What do the Turks think of the Chinese

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

Ever since it became public last year how the Chinese government systematically tried to assimilate the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been in a dilemma: On the one hand, many Turks consider the Uyghurs to be Turkish brothers and sisters because of their language, culture and religion .

The Turkish president is therefore under pressure from his nationalist base to criticize the persecution of the Uyghurs. On the other hand, however, Turkey maintains close trade relations with the People's Republic, which Erdoğan can do less than ever during the economic crisis.

While Erdoğan usually likes to present himself as a defender of Muslims and regularly criticizes the persecution of the Palestinians or the Rohingya, for months he did not say a word about what activists see as "cultural genocide" against the Uyghurs. Like Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, he avoided any criticism of his economic partner. It was all the more unexpected when Turkey made a sharp statement on February 9, accusing Beijing of wanting to erase the Uyghurs' ethnic, religious and cultural identity.

"A great shame for mankind"

"It is no longer a secret that more than a million Uighur Turks have been arbitrarily arrested and subjected to torture and political brainwashing in detention centers and prisons," said the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The "systematic assimilation" of the Uighurs is "a great shame for humanity". Two weeks later, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu called on China in the UN Human Rights Council to protect the cultural identity of the Uyghurs and other Muslims and to uphold religious freedom.

For the Turkish political expert Selçuk Çolakoğlu, this change of course must be seen against the background of the local elections in Turkey at the end of March. "Since the beginning of the year there has been an increase in protests in Turkey by nationalist supporters of the opposition Iyi Party and the Saadet Party," says the director of the Turkish Center for Asia Pasific Studies. "Erdoğan has come to the conclusion that his AKP risks losing votes if the government maintains its silence on the suppression of the Uyghurs."