in 2017, sets out ways to identify persons for detention in camps, as well as the procedure for managing camps of “political re-education.” The methods of supervision of prisoners, concealment of their presence in camps, carrying out ideological brainwashing and even day routines of camp inmates have been described in detail. In the document the prisoners are called “students.” The instruction was signed by Zhu Hailun, the Head of the Xinjiang Security Service, the Deputy Head of the Communist Party in Xinjiang.
The following are excerpts from the document with instructions for the concentration camp management:
– No one should escape the camp. Therefore, it is necessary to carry out 24-hour video surveillance of each of their steps. It is necessary to keep them supervised in places for sleep, classrooms, even at lunch during meals;
– Teach Chinese. This is the main goal;
– The camp should be under strict control. In each building, at each entrance, on each floor it is necessary to install several doors, all of them should be locked. The territory of each building should be fenced with a high wall, strict security guards should be planted at the entrance gates;
– Initially the imprisonment term of “students” will be uncertain. However, they must be imprisoned for at least one year;
– Introduce the point system in the camps. “Students” should be given the number of points according to the results of their ideological education, study, discipline;
– Persons who have received full ideological education cannot be released immediately. They should be transferred to other camps and given labour training for several months;
– Prisoners can communicate with their family members once a week by telephone, once a month by video call. This will be the only way for them to communicate with the outside world. In case of violation of discipline communication with relatives should be prohibited;
– “Students” are released from camps only in case of illness or other emergencies. Once they leave the centre, they must be subject to strict staff supervision;
– Each “student” should have a fixed place for sleep, a desk in the classroom, a working table, and a queue for food. Changes are categorically inadmissible. Time should be set for sleeping, getting up, washing and visiting the toilet.
Experts of Western human rights organizations analyzed the secret document and confirmed that “Telegram” is 100 percent written in the style of secret documents, and the policy of erasing national uniqueness and destroying religious customs of the Turkic-speaking population of Xinjiang is carried out at the state level.
Let’s refer to the testimonies of former prisoners of Xinjiang concentration camps.
54-year old Goulbakhar Jalilova is the citizen and native of Kazakhstan. She is Uyghur by nationality and was detained in Xinjiang when she arrived there for commercial affairs and was imprisoned in a concentration camp for 15 distressful months. The prison administration was unhappy with her “behavior” and it considered her “confession to a crime” to be inconclusive. Therefore, for all 15 months she walked in shackles weighing 5 kg. One day, as punishment for refusing to sign the document prepared by the administration, she was sent to a “darkroom” located in the basement of the building. She was put on a so-called ”zholbarys” – a “tiger” chair (a metal torture tool in the form of a chair with a small tabletop) and chained to it, completely immobilizing the body (head, hands, legs, body). She was tormented for 24 hours. She recalls how a 27-year-old policeman who tortured her pulled his penis out of his trousers and approached her body, clamped with “tiger claws.” “I begged him by saying: Don’t you have a mother, a sister like me? How can you raise your hand against me?!,” and he said: “Look at yourself, you don’t look like a person. Look at your mug, you look like a beast. Such person as you cannot be my mother or sister” and he got even more furious,” – says Goulbakhar.
According to Goulbakhar Jalilova, prisoners receive food through a hole at the bottom of the iron door. Food distributors, standing in the hallway, put a bowl on the floor in front of the door and put food into it, and prison inmates put their hands through the opening and take the bowl inside. Their food mainly consists of flour soup and tasteless steam bread.
At night prisoners sleep in a very cramped room, so they have to lie sideways, pressing against each other. Up to 30 people are locked into a room 7 meters long and 3 meters wide. At the foot side there should remain a track about half a meter wide for the guards out of prisoners who would “guard the sleep” of their “classmates.” The guards change every two hours. If there are not enough sleeping places, then the number of “classmate” guards will be 4-5 instead of 2.
Clothes are allowed to be washed twice a month. One piece of soap the camp inmates divide by comb into four or five pieces. Because of the inability to wash normally, scabies and other purulent skin diseases are widespread.
In the corner of the room behind the partition made from the transparent plastic wall there is a toilet: the person obeying the call of nature should be in the access area of the video surveillance camera. There is a constant water shortage, so it has to be saved. Prisoners don’t wash their hands and faces. The room is impregnated with the smell of excrements.
Some witnesses – former prisoners of Chinese concentration camps say that “classrooms” completely lack any plumbing. 12-15 liter bucket with a lid is placed in the corner of the room. Prisoners are forced to use it as a toilet. The bucket is emptied once or twice a day and because there are 15 to 20 “students” in the “class” it fills up very quickly. The bucket is then closed with a lid and prisoners can no longer go to the toilet. Due to bowel and urinary system retention, all of the prisoners suffer from intoxication. Their bodies become yellow and emit an unpleasant odor.
For days prisoners are forced to sit still on plastic chairs about 30 cm high, no one is allowed to make a single movement. Those who blink, or put their eyes down for a moment, are punished by the prison administration, accusing them of “secretive reading of prayer.”
Goulzira Auelhankyzy, recalling 15 hell months of incarceration, says there are several types of camps in China. She was detained while visiting relatives in China and she spent the first day after her arrest in a hostel supervised by security. On the next day, the guards questioned her: “Do you read namaz (prayer)?,” “Where else did you go except Kazakhstan?,” “Do you have relatives that are kept in prison?,” after that she was sent to a camp.
In that camp the toilet and dining room are not located in the “classroom,” but in a separate building. To the dining room and to the toilet the prisoners march together. “For meals they give 5 minutes, to go to the toilet just 2 minutes. Those who did not manage to do it on time and delayed a little are hit by an electric shocker in the head” says Goulzira.
According to Goulbakhar Jalilova, once a week women in camps are given two pills of some drugs, every 10 days they receive injections. “It is forbidden to ask what those pills are for. The guard forces them to take the pills. Afterwards women completely stop menstruating,”- she says. The forced use of drugs was confirmed by all women detained in camps. Some sources indicate that the camp administration gives “medications against infectious diseases.”
Goulzira Auelhankyzy believes that women are given medications in order to reduce fertility. This is also proved by the article published in October 2019 in the American “Washington Post” newspaper about ethnic Kazakh women who moved from Xinjiang to Kazakhstan, which claims that sexual violence is practised in Xinjiang camps on the basis of reports by several women. During the night the prison guards take away divorced women or unmarried girls and gang-rape them.
When Goulzira Auelhankyzy got into the camp the guards asked her: “Do you have a marriage certificate?” She replied that she had a certificate and added that her husband and daughter were waiting for her in Kazakhstan. “When I said that they didn’t bother me,”- she says.
The facts of sexual violence against women in Xinjiang concentration camps are most often kept silent. Most women in detention find it embarrassing to talk about suffered sexual violence. Some of them are very much intimidated by the local administration with their threats to arrest relatives in case they make public what happened to them in “political re-education” centres and they recall with horror those “parting words”: “China has long hands wherever you are, you will face cruel punishment.”
Sayragul Sauytbai, an ethnic Kazakh woman, who fled China for Kazakhstan to reunite with her family, but was later granted asylum in Sweden, in her interview to “Haaretz,” the Israeli online publication, told how Xinjiang police gang-raped a girl in front of the crowd. At that time Sayragul Sauytbai was forced by the Chinese authorities to teach Chinese to the camp inmates. She says that one day all the prisoners were lined up on the square. Then the girl was brought to the middle. She was undressed and several police officers took turns raping her. The prisoners had to stand and watch this atrocity. “When the girl was raped, the guards watched the expression of our faces. Those who turned away and did not look at such shameless, monstrous act, or failed to hide their indignation, the guards booted them out. We never saw them again. After this case I could not sleep at night” recalls Sairagul.
Orynbek Koksebek who moved to Kazakhstan in 2004 and was granted citizenship in 2005, decided to go to Shaueshek city at Xinjiang in late 2017 to visit his relatives where he was arrested. Police officers in the city of Shaueshek, taking advantage of his ignorance of Chinese, forced him to sign a statement about restoring his previous registration in China. Then tortures started to force him to give up his Kazakh citizenship. He was kept in standing position for several days. After seven days of beating with sticks, he was thrown into a deep well and started to pour ice water on him. Orynbek lost consciousness. “When I regained consciousness, I realized that I was lying among the guys who surrounded me. They sympathetically said to me: “Man, you will die if you continue to be stubborn. You’d better confess to the crime” he tells.
In the camp the hardest thing for Orynbek was learning Chinese. As a child, he had received 2 classes of education in Kazakh and was trained to write using Arabic scripts. Then he dropped out of school and lived on a cattle farm. Besides, he left China for Kazakhstan in 2004 and did not know Chinese at all. Therefore, in the camp he was always considered guilty for his inability to sing along with others the Chinese anthem and a Chinese song performed by Dimash Kudaibergen. The constant pressing brought him to extreme despair and he repeatedly tried to take his own life that forced the Chinese authorities to release him. According to Orynbek Koksebek, he was released from a Chinese detention facility due to the citizenship of Kazakhstan, and, of course, due to the influence of international human rights organizations.
Another Kazakh released due to suicide attempts in a Chinese concentration camp is Kairat Samarkan. He got into the camp on November 20, 2017 and stayed there for three months. According to him, in 2009 he moved to Kazakhstan, applied for citizenship and went back to China to sell his house, but he was placed into the center of “political re-education” at Bouryltogay district in Xinjiang. Kairat Samarkan was unable to bear the anguish he suffered in the camp and tried to kill himself by crashing his head into the wall. “When I resumed consciousness, I realized that I was in the hospital. The police officer was standing nearby. I lied to everyone that I was married and that my wife and child are waiting for me in Kazakhstan. After that I was allowed to go to Kazakhstan for a month. Having arrived here, first of all I received citizenship of Kazakhstan,” – recalls Kairat Samarkan.
Toursynbek Kabiuly, who suffered badly in a Chinese concentration camp, during investigation sat for seven days and seven nights bent on his knees in an iron cage that could hardly hold one person. “As soon as I drop off, the guards would wake me up, hitting me with sticks and not allowing me to fall asleep. They gave neither liquid food nor water, only threw steamed stale bread. They took me to the toilet twice a day. Once, when I was returning from the toilet, I asked permission to wash my hands and quickly drank water. But it was not to be, my head was hit by a powerful blow. The eardrum burst, I lost consciousness. I vaguely remember that four police officers attacked me and started hitting my head against the wall… I woke up in a tight iron cage, sitting with my head between my knees. At two o’clock in the morning the interrogation started again…”- says Toursynbek Kabiuly.
Witnesses said that “political re-education” and “vocational training” centers in Xinjiang were half funded by prison inmates. In return once a month they are allowed to make a phone call or see relatives who live in Xinjiang. All contacts take place under the strict supervision of police officers, people have to be careful and weigh every word when they have a conversation. The necessary hygiene items and money for prisoners are accepted by the prison administration. According to some reports, funds for camps are collected by local administrations and primary party organizations in the form of a special tax levied on local residents – the relatives of prisoners.
Kairat Samarkan, a former camp inmate in Bouryltogay district, reported that prisoners pay 20 yuan each day for their food. “The food consists of two pieces of bread and rice water. And nothing better than that,”- he says.
According to former camp inmates, almost all prisoners are Muslims of the Xinjiang region aged between 16 and 85. In some institutions you can sometimes meet Chinese and Mongols.
Tursynai Ziaud talks about two Chinese women who were with her in the same camp in the city of Zhanakala of Kunes district. One of them was punished for being unhappy with the small amount of compensation for her house demolished for the needs of the state and went to Beijing to complain about local authorities. She was pursued all the way to Beijing, where she was captured. The second woman’s fault was that she tried to appeal against the actions of the authorities who took the land from her. Most of the prisoners in the camp are Uyghurs. “With envy, they tell the imprisoned Kazakhs that “sooner or later you will leave the detention. You are needed by someone, you have a homeland Kazakhstan,”- recalls Tursynai Ziaud. She explains her safe liberation from the concentration camp by the fact that she is married to the Kazakh, and he has not lowered his hands to the very end, seeking justice.
In the spring of 2018 Kairat Samarkan reported that “5,700 people are held in the camp of Bouryltogay district, of whom more than 3,000 are Kazakhs, 2,000 – Uyghurs, 200 – Dungans and all of them were captured because of the Muslim religion.”
Prisoners in camps are divided into three categories: “highly dangerous,” “medium degree of danger” and “non-dangerous.” Accordingly, each category has its own prison-garb. To suppress the will of prisoners, when transferred elsewhere, everyone is shackled, sometimes black bags are put on their heads.
Since there are no court rulings with respect to prisoners in “political re-education” and “vocational training” camps, it is impossible to define criteria for classifying their “danger.” In camp inmates’ understanding, those “highly dangerous” are persons that have relations to Islam: mullahs, clergymen, persons who studied Arabic, secretly performing namaz (prayers), those in whose smartphones the materials with religious instructions and Islamic attributes were found, etc. The group of camp inmates with “medium degree of danger” includes persons who went abroad, had frequent contacts with relatives in Kazakhstan, installed messenger WhatsApp in their phones. The third group includes those accused of disturbing public order, unauthorized wearing of national clothing, observance of national traditions, burial rites and participation in the rituals, failure to show up at the local “ceremony of raising the flag of the People’s Republic of China” without a good reason, verbal confrontations with the Chinese, storing and reading the literature in their native language, etc.
The transition from “non-dangerous” category to “medium degree of danger” or “highly dangerous” one is based on the results of “confession to a crime” as part of an internal investigation. Everything depends on the endurance and cautiousness of the prisoner. The transition of “highly dangerous” persons from “political re-education” camps to maximum security prisons is a matter of time; sooner or later they are tortured to the point when they “confess to a crime” and then are sentenced to punishment by a court decision. In such a case, they never provide the convicted person’s relatives with a copy of the sentence.
Prisoners do not know when they will be released, and it is unbearably painful. No one knows when “political re-education” ends. This puts people under severe psychological pressure. Therefore, some prisoners simply go crazy and their condition strikes even more terror into the rest of the camp inmates.
Tursynai Ziaud, who was in the “non-dangerous” category tells how sometimes they were taken to a site in the camp yard, surrounded by an iron fence. Prisoners were forced to stand in line, then sit on the little chairs that they brought with them and sit still for hours without making a single movement, looking right in front of them. “Most of the time I got a place near the iron fence. I used to sit and without turning my head out of the corner of my eye I looked at the ants that freely shuttled back and forth through the iron fence and I envied their lives… Oh, my God, why didn’t you create me as ant… There wasn’t a single drop of tear in my eyes, but inside I was sobbing my heart out,”- she says.
The eldest son and daughter of 63-year-old Nurlan Kokteubai, the resident of Chunja village in Almaty region, studied in Kazakhstan and received citizenship. However, Nurlan and his wife decided to acquire RoK citizenship after their retirement in China. They had Kazakh residency permits and often traveled to China. According to Nurlan Kokteubai, in September 2017, the couple went to Xinjiang and there he was instantly arrested. He spent 7 months with 14,000 other prisoners in a concentration camp located in the former #3 secondary school in the Shapshal district of the Ili-Kazakh Autonomous District. For another 10 months he was kept under the house arrest in the family of his elder brother. He was constantly interrogated and forced to confess that he had “ties with terrorists” so that he could be classified as ”highly dangerous.” The ideological propaganda of the Chinese authorities states that “Kazakhstan is one of 26 countries that pose a danger to China, fighting religious extremism and terrorism.” It is believed that particularly the residents of Chunja and Zharkent of the Almaty region contribute to riots in Xinqian. Nurlan Kokteubai and his entire family moved to Chunja village and became its residents and that was his main guilt. “I don’t even know what cities are there further than Almaty, and they absolutely tortured me with questions: “Were you in Syria?, “What Kazakhs do you know that left for Syria?”- says Nurlan.
As a result of severe pressure, Nurlan Kokteubai started to have problems with his heart. During 7 months he was put into prison hospital 3 times, each time spending 8-10 days in the hospital. His wife was called to feed and take care of him and she spent all that time near him.”When I stayed among sick people, I noticed that more than 130 people in our camp were in critical condition. About 20 of them were transported on stretchers. They won’t let you out of prison, even if you’re dying,”- he recalls.
There is “plenty of coal” in Xinjiang
Nurlan Kokteubai’s excitement about release from the concentration camp didn’t last long. He was put under the house arrest into his brother’s winter cabin located at a sparsely populated Shapshyl district. According to him, all families in this settlement are also divided into three categories – “highly dangerous,” “dangerous,” and “harmless.” The “non-dangerous” or “harmless” category includes Chinese families, local party functionaries and security guards. Since Nurlan Kokteubai was imprisoned into “political re-education” camp on suspicion of “ties with terrorists,” his brother’s family was automatically classified as “highly dangerous.”
According to the rules introduced by party functionaries (“cadres”), Nurlan Kokteubai was allowed to leave his brother’s house only in three cases: to participate in “flag-raising” ceremony, which is held once a week; to go to the administration building to study Chinese and participate twice a day with other “non-Chinese” residents in “political lessons”; and on weekly basis to visit police station to report about his actions. Once, a party cadre, Chinese by nationality, came to his brother’s house and stayed overnight. He talked about “how many good things the Chinese authorities do to the local population,” had other conversations on political and ideological topics and talked repeatedly about various prohibitions.
When Nurlan Kokteubai was in a concentration camp, police officers and “cadres” forced his spouse to travel to villages to conduct the following “repentance lectures”: “My husband’s intentions went wrong and he contacted terrorists and committed a crime, but now our caring party and government are correcting his poisoned consciousness and re-educating him. It’s my fault too that I allowed such a crime and couldn’t control my husband. So, please, learn from my mistakes.”
Such propaganda has become a new type of repentance and expression of the subjugation to authorities and the Communist Party, envisaged by Mao Zedong’s “Criticism and Self-Criticism” that was used everywhere in the middle of the last century during the era of “Cultural Revolution.” Nurlan Kokteubai says that after he left concentration camp, the local “cadres” four times forced him to make a speech during the “flag-raising” ceremony, using specially prepared reports as per specific procedures.
“Flag-raising” ceremony is performed on a daily basis in Xinjiang concentration camps. Residents of settlements are obliged to attend the ceremony once a week, early on Monday morning. People stand in lines in the center of the square and then a thematic “political education” starts which last for one hour. People listen to the stories about “good deeds of the Communist Party and the government,” “dreams of the Great Zhongguo,” “internal and external enemies of China” and other ideological propaganda. Then the crowd performs in chorus the anthem of China and the national flag rises up the flagpole. When the banner reaches the top, “the guilty ones” like Nurlan Kokteubai, who “served their sentence in prison” or their spouses speak with repentance in front of the crowd, showing how deeply their regret is, bow and thank the Communist Party “that guided them to the right path.”
Participation in the “flag-raising” ceremony for ethnic Chinese is not mandatory. The other residents should stand for one hour and a half with arms at sides, with no headgear, even if it’s snowing or raining. At remote pastoralist villages with only five or six families, video shooting of “flag-raising” is performed and this video is then sent to the responsible employee of the district party committee. The video should also show all the residents who attended the ceremony, as the absence of any of them is considered as a “violation of public order” and they may even be considered a “dangerous person prone to betrayal of the homeland.” This may serve as the basis for sending any Turkic-speaking resident to a “political re-education” camp.
“Zhongguo Dream” Program, actively promoted at the flag-raising ceremony, covers the political, economic and military-cultural direction and proclaims: “Until 2030 China will establish full domination over neighboring 8 states, will exert political and economic influence on almost all countries”; “In 2050 China’s armed forces will dominate all regions of the world”; “From 2050 the main world currency will be yuan, and dollar and euro will be canceled”; “The Chinese language will become an international, world language”; The “Zhongguo nation” must know by heart the “Zhongguo Dream” and never doubt it,” etc.
Tursynbek Kabiuly recalls: “Sometimes during the ceremony all of a sudden the wind comes and twists the flag around the pole. The “cadre” who controls the process starts to worry. He nervously stamps his feet and yells at the flag-raiser, saying: “Are you doing this on purpose?” And we stand and rejoice at heart, thinking: “God spills his anger at the Chinese Communist Party which oppresses Muslims” and this thought gives us warm feelings….”
According to Tursynbek Kabiuly, the village is crammed with video surveillance cameras. They are controlled by police stations. You don’t see idle people in the streets. Males in the villages in pairs or trios go on duty “to oversee the order in the streets.”
“They form units for street patrolling out of people like me, the former “political re-education” camp inmates, who are currently under house arrest. Each patroller has a baton about 1 meter long. If we see that acquaintances stopped to greet each other but then started to exchange even a couple of words, we should instantly throw ourselves at them, shouting in Chinese: “Dismissed!” and disperse them with the use of batons into different directions. If you don’t demonstrate the severity and don’t beat hard, the rural policeman, who closely monitors everything on surveillance camera, will notice that and immediately call you into the office for severe reprimand or give hell at the end of the duty, threatening to send you to “political re-education” camp.
On the next day the patrol units change over and now yesterday’s victims will be waving sticks in our faces. It’s a small village and everyone knows each other very well. Anyway, we have to make life a nightmare for each other and do it in turns… And you don’t know whether to cry or laugh,” says Tursynbek Kabiuly.
“Guards of street order” should inform the rural authorities about the current situation. One of their permanent duties also includes whistleblowing about “acts of extremist nature.”
“Once they received a report about an elderly Kazakh man who always stays at home, never leaves the house and perhaps secretly performs namaz (prayer). “We, four or five people, headed by a Communist cadre, went to this man’s house. We took vodka and pork fat with us. We poured vodka into the glasses and each one had a drink. In such situations no one dares to refuse. The man in question thanked the Communist Party in Chinese and began to praise Xi Jinping. Then we all drank vodka. After that we sang “red songs” and drank again… “Cadre” recorded it all on video”-, says Tursynbek Kabiuly.
Ordinary members of the Communist Party, who supervise about a dozen houses in the village, are called “commanders of ten.” According to Adalgazy Jakaiuly, who spent 10 months in a “political re-education” camp in Tola village of Xinjiang district, and then for another 8 months stayed under house arrest, the “commanders of ten” were responsible for the behavior of the residents. All events in the village are organized by the commanders. Since it was a Kazakh village, all “commanders of ten” and guards were selected from Kazakhs. Adalgazy Jakaiuly was kept under house arrest in his daughter-in-law’s home who was appointed as “the commander of ten.”
“Commanders of ten” have no power. They report and receive instructions from the head of the rural party committee who is an ethnic Chinese. “For example, the Chinese leader can go around Muslim cemetery and issue a reprimand that there are still crescents on some of the graves, and ayats and epitaphs carved in Arabic letters have not been wiped out on tombstones. “Commanders of ten” immediately seek out the relatives of the deceased and force them to destroy crescents, erase engravings on tombstones and cover up with black paint. Photos and videos of all these actions together with the report are submitted to the Chinese authorities,”- says Adalgazy Jakaiuly.
In 2019 his 56-year-old elder brother Tleugasy Jakaiuly, who lived 18 kilometers away from the village where Adalgazy was kept under house arrest, had died from an illness. His daughter-in-law who worked as “commander” approached the Chinese authorities to allow them to visit the family of the deceased. “We were given two hours. We found a car and went to say farewell to my brother… My daughter-in-law was very concerned that if she was late, she would also be sent to “political re-education” camp and we quickly returned on time.
The funeral was scheduled for the next day. We once again appealed to Chinese authority to give permission to participate at the funeral, but he said with an angry voice: “You already went yesterday, that’s enough, or do you want me to send you to get “political re-education?.”.. “I wasn’t even allowed to throw a last handful of soil into my brother’ grave. Later I learned that party cadres and guards banned funeral service and forced relatives to quickly bury the body…,”- cries Adalgazy Jakaiuly.
The cost of maintaining concentration camps is covered by the people of Xinjiang, i.e. the Turkic-speaking Muslim population. Due to poor nutrition and severe psychological pressure in the camp Adalgazy Jakaiuly lost his health. One side of his body went numb; he lost control of his arms and legs. The doctors examined him several times and prescribed medication. He spent most of his “political re-education” time at the camp infirmary. According to him medical services at the camp are on a paying basis. The cost of medical treatment amounted to 17,000 Yuan and it was paid by the relatives of Adalgazy Jakaiuly who were not in custody.
House arrest in Xinjiang is one way to rehabilitate former prisoners who were exhausted by hunger and deprived of health due to tortures. Relatives nurse the patients back to health, providing good nutrition and medical treatment.
Most of the detained Kazakhs are released thanks to their relatives in Kazakhstan who apply to international human rights organizations through “Atazhurt” volunteer organization. Adalgazy Jakaiuly, who was imprisoned while visiting his relatives in China, was also released as a result of his wife’s and son’s persistence, the latter lived in Kazakhstan and tirelessly appealed to human rights defenders.
However, the Chinese authorities are not in a hurry to send concentration camp prisoners back to Kazakhstan, especially those who are in extremely exhausted and sick condition, as in the case with Adalgazy Jakaiuly, who became lame and suffered from a constant tremor of his hand. Moreover, they need to do preventive brainwashing in the spirit of communist ideology, and make a strict dressing-down so that unfortunate persons won’t tell anyone about the abuse they experienced in the camps, otherwise their relatives in Xinjiang will have problems.
During eight months of house arrest in Xinjiang, Adalgazy Jakaiuly was allowed to speak by phone with his family in Kazakhstan on two occasions only. It was established that the conversation went under a strict supervision of the authorities. Party cadres and police firstly “instruct” what is allowed to say and what is not, and they wiretap the whole conversation through an additional unit. The conversation is also recorded. “During the second phone conversation with my son” the “cadres” demanded that I should convince him to take back the application that he filed with “Atajurt” human rights organization and removed video posted on YouTube. I told them that I couldn’t say this to my son and that he wouldn’t agree anyway. Then they forced me to promise not to tell anyone what I saw here. I obeyed. They returned the documents that were seized at the beginning, and so I, who planned to spend one week in China, returned to Kazakhstan after one year and a half,”- says Adalgazy Jakaiuly.
Nurlan Kokteubai, who returned to Kazakhstan with great difficulty in January 2019, escaped from Xinjiang by some miracle, which firstly, was a big prison for him in the form of a concentration camp and then the house arrest. This was made possible by the efforts of his daughter, KazNU student. She acquired Kazakhstan citizenship and didn’t lose hope to try to get her father out with the help of “Atazhurt” volunteers.
“One day the “cadres” brought me to the district center and forced me to call Kazakhstan using the telephone that was installed at the administrative office. It wasn’t my daughter at the end of the line, but it was my son. I was holding a phone, and “cadres” were hanging over me. According to their instructions I was repeatedly saying the memorized phrases: “I’m fine and your mother is good also. The Chinese government takes good care of Kazakhs,” “our house is very warm and the government provided us with a lot of coal. We have plenty of coal here. Please tell my daughter not to write applications to no purpose.” I deliberately repeated the word “coal” several times in a row. Coal is black, and black represents something bad, dark. I don’t know if my son understood me. It was my first encrypted message to Kazakhstan about the situation of Xinjiang,” – Nurlan Kokteubai says.
He was later forced several times to call his children in Kazakhstan. The reason for that was another video message that his daughter posted on “Atazhurt” YouTube account. As it turned out, Xinjiang authorities track publications on video channels. “They told me: “Stop your daughter.” But I replied that I was unable to influence her while I was here. I said: “Send me and my wife to Kazakhstan, and then I will force my daughter to stop making statements.” After that they released only me, indoctrinating “not to open my mouth, not to disclose the secrets here” and my wife was left as a hostage… One month after my return to Kazakhstan, they returned the documents to my wife and sent her to Kazakhstan. We are both sick now. She suffered from humiliation and abuse and she is bedridden now,” -says Nurlan Kokteubai.
“…tears well up in my eyes”
Analyzing over 10 thousand appeals from former residents of Xinjiang who filed with “Atazhurt” NGO, it is possible to draw the following conclusion. According to the instructions of the official Beijing, the task is to organize concentration camps and maintain the number of prisoners in them in the range of 1-1.5 million people. Therefore, the Xinjiang authorities arrest over and over again former camp inmates who have already received “political re-education.” Plans have been established for the administrations of territorial units depending on the size of the population. Therefore, residents aged 16 to 85 are kept in camps, including breastfeeding mothers, oralmans (i.e. ethnic Kazakh from China who came to Kazakhstan) who are citizens of Kazakhstan, and those who have Kazakhstan residence permits.
In order to implement the plan of filling up concentration camps, local party functionaries pin labels of “ideologically corrupted,” “ideologically defective” and even invented a “healing” concept of “bringing them to conformity.” The essence of the matter is as follows: if they fail to lay a charge against the person then they start doubting his “ideological correctness.” In such a situation the person in question gets nervous, starts to justify himself and to prove his innocence. At that point he is told “to better bring himself into line with politics and that conformity does him good.” He is then demanded of his own free will to go to “political re-education” camp. They promise to ease some requirements for volunteers who decided to “bring themselves into line with politics.” The people of Xinjiang are so used to thinking with slave psychology that even ordinary people tell each other about the need to “align themselves with politics.”
Xinjiang concentration camps must be maintained by the local authority, so the local executive power, party functionaries and police are seeking all kinds of sources of funding. “Non-Chinese” residents of Xinjiang are informally taxed by special taxes and are involved in unpaid work. On a daily basis the leaders of districts and villages visit camps located on the territory of their administrative units and obtain information on the amount of required resources for “political education.” Supplying camps with necessary equipment and generating finance is the duty of the communists – “the commanders of tens.”
If former prisoners don’t have relatives who are capable of providing assistance, they are involved in slave labor at the enterprises. Xinjiang Kazakhs call them “black plants.” Gulzira Auelhankyzy, who was freed from the camp in October 2018, was sent to Jiafang textile factory to produce glove products. For several months of work she received only $50. At some “black factories” the salary of bound laborers – former camp inmates who are under the domestic arrest – is 9 yuan. Part of the company’s salary fund covers three meals a day for workers, and most of the fund, as directed by the local administration, goes for financing of concentration camps.
Of course, repressive measures pursuing political objectives tend to be accompanied by abuses of power. There will always be party functionaries and heads of administrations who profit from appropriation of livestock, property, farms and pastures rented for 50 years, justifying their actions with the policy of optimal compact settlement of Kazakh herders living in remote places.
Another way to put the Kazakh population in a dependent position is to push them into a debt pit with the help of bank loans for the purchase of cars, construction needs or expansion of housing. Corruption and insatiable self-interest of local authorities pulls up small entrepreneurship by the roots. For example, Dina Nurdybaikyzy, in the past the resident of Nylky village located in the Ili-Kazakh district, was a recognized fashion designer in the region. With her own works she participated in exhibitions held in Central Asian countries, where she represented China. In 2015 she opened her sewing shop, providing jobs for 30 women. She took part in the Chinese competition dedicated to the development of private entrepreneurship and won an interest-free loan – a grant in the amount of 59 thousand Yuan. Her business began to develop rapidly, monthly income rose to $17 000 dollars, and orders poured down. But one night in 2017 she was sent to a concentration camp for no reason at all.
Shortly before her arrest Dina Nurdybaikyzy received several large orders and concluded contracts for which she allocated all her working capital, making purchases in mainland China and filling her warehouse with various fabrics, pearls, elements of clothing decoration and other accessories all costing 100,000 Yuan.
Soon Dina Nurdybaikyzy was accused of “ideological lameness” and spent eleven painful months in the camp. When she got out of jail, she found out that about 40 sewing machines owned by her enterprise and the entire warehouse of contracted goods disappeared without a trace.
The appeal to the local executive authorities and the police brought nothing. So she lost her business in a flash and was forced to sell her house to pay debts to her former customers. Her future husband gave her support and sold his car and other property to pay her debts. But the most terrible thing was that the bank, that originally awarded her an interest-free grant, started to charge 9 percent since the moment Dina Nurdybaikyzy was imprisoned. “I told them that I spent eleven months in a “political re-education” camp and after that I was under house arrest, to which I was told: “These are your problems, you will pay back the debt with interest, otherwise you will go to prison,”- she says. With the help of her Xinjiang relatives who have already moved to Kazakhstan and her husband’s relatives, Dina bend every effort to repay bank loan. In 2019 she, her husband and a child left for Kazakhstan. Xinjiang authorities have taken a written commitment from her two uncles that in the event of non-payment of bank loan by Dina, they pledge to repay it.
“When there is a delay in the loan payment, my uncles call from Xinjiang and almost cry with despair. I’m sitting at home with a little child. My husband works on a construction site and sends all the money that he earns to a Chinese bank. Winter has come and construction activities stopped. I don’t know what to do. If I don’t pay back the debt, my uncles in Xinjiang will be thrown into the camp,” – she says. Dina found herself trapped in a bind and failing to find a way out of the situation. She appealed to “Atazhurt” NGO and asked for help from Kazakh people. Her cry for help was heard and people sympathized with her and helped her as much as they could. The woman said the people were very kind and they transferred money to her account, rented a small apartment for her family and some even gave her sewing machines, so that she could get back on her feet, open a business and improve her living conditions.
The mother of two children Karakat Abdesh, the citizen of Kazakhstan, says that her husband Bekesh Manapkan, her father-in-law Manapkan Zeinolla, two brothers of her husband Erbolat Manapkan and Erkesh Manapkan have been imprisoned since the spring of 2017. They were sentenced to 3-11 years of imprisonment. Previously, their family lived in Katai wintering place located in Burshin, Xinjiang District, where they opened an ethnic village and provided services for tourists.
Bekesh Manapkan moved with his family to Kazakhstan and already got a residence permit. But one day they decided to travel to China to see relatives and all males of the family were arrested there.
Karakat Abdesh says: “My family members did not commit any crimes; they were convicted illegally with the purpose to take away the family business.” Now she with her two children stays in a rented temporary building in the suburb of Almaty city. She takes her children and often comes to Akorda – the residence of the President of Kazakhstan. “If Mr. Tokaev had accepted us, he would have seen our tears,” – she sighs. She runs from pillar to post hoping to reach out to competent authorities, but her steps are still ineffective…
Financing of mass repression in Xinjiang and its structural system negatively affects the social situation of Kazakhs who moved to Kazakhstan from China, preventing rapid adaptation to new environment.
People who came after 2010 were unable to sell their real estate in China and ended up in Kazakhstan without money. Therefore, thousands of oralmans are bound to settle in remote villages, and thousands of families rent poor apartments and temporal buildings outside the city.
The majority of Chinese Kazakhs were previously engaged in commercial activities between the two countries and they earned good money. But when repressions were triggered in Xinjiang, the commercial activities slowed down. Later they started to arrest also the citizens of Kazakhstan and the persons who obtained Kazak residence permits when they crossed the Chinese border. So, the Kazakhs had to refrain from travelling to China completely. This circumstance also contributes to the deterioration of the living conditions of oralmans in Kazakhstan, depriving them of their sources of income.
The legislation of China provides for a life pension for persons who moved and acquired citizenship of other countries. This law also applies to disability pensioners. However, in recent years, the payment of pensions to some oralmans from China has been stopped, while there has been no order or decree issued by the central authorities of the People’s Republic of China “to stop the payment of pensions to persons temporarily residing abroad or those who acquired citizenship of another country.” Given this circumstance, it can be concluded that the actions of Xinjiang authorities are nothing but usurpation of power, violation of the laws of the People’s Republic of China. It can also be assumed that part of the budget allocated to pension payments is withheld to maintain concentration camps that severely suffer from the shortage of finance.
Mass repressions in Xinjiang led to an increase in the number of “orphans” whose parents are actually alive, and “widows” who have spouses on both sides of the border. According to the information provided in the autumn of 2018 by Serikzhan Bilash, the leader of “Atazhurt” Kazak Human Rights organization, engaged in providing social assistance to families left without a breadwinner in Kazakhstan, the number of under-age “orphans” with living parents due to their arrest in Xinjiang, exceeded 500 children. This is still a burning issue today.
Ethnic Kazakhs, who went through Xinjiang concentration camps, followed by house arrests, still feel the consequences of experienced physical and mental suffering. Many oralmans suffer from various diseases, and children feel depressed in endless waiting for their parents that gives them severe psychological trauma. Many women were subjected to forced sterilization and deprived of happiness of motherhood.
Kazakhs who moved to Kazakhstan from China live in constant fear. They fear not only for themselves, but also for their close relatives who were left behind in Xinjiang. They cannot openly tell about the horrors of concentration camps, about physical and mental sufferings they experienced there and to proclaim from the housetops about egregious facts of human rights violations by the Chinese authorities. The horrors of ethnocide are openly told only by those who can no longer remain silent about the abuse experienced in Xinjiang or those who realized that there is no other way to save the nears and dears who remained in the bloody claws of the Communist-Fascist system.
The consequences of China’s policy of genocide in East Turkestan have exacerbated the complex socio-economic-political problem in Kazakhstan. It can be said with confidence that the Kazakh government does not consider ways to solve it. On the contrary, it deliberately ignores the problem, trying to veil it and prevent discussion by the whole society. This reminds of the situation with a closed purulent wound that spreads pus inside the body.
“Sayragul’s Story” – Lost Hopes
The issue of mass political repression of ethnic Kazakhs in China, their detention in camps and human rights violations was raised by the German citizen Omirhan Altyn (a descendant of a Kazakh refugee who fled China through Tibet and India in the middle of the last century and found refuge in Turkey). Omirhan Altyn made a statement at the 5th World Kurultai of Kazakhs (WKK) held in Astana on June 23, 2017. Former President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and Chairman of Kurultai Nursultan Nazarbayev said that he is aware of China’s measures against extremism and terrorism in Xinjiang, but made it clear that he is hearing for the first time about pressure on Kazakhs, and promised to clarify all the circumstances through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His words determined the further position of competent state bodies and public organizations specially created to protect the interests of the Kazakh diaspora abroad, such as WKK with regard to the Xinjiang problem. This position comes to acknowledgment that human rights’ violations in Xinjiang are China’s internal affairs and do not allow any interference.
But such position contradicts the law on migration adopted by the Kazakh authorities to invite foreign Kazakhs to return to their historical homeland, to ensure a simplified procedure for obtaining citizenship. The position of official Astana (Nur-Sultan) looks very strange, because at first it declared that “there are no concentration camps in Xingjian,” and later, contradicting itself, reported that “in the centers of professional retraining there are no ethnic Kazakhs” or “Chinese authorities released all Kazakhs from re-education centers,” and it still continues to adhere to such hypocritical policy. The manifestation of this kind of meekness on the part of the authoritarian power of Kazakhstan suggests that it is in an absolute blind alley, being completely dependent on China. The Kazak authorities did not send a single note of protest, even when Kazakh citizens, who went to China, were captured and put into concentration camps and prisons. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly, international conventions on the protection of motherhood and the rights of the child, on the non-separation of the family, on the status of refugees and on granting them asylum, have been sacrificed to accommodate China-Kazakhstan relations The values of liberalism have been violated.
The official Astana didn’t go against Beijing. Moreover, it seemed insufficient for it to adopt just a neutral position. It went further: it banned state and independent media from reporting about victims of genocide in Xinjiang and Oralman organizations from clearly stating their issues. At this point, “Atazhurt” Kazakh Human Rights organization created by former Chinese citizens, started to do a lot of work to save Kazakhs from persecution in Xinjiang. They chose two directions for their activities. WhatsApp groups raised funds and provided food and clothing to children of Xinjiang camp prisoners that were left without parental care in Kazakhstan, as well as women with children without breadwinners. The other direction was to organize conferences to draw attention to repression in Xinjiang, to receive media support for publicity, and provide assistance to file applications to the President of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other competent bodies. But for the reasons mentioned above, the undertaken actions were ineffective.
At this critical period Serikzhan Bilash joined “Atazhurt” organization. He received higher education in mainland China, visited many countries of the world, had a good knowledge of several languages (Kazakh, Chinese, English, Uyghur, and Turkish) and was well aware of geopolitical issues. Serikzhan Bilash changed the strategy and tactics of the organization, proposing to consider the tragedy of the Kazakhs of Xinjiang not in the Sino-Kazakh discourse, but as a matter of violation of universal human rights and to bring it to the discussion of the world community.
The consciousness of Xinjiang Kazakhs had been poisoned for years by the ideology of Chinese communism, and, therefore, it turned out to be very difficult to convince intimidated and oppressed oralmans to write statements to free their relatives. Therefore, the work on awareness-raising had been started by explaining that the problem can be solved only through the pressure of the international community and openly speaking and loudly declaring about the evil deeds. The fate of every person suffering from repression in Xinjiang was stated in several languages of the world, statements in Kazakh were submitted to the Kazakh authorities, and English versions were copied and sent to the UN office in Geneva and international human rights organizations.
Sayragul Sauytbai’s husband and two minor children are Kazakhstan citizens. Sayragul, who was a Chinese language teacher by education, worked as the head of kindergarten in Xinjiang and she could not leave her job immediately. Local authorities by force sent her to teach Chinese to prisoners in the camp. She was also asked to call her husband and children from Kazakhstan. She was constantly warned that in case of disobedience she would be in the camp herself. Sayragul couldn’t take such severe pressure anymore and she left China via the border-crossing terminal in Khorgos, mingling with a group of women, carrying goods from China. The next day after meeting with her family, who settled in Yesik village in Almaty region, she was arrested by Kazakh NSC officers (National Security Committee). Three months later, in August 2018, Sayragul Sauytbai was put on probation for six months. She was released from the detention center and put under house arrest. Previously she applied to the migration service for refugee status as a woman, forced to seek asylum, while fleeing political repression in Xinjiang, but Kazakhstan rejected her application.
The fate of Sayragul Sauytbai, who was forced to leave with her family for Sweden due to refusal to stay in Kazakhstan, exposed two disturbing points. By rejecting an application for refugee status, filed by a mother who sought asylum to reunite with her children, Kazakhstan showed its utter indifference to the repression of Xinjiang Kazakhs. The Western world showed concern about the fate of her family. On the contrary, Kazakhstan in this case demonstrated its support for China, which grossly violated the family separation requirements of the UN Human Rights Convention. It became clear that the Kazakh authorities did not wish to recognize that granting refugee status was not a political act, but a humanitarian act.
According to Sayragul Sauytbai, the National Security Committee officers of Kazakhstan strictly demanded from her not to tell about Chinese concentration camps and in return they verbally promised to grant her a refugee status. However, their promise remained unfulfilled… This shows the strong interest of the Kazakh authorities in concealment of the violence in Xinjiang, that for the sake of certain interests they are ready to exert pressure on the Kazakhs, so that even the citizens of Kazakhstan cannot count on humanity.
“Sayragul’s story” greatly damaged the image of Kazakhstan in the world. In her interview to the Western media, Sayragul Sauytbai said that she and her family, until the last moment, hoped that Kazakhstan would support them, but eventually they were forced to leave for Europe and now her goal is to obtain Swedish citizenship. She concludes that everything that is happening is an attempt to “avoid danger from China.” She compares Sweden and Kazakhstan, her historic motherland, that was completely unable to protect four Kazakhs in difficult circumstances (her husband and their two children). “Sweden met us very warmly. In this country there is the rule of law, everything works impeccably. We were provided with all conditions, and public servants of Sweden helped us with processing of documents,” – she says.
This small phrase expressed by Sayragul contains both regret and resentment. When she fled China and came to her historical homeland, she did not ask Kazakhstan for housing or other material assistance. Her dream was to live in vast Kazakh land and raise her children. She claimed it at every court trial that was deciding her fate. However, the Government of Kazakhstan had violated the international conventions it had ratified and adopted on non-separation of the family, the protection of motherhood and the rights of the child and the rights of minor children, denying Sayragul Sauytbai refugee status. Kazakhstan has not taken into account the law on the return of ethnic Kazakhs to Kazakhstan. Sayragul, her children and husband, who have Kazakh citizenship, will never forget this blatant unfair decision of the Kazakh authorities. This insult is difficult to forgive.
The family of Sayragul Sauytbai has no good memories of Kazakhstan. Her family fled China, dropping all the property behind and lived in a cheap rented temporal building in Yesik village. Their only source of food was a milking cow… Eventually they had to sell it to buy tickets and travel to far-flung Sweden seeking refuge.
Sayragul’s story is not the only one and not exceptional. There are many families that found themselves in a similar situation. The Kazakh steppes are still shaken with an echo of desperate cries of “orphans” whose parents are still suffering in Chinese “political re-education” camps. Many families are separated by barbed wire of the Sino-Kazakh border. And there are many families that came to Kazakhstan, having given up a well-off life abroad, and here they live below the poverty line with feelings of social exclusion. We only hear these problems from the people who have courage to talk about them. The existence of such problems becomes known due to the bravery of resilient people such as Sayragul. One has only to imagine how many more broken fates and tragic events are there that we don’t even know about. This is another hardship that fell on the heads of “Kazakhs who have died a thousand times and resurrected a thousand more!,” a fateful test for the nation.
In addition to Sayragul Sauytbai, there are 5 other people who illegally crossed the border, they are: Kaisha Akan (was given a six-month suspended sentence), Tlek Tabarikuly (sentenced to six months), Bagashar Malikuly (criminal case dismissed), Kaster Musahanuly and Murager Alimuly (both sentenced to one year imprisonment and currently are in prison). Three of them (Kaisha Akan, Kaster Musahanouly, Murager Alimuly) have a refugee certificate, but taking into account “Sayragul’s story,” it is unlikely that they will acquire refugee status.
Fight in the home country
After “Sayragul’s story” the Kazakhs on both sides of the border realized that there will be no substantial assistance from the Kazakh authorities, that it will be possible to release relatives from concentration camps only through media pressure on the Chinese authorities, by making open appeals to international human rights organizations using the principle of “Atazhurt” volunteers. The number of people applying from “Atazhurt” offices in Almaty, Astana and Ust-Kamenogorsk sharply increased. Several times they made protests in front of the buildings of the Embassy and Consulate of China in Kazakhstan, carrying in their hands photos of relatives held in camps. Volunteers of “Atazhurt” translated each application into Chinese and English and placed them in video format on YouTube. Thus, the project implemented according to Serikzhan Bilash’s idea, broke through the information blockade aimed at completely silencing the Xinjiang problem. American and European journalists poured into the offices of “Atazhurt” and started to release reliable materials about ethnic Kazakhs affected by the repression in Xinjiang.
Kazakh authorities, in their effort to please China, have undertaken extreme measures to deter “Atazhurt” volunteers. Also a certain interested group of persons under the generic name “soft power of China” in Kazakhstan had acquired an ambivalent character, i.e. they split into two groups. The first group consisting of intellectuals did not support “Atazhurt” organization, headed by Serikzhan Bilash, and their position was to ignore all evil actions undertaken against the Kazakh ethnos in Xinjiang (among them are famous poets, writers, pop stars, athletes who joined into this group), as well as priests-mullahs who play an important role in the Kazakh society.
In quiet times, prior to onset of repression against Chinese Kazakhs, many singers from Kazakhstan often traveled with tour concerts to Xinjiang and received good fees. As for poets and writers from Kazakhstan, their main readers were Xinjiang Kazakhs. When Chinese authorities started to send Kazakhs to concentration camps, persecuted and made them suffer for keeping in their homes and reading the books of these poets and writers, for listening and uploading into their smartphones the songs of Kazakh singers, for reading the Koran, for participation in Muslim burial services, for wearing Kazakh ethnic clothing and observing the customs of their ancestors, these members of the Kazakh intelligentsia failed to support Kazakhs from Xinjiang. They didn’t say even the words of encouragement to them. Even the singer Dimash Kudaibergen, who first rose to world fame by performing for the Chinese audience, did not express protest in support of Xinjiang Kazakhs, his fellow countrymen with whom he shares a common language and a common faith. The football player Mesut Ozil, a German citizen, is hundred times superior to them all, when it comes to human qualities. He made a special public statement accusing the Chinese Communists of genocide.
As for the Kazakh National Patriots, who only yesterday screamed at the top of their voices that “brotherly love is stronger than stone walls,” they blissfully forgot about oralmans and considered it unnecessary to include their issue into the political agenda. Moreover, they started to cause obstructions and reported to government authorities about Serikzhan Bilash, the leader of “Atazhurt,” who devoted himself to the troubles of ethnic Kazakhs suffering in Chinese camps and who considers that their fate is part of an unbreakable bond with the fate of all Kazakhs and the fate of all mankind. So, the government authorities and pseudo-national patriots that are attracted to their political games, tried to “encase” and conceal a boiling pot of indignation.
One of the wings of “China’s soft power” in Kazakh society, called “pro-Chinese,” used all their efforts to discredit “Atazhurt” organization and its leader Serikzhan Bilash. Their goal is to close down the organization that undermines China’s reputation in the eyes of the international community, strengthens “anti-Chinese sentiments” in Kazakh society, as well as “discontinuation” of Serikzhan Bilash’s activities. At the beginning they were planting into peoples’ heads the idea that Serikzhan Bilash had long been engaged in incitement, acting under the nickname “Zharkyn 7” and calling Xinjiang Kazakhs to move as soon as possible to Kazakhstan “due to impending disaster,” and that current harassment of Kazakhs by the Chinese authorities is a direct result of his malicious actions. Then he was slandered that “he intends to relocate Xinjiang Uyghurs to Kazakhstan and give them land,” that he “five times reads namaz and can be connected with Islamic terrorist organizations, that “Serikzhan does not respect intellectuals and sows discord in Kazakh society,” etc.
The culmination of the continuous information attack was the bringing of Serikzhan Bilash to trial. “Atajurt” Kazakh Human Rights is an unregistered organization and for its chairmanship the administrative court sentenced him to imposition of fine. Soon the authorities realized that this was not the way to stop him. So, a month later, Serikzhan was arrested on suspicion of committing a crime under the article 174 of the RoK Criminal Code (“fomenting of …discord”- accusation predominantly of political nature). His “crime” was his speech about “proclamation of information jihad against China” that he delivered during burial services of the victims of Xinjiang camps and was the basis of the charge.
The main state-run media outlet – “Kazakhstan” national TV channel prepared a special program, cutting the word “jihad” from the context of the record and interpreting it in the spirit of ideology battle against religious extremism and terrorism.
Shortly before, Erlan Karin, the head of the state TV channel, was on a visit to China, where he concluded an agreement on mutual cooperation with the TV and radio corporation of this country. He also invited Jackie Chan, an active propagandist of the Chinese Communist Party, to visit Kazakhstan, and that was done. Erlan Karin’s actions put additional strokes onto the pathetic portrait of the Kazakhstan authorities that has forgotten about all other issues in their subservience to communist China.
In order to finally silence up the volunteers of “Atajurt” and Serikzhan Bilash, who continued to voice to the world about terrible atrocities happening in Xinjiang, the Chinese Embassy resorted to the services of “Overseas Chinese” residing in Kazakhstan.
“Overseas Chinese” are the immigrants, and this category of people includes former and actual Chinese citizens living in Kazakhstan. They are not divided into nationalities, including Dungans and Kazakhs who moved from China to Kazakhstan a long time ago, as well as the Chinese people who temporarily reside in RoK. They are charged with task to spread Confucius teaching on new lands, to deepen trade, economic and cultural ties with China. China has even a special government body that coordinates “Overseas Chinese” activities around the world.
“Overseas Chinese” in Kazakhstan operate under the cover of various organizations. A special “pro-Chinese” role was played by Omarali Adilbekuly, the Chairman of “Zhebeu” Republican Public Association and Duken Masimhanuly, the Department Head of the Chinese language at the Eurasian National University. They both moved to Kazakhstan from China in the mid-nineties of the last century and assess the repressions in Xinjiang in the light of the “tactics of necessary fight against religious extremism and terrorism.” But what scares more is the fact that they not only became the “mouthpiece” of official Beijing, but also had their hand in the splitting of ‘Atajurt” organization and the arrest of Serikzhan Bilash on fabricated charges.
At one point it seemed that the “soft power of China” in Kazakhstan had achieved its goal. When Serikzhan Bilash for more than 5 months was under the house arrest in Nur-Sultan city, there was a split among the members of “Atazhurt” organization. Two members of the advisory board – Erbol Dauletbekuly and Kairat Baitolla registered a public organization under the name of “Atazhurt” and broke away, not forgetting to take all office equipment with them.
Serikzhan Bilash was charged under the article 174 of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, and it was very difficult to prove that his actions did not fall within its scope. During forensic philological examination the adjective “informational” (from the phrase “informational jihad”) was cut and removed from the context. At this critical moment not only the fate of a single man was thrown into the scale, but the whole Xinjiang Kazakhs saving mission was in danger. At that time, the political scientist Zauresh Battalova acting on behalf of the “Foundation for Parliamentary Development” and I, as a religion scholar, examined the term “jihad” according to the teaching of the Koran. At the trial I said that the meaning of the word “jihad” mentioned in the Koran was distorted by political religious ideologies, and referring a distorted concept to the court was an absurd action. However, for unknown reasons, my conclusions were not included into the case file.
As per prominent lawyer Shynkuat Baizhanov’s opinion, who sympathizes with the victims of Xinjiang repression, the criminal case against Serikzhan Bilash, right from the very beginning till the end, was carried out in violation of the law. Also “thanks to” a lawyer who did not prepare materials that could easily break the prosecution’s arguments, Serikzhan Bilash was forced to enter into a procedural agreement at the most decisive moment. By court’s decision he was sentenced to 6 months restriction of liberty (taking into account the period of his house arrest, the term was reduced by 2 months), and he is also prohibited from leading public organizations for 7 years.
At the end of the probation period, Serikzhan Bilash and his associates intensified their efforts again. Now they formed an organization called “Nagyz Atazhurt” (“True Volunteers of the Homeland”), which has no official registration. As for the registered organization “Atazhurt,” it works against Serikzhan Bilash’s team.
Almost all Kazakhs, who finally moved from China to Kazakhstan, support “Nagyz Atazhurt” organization, as it is the only organization that provides assistance and rescues the relatives from concentration camps in Xinjiang, as well as makes statements about other facts of human rights violation by China.
The selection of the right tactics by volunteers of “Nagyz Atazhurt” organization, their appeal to international organizations and foreign journalists regarding repressions in Xinjiang, gave good results. Oralmans (returnees) held a protest against China in front of European deputies who visited Kazakhstan. USA Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit to Kazakhstan in early February of this year, first of all, met with the relatives of concentration camp prisoners in Xinjiang and expressed deep sympathy for “orphans” whose parents are alive and “widows” who have spouses. He demanded that the Kazakh authorities should take them under guardianship and called for joint pressure on China that rudely violated human rights. As soon as the world’s media spread this information, Karakat Abdesh, the mother of two children who participated at the meeting with Mike Pompeo, got good news that the Chinese authorities were ready to release her husband, her husband’s brothers and a mother-in-law from the camp in Xinjiang.
According to Serikzhan Bilash, lately the authorities of China started to react quickly to video announcements posted on social networks with the help of “Nagyz Atazhurt” volunteers. Sometimes the authorities agree with the claimant’s demands and release the prisoner from concentration camp or house arrest, and sometimes they only drag time and don’t fulfill their verbal promises. Most often, in an attempt to force the withdrawal of statements, they practice blackmail and intimidation, threatening to kill relatives in Xinjiang. Therefore, it is too early to assume that China has “changed its attitude towards ethnic Kazakhs and will soon stop violence against them.”
Consequences of Genocide in Xinjiang
According to China’s 2000 census, the number of ethnic Kazakhs in China is 1 million 250,000. “Nagyz Atazhurt” volunteers state that these data are deceiving since, in actual fact, there were 3.5 million Kazakhs living in Xinjiang. Out of that number, over 500 thousand people moved to Kazakhstan. If to add to this figure the number of Kazakhs who moved in the middle of the last century and their descendants, then it will make about one million of “Chinese Kazakhs” living in Kazakhstan. Compared to indigenous Kazakhs in Kazakhstan, the Chinese Kazakhs experience stronger anti-Chinese feelings.
The consequences of the repression against Kazakhs in Xinjiang provoked a surge of anti-Chinese sentiments in Kazakhstan. Not so long ago in Kazakhstan protest campaigns against the sale of land in the form of “land meetings” were held and they had an anti-Chinese character. In those campaigns the issue of repression of Kazakhs in Xinjiang was not on the agenda. However, the incident that took place in 2019, involving five Kazakhs from Kyzylagash village of Almaty region, who beat up more than 40 Chinese workers, as well as the nature of the recent bloody clash in Korday district between Kazakhs and Dungans (ethnic Chinese who profess Islam) show that Kazakh society is struggling to contain its boiling rage instigated by the repressions in Xinjiang that took place during various historical periods. Now any treaties between China and Kazakhstan, any joint economic projects or cultural ties will cause protests in the society. There is a trend of a known denial, and no one cares if these projects are more profitable for Kazakhstan than for China. In view of these circumstances, as well as anti-Chinese protests provoked by China’s evil deeds towards the Turkic-speaking peoples of Xinjiang, Kazakh-Chinese relations in all spheres of the economy happen to fall into a dangerous axis. This is a threat to China’s “One Belt-One Road” project, as well as to the oil and gas pipeline, connecting China to Central Asia.
Ideally, in order to implement the project “One Belt-One Road,” designed to connect China with the Western countries, its authorities should stop putting pressure on the main ethnic groups in Xinjiang, stop preventing the free relocation of Kazakhs to Kazakhstan, and, on the contrary, they should provide them with benefits within the framework of Kazakh-Chinese relations. Unfortunately, in trade relations across the Sino-Kyrgyz, Sino-Kazakh border, the advantage was given to Dungans who moved to Kazakhstan about 150 years ago from China and lived in an ethnic enclave. Dungans, who have resumed relations with mainland China, buy goods at knockdown price, thus destroying a healthy competitive environment in the markets of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Because of this, the living conditions of the most part of the population, who depend on trade and income from small business, become worse.
Chinese policy in Xinjiang has aggravated difficult socio-economic conditions in Kazakhstan. People who suffer from various diseases and have become disabled as a result of torture in concentration camps, orphans, widows, as well as ethnic Kazakhs, who have been forced to flee leaving behind their property and losing their business, joined the ranks of socially vulnerable segments of the population. There is also a problem with difficulties of adapting them socially into the society with a dominant Russian language. As a whole, all this, when reaches the “boiling point,” is fraught with social explosions and political destabilization. For time being it is only a matter of time, and the second important issue in line after anti-Chinese protest sentiments.
Xinjiang Kazakhs who have relocated to Kazakhstan may demand compensation for health damage, seized property, usurped rights and even refer the dispute to an international court. However, nothing could stop China’s policy based on communist ideology- “one nation, one language, one country” including international tribunal, US trade war or coronavirus. The latter, in actual fact, is believed to bring the Chinese economy closer to collapse. According to Serikzhan Bilash, currently a maximum of 400 thousand Kazakhs can move from China to Kazakhstan. The rest will disappear as a nation. Marriages between Xinjiang Kazakhs and ethnic Chinese are already widespread. The young people who idolize the communist Jack Ma (Ma Yun) are moving to mainland China. They see their future as Chinese. As for the people of Xinjiang, during repressions some of them are forced to act as guards, police officers, party “cadres,” while others suffer from sophisticated tortures in concentration camps. This not only disintegrates a separate nation with common language and faith, but also destroys families, depriving people of any sense of kinship and human compassion, when one of the brothers becomes a torturer in prison and the other becomes his victim. Now both Kazakhs and Uyghurs of Xinjiang share the same plight. If this continues, then East Turkestan, which has been the pride of the Turkic world for many centuries, is doomed to final destruction.