A Truth Facing the Tanks
  • Mon, 07/09/2012 - 21:16

Reflections on the July 5 massacre in 2009
By Mamtimin Ala

Let me begin with the photograph of an elderly Uyghur woman striding forward in defiance into the oncoming tanks of the Chinese Army. This iconic photograph was taken right after the July 5 massacre in Urumqi back in 2009. This photograph reminds us of a similar photograph taken during the Chinese student movement of 1989 of “the Tank Man”,  a Chinese man who stood unwaveringly in front of the tanks of the Chinese Army in Tiananmen Square, when they were about to move in to crush the young Chinese students. There are some nominal differences between these two photographs, such as time, space and, above all, the personal objectives. However, the fundamental similarities outweigh the differences. Both images capture the breathtaking, haunting and formidable defiance of two individuals against the same dictatorship government, the Chinese communist government, which boasts more military hardware and manpower militia than anyone could find conceivable for use against its own people living in their own land. Alone, unarmed and unyielding, they stood manifest in their resisting spirit, in the direct path of the merciless and relentless tanks, trundling towards them on some vain mission to destroy that which is not able to be destroyed—the truth.

Both of these awe-inspiring scenes depict the re-enactment, though momentary, of the most dramatic conflict that may best be seen through the almost outmoded sense of Manichaeism: an eternal conflict of good against evil, of courage against violence, of truth against untruth.   As such, these photographs are  deeply engraved our public memory as unforgettable individual acts of heroism, almost surreal in their stark contrast to the chilling tyranny and cowering insecurity behind the cold metal form of the oncoming powerful military hardware.

Three years have gone, but it seems like yesterday since 5 July 2009. Blood spilt and lives lost. This date marks a dark day indeed, a dark Sunday that still haunts us with the needless and horrific loss of innocent lives. On that very day, thousands of unarmed Uyghurs took to the streets of Urumqi in East Turkestan (aka Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region to use the Chinese preference) to peacefully protest against the total lack of government action following the cold blooded massacre of Uyghur factory workers in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, by mobs of hundreds of Chinese on 26 June 2009. This initial protest erupted from the building torrent of resentment growing in the hearts of the Uyghur people, following decades of cultural and religious oppression by the Chinese government, forcing them into economic marginalisation in their homeland.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the peaceful demonstration quickly descended into emotional mass riots, which Chinese troops controlled by conducting a massacre of the Uyghur people in the streets of Urumqi.   This absurdly excessive use of force by the Chinese troops left hundreds of the people dead and thousands wounded, detained, “disappeared”, imprisoned and hundreds executed, many without trials.

 

Human rights groups like Amnesty International urged the government in Beijing to launch an independent investigation into the violence and mass killings. This request was rejected by the Chinese authorities. This kind of suppression of information is known in the Western world as “a cover up”.   Any information and knowledge about this incident was kept very quiet by the Chinese government under a cloak of extreme secrecy. However, in spite of the huge efforts taken by the Chinese regime to contain the leaking of any shred of information related to the July 5 massacre, the truth has continued to seep out slowly but surely over the last three years. The identities of those who went missing are beginning to emerge.  More eye witness testimonials and records of video footage have been discovered, which give a more accurate depiction of the murky images of the massacre. Evidence shows that the Chinese government misled the world by broadcasting contrived and deceptive information about the demonstration on 5 July 2009. Their aim was simple: to shift the blame of their own brutal and criminal behaviour across to the Uyghur protesters and so to justify its own barbaric crackdown on them.

However, the lies are now uncovered, and the free world, beyond the reach of the Chinese propaganda blanket, is now becoming more informed about the truth of the massacre with the unfolding of each piece of evidence and video footage.  The Chinese government did succeed, to some extent, in suppressing and manipulating the truth. But in the long run it is now clear that it failed to suffocate the truth entirely.

The immediate response of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the suppression of the peaceful demonstration on 5 July 2009 was quite phenomenal. He unequivocally labelled it “soykırım”, a Turkish word for “genocide” when he spoke on 10 July 2009, courageously risking the ire of its close trading partner, China. To identify the suppression of the demonstration with “genocide” was, without doubt, the most powerful and outspoken criticism of the Chinese autocracy over the Uyghurs, in stark contrast to the deafening silence from the rest of the world.

To this affect, Turkey even promised to escalate the issue to the UN Security Council to discuss ways of ending the violence. The immediate and strong Turkish promise assured the Uyghurs that they would never be alone, unheard and abandoned.  This sadly transpired to be only a short-lived expression of loyalty. The instant retort from the Chinese government in response to this bold criticism was to launch a very aggressive and yet mostly incentive driven series of diplomatic manoeuvres to deflect Turkey from its resolution to support the Uyghur people. With the relentless diplomatic efforts from China, Turkey used this situation to reinforce a bid, overtly and covertly, to end its deficit-bound trade relationship with the emerging power of China.  More importantly, Turkey, which is entrenched in its age-old dreams of becoming a fully-fledged member of EU, seized this golden opportunity to ingratiate itself with the newly emerging power fulcrum in the Far East—the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), previously known as the Shanghai  Five. The objective of this organization, from the China’s strategic perspective, is to serve as a “legitimate” trans-national body, not only to challenge the US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond and but also to curb the spread of the influence of the East Turkestan forces operating in the region. Through the SCO, the Chinese government has forged another mouthpiece to broadcast messages to discredit the Uyghur people, and to bolster its fear mongering about the issue, indicating that Uyghur people who want to live as Uyghur people in their homeland are therefore terrorists. 

The potential for ethnic diplomacy that the Uyghur people could have brought to bear by evoking the historical and cultural ties with their Turkish/Turkic brothers was swiftly overshadowed by the increasing empowerment of this Organisation. The closest cultural ally of the Uyghurs, Turkey, reversed the direction of its original ethnic diplomacy to serve its own interests. The diplomatic narrative shifted accordingly from the expected future role that Turkey could take to advocate on behalf of its long-lost brothers in the land from which they originated, to some newly assumed role that the Uyghurs could be asked to play in the new strategic partnership of Turkey with China. The narrative has thus changed drastically from “the Uyghur people undergoing a systematic massacre” to “the Uyghur people forming a time tested bridge for Turkey and China”!  The term “bridge” was originally coined by Turkey to describe the role that Uyghurs could play in its strategic relationship with China. The metaphor of the “bridge”, on which the two countries can walk to the other end to embrace each other, visibly demonstrates that the Uyghur issue is a pawn in the chess game, being sacrificed in the national interest of Turkey.

The visits of Ms Rebiya Kadeer to Japan and Australia right after the massacre were quite remarkable. This woman who was nominated thrice for the Nobel Peace Prize is maligned by the Chinese regime as a “perpetrator” of the “riots” on 5 July 2009. These successful visits proved that the Uyghur plight is not totally invisible and that at least some of the world is not totally blind to the cultural genocide which is occurring.  In particular, the historic decision of the Melbourne film festival on the public screening of a documentary about the life of exiled Uyghur leader, Ms Kadeer, called “The Ten Conditions of Love”, went ahead in defiance of China’s all-too-powerful, bullying and vicious pressure tactics in August 2009.

The necessity to display such courage of defiance by the Film Festival organisers, to merely show a documentary at a film festival justified, once more, the legitimacy of the defiance of the elderly Uyghur lady under the shadow of the tanks. The only difference between these acts of defiance was that this time, the same tanks appeared—invisibly—on Australian soil. The documentary film captivated the attention of Australians from all walks of life. It told the story of the Uyghur people through the life of Ms Rabiya Kadeer, who was originally a relatively unknown Uyghur woman, from the beginning of her humble life to her outstanding success in creating a business empire which exceeded all expectations. After being identified as being too powerful an individual who might pose a threat to the stability of East Turkestan, she was imprisoned for six years, finally being released into the US on medical parole.

From being nobody to somebody as depicted in the film, Ms Kadeer made her people known to the whole world through love. In this documentary film, the theme of love is very much to the fore.  It was love, which cultivated her sensibilities towards the suffering of her people.   It was love, which deepened her spiritual relation to her occupied land.  It was love, which taught her how to embrace the whole of humanity in its pain, hope and dignity. It was love, which asked her to be true to herself in darkness.  It was love, which was the driving force behind her resolve to restore the long lost pride of one of the planet’s oldest cultures to its former glory.  It was love, which commanded her to march for justice towards both the visible and invisible tanks constantly spewing at her and the Uyghur people from a cruel regime. This love goes beyond violence and hatred. It is, at its core and in its essence, the love of freedom.

After the July 5 massacre, the Chinese regime was gripped with fear about losing control of the Uyghur land as news of Uyghur issues spread around the free world. In order to try to calm its deep-seated fear, the Chinese regime plotted to implant a collective fear in the minds of the Uyghurs like they had never known before, through processes of intimidation, threat and further suppression. The Uyghurs were plunged into a nightmare of cold fear, and by so doing, the deluded regime seemed to be living some kind of fantasy that it was allaying its own paranoia. The more terrorising the regime felt it was, the more suppressive it became to the Uyghurs, the more the Uyghurs responded with a strong and defiant reaction, because they had nothing to lose, except their fear. Fear was the symbiotic link between the Uyghurs and the regime. Behind the fear of Uyghurs, there was nothing left to lose and that just made the Uyghurs grasp for their Uyghur life more intense, and their will and defiance more resolute at the same time. The Uyghurs found themselves positioned between the sacred desire for life and the threats of death inflicted upon them by the regime. Through the conflict of life and death, the Uyghurs redefined themselves in the most naked form and developed the most practical tenacity to bring about the best hope for their collective survival.

Behind the fear of the Chinese regime, however, there was nothing but sheer cruelty. This fear is destined to doom, not because it is too deep to control, but because it can only exist through further inflicted cruelty, which in turn creates further fear and even phobophobia ad infinitum.   As such, the regime was caught in a vicious spiral.

Urumqi, the capital city of East Turkestan, was ethnically segregated after the massacre. The geographical segregation was a visible physical reinforcement of the mutual hatred between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese. This hatred was carefully fed and manipulated by the regime to make it appear that the people were the cause of the problem, instead of exposing the fact that the harsh and unyielding policies of the regime itself were the driving factors of the conflict. Hatred became the only language between the two ethnic groups: the original Uyghur population in their homeland, and the newly migrated Han Chinese population.  The hatred became their identity; the only way in which they both ascribed meaning to their existence. Fear justified itself in the form of hatred.  Reconciliation became impossible. The same tanks and the same troops with the same guns, in their intimidating presence, patrolled and are still patrolling the streets of Urumqi. The tanks are still there in their positions with the aim of crushing the people’s hopes for a better life.

This growing cycle of hatred and fear was intimidating in itself, and the Chinese regime once again decided to step up its efforts to destroy the Uyghur soul, the Uyghur culture, the Uyghur language, the Uyghur homeland.   It attacked the Uyghur language under the guise of the so-called “bilingual education”, which is in fact monolingual in essence, as it is Mandarin.  Along with it, the regime decapitated the body of the Uyghur culture—Kashgar.   Kashgar lies at the heart of the ancient Silk Road, being one of the oldest cities on earth, and one which should have been preserved as a precious part of our global heritage.  Instead, the old buildings of the city were demolished, bulldozed to the ground, and replaced with the stark utilitarian Chinese communist style high rise buildings. The city was stripped of its ancient invaluable charm and was smashed into being forcedly turned into another Chinese city. It has become a graveyard for the glorious Uyghur culture.

The July 5 massacre is not a thing of the past. It is still present, more present than ever. It is still continuing.  It is one of the most traumatic events in the Uyghur history. The Uyghurs are still leading their life under the shadow of the tanks. The tanks may kill them at any time but they can never kill the defiance of each Uyghur against such an inhumane affront.  It is defiance against the moral cowardice driving those cold metal tanks. The tanks are the embodiment of the paranoid cowardice which underpins the brutality of this regime.

You cannot shoot an idea or a cultural identity.  You can indeed shoot and torture people.  You can undoubtedly bully and fill people with fear when you have a monolithic armoury of weapons and war machines. If this kind of tyranny is an acceptable way to lead a so called leading nation in this modern and civilized world, we are a sorry lot indeed.

No one can shoot freedom. It will always be there for all human beings to aspire to.  Freedom is held dear in every human heart and soul and in every cell of our humanity.  No one can shoot freedom.

Tanks cannot shoot truth.