They are about thirty Uighurs, gathered Wednesday, December 30, 2020 in front of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul, brandishing photos of their relatives “interned” in China. It is the ninth day that they demonstrate without, they say, being worried by the Turkish police. The news of China’s ratification, Saturday, December 26, of the extradition agreement signed between Ankara and Beijing in May 2017 is in everyone’s mind. “By ratifying the extradition agreement, China threw the ball into Turkey’s court. But Turkey will never allow such a thing ”, estimated Jevlan Sirmehmet, 29, came to demand the release of his mother. The majority of Turks, he wants to believe, “Will take the side of the Uighurs if such a text is ratified by Ankara”.
The plight of the Uighurs, a Turkish-speaking minority in Chinese Xinjiang that the Turks sometimes call the eski Türk (“Ancient Turks”), is certainly a sensitive issue for public opinion. But it has also regularly suffered the vagaries of the geopolitical arbitrations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the needs of a suffering economy. If it ratifies this agreement, Turkey will join a cohort of Western countries – including France in 2015 with, of course, a whole list of exemptions.
Already, representatives of Turkish opposition parties have denounced the ease with which China “Criminalizes” acts authorized elsewhere. On Tuesday, a delegation from the nationalist party Le Bon Parti (Iyi Parti) supported the Uighur demonstrators in front of the Chinese consulate. On Wednesday, the Democracy and Progress Party (conservative) called on the government to “To adopt a clear and definite attitude towards the oppression and inhuman treatment of the Uighur Turks by China”. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu said the same day that Ankara was not going to return Uighurs to China.
“You are being kicked out and no one knows”
A natural host country for the Uighurs, Turkey is also an increasingly moving and dangerous terrain. Over the past ten years, between 10,000 and 15,000 Uighurs have come to swell a long-standing diaspora – estimated at 35,000 people – due to the repression in China. Some fled across Southeast Asia, using smuggling networks. Others are students who left Egypt when that country’s police rounded up Uighur students to deport them on orders from Beijing to China, where they were sentenced to prison. A majority of these newcomers have student or tourist visas, but find themselves outlawed when their Chinese passports expire – the Chinese consul then forcing them to return to Xinjiang to extend it.
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