Khotan to the khotanese!

Xinjiang is the western-most province of China, a so called “autonomous region,” which borders on Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. Its population is 43 percent Uyghur, who speak a Turkic language and practice Islam, but Han Chinese are almost as many, 41 percent, and the remainder are Kazakhs and other ethnic groups. Less than 5 percent of Xinjiang is suitable for human habitation; the rest consists of deserts and mountain ranges. Although various Chinese dynasties, including the Han, conducted military campaigns here, it was conquered only in 1759, and it is only since 1884 that Xinjiang came to constitute a Chinese province. Xinjiang literally means “new province” in Chinese. The Uyghurs themselves call their country “East Turkestan” or “Uyghuristan.”

Two thousand years ago, a Buddhist kingdom, Khotan, was established here. The caravan trade made Khotan prosperous, and thanks to rivers running from the Himalayas straight into the desert it was possible to grow fruit and cereal. The people of Khotan cultivated silk and carved jade; they were devout Buddhists, loved literature and, according to visitors, they spent a lot of their time singing and dancing. Some spoke Chinese, others Tibetan and Indian languages. In 1006, the Khotan Kingdom fell to Muslim invaders.

Reacting to attempts to make the region increasingly Chinese, Uyghur nationalists have recently raised demands for independence. In July 2009, thousands of Uyghurs clashed with Han Chinese and some 200 people died, although Uyghur nationalists argue that the real death toll was considerably higher. Rioting has since repeatedly taken place and Xinjiang nationalists have been blamed for terrorist attacks throughout China. There have been reports that fighters from Xinjiang have joined Al-Qaeda, and in 2006, the US army captured twenty-two Uyghurs in Afghanistan and sent them to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

In 2018, the Chinese authorities admitted to imprisoning Muslims in internment camps, which they referred to as “reeducation centers.”The aim of the camps is to replace Islam with Chinese values. Altogether up to one million people have been detained. Recently, shops in Xinjiang have been forced to sell alcohol and tobacco; university students have been forbidden to fast during Ramadan; women wearing veils have been barred from public transportation or have had their clothes forcibly removed.

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