Beijing-backed drawing competition in Turkey turns around as students submit representations of abuse in Xinjiang – Radio Free Asia
A drawing competition launched by the Chinese Embassy in Turkey to promote interest in China among students appears to have backfired after several submissions were posted online describing state-backed crackdown policies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).
The “China in my dreams” competition – organized by the International Foundation for Science and Culture of Turkey, the country’s Ministry of National Education and the Chinese Embassy launched in 2016 – rewards Turkish high school students whose works best illustrate the theme of the links between Beijing and Ankara.
Students must submit their entries between May 3 and June 13, and winners are offered trips to China, where they visit Beijing, Shanghai and Xi’an. To mark the 50eanniversary of ties between the two nations, this year’s trip will include visits to mosques in Xi’an, an ancient city traditionally considered to be the eastern end of the Silk Road trade route that connected China to China. West.
But while the competition is generally welcomed to highlight the strength of bilateral relations and cultural ties between Turkey and China, it has also drawn condemnation from members of the public who believe that the country’s government lacks the power. right to support China amid widespread reports of abuse in the XUAR.
Turkey is home to more than 50,000 of the estimated 12 million Uyghurs in the world, who have historically viewed their fellow Turks as a refuge and defend their religious and cultural rights.
Ahmet Davutoğlu, former Turkish prime minister and leader of the country’s opposition Future Party, leads a group of politicians, intellectuals and non-governmental organization leaders in the fight against China’s soft diplomacy narrative and strives to hold Beijing accountable for its rights record in the XUAR. . Reports suggest that authorities in the region have detained as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since early 2017.
Davutoğlu recently called on students in Turkey to submit works of art to the Ministry of National Education for a “East Turkestan in My Dreams” competition, using the name many Uyghurs prefer for their homeland, as part an attempt to expose China’s persecutory tactics in the region.
“Dear young people! Draw pictures of your brothers in the homeland rescued from oppression and send them into the competition, ”he tweeted, accompanying an image drawn by Faruq Nazmi which depicts a young girl saluting the blue star and the crescent. of the flag of the short-lived Uyghur Republic.
Selçuk Özdağ, vice chairman of the Future Party, also tweeted a message to Turkish Education Minister Ziya Selçuk urging him to “question the Chinese Ambassador to Turkey on the issue of this drawing and then share his response with the Turkish people ”, referring to a drawing of a young girl holding a sign saying:“ Where are my parents? ”
“Let’s see what you really are a scholar and a politician,” he added.
Social media movement
On social media, critics of the contest have since shared other drawings, including one of Chinese President Xi Jinping surrounded by Uyghur skulls, and another that shows a man dressed in Chinese flag clothing putting his hand over his mouth. of a Uyghur, expressing the idea that Uyghurs have no freedom of expression.
Other social media users posted designs on various themes, including Uyghurs hanged in nooses made from the Chinese flag; Uyghurs killed while China and Turkey maintained “friendly relations”; and chinese [state representatives] demolish mosques and imprison Uyghurs.
A drawing of a young girl named Aisha Zawki depicts Chinese police imprisoning Uyghurs and hanging them from trees, while other images depict slogans in Chinese, including: “Let’s invade and assimilate Uyghurs in every way.” [possible]. “
While Beijing initially denied the existence of the camps, China changed course in 2019 and began to describe the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, deter radicalization and help protect the country from harm. terrorism.
But reports from RFA’s Uyghur service and other media suggest people in the camps are being held against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, regularly face brutal treatment from their wardens, and endure unhealthy nutrition. and unsanitary conditions in the often overcrowded facilities. .
Reports also suggest that Uyghurs are subjected to torture, forced labor, state-imposed birth control, including forced sterilizations and abortions, and cultural eradication. These practices amount to a policy of genocide, determined the US State Department in January.
Call for access
The Turkish Writers Union recently issued a statement calling on the Turkish Education Ministry to immediately cancel the “China in My Dreams” competition, calling it “unacceptable” to support the competition given the current situation at XUAR.
“It is impossible to explain why Turkey would look away and organize such a competition today, when some governments have recognized that China’s policy of repression in the Uyghur region is genocide,” the statement said.
“Today, as the whole world rejects what China is doing to Uyghurs, when all Uyghurs, whose religion, language and culture are the same as the Turks, face oppression from the China, what can you even draw in a contest called “China in my dreams” other than the tears and blood that flow? “
The Writers Union added that if China dismisses the crackdown on the XUAR, it should allow international observers in the region to investigate the allegations.
China organized two visits in 2019 to monitor internment camps in the XUAR – one for a small group of foreign journalists and another for diplomats from non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan and the United States. Thailand – in which officials dismissed allegations of ill-treatment. and the bad conditions in the facilities as “slanderous lies”.
At the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September last year, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John J. Sullivan told the rally that these trips and the pro-China stories they produced were “Potemkin’s tours in an unsuccessful attempt to prove” that the camps were centers of human training.
Osman Oktay, a well-known journalist in Turkey, recently spoke to RFA about the competition, calling the Turkish government “blind and deaf” for its involvement.
“It is shocking that they are holding this while Uyghurs face such oppression,” he said. “We have to express our dissatisfaction with this.”
Hidayetullah Oğuzhan, head of the Union of East Turkestan Associations, told RFA that he wrote to the Ministry of Education as well as some public organizations in Turkey to condemn the competition, and said the protests against the competition multiplied.
He also noted that his organization was planning to hold a poetry writing competition alongside a drawing competition called “East Turkistan in my dreams”.
“Many in Turkey, including both [political] parties and famous people in the social media space have demonstrated a very urgent protest against this, ”he said.
“Inshallah, we will not give in to the plans of the Sinophiles and the Chinese Embassy to downplay the activities of the East Turkestan cause here in Turkey.”
Reported by Erkin for the RFA Uyghur service. Translated by Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.