Cina: Distrutta Kashgar, culla della civiltà uigura

L’Associazione americana Uiguri (UAA) è estremamente turbata per la demolizione della città vecchia di Kashgar, casa di più di 200.000 uiguri e culla della tradizione culturale uigura che appare ora essere in uno stato critico ed irreversibile.

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The Uyghur American Association (UAA) is extremely disturbed about the demolition of Kashgar’s Old City, the home of more than 200,000 Uyghurs and an ancient cradle of traditional Uyghur culture, which appears to be reaching a critical and irreversible stage. Kashgar, an oasis on the Silk Road that served as a center of vibrant trade and cultural exchange for hundreds of years, lies in the southwestern part of East Turkestan (also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China) and has a total population of around 400,000 people. According to a June 18 report, a medieval Islamic college in the Old City that was listed as an Autonomous Region-level protected cultural site was recently demolished. Another article reported that June 18 was the last day that residents of the Old City could agree to move out voluntarily.

Government authorities began carrying out the destruction of Kasghar’s Old City in February 2009, as part of a “residents resettlement project” aimed at moving the 65,000 Uyghur households in the Old City. In 2008, the State Council of the National People’s Congress designated nearly three billion yuan to the project. While the official Chinese media has said the project is being driven by official concerns over earthquake safety, poor drainage, and other public safety issues, UAA remains concerned that it is being motivated by a long-standing campaign to eradicate Uyghur culture and identity.

“Chinese authorities are no longer content to eradicate our language from schools and our religion from mosques,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer. “Now they are physically tearing down our homes, our businesses and our places of worship. What will happen to people who refuse to move out of their homes in the Old City? What happens when the government destroys cultural sites that it has itself deemed worthy of protection? The international community must call upon China to prevent the further destruction of the Old City, for the sake of Uyghur cultural identity and to prevent the loss to the world of an irreplaceable center of architecture and heritage.”

It is not clear at present how much of the more than eight square kilometers of the Old City is left, but reports from the media and concerned groups have documented the destruction of parts of the city and the corresponding resettlement of residents to apartment blocks in an area about eight or nine kilometers outside of Kashgar, not far from the airport. In addition to being uprooted from their jobs, communities and centers of worship, residents have also reported that they have received inadequate compensation for their Old City homes. Online forums in the Uyghur language have reported that Old City residents were given no opportunity to voice their opinion about the demolition project or their resettlement.

According to one report, the Islamic college demolished in recent days, known as the Xanliq Madrasa, may have been torn down to make room for an athletic field. One of the school’s most famous students is said to have been Mahmud Kashgari, an 11th-century Uyghur scholar and writer who occupies a central place in both Uyghur and Turkish history. His seminal work, Turkiy Tillar Divani (Compendium of the Language of the Turks), was the first comprehensive dictionary of Turkic languages. The 1,000th anniversary of his birth was nationally celebrated in 2008 in Turkey. The Xanliq Madrasa itself was the first in East Turkestan to combine Islamic and “scientific” curricula, introducing a trend of similar schools with modern teaching methods in the region and, later, reformist social and political movements.

The Times newspaper reported that June 18 was the last day for residents of the Old City to claim a bonus for agreeing to move out before their houses are destroyed. The Times reported a palpable fear in the air among the remaining Old City residents, who indicated a heavy police presence and were reluctant to talk. One resident displayed a lack of confidence in government assertions that newly-built apartment blocks would be safer in an earthquake than the Old City buildings that had withstood centuries and sheltered generations.

Chinese organizations and scholars are among those observers who have raised concerns over the destruction of the Old City, including concerns over the loss of cultural heritage. The chairman of an NGO in Beijing devoted to historic preservation said large-scale demolition was unnecessary, and said rebuilding must use original materials and techniques. “The local Uighurs are the spirit of the Old City,” he said. “If people move out, the city would lose its soul.” A Beijing professor suggested that houses in the Old City could be reinforced and repaired instead of completely demolished, as the Old City contains “the typical Uighur way of life, production and culture.”

The wishes of Old City residents, whether they are to live in modern apartment blocks or remain in their Old City homes, should be respected. However, it is clear that Uyghurs’ voices were not included in the decision-making process surrounding the “resettlement project”, and that no participatory process existed for Old City residents. Instead, they were faced with propaganda and intimidation, including television programs and signs throughout the Old City exhorting them to leave. Those who wish to stay face a lack of any institutional mechanism with which to express their grievances, and fear that if they voice any complaints, they may be subject to severe punishment from authorities.

Chinese official Wang Zhengrong stated that not all of the Old City is earmarked for demolition and that sections will be “protected, managed, and developed” with the aim of “creating international heritage scenery”, which will increase income from tourism. Wang added that under the plans, tourists would still be able to view “minority lifestyle and architectural characteristics.” UAA is concerned that the remaining sections of the Old City will take on the characteristics of an open-air museum of Uyghur culture, where once a vibrant community lived. The value of tourism to the Kashgar economy is approximately 620 million yuan. So far, no indication has been given as to who will be the beneficiaries of a Chinese-managed Kashgar Old City.

While the Chinese government has proposed that China’s Silk Road locations be included in a UNESCO World Heritage List, Kashgar was glaringly omitted from China’s application (with the exception of the tomb of Mahmud Kashgari), though Kashgar was arguably the most important Silk Road crossroads within the territory of present-day China. According to a report from the Congressional-Executive Committee on China (CECC), the Chinese government also exploited ambiguities in the framework for heritage protection to bypass formal protections in its Historic Cities Regulation that could have protected buildings in the Old City. CECC also noted that “the Chinese government has formally committed itself to preserve its cultural heritage not only through its domestic legislation but also through its ratification of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.”

UAA calls on the international community, in particular UNESCO, to ask the Chinese government to halt the demolition of Kashgar Old City, in keeping with domestic laws guaranteeing the protection of historic sites and cultural heritage and the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. UAA also urges authorities in Kashgar to ensure adequate protection of property rights and compensation for the homes of Kashgar residents.

Uyghur Human Rights Project
Uyghur American Association
1701 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Suite 300
Washington, D.C.  20006
Tel: +1 (202) 349 1496
Fax: +1 (202) 349 1491


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