A group of Turkey-based Uyghurs have suspended daily protests in front of China’s consulate in Istanbul after consular officials agreed to accept documentation of their family members held in internment camps in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) at the behest of the mayor, group members said.
The group said in a statement last week that the office of Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu had acted as a mediator between the demonstrators and the consulate, which was ultimately “forced” to accept the some of the demonstrators’ documents. The statement, dated Jan. 13, said that the group had agreed to suspend gatherings at the consulate after 17 days of uninterrupted protests.
Demonstrators recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that they are working on revising the written materials they have prepared, which include testimonies and lists of demands. The mayor’s office plans to compile the materials and deliver them to the Chinese consulate, they said, although a date has not yet been set to do so. It will be up to the consulate to decide how to respond.
Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017. Chinese officials have said the camps are centers for “vocational training,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in cramped and unsanitary conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.
Habibulla Kuseni, himself a relative of a camp detainee, spoke with RFA about the Istanbul mayoral office’s intervention and mediation between the consulate and Uyghur activists.
“The mayor’s office called in some of our kinfolk and informed them that the Chinese consulate would be accepting their demands and that we could select two people from among [the demonstrators] to meet with them,” said Kuseni, who has also spearheaded efforts to get Uyghur children into school in Turkey.
“But [the people who met with them] said they were not going to submit only their own demands. They requested that they be able to submit a compilation of the requests of all the demonstrators who have relatives in the … camps.”
Kuseni said he was pleased the mayor’s office intervened in the situation and that he hopes the consulate accepts all of the documentation.
“This is a sign that our 17 days of protests have resulted in something,” he said.
“In the next few days, all of us will fill out forms, which will be collected in one place and then … be sent to the consulate through the mayor’s office. If they agree to our demands, we will then discuss what to do next. If they do not agree, we will continue our activities.”
Jevlan Shirmemmet, a Uyghur youth in Istanbul, told RFA that protests in front of the consulate began on Aug. 14, 2020, with demonstrators specifically advocating for the Chinese government to account for the whereabouts of missing family members. However, the consulate had never indicated it would be willing to accept any materials from the group until daily gatherings began.
“The mayor’s office asked us to stop our demonstrations in the meantime,” Shirmemmet said.
“We couldn’t say no to this, and so, because we also need time in order to collect materials from others, we decided to take a period of time off [from demonstrating]. But we’re stopping only temporarily.”
Mirzahmet Ilyasoghli, another Uyghur youth demonstrator, said swelling support throughout Turkey and abroad is also likely to have helped to pressure the consulate to respond.
“These demonstrations of ours, first of all, we can say that our fellow Uyghurs have been very active in it—young people, older men and women, and elders … alike all took part in them,” Ilyasoghli said.
“These 17 days of activism spurred Turkey to action. This has put a lot of pressure on China, who hasn’t yet been criticized sufficiently for this. We also think it has put pressure on the Turkish government,” he added.
“Around 100 people showed up [to protests] and we were able to achieve results like this. There are some 50,000 Uyghurs in Turkey. This is a clear sign that we could achieve great things if just 1,000 Uyghurs were to stand up.”
Chinese officials did not respond to requests for comment on the activists and their protest.
Reported by Azigh for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.