Written by : Gulruy Asqar
I believe every Uyghur in exile has a different story. Each starts a new life in a different country, but all of them have the same reason to stay in a foreign land: to be free of Chinese persecution and to raise their kids in a free world. They would tell you the best decision they have ever made in their lives was choosing to stay in someone else’s country, bearing the pain of being a stranger in a foreign land, of being separated with their loved ones oceans apart, instead of returning to their real home: East Turkestan, which was occupied by Chinese Communistic party and renamed Xinjiang (meaning new territory in Chinese). The majority of Uyghurs in exile will tell you that China has taken their family members to Nazi style concentraion camps or sentenced them to heavy imprisonment arbitrarily within the past three or four years. My husband will tell you this with frustration and anger, and I will tell you this with deep sadness and sorrow.
Here I am at a protest in VA
My husband has only begged two people in his life. Both in order to persuade them to stay in a foreign country and to not go back to the sweet arms of their loved ones, to their birthplace to which they are bonded to with an unbreakable tie. One of these two people chose to stay, but one returned and became a victim of the CCP’s crack down upon Uyghurs. One of these two people that my husband begged was me, and the other was my husband’s brother. Yes, what you are assuming is true: I stayed, and my brother in law returned. How I wish my brother in law would have conquered the longing for home, and stayed in Turkey, a place he didn’t really like, but could have saved his freedom.
I still remember the time, when my husband relentlessly begged me to stay during my first year in the US. I would say with teary eyes, “I have nobody here, I am all alone, this is not home for me. I miss my mom, she needs me. I miss my family! I am going to book an airplane ticket tonight. If you want to stay here you can, but me, I am going home with my twins as soon as possible” He would say, “Gulruy, did you forget? How scared you were just one year ago in Urumqi during the July 5th massacre? Don’t you remember the Chinese troops all over the city? Remember the Chinese immigrants who were instigated by Chinese government? They marched into our neighborhood with iron batons in their hands, hundreds of them were there, and our neighbors fought them back. Gulruy, tell me, you don’t want to raise our kids in such an insecure environment, do you?” Everytime, after he had to remind me of all the horrifying memories of 2009, I would nod my head and say “ok, I will stay in the US…” This scenario repeated itself for the duration of the entire year, until we made our final decision to stay. Indeed I stayed here in the US, only to never return to the place where I truly belong. I remember my husband telling me on the phone from America months before I joined him, “bid good farewell to all the people you love, because by coming to the US, you are choosing a path you cannot return from: a road that doesn’t turn back.”
I remember my husband’s long phone conversation with his brother, Alimjan Sulayman before his return from Turkey back home to East Turkestan in 2015. They talked numerous times about whether he should return home or not. My husband would say the same things that he told me in 2010 to his brother as if he is doing a recitation time after time, trying to persuade him to stay and later find a way to join him in the US. There was a fear in my husband about Alimjan’s return because there was a murmur in the Uyghur diaspora about the detainment of those who’ve returned from Turkey. My husband told me, “They are putting Uyghurs who’ve come back from Turkey into jails, accusing them of joining terrorist groups in Syria. They make such lame excuses just to put them in jails.” He also told me, “Chinese governments made an easy passport scheme for Uyghurs. Every Uyghur can get a passport now, they do not have to depend on connections or bribery like we did to get a passport. Uyghurs are going abroad easily nowadays, if only they can afford it. Mainstream Uyghurs especially choose Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia to do business, study or travel, because obtaining a visa is easier than European countries, and upon their return, they were accused of the fake crimes CCP made up, such as terrorists and separatists.” I remember that I only raised my eyebrow to my husband in disbelief of what he said. At that time I thought that my husband was worrying too much, little did I know that it was true. When Alimjan announced that he had already bought the returning ticket home for the first time, my husband took hours persuading him to stay in Turkey. I was bored and annoyed by their phone conversation and I had to place myself in the bedroom where I could not hear my husband’s begging and my brother in law’s nagging about how hard it’s to live in Turkey. That day my husband announced gleefully that his brother agreed to stay and returned the air ticket. My husband said, “Gulruy, you do not know, several of my friends told me that their relatives were taken by the government after returning from Turkey. I guess the easy passport issuance is a big scheme, CCP would like to take Uyghurs to jails upon their return by titling them with the crimes that can never cross their minds even in their dreams. In the cultural revolution, people who visited the foreign countries or had relatives in foreign countries were jailed and tortured. Many Uyghurs who have ties abroad died at that time. I sense something like this from what I have been hearing lately. Alimjan should not return.” I nodded my head to my husband in half believing my husband’s prophecy. However, one month later, to my husband’s fear, Alimjan made his announcement of returning home again. This time he sounded very determined. He said, “ Aka(older brother), I am already at the airport.” As I have expected, my husband tried with all his might to make Alimjan realize that returning is too dangerous for Uyghurs. My husband’s voice which was filled with tension and worry still echoes in my ears. However, Alimjan returned home despite my husband’s begging. Alimjan said, “I would like to live in Aksu where I can be with my family and won’t be lonely surrounded by my own people.” After his return, we learned that he was interrogated right at the Urumqi airport by Chinese police about his visit to Turkey. He was very scared and was hesitant to stay or go back to Turkey for a while. However, he did not return to Turkey and started his dentistry job in Shaya Uyghur Traditional Medicine Hospital and started to prepare for his marriage with his fiancé.
My husband Aziz Sulayman is holding Alim Sulayman’s picture Unfortunately Alimjan was arrested in mid 2016 blamed by the Chinese government with a false accusation. After his arrest, my husband’s phone calls to his family did not go through. We heard by word of the mouth from Uyghurs in diaspora that Alimjan was accused of attending Uyghur Academy’s meeting. My husband and I can’t comprehend this, because Alimjan refused to connect with any organizations like this, he always said, “I can’t mingle with such organizations, because I am going back.” Uyghur Academy is a legal organization which is founded by Uyghur scholars abroad and even if Alimjan had attended one of their meetings, it can’t create a legal base for a crime.
Alimjan is not the only one who was taken by the CCP. Now estimated more than three million Uyghurs are suffering in concentration camps in East Turkestan under the name of reeducation camps. China started this mass detainment in 2016 in the same year that they took Alimjan. Numerous Uyghurs have been claiming that their relatives were put in China’s prison camps for reasons such as: going to Turkey or Egypt in the past, going to mosques to pray, growing a beard, going to hajj pilgrimage in the past, having copies of the Quran at home, wearing long skirts and wearing hijab and so many other similar kinds of unjustifiable reasons. In these prison camps, detainees are subjected to toruture, organ harvesting, starvation, rape and all kinds of inhumane treatments. Detainees are refused sanitary items and medical access. Outside the camps, the situation is not any better for Uyghurs. The CCP is forcing Uyghur girls to marry Han Chinese in order to dilute Uyghur’s ethnic identity. They have already eliminated the Uyghur language from the education system successfully. They demolished Uyghur cultural heritage sites and mosques in order to make Uyghur characteristics disappear from the region. Uyghur people are required to show their ID at checkpoints and entrances everywhere and have been living in constant fear of detainment. Recent reports claimed that large numbers of Uyghur people were forced to migrate to the inner cities of China and forced to work in factories, while Chinese immigrants were pouring into the region daily upon the government’s promise of free housing and high salary jobs.
My husband Aziz Sulayman is an epidemiologist and has been campaigning for the freedom of his brother Alim Sulayman ever since his detainment. From the day of his brother’s detainment, my husband has said, “both of you were longing for the sense of belonging, both of you wanted to return home, I tried to persuade both of you to stay. You stayed, but he returned, only to be in the prison camps of the CCP.” At such times, my husband’s last phone conversation with Alimjan at the airport would echoe in my ears and I would say “If only he stayed for his own freedom.” And I think this last phone conversation has echoed in Alimjan’s ears numerous times in his prison cell.
My husband’s testimony
My husband Aziz Sulayman and I with politician Christophor Smith