The Uyghur issue is mostly shaped by the perception of China in Turkey and vice versa. This issue was brought forward by the Chinese Embassy’s objection to the statement of the Chairman of the Good Party (İyi Party) Meral Akşener and Mayor of Ankara Mansur Yavaş.
1 – What happened?
The discussion started with the social media accounts of İyi Party Chairman Meral Akşener and Ankara Metropolitan Mayor Mansur Yavaş. Akşener and Yavaş described the incidents in the Barın region of Xinjiang as a “massacre”. “East Turkestan will definitely become independent some day,” Akşener indicated at the end of her post. However, the Barın incidents were one of the first bloody terrorist acts of the East Turkestan Islamic Party. The founder of ETIM also died during this reactionary uprising.
Responding to Akşener and Yavaş, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Ankara said, “The Chinese side resolutely opposes and strongly condemns any challenge to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese side reserves the right to respond rightfully.”
Positioning against the government after the statement of the Chinese Embassy, the parties of the “National Alliance” in Turkey made provocative statements, suggesting that the Chinese Embassy threatens Turkish politicians. Under the influence of the Americanist forces within the ruling Ak Party, the Chinese Ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey.
2 – Why is the Uyghur question always on the agenda?
Due to historical and cultural ties, the Republic of Turkey has been following extremely sensitive policy in relation to the Uyghur issue since 1933.
After accession to NATO, Turkey became the base of Uyghur separatism sponsored by the US, mostly without the Turkish governments’ consent and knowledge. The CIA planned to make Turkey a part of the Uyghur question, by creating a “Uyghur diaspora in Turkey”. An Uyghur diaspora, which was funded by the NED and pursued by the CIA, was created in the period when Isa Yusuf Alptekin and Mehmet Emin Buğra were sent to Turkey in 1954.
The Nationalist Movement Party (in Turkish abbreviation MHP), acting as representatives of the East Turkistan separatists in Turkey, was advancing strident opposition in Parliament. Since 1999, the MHP has begun to take a more distant attitude to the Uyghur provocations of the US.
After the election alliance with the AK Party in 2017, the MHP administration developed a discourse in line with the government’s Chinese policy and started making statements that “the Uyghur problem should be solved within China’s territorial integrity.” Finally, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahçeli made a statement on March 30, 2021, “We will not look at the Uyghur issue from the perspective of the United States.”
3 – Why is the Good Party taking the lead?
After the American coup attempt on July 15 in 2016, when the MHP took a joint stance with the Ak Party to clear the American Gladio from the Turkish state, the Americanist forces within the MHP split and organized under the name of the Good Party. The Good Party, led by Meral Akşener, stands out with the Americanist names under its rule, although it leans on a nationalist followers. The Good Party’s relationship with the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) is well known. Good Party Istanbul deputy Ümit Özdağ documented that Buğra Kavuncu, who was the Istanbul Provincial Chairman of Good Party, was a FETO member. After this was revealed, there was a wave of resignation from the Party. The Uyghur issue is also the most useful tool for a party that is affiliated with FETO and plays with a westernizing liberal and nationalist base. Thus, it not only plays to the base of its ruling partner MHP, but also has a role in the US policy of cornering China through “Xinjiang”.
This role undertaken by the Good Party is also accepted and supported by partners organized under the “Nation Alliance”, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Democracy Party (HDP).
Since 2016, the AK Party has been developing good relations with Eurasian countries. The CHP criticizes this approach as “to move away from Western values and the eastern approach to the autocratic regime!” With this policy, the CHP both approves the role of its alliance partner Good Party and cooperates with “Uyghur activists” in America.
The HDP is the third partner in the Alliance, identifying with the Uyghur issue of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, East Turkestan separatists and terrorist supporters. The HDP, which is the legal extension of the PKK, which the US uses as “land forces” in Syria and Iraq, is the most pro-American political force in Turkey, and is hostile to China at every opportunity.
It is not surprising that the aforementioned sharing of Mansur Yavaş, the Mayor of Ankara Metropolitan Municipality who was selected as the candidate of the Nation Alliance, sparked the simultaneous debate with Meral Akşener.
4 – Why now?
A new period of upswing in Sino-Turkey relations has begun with a visit of China’s State Council and member of the Foreign Minister Wang Yi, to Turkey.
Akşener’s attack on China’s territorial integrity openly stems from this rush.
Akşener’s attitude is not the first of its kind. East Turkistan Islamic Party representatives in Turkey have established support from the MHP and directed it toward the Good Party since its inception. In this context, the Western press uses any contact with good transport issues between China and Turkey as an occasion to engage in provocative statements.
For example, in February 2019, the allegations of the death of Uyghur musician Abdurrehim Heyit while in custody in China quickly became the agenda. Meral Akşener wrote: “The Turkish Nation lost another person of great value to Chinese persecution. When the subject is about the Uyghur Turks, again the government is silent, and when it comes to cruel China, those who are ‘voice of humanity and peace’ are also lost. May Allah almighty make the place of the poet Abdurehim Heyit heaven. Thanks to the head of my nation.” Since the opposition pushed the issue against the AK Party, the Turkish Foreign Ministry also made a mistake and released a statement without verifying the claim, and the incident caused a tension between the two countries, albeit for a short time.
Since the beginning of last year, the US administration has been carrying out an intense campaign to squeeze the People’s Republic of China over Xinjiang. The main reason was the Good Party bringing the Uyghur issue to the agenda with the US’ encouragement.
On the other hand, the anti-China campaign has been accelerated by the approval of the Parliament of the agreement on extradition signed between Turkey and China in 2017.
5 – What is Turkey’s official stance?
Is Ankara’s official stance on the Uyghur issue compatible with the statements of Meral Akşener and Mansur Yavaş?
Turkey’s official explanation for the government’s consideration of the Uyghur issue in recent years in terms of simultaneous efforts to strengthen its relations with Asia is as follows:
1) President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a press release after the G-20 meeting held in China in September 2016, was asked the question “Did you talk about East Turkestan at your meeting with Chinese state officials, what would you like to say about it?” He answered, “It is necessary to separate Islam from terrorism. We said that we will stand together against terrorism and violence. Currently, ISIS is exploiting Islam, but what they say is doing it in the name of Islam. ISIS is condemned by his actions currently in Turkey. If a Muslim kills a person, it kills all humanity. This situation is the same as if what is happening in China is happening in Turkey and the Middle East. If a terrorist comes out of there, we curse him, we will react to him wherever he is.”
2) At his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, President Erdogan said that they defend China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and that they are also against the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which carries out terrorist activities in China.
3) The first official document in which the government’s Uyghur policy is most clearly explained is included in the response given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the question of former HPD Diyarbakır Deputy Altan Tan on East Turkestan in 2017. The Ministry summarized in the response that they follow the living conditions of the Uyghurs, convey the difficulties to the Chinese authorities, that the Turkish authorities go to East Turkestan and work for the Uyghurs and consider them to be equal and peaceful citizens. The problem is that there are many exaggerated news items in the international press, there are separatist and violent acts being carried out in East Turkestan. He also states that a terrorist organization called “East Turkestan Islamic Movement” operates in the region.
4) Chinese State Television cited President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech following his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in July 2019, “It is a fact that people in the Xinjiang region of China lead a happy life in China’s development and prosperity. Turkey will not allow anyone to disturb the harmony of the Turkish-Chinese relations. Turkey firmly opposes extremism and wishes to strengthen mutual political trust and security cooperation with China.”
5) In February 2020, during his press release at the Munich Security Conference, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said: “There are countries that use this issue (the Uyghur question) against China. We do not participate in such propaganda. You know, China had an invitation to us. In regard to sending delegations: we essentially prepared our expectations on how our delegation will watch a program before departure, where to go and with whom to meet. If we come to an agreement on this issue, of course we will send it. We thank China for this invitation. It needs to be transparent in this process.”
6) The Good Party gave a resolution to the Parliament regarding the problems experienced by the Uyghurs on June 20, 2019. In the resolution, it was claimed that “Uyghur Turks were forcibly held in isolation and oppression, which are called as re-education camps by the Chinese administration, on the grounds of combating terrorism, and subjected to detention, torture and ill-treatment”, and “while many international organizations and states loudly expressed their objections, unfortunately, Turkey does not react to the regrettable developments.” The MHP abstained from the motion to which the CHP, the Iyi Party and the HDP voted in favor, and the Ak Party voted against it.
7) Ömer Çelik, the spokesperson of the Ak Party and the Presidency government, explained the government and the AK Party’s view after the AK Party’s Central Committee meeting on February 24, 2021: “We see. In this way, we would not consent to the usage of Uyghur Turks. We always keep our sensitivity in this regard on the agenda. We are constantly meeting with the Chinese authorities. Our main sensitivity here is to protect the rights of Uyghurs apart from the power struggle of various states in cooperation with the Chinese authorities. Then it will be more comfortable for everyone. Here we say that we want to do this in cooperation with the Chinese authorities.”
In addition to the official statements we have listed above, the prevention of Uyghurs’ march to Ankara to protest China in 2019 and 2020, and “President of the National Assembly of East Turkistan” Seyit Tümtürk’s surveillance at home before the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Ankara, show that the AK Party government supports China’s one-state policy.
The Uyghur question is continually forward in Turkey since it is seen by the opposition as the soft underbelly of the coalition of the MHP and the AK Party.
Unfortunately, Turkey’s media circle is mainly directed by the West. Discourse that does not reflect Turkey’s official state policy and actions finds wide coverage in the Turkish press. The fake news, mostly advanced by Western-backed media, is also translated from the western press and put into use, preparing the ground for provocative actions and rhetoric. For example, in 2015, President Erdogan had to say that this anti-Chinese propaganda did not entirely convey Turkey’s official policy. Both state officials should be wary of provocations and manipulations regarding this problem, and should advance cooperation. While the Turkish government should control the provocations of the US and its extended forces more tightly, the Chinese administration should also get rid of the rush to respond to the criticism of politicians who are not representatives of the Turkish state.
The conditions of the 21st Century makes Turkey-China cooperation mandatory. The cooperation of two very experienced states at both ends of Asia will be a very important service to humanity in order to establish a more equal and just world order. Even if the rulers of countries do not understand this obligation immediately, life experience will force them to understand. The friendship and cooperation of the two states and two peoples is inevitable.