The New Dominion is back. But a few things are different.
The New Dominion is currently undergoing revisions.
It’s summer again, and that means it’s time for confusing reports about violence in Xinjiang.
Xinhua reports that, around noon Beijing Time (10:00 AM Xinjiang time) on 18 July, Khotan City sustained a bombing attack that ended in a hostage rescue. The attack seems to have centered on a bazaar in the Narbagh (Na’erbage) area, near a police station and several government offices. Xinhua reports, and now so have international media, that four people were killed in the incident. Casualties include two of the hostages, one member of the People’s Armed Police, and one member of the “security defense teams,” ad hoc militias formed by the Party apparatus and police forces. One more member of the security defense teams was injured and hospitalized. Six people were eventually recovered successfully from the police station where they had been held as hostages by the attackers.
Initial reports suggested that 14 attackers had been killed. World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit, reached for comment shortly after the incident, asserted that the incident was actually an attack by police on unarmed, peaceful protestors demonstrating in the bazaar over land rights. Shortly thereafter, the WUC’s narrative changed: A riot broke out, Dilxat said, when a group of Uyghurs had gone peacefully to the police station to demand the release of several prisoners.
Later, the Chair of the Press Office of the Xinjiang Regional People’s Government, Hou Hanmin 侯汉敏, provided a rather different narrative to the Huanqiu Shibao. According to Hou, Western media had rushed to link the Khotan incident to the Xinjiang or Uyghur independence movement. Yet, he proceeded to do just the same in recounting the following: First, the attackers, wielding bombs and Molotov cocktails, assaulted the Commerce Office and the Tax Office, located next to the police station, injuring two. Then, they burst into the police station and rushed to the second floor to hoist the “flag of separatism,” by which I presume he means the old baby blue moon-and-star. The attackers took control of the police station and held hostages until they were defeated in a clever attack by security forces. Hou provided no new numbers.
Note, please, that the map provided by the Epoch Times may be misleading. Indeed, the place they indicate at the site of the incident is what you get when you put “Khotan Narbagh Police Station” into Google Maps. However, that spot is not in Narbagh Village, nor is it near a tax office or a commerce office. The following map indicates a commerce office (yellow) and a tax office (blue) in Narbagh Village, though I cannot determine their proximity to a police station, nor to a bazaar. It has been reported that the incident took place in a heavily Uyghur part of the city, as well, which we might not be able to reconcile with the neighborhood of these offices.
View 18 July 2011 Khotan Incident in a larger map
I was suspicious of Dilxat Raxit’s initial account, which has now disappeared from BBC News’ website, in large part because it fit too neatly into popular contemporary notions of political repression in the West. Specifically, I recall the phrase “fired into the crowd.” Perhaps this was an embellishment by a journalist, but the narrative remains the same: Police shoot civilians demonstrating for freedom. It sounds too conveniently similar to what has actually happened every day for several months, now, across the Middle East. RFA has produced no news, and major Western media is regurgitating Xinhua, so that brings me to the official Chinese account.
The mention of the “flag of independence” makes me suspicious. Mostly, it reminds me of similar claims made about a protest in Khotan four years ago, which turned out to be, as far as anyone can tell, a demonstration about local issues and concerns about religious freedoms. Like most such events in Xinjiang and all over China, this probably has to do with some intractable local conflict or gross violation of basic human rights or dignity that has stirred up rage against the authorities. Did someone really fling a few Molotov cocktails just to go and raise a flag in the middle of the neighborhood police station? If so, it was a sad and futile gesture. If someone actually committed such a suicidal act, I suspect that it was motivated not by a dream of an independent state, but rather by the same sorts of problems that led Mohamed Bouazizi to immolate himself in Tunisia all the way back in January.
We don’t know much, what we do know smells funny, and everyone’s scrambling for a master narrative. As usual, it’s the news from Xinjiang.
According to news reports which are currently flooding into Western media outlets such as BBC, AP, the Guardian, and the New York Times, a man riding a motorized tricycle and armed with an explosive device attacked a crowd on the streets of Aksu, which is located in the northwestern area of the Tarim basin. Much of the information that is shared between Western reports on the incident come from Hou Hanmin, a government spokesperson who provided details on the incident in Urumqi.
All the the reports agree that 7 were killed and 14 were injured in the attack. The incident took place outside on the streets, with the BBC, quoting, Hou, saying it occurred at an intersection while the New York Times states that the attack actually occurred on a bridge. Hou has emphasized that the victims were all local residents and belonged to several ethnicities, and, quote, innocent civilians. The Guardian, talking to an unnamed local police official, said that victims included a group of Uyghur residents who were working with local security forces in patrolling the streets and “reporting crimes.”
More valuable information can be gleaned from this Mandarin coverage from ifeng (h/t @henrykszad at Twitter). Interestingly, this article states that one person who was aiding police (Mandarin: 1名协警员) was about to lead fifteen border patrol officers (Mandarin: 带15名联防队员) in a patrol at the T-intersection of Kalatale and Wuka roads. While they were lined up on the side of the road the attacker drove his tricycle by the group and threw (抛出) an explosive at them, instantly killing 5, with 2 dying later at the hospital, 14 injured, and several vehicles at the scene, some police vehicles, some civilian vehicles damaged or destroyed. This information supplements, clarifies, and even challenges some of the information that has been divulged in the Western reports. With the information from the ifeng report when can almost pinpoint exactly where the incident occurred: not precisely in Aksu city proper, but in a suburb, Yiganqi, at the intersection mentioned above which is 50 meters West of the river dividing Aksu from Yiganqi (this explains why the earlier NYT report mentioned a bridge – if not exactly on the bridge, then the incident occurred very close to it). This is about as accurate as we can get for now:
View 2010-08-19 Aksu Attack in a larger map
A few things of note, the intersection that I’ve marked is on Wuka Road, but the smaller road off it is not labeled, but I’m fairly confident it is Kalatale Road as it’s a T intersection and it’s almost exactly 50 meters west of the bridge over the river. It’s very clear from the satellite imagery that this intersection leads into a Uyghur area of Aksu (the short, squat buildings and unorganized layout almost certainly makes it a Uyghur neighborhood as opposed to a Chinese neighborhood with apartment buildings arranged in roads – see Kashgar satellite imagery for another contrast), and so it does seem that the attack occurred as a patrol was about to enter or inspect a Uyghur area.
All the reports agree that the perpetrator was caught at the scene of the attack.
The Chinese government uses frequently-lampooned language when it comes to official rhetoric on Xinjiang’s historical relationship with the rest of China proper. As with Tibet, the CCP asserts that Xinjiang has been a part of a Chinese polity or “nation” constantly and for a very long period time, almost invariably traced in official histories back to the embassy of Zhang Qian through Xinjiang to the Yuezhi in the 2nd century BC. Interestingly, by choosing Zhang Qian as a marker for the beginning of Xinjiang’s “Chineseness,” the party is obliquely saying that Xinjiang’s essential belonging-ness to China is predicated on Han presence in the region.
Is it really that simple, however? In this second installment of a conversation on Xinjiang history between Uyghur historian Kahar Barat and Chinese dissident and intellectual Wang Lixiong, Barat takes a historically informed but uncompromising view on the myth of unbroken Han presence in Xinjiang. Xinjiang history, Barat argues, demonstrably is a checkerboard of political, cultural, and religious influences both emerging locally and coming in – from all directions. Han participation in that exchange of wars, ideas, cultures, religions, and writing systems was only one facet, and even the most clear instances of Chinese involvement of the region could be accused of being only temporary, limited, or not even Han at all – the Tang imperial family itself belonging to a migration of pastoral nomads of the north filling in the vacuum left by the bloody Three Kingdoms period.
Delightfully, Barat ends this phase of the discussion with some fiery counter-rhetoric, implying that “Chineseness” is an artificial outgrowth of a monopoly that Chinese writing had on “culture” in the area up until the introduction of newer writing systems from the West – a delineation that marks today’s Uyghurs as belonging to a different cultural sphere than the Chinese. This, of course, isn’t the only controversial assertion Barat makes in this section, or the previous one, so I invite all readers to share any thoughts in the comments section!
Just a few days ago, investigative journalist Guo Yukuan published an article titled Be Wary of “Becoming Xinjiang Independence’d” (an awkward translation, but the best I can do to capture the semi-satirical use of 被 in 小心“被疆独”.), which turned out to be a thoughtful commentary produced in response to the controversial sentencing of Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz to 15 years in prison for speaking to a Hong Kong magazine about the Urumqi riots. Guo begins his discussion from a unique angle, namely, the birth of “Taiwan independence” sentiment in spite of or, as Guo argues, even because of the Taiwan Nationalist government creating the label as a blacklist term to encompass all Taiwanese who were simply calling for greater political freedom or local rights.
Xinjiang issues are frequently seen through the lens of “Tibet issues” but it’s definitely valuable and worthwhile to consider Xinjiang discontent through the trials and travails of Taiwan, which has undergone a remarkable transformation from the authoritarian vice-grip and politically-motivated massacres under Chiang Kai-shek to the opening culminating in the election of Lee Teng-hui, and back again to the politics-as-usual shenanigans and election-season brawling of the recent decade.
I’ve read through the article and there is much to praise and much to criticize, and so I’ll publish them with some commentary in sections, going along with the four sections Guo himself has divided his article into. At any rate, it’s refreshing to see some unique thoughts coming from the Han Chinese world and it shows that when such an egregious violation of freedom of speech occurs like with Gheyret Niyaz, even Han social commentators may be moved to think up new angles and solutions to the problems posed by Xinjiang.
In Part 1, Guo recounts a visit to Taiwan where he asks Taiwan independence leader Lin Zhuoshui why he, despite being a Mandarin speaker and of Fujian heritage, considers himself Taiwanese and not Chinese. In the later parts, which are forthcoming, Guo ties his observations to the persecution of Uyghur intellectuals and his experience talking with Uyghurs and trying to understand their discontent.
Two extremely compelling and intriguing voices on Xinjiang issues today are those of Wang Lixiong and Kahar Barat. Married to Woeser, an outspoken Tibetan blogger and rights advocate, Wang Lixiong himself is extremely well versed in Tibet issues and one of the most (if not the most) sympathetic Han Chinese voices speaking out on ethnic issues, both pertaining to Tibet and Xinjiang, where his views were particularly enriched and deepened by conversations he had with a Uyghur cellmate during a stint in prison for photocopying “secret” Bingtuan documents – an experience documented in his 2007 book, My East Land, Your West Country . Kahar Barat is a Uyghur scholar and intellectual widely known throughout the Uyghur diaspora for his prolific writings on Uyghur history, culture, linguistics, as well as on modern Xinjiang issues. A favorite of mine, written in Uyghur and titled “Maymaq Uyghurlar,” or “Warped Uyghurs,” is a piercing commentary on how Uyghur artists themselves willingly package Uyghur culture for consumption by the more developed Han by uncritically embracing the image of the oblivious singing-and-dancing stereotype. “Maymaq Uyghurlar” will be translated into English here soon, but for now, here is a translation from Mandarin into English of part one of an interesting and illuminating interview of Kahar Barat by Wang Lixiong, conducted in Virginia not long after the riots last year.
In part one, Barat covers the considerable period of time from the Xiongnu up to the conversion of the region to Islam. Though a serious and clearly well-informed scholar, Barat doesn’t hesitate to make clear his opinions on the relative contributions Buddhism and its successor, Islam, made to the peoples and cultural legacies of the region. Barat further discusses at length the frequently controversial issue of “continuity” between the Uyghurs of the Uyghur Khanate in the 8th and 9th century and the people who have adopted the name “Uyghur” today, placing both within the framework of the gradual and inexorable Turkicization of the sprawl of grasslands stretching from Europe to Mongolia. Barat also shares some fascinating insights on the linguistic evolution of the term “Uyghur” and the complicated and obfuscating relationship the word had with the changing Chinese characters and dialects that recorded the word in the written record. There’s something fascinating to learn from this interview for historians, geographers, linguists, and anybody who can appreciate some good old fashioned Silk Road history. Translations of Parts 2 and 3 of the interview will follow shortly.
A week ago Norway unpleasantly discovered that it, too, Nobel Peace Prizes and fjords and all, was a potential target for Al-Qaeda planned terrorist attacks. Norway’s security apparatuses revealed that they had successfully apprehended three individuals plotting to bomb targets in Norway. While the fact that a cold, unassuming, and generally uncontroversial Scandanavian country would come under the threat of an Islamic terrorist attack is pretty surprising in and of itself, another surprising facet of the case is the origin of one of the suspects, Mikael Davud, who apparently is a Uyghur who immigrated to Norway in 1999.
Last month, Professor Yu-Wen Chen of the University of Konstanz published a fascinating and illuminating study on a little-studied aspect of global Uyghur activism: a hyperlink analysis of websites on Uyghur issues with the intent of determining and illustrating the source of online “Uyghur issues” information and the extent of their reach. The report, published as part of a series on transnational politics by the Center for Global Studies at George Mason University is available in its entirety for free at this link. I invite anyone and everyone interested in Xinjiang and the Uyghurs to take a look at this paper for an eye-opening glimpse into the dynamics of the online sector of the Uyghur issues movement. Professor Chen has some interesting conclusions to make about Uyghur issues websites, commenting on the most common lingua franca, English, the disjoint between offline and online activism, and the notable lack of Central Asian countries among the international community of Uyghur diasporic websites.
Professor Chen’s paper came onto my radar over the usual course of scouting out interesting links and resources on Xinjiang that forms a routine part of my research week. I was in no way expecting to find that our website, The New Dominion, occupies a seemingly significant node in the graphical depiction of “Uyghur Issue Networks” Professor Chen has produced on page 7 of the paper (that is, if I’m interpreting the image correctly.)
A few hours ago, Public Security spokesperson Wu Heping held a news conference to divulge details on an alleged Uyghur terrorist plot that apparently was foiled by Public Security forces recently. The most comprehensive Mandarin-language report is hosted at China Net and contains a transcript of Wu’s speech as well as several photos of confiscated evidence and two of the suspects identified as ringleaders. Intriguingly, the Ministry of Public Security claims that this recent crime bust has connections with the Uyghur refugees who were deported from Cambodia in December of last year and the Kashgar and Kuche attacks that occurred in Xinjiang during the Olympic Games.
On June 24, 2010 (Thursday) at 10 o’clock, at a second-floor multi-purpose reception hall of the Asia Grand Hotel, Vice-Director of the Ministry of Public Security General Office and spokesperson Wu Heping reported information on Chinese Public Security organs thwarting a major terrorist plot. Below is a transcript of the news conference:
Friends, ladies, gentlemen, good morning to all of you. I’d like to warmly welcome everyone to the Ministry of Public Security’s news conference, the topic of today’s conference is the circumstances surrounding the recent breaking up of a terrorist plot by Chinese Public Security agencies.
Recently, Chinese Public Security agencies foiled a major terrorist plot, arresting plot leaders Abudurexiti Abulaiti (male, from Shache County, Xinjiang, 42) and Yiming Semaier (Male, from Yuepuhu County, Xinjiang, 33) and over 10 other terrorist conspirators, both key and peripheral members, seizing explosives, detonator equipment, and other various criminal implements, forcefully thwarting a terrorist conspiracy and promptly eliminating a concealed threat to social security.
Clues leading to this major terrorist plot were first discovered in 2009 in relation to an illegal border crossing case. On December, 20th, 2009, 20 individuals of Chinese citizenship illegally crossed the border into another country but were then deported and were, according to the usual practice, taken into custody by Chinese police. Afterwards, Chinese police, in line with humanitarian sentiment, quickly released 1 woman and 2 children among those individuals, even setting up living arrangements for them. The remaining 17 were, according to the law, investigated, and this revealed that three of them were fugitive terrorist suspects wanted by the police，all of whom had connections to the recently arrested core terrorists Abudurexiti Abulaiti and Yiming Semaier.
The Public Security investigation has ascertained that terrorist ringleader Abudurexiti Abulaiti was dispatched into China by the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” from outside the country’s borders, and that Yiming Semaier is a core member of “East Turkestan” terrorist forces. This terrorist organization has planned and carried out several terrorist plots since 2008, including the vehicle attack against Public Security Frontier Defense Officers in Kashgar and the terrorist explosives attacks in Kucha carried during the Beijing Olympics; both were perpetrated by members of this terrorist organization.
During interrogation Abudurexiti Abulaiti, Yiming Semaier, and others have confessed to traveling through Xinjiang, Henan, Guangdong, Yunnan, and other provinces, secretly carrying out extremist religious activities, developing and training members, setting up terrorist organizations, actively collecting funds, seeking in many places materials for creating improvised explosives, carrying out multiple tests explosions in preparation for the implementation of destructive terrorist activities. For the sake of making the greatest impact, from July to October of 2009 they prepared tens of improvised explosive devices, Molotov cocktails, knives, hatchets, and other implements, plotting to carry out successive, large scale attacks in Kashgar, Khotan, Aksu, and other places. When their criminal terrorist schemes were timely discovered and thwarted by Public Security agencies, a small number of key members of this terrorist group fled to Guangdong, Yunnan, and other regions; congregating in batches and exiting the country from the southwest border areas of the nation. During their escape, the collectively swore an oath to join the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” terrorist organization, to send pictures and other personal information to the email addresses of “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” ringleaders, seek out specific escape routes, and, in doing so, attempt to join the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” terrorist organization abroad. Public Security agencies have learned that these individuals received support and funds from representatives of “East Turkestan” organizations during the process of their escape across borders.
The vanquishing of this major terrorist organization once again proves that the “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” and other terrorist organizations are the main terrorist threats our country faces both presently and in the coming future. Chinese Public Security agencies will firmly uphold and fulfill the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council and strike a serious blow to every type of terrorist activity, conscientiously protecting social stability.
That’s all for today’s news conference. Thank you.