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Missing: Loved Ones in East Turkestan – Raise the Voices

I was sitting at the school assembly in our gym among a crowd of students and teachers who were wearing a typical smiley face. Tears were running down on my face thinking the tragic events that happened to my own family and feeling the fear of extinction of my nation-Uyghurs like the dinosaurs that happened to become extinct on our planet 65 millions years ago. 

My favorite student, a spanish girl ( I don’t want to pick up some students as my favorite, but I can’t help when kids are extra special and sweet!) who is sitting right beside me whispered to my ears “ Mrs. Gulruy, why are you crying?” “ My allergies flared up” I whispered back softly. Her sweet voice entered into my ears again “hope you feel better!”  and I instantly felt the warmness in my heart. 

On the stage kids were performing traditional chinese dancing – umbrella dance to a very beautiful chinese music filled with full of springy feeling. Kids were celebrating diversity by performing  Chinese dance. Year, definitely, they are showing their respect for the traditional chinese culture through this dancing. My school is one of the International Baccalaureate School in our school district and provides chinese classes for our students, therefore it’s natural for my school to hold a lot of programs which celebrates multiculturalism. So you can assume that Chinese culture elements are inseparable part of our every IB PYP assembly.  

Again, I tried to hold my tears with all my might. Then, I was sold into the spider-net like thoughts:“ Hey, chinese people, here in America, we respect everybody’s culture, heritage, religious belief and traditions and they are learning your culture and language here because they think your cultural heritage is the treasure for the mankind. They are showing a respect and admiration to your heritage. But what are you doing to my nation – Uyghurs? Are you doing the same thing that people are doing here? No, you are doing just the opposite, you are victimizing millions of innocent Uighurs’ lives for your China Dream! 

My nephews Behram Yarmuhemmed and Ekram Yarmuhemmed, upper left.

For this reason, my brother, my  two nephews, and a whole bunch of family members from my husband’s side are among these victims. China, you occupied my beloved country East Turkestan(aka: Xinjiang Autonomous Region)  and robbed all kinds of natural resources and yet it’s not enough. Now, you would like to take my people’s lives, their freedom, their culture and tradition, their religion, their identity,  their fathers, their mothers, their siblings, their children, their thought, and their everything. You destroyed millions of cozy homes. You destroyed my dream to meet with my mother, brother and two sisters. My mother is old and she has heart problems and diabetes, and now she is going through a nightmare at her old age . She must be shedding her tears day and night for her son and her two grandsons who were locked in prisons and concentration camps. You ruined their lives, you destroyed their families, and you forced them to live in constant pain, fear, and agony. 

Why do you arrest my innocent brother who dedicated his youth to make dictionaries to bridge between your language and mine?  Why do you take my two nephews into prison and concentration camp? Just because their father was a writer and educator who dedicated his entire life to educate Uyghurs about how to parenting in a better way?  You are afraid of my linguist brother be free at the outside of your prison and camps, because you think that as a man who dedicated his entire youth to make dictionaries for his people, he will not be happy to abandon his language all together. It’s not fair that you are trying to eradicate us from the face of earth by putting millions of us  into your so-called reeducation camps and prisons while people are celebrating your culture here! ” 

My tears did not obey my command to stop, I sobbed. I was detected by our IB coordinator saying “Mrs. Gulruy are you ok? I heard my own voice “Yeah, could you please take care of my kids?” I ran out of the gym and dashed towards the restroom where I sobbed uncontrollably. 

Five minutes later I returned to my spot in the gym. The gym was cheery with beautiful hispanic dance and songs and kids were clapping harmoniously with the tune of the music. I forced myself to smile like everyone, cheer like everyone, and be happy like everyone in the building. I tried to hum with tune, moved my feet like my students with the beat of the music. My spirit calmed down and I felt that I was ready to take care of my class as a teacher. All the tragic and dramatic feelings were replaced with a sense of duty of a teacher. “Good, this is good” I was thinking, “ the utmost responsibility of a teacher is good enough to shoo away every bit of the sorrow that excruciating my heart like a knife.

Recess time, kids were swinging high in the air. One of my African american kids was pushing  the pretty hispanic girl who was sitting in the swing high in air. Kids were playing on the slide giggling and laughing. Boys found a football somewhere and playing with it so skillfully. “Oh, I have very skillful football players in my classroom!” thinking that I started to smile. How happy are you kids you are here! How blessed are you to live in this country where kids are not  forcefully taken to the orphanage camps while their innocent parents are tortured in prisons and so-called reeducation camps. My older nephew’s two kids’ cute faces lingered through my eyes and I felt another episode of sobbing is on my way! Are my older nephew’s two kids Qutyar and Reyhan in orphanage camps? Why I can’t help them at all while I can help 25 kids learn a lot of things here at this school. I even can’t call to my family back home, why, why, and why? When I was questioning myself with these question nonstop, I know the answer in my heart  so clearly: “for chinesifying Uyghur through human engineering”

I came back to home from school and cooked our traditional Uyghur noodle. While I was frying the lamb meet, the aroma filled the kitchen. as usual I picked a piece of meat from the pan and put it in my mouth and talked to myself “ I am hungry!” By savoring the delicious taste, I thought about the chinese propaganda that I have seen on chinese media titled as “ XXX enjoyed tasting her first pork with her Han colleagues. I thought “if I say to my colleagues that  Uyghur muslims in East Turkestan are forced to eat pork, will they believe or will they laugh at me?”

 I brought the food to our dinner table. I started eating my noodle with my twin daughters and my husband. I asked the same question from my family “ How is my cooking art today?”

 One of my twins smiled at me and said “ my complements for the sheff!” My heart was warmed again and I had a smile on my face. 

My eyes suddenly fell on one of my twin’s playful style of eating noodle. She was coiling her noodles around her chopsticks in the exact same way that my older nephew did years ago on our dinner table back home. Tears rolled down from my face thinking that my beloved brother and both of my nephews must be starving and thirsty in their cells in  prison or reeducation camp. I said repeatedly “ sorry, I am not a good mom, I am not supposed to make you guys unhappy at dinner time” while sobbing. 

My husbands eyes were  filled with tears too. All our appetites were  gone and silence governed the whole house, as if we were  expressing our love in silence toward our relatives in captivity in this sad movement. I wiped my tears with the napkin that one of my twins handed over and sighed deeply. An Uyghur folk song  went through my mind:

I sigh, I sigh, and I sigh,

Hoping my sighs will take my revenge.

My tears shall become a raging river.

Your all shall be in its full clench. 

Thinking this folk song expresses the deep sadness of Uyghur people who couldn’t escape from the hands of cruel fate, I realized that Uyghur people has been singing this song for a long time already with its sad melody and will sing it for a long time in future. 

My brother Husanjan Asqer

I am an ethnic Uyghur and an elementary school teacher who is living in Tennessee. My linguist brother Husenjan Asqer’s  name fell into the list of lost Uyghur scholar’s list six months ago. He is the director of terminology office at Ethnic Language committee In Xinjiang Autonomous Region and published more than 40 dictionaries. Even though I have been worried about his safety for a long time after several of his colleagues name happened to appear in this list, after the confirmation of his arrest I was really devastated, and decided to speak up for my nation. 

My two nephews Behram Yarmuhemmed and Ekram Yarmuhemmed were also taken to the so called reeducation camp and prison.These two boys are the son of the prominent Uyghur writer Yarmuhemmed Tahir Tughluk and my oldest sister Adile Asqer.  

My husband’s brother Alimjan Sulaiman was also in the prison because he went to Turkey to study. Almost every Uyghur family who are living in abroad is living under immeasurable psychological pressure because of the lost family members backhome like me, therefore I decided to write this piece of essay to become Uyghur people’s voice who are living in abroad. 

My name is Gulruy Asqer, and I am an elementary school teacher in Tennessee. I am also an Uyghur poet who calls Uyghur people to keep their language alive in diaspora. 


  1. IB PYP: International Baccalaureate School Primary Years Program 

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