The below article was published by Insight Journal, photo credit: ETGE
PM Salih Hudayar is the Prime Minister of East Turkistan (Government-in-Exile) and the Founder of the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement. He discusses: background, persecution, and the context for Uyghurs now.
*Interview conducted October 20, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, let’s start from the beginning, naturally, in terms of some of the upbringing for you and some of the family background, what was some of the family history told to you as a youngster, or even as you discovered a little bit later in your life?
PM Salih Hudayar,: So, my first interaction with the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party was a very unfortunate interaction. I was four years old at the time. It was 1997. Months after the Chinese government had crushed the Ghulja uprising or the Ghulja protests, which we call the aftermath of the massacre. In February of 1997, thousands working people in Georgia, the former capital of the former Soviet republic, went out into the streets to protest the Chinese government execution of those independence activists. This resulted in the massacre in which the Chinese government killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands just in Ghulja, and then engaged in a massive security lockdown across the entire area in which Amnesty International estimated that they came around 100,000 people during that year.
One of those people that were detained – in the northwest, in my hometown – was my uncle, who was only 17 years old at that time. His crime was that he had read a book, a legal political book, and one of our neighbours followed and someone followed. We don’t know if it was one of our neighbours, but someone found it and they reported him, then were arbitrarily detained by the Chinese government. They came in knocking on our doors with two truckloads of soldiers armed with automatic weapons, shovels. They were trying to find the book. Because if you have any illegals things, you bury them, even if it’s a book. The Chinese government knows about it. They were able to find the book. Then they were trying to get my uncle to confess to being part of a political organization. My uncle refused because he was not a part of any organization.
Then they woke everyone up in the hall. I was the youngest one at that moment. I was four years old, and they pointed a rifle to everyone’s head including mine, and threatened to kill us if my uncle didn’t confess his crimes. My grandmother, my father had fled in 1995 after a demonstration. My grandmother said, “This is your older brother’s trust to us. He needs to survive. You tell them what they wanted to hear.” So, he confessed to being part of some political organization. He spent ten years of his life in prison. So, that was my first interaction, and growing up four years old. In my hometown at that time, there weren’t any Chinese civilians. The only Chinese civilians there. There were Chinese security forces, custom patrol, which you see to this day.
So, hearing from the older generation, they want to talk openly about it. I would hear them talking about the force. I didn’t know that the Chinese, mostly the Russians, because they talked about how we had a country and it was the Russians. So, I thought for a long while. So, I came to the U.S. I thought that the Chinese were actually the Russians. Then I fled in the US with my family and political refugees. My father was able to obtain refuge here in the U.S. in 1997. We came to the U.S. in 2000, on June 14, 2000. My father was the most influential person in terms of informing me about the fact that we were an independent country before. I knew we weren’t Chinese. I knew they were foreigners. I knew that they were occupying our land.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, I mistakenly thought they were Russians. But I have this desire to resist and to regain our freedom, because, again, no four-year-old in any part of the world should have a gun pointed at their head for political reasons or being carried out by – I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but – reading a book by one of their relatives. My father, when we came to the U.S., the first thing he taught me was he told me, “I thought that you can come here and live and forget about your relatives, your country. But I brought you here so that you can become educated and you can take the opportunity and the education that we learned from here to help free our country.”
My older brother was enrolled in a civil air patrol program. Now, he’s in the Navy, the U.S. Navy, for a little over a decade. I tried to go to the military academy, at West Point Military Academy. But, at the time, I was in the U.S., but because of the medical issues; I had emergency appendectomies with this problem, which led to a medical discharge. So, that questioned my whole military career. But again, I was like, “No, there have to be other ways that I can help. Let me study politics. Let me do something, struggle for my people to freedom and our country’s independence.” In the summer of 2017, right after I finished my bachelor’s, I started the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement with like-minded young leaders and came back here in the United States advocating for not just our human rights, but our political rights.
Because if we don’t have political rights, there’s no way that we can ensure our human rights. The last time that I was able to communicate with anyone inside East Turkistan was when they started locking up people in the concentration camps. My grandfather from my mother’s side, who told me in July 2000, “Don’t call us anymore. I’m too old to go to school, so stop calling.” “School” is a sick euphemism. A code word for “concentration camp,” which China calls the “education camp.” So, we found ETNAM. We began to lobby for the Uyghur Act, which recently was signed into law. We were in the right with the Uyghur Act. We organized a massive demonstration in front of the U.S. Capitol for over a month and every day, Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00, to get their attention to pressure Congress to accept our proposal for the Uyghur Act, to recognize and sanction the Chinese officials for their crimes, we wanted the U.S. Congress to recognize Turkistan as an occupied country like Tibet.
We want the US government to recognize four objectives that we have put to the Chinese officials sanctioned and to get the Uyghur Act passed, to get recognition of the genocide and recognition of our occupied countries that we have. We have achieved two of those goals so far, and we are continuing to push for the other two goals, because at the end of the day, without our own independent state like we had before; these atrocities and oppression, it just shows that the pressure will not ever end. No country is going to guarantee our human rights more than China will claim it. But we have the best China. In fact, that we have the best human rights in the world. But I think of millions of our people are suffering from sterilizing our women, separating millions of children from their families, executing people, stealing their organs, forcing our women to marry Chinese men, forcefully collecting the DNA of over 36 million people, and imprisoning more than three million people in concentration camps and prisons.
I personally, myself, have over 100 relatives that have been detained. Four of them, the ones that I was lucky enough to get information out through other contacts in Central Asia. I discovered; I found the four of them were killed as of April 2019. The others, I don’t know if they are dead. I don’t know if they’re alive. That’s how many of us are in the West, many of us in the diaspora. We don’t even know if our family members, any in Turkistan, are alive, really don’t know if they are alive or if they are dead. In some cases, we find out a year or two years later that they died inside the concentration camp, but China says they die from pneumonia or they die from health conditions. It’s not okay. People are going in and dying.
So, this is a genocide in the 21st century. That’s why independence is the only way to ensure our people’s survival is the only way to ensure our people’s basic human rights. Governments around the world, people talk about human rights all the time. Have they done anything? They have actually done anything to stop the atrocities. The governments know what’s going on. They have more information than we do about what’s going on. The number of people that are dying; the number of people that are in the camps; all the intelligence agencies, they know it. But they are keeping silent on this because most of them; it’s not in their interest.
So if other governments can’t guarantee our human rights, the only government that will be able to do that is our own government once we regain our independence. This is why it’s necessary for our people’s survival. When we were an independent nation, no foreign power, no government was able to come in and start sending us into concentration camps, separating families, pointing guns at four-year-old’s head. No one was able to do that.
Appendix I: Footnotes
 Prime Minister, East Turkistan (Government-in-Exile); Founder, East Turkistan National Awakening Movement (ETNAM).