China has been accused of oppressing and violating the human rights of the Uighur people in its western Xinjiang province.
There have been widespread reports of Uigur people held against their will in “re-education” centers, subjected to forced contraception and subjected to a number of other restrictions.
porcelain they say the claims are “unfounded” and have repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the Uyghurs, saying they live in “peace and harmony”.
But who are the Uighurs, who are pronounced “wee-gers”, and why the Chinese state is he supposedly targeting them?
Who are the Uyghurs?
The Uighurs are a group of people who live mainly in the Xinjiang area in China.
They have been living there for at least several hundred years and there is good evidence that they may have lived there in some form for several thousand years.
They are generally considered a Turkish people, which means that they speak a language related to Turkish and have ancestors who came from the traditional homeland of the Turks, north of central Asia.
But studies of their genetic makeup suggest that they also have ancestors that came from other parts of the world, with European DNA mixed with Chinese, South Asia, Siberia, and Central Asia.
What have the Chinese been accused of?
China has been accused of interning one million Uyghurs in “re-education” centers in Xinjiang.
In 2019, Leaked documents emerged that contradicted the Chinese government’s claims. that the detention camps were centers for voluntary labor training.
The classified documents appeared to confirm what the former detainees had been saying, that the camps were centers for forced ideological and behavioral re-education, or brainwashing.
The Chinese government has been accused of Forcing Uighur women and members of other minorities to participate in birth control. as part of a campaign to curb its Muslim population.
In recent years, images have emerged that claim to show hundreds of prisoners blindfolded and shackled – thought to be from the Uighur population – being led by guards in the city of Korla in Xinjiang.
So Sky News has found evidence of the disappearance of children of exiled Uighurs in Xinjiang.
Why could the Chinese oppress the Uyghurs?
Xinjiang, where an estimated 80% of China’s Uighurs live, is China’s westernmost province.
It is a politically sensitive region, surrounded by eight other countries.
As the home of a significant part of the Silk Road, it has long been used as a thoroughfare for products from China to travel.
Some Uighurs, possibly the majority, do not accept that Xinjiang is part of China, citing evidence that Uighurs lived in the area before the Han and Tang dynasties established protectorates.
Xinjiang, as it is now, was under the rule of China’s Qing dynasty in the 18th century, but there have been many occasions in its history when it was not under Chinese control.
In modern times, China has increased the number of non-Uighurs in Xinjiang, so the proportion of Uighurs in the region is declining.
Some Uighurs resent that, in their opinion, they are becoming increasingly marginalized in the land where they have lived for centuries.
What unites the Uighur people?
Uighurs are predominantly Muslim and have been for at least several hundred years.
But they have a rich and complex cultural history, dating back millennia, with archaeological sites in Xinjiang showing that many in the past adhered to Buddhist beliefs, as well as those of other religions that now have relatively few followers.
The works of art discovered in the Xinjiang caves were made by Buddhist devotees who are believed to be some of the ancestors of the modern Uighur people.
They show the diversity of the society of the time, with images dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries of Indians, Persians, Chinese and even some resembling Europeans on the cave walls.
Uighurs are also united by a common language, which is related to Turkish, and by a shared culture of music, dance, food, and other traditions.
How long have Uighurs been in Xinjiang?
The oldest known inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, a part of Xinjiang, are the Tarim mummies.
The mummified remains have European features and it has been claimed that the people spoke a language related to European Celtic. They lived about 3,800 years ago.
But there have been many influxes of people since then.
One of the key factors that has influenced those who live in the area is the presence of the Silk Road, the world’s main trade route from Roman to medieval times, through Xinjiang where goods and people traveled.
Some Chinese experts argue that the Uyghurs arrived in Xinjiang around the 8th and 9th centuries after the fall of a more northern society called the Uyghur Khaganate.
Other experts, however, say those arrivals were just one of many waves of immigration to the area, and the modern Uighur population reflects those past movements of people.
This article was originally published in 2020.