|Funny how the Chinese are always railing on about their "humiliation" at the hand of Caucasians. It's apparently OK for them to not only "humiliate" Caucasian Uighurs - it's fine for them to confiscate millions of square kilomters of land. Funny how worked up the Chinese got about the cession of perhaps thousands of square kilometers of land (Hong Kong and Qingdao) to various Western powers during the 19th century. Maybe they're just angry at the continued existence of countries that have defeated them militarily.
KHOTAN, China -- Almost unnoticed amid the wide-scale protests by Tibetans over the past month is the social unrest among the roughly 8 million Muslim Uighurs in China's resource-rich far western territory.
Recently, hundreds of Muslim women in black veils gathered outside the market in this oasis city in an impromptu protest. Some carried signs demanding an independent state in the region, which is rich in oil, coal and minerals.
"I saw the demonstration myself. There were 500 to 700 women in black, waving placards for East Turkestan," said Wu Jiangliang, a hydroelectric company employee.
Police moved quickly to quell the March 23 protest, arresting numerous women and shooing others away. It drew only minor notice.
China also has broken up what it said were two terrorist rings that intended to disrupt the Beijing Olympics and thwarted what it said was a terrorist attempt last month on a commercial airliner.
Aas the state employed a firm hand against restive Uighurs, pronounced WEE-gers, they also publicly demonized those behind the unrest. Critics say that while the state has stabilized ethnic areas, the harsh language may exacerbate tensions.
"The problem is that China's policies are alienating," said Nicholas Bequelin, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group. "They are efficient in that political repression works. But they increase ethnic tensions."
Conversations in the marketplaces and along the sandy streets of this city reveal that Han Chinese and Uighurs live side by side but share little except mistrust and fear.
"I don't have Chinese friends," said a Uighur shopkeeper who identified herself only as Ayguzal. "Chinese people never come in here."
Since 2006, controls have stiffened. Muslim shopkeepers aren't allowed to pray in their stores, and state employees are discouraged from practicing any religion.
Tensions in Khotan rose early this year when state security arrested a prominent Uighur jade merchant, Mutallip Hajim, who was known to help young Muslim students. On March 3, police gave Hajim's body to his family, saying he had died of a heart attack. He was 38.
About the Uighurs
The history of the Uighurs can be traced back 2,600 years. According to a history compiled by the London Uighur Ensemble, a group formed to popularize the traditional and popular music of the Uighurs, the nomadic tribes of that era rose "to challenge the Chinese Empire" and to become "the diplomatic arm of the Mongol invasion."
China's ethnic Uighurs are moderate Muslims who are related to the Turks. Like the Kurds of Asia Minor and the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Uighurs are a ethnic minority spread across several countries, without an independent homeland or a strong leader. They are located mainly in China, but also in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.