The below article was published by Insight Journal, photo credit: Yu-Jing Huang / George Washington University
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: governments in exile and democratic norms.
*Interview conducted October 20, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: The United Nations recognizes 193 Member States in the world today. In regards to your election as the prime minister, the formal title includes a “Government-in-Exile.” For those who don’t know, what does it mean in regards to a government when it is in “exile”? And why this is important for the historical and ongoing contexts for East Turkistan?
Salih Hudayar,: So, the government in exile is essentially a government which claims sovereignty over a territory and it has been forced into exile. It doesn’t see whatever is the current government there, as the legitimate government. It seeks to represent that specific country or a region as its own as the representatives. In our case in December 22nd, 1949, our former country, East Turkistan, formerly known as the East Turkistan Republic, was overthrown. This is not something that we voluntarily gave away, our independence, or voluntarily agreed to be a part of China. Because if you look at Chinese government documents from 1949 to 1954, they killed, according to Chinese state media, 150,000 enemies of China. So, obviously, our people resisted this.
To this day, we have continued to resist Chinese occupation of our country. Some of our leaders were able to escape into the Soviet Union and just general political pressures from the Soviets. They weren’t able to create an actual exile government. They were able to create a national committee, but they weren’t able to create a government in exile. Others fled into Turkey. Even there, because of political pressure, we weren’t able to engage in political advocacy. We were just there. You can’t engage in any political advocacy. You should be happy that we were here very much like that. It’s only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that we regained our hope for independence.
Not that we have never lost hope of it, it continues. We struggled for it. There are numerous historical uprisings over the past seventy years. The last armed uprising was in 1990, in April 1990 in which we had several hundred people take up arms to advocate and struggle for East Turkistan in the present. The only reason they took arms was because in that town, 200 women forcibly have their babies aborted. I saw our people tried to go to the local government buildings and shortlist grievances. So, seeing what happened in Afghanistan, a guy who was only 27 at that time, 26 years old.
He was inspired by what happened in Afghanistan. He said if he was trying to buy time. He said like if we were able to resist; maybe, we’ll get support from the international community. Maybe, they will help us. Unfortunately, the world didn’t even hear about this massive uprising until months later after the Chinese government arrested over 7,000 people in connection to this. But with the independence of the Central Asian countries, we had to advocate for our independence more openly because from 1960s up until really late, until 1990, everything had been underground. Because the Chinese, they executed a lot of leaders. In prison a lot of people, and so everything was just underground, everyone’s like, “Hey, we should do something.”
But we weren’t able to do anything because there was no real external support. But starting in the 1990s, our people started to go out of Central Asia and into Europe and out of Turkey, into Europe and into the United States. In 2004, September 14, 2004, that is when the pre-existing East Turkistan organizations like East Turkistan National Congress, East Turkistan Freedom Center and the East Turkistan revolutionary branch, the East Turkistan Committee, all these different leaders of the different East Turkistan organizations came together here in Washington, D.C. to declare the East Turkistan government in exile. Since then, we have been based in D.C. I got involved in early 2019, in April, not seeing my success raising awareness and getting the US Congress and others to move on the East Turkistan issue.
The government in exile, they reached out to me and said, “Hey, we’d like you in November 2018,” when they initially reached out to me. At that time, I politely declined because I didn’t want to be; I just wanted to be responsible for other things. Because I was able to get a lot of popular support within our own community, our diaspora getting a petition of 100,000 signatures. On a petition, it might not be a big deal for people in the way. For the rest of the world, it might not be a big deal. But for us, that’s something very difficult to do. To get a 108,000 of our people to agree on one thing and say, “Hey, I want to. I agree with this.” It is very different and it’s very difficult. Because in our diaspora, we number at maximum about a million.
And in the Central Asian countries, advocacy on East Turkistan is prohibited even in Turkey advocacy. Turkistan is limited. So, not only giving us the limited external Western diaspora community to really focus on our issue. Our petition to the White House got over a hundred and eight thousand signatures in more than one month. The only reason I made this petition was that there was a previous petition made by a different organization, human rights organization. They used the Chinese terminology for our country. They just call us human rights abusers. They referred to our people as an ethnic minority, which we are not. We don’t see ourselves as minority because we are still the majority in East Turkistan. They just asked the U.S. government to just condemn the human rights abusers.
And it came to my attention and I was being asked by our people, “Should we sign this?” And I said, “No. Because if we sign this, China’s going to use this.” Let’s say it gets 100,000 signatures and it gets into the White House. China is going to use that to go down our face and we’d be like, “It’s just a few a bunch of people that they don’t want, East Turkistan.” The leaders are happy and China. Yes, there’s a little bit human rights problems, but we can work with that. We have accepted that we were the moral minority. We would have accepted the Chinese colonial term for our country, which means we would have accepted Chinese rule. And we have absolutely have not accepted historically. But I said, “No, we need to – let me put out a different petition.”
So, I filed a petition, condemning China’s 21st century Holocaust in occupied East Turkistan. I have the same thing we’ve been pushing for sanctions on Chinese officials on the Magnitsky Act and passed the Uyghur Act, to recognize the genocide in East Turkistan. Despite the other pre-existing organization, the human rights organization is a large human rights organization. In spite of them pushing against this petition, accusing me of being a suffragist, accusing me of dividing our community, etc., at the end, our people, I told them, “You are human rights activists. How are you going to get it? How are you going to get human rights? If you don’t have a country, if you don’t have a government, if you don’t have a chance to elect your own people, how are you going to get that human right?”
Yes, there are some human rights, written on a piece of paper. Just like under Chinese law, we have human rights. Under Chinese law, we have autonomy on a piece of paper. But you need your own independence to achieve that. I made a video message with tens of thousands of views and people all across the world are in our community. They’re like, “What?” Let’s sign on their petition. So, 108,000 versus 12,700 on the WC petition. So, you get a lot more respect and support. You wonder. If I ask people to do something in our community… which I did, I said, “We need to organize demonstrations in your own country.”
Your governments, parliaments, etc., you need to engage in grassroots activism. We can’t just rely on a few organizations here and there to do it. We need to use the correct terminology. We need to emphasize that this is what our people want. By now, a majority of our population in the diaspora – I would say – prior to me coming out and creating some of this. There was about 60% or 70% who advocated, who wanted independence. But now, it’s over 95%. In fact, right now, it has gotten to the point where if you’re in the community, people ask, “Do you want independence?” You can’t even answer, “No.” Because in our community’s perception, if you answer, “No,” then there’s a problem. There’s a problem with you. Unfortunately, this is the way it has to be.
So, seeing that the government in exile wanted me to represent them because I was appearing at important events, I think the university is talking about our issue meeting with members of Congress and raising our issue, meeting with the State Department and raising our issue. So, they asked me to represent them as their ambassador to the U.S., which I didn’t accept until April of 2019. Then the government in exile, though it was created in the US and based in Washington, the leadership was still in Turkey and they were heavily under Turkey’s influence. They would make a lot of anti-Semitic and anti-Western statements. That’s because Turkey’s pressure has influenced and has been on a leash.
So I began to push back against that within our own government and then, ultimately, a parliament had to choose sides. Then I also said, “We need to get these people in the grassroots. We need to get grassroots elections done.” I tried to push for grassroots elections and tried to get them to allow to change the constitution, which would allow the people to directly vote for the president, the prime minister, and so forth. But I wasn’t able to do that. Before it was only three representatives. They can only vote three representatives in each nation. But I said, “No.” We need to do it to where they can elect ten and then have those ten decide amongst themselves and narrow it down to three.
Because we need to be democratic. We need to run it in a more democratic fashion. We have to teach our people democratic process, because I genuinely believe that we will regain our independence much closer than many people think. We have to be prepared for that. In order to be prepared for that, we have to focus on democratizing the various institutions that we have here in exile.