On Wednesday, April 17, 2019 the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO) hosted a panel discussion, “The Uyghurs: an Imprisonment of a People” with Omer Kanat, the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the World Uyghur Congress, and former Ambassador John Herbst, the current Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center and former foreign service officer at the U.S. State Department, moderated by THO’s Communications Manager Savannah Lane.
The conversation began with a few brief remarks from Savannah Lane discussing the Uyghur crisis and the Turkish Heritage Organization sharing that “at the Turkish Heritage Organization, much of our focus lies in promoting the U.S.-Turkish relationship and bilateral alliance, however events that we are witnessing in the Xinjiang region transcend state boundaries and really should be a focus all over the world. We were glad to see the U.S. and Turkey are in agreement and have taken steps to address the human rights abuses of the Uyghur people.”
Following these opening remarks Mr. Kanat provided a brief overview and analysis on the current situation the Uyghur population faces, mentioning that any request to see information on their loved ones is completely denied by the Chinese government. While there have been recent steps in the international community to recognize these horrific atrocities and targeted persecutions of the Uyghur population, there is still a huge lack of awareness and understanding of the problems that this ethnic minority is facing today. Mr. Kanat discussed this notion and provided more history in the decades-long targeting of the Uyghur people by the Chinese government.
Following this first discussion, Ambassador Herbst discussed the shock and disbelief surrounding the atrocities. Often times when thinking of these mass human rights violations we think of the phrase “never again.” When discussion the current crisis the Uyghur community is facing, much of the international response is disbelief- is this and can this really be happening in the 21st century? Ambassador Herbst commented that in the Information Age that we are living in, while the Chinese government has greatly suppressed any information and access, it is impossible to hide all the evidence of the clear targeting and violence that is occurring. Further, speaking on the Chinese government’s policy against the Uyghur population, Ambassador Herbst mentioned that the Chinese government is ruthless in defending this barbaric policies and it will take international collaboration and deliberate shaming/targeting of these practices in the public sphere. Ambassador Herbst also addresses, however that due to the economic superiority and strength of China, on the international level countries are simply not going to make this the critical or defining issue in their relationship with China.
Next, Mr. Kanat addressed the topic regarding that account that while there have been some Uyghurs who have escaped and sought asylum either here in the United States, or elsewhere, the Chinese police are demanding personal information from these Uyghurs abroad while threatening their relatives back in Xinjiang. Mr. Kanat stated, “the Chinese government extended its long arm, even in the US when it comes to persecuting Uyghurs.” Mr. Kanat stressed that Chinese agents are contacting Uyghurs in the U.S. and are asking them to spy on their friends and family in return for others being released in China and reminds the audience that while work is being done there is still a long way to go to not only protect the Uyghurs back in China, but the Uyghurs and relatives here and abroad as well.
Finally, both Ambassador Herbst and Mr. Kanat discussed the need for further action and condemnation like that taken by Turkey against the Uyghur persecution and through targeted international collaboration, more awareness and action can be taken to help mitigate the genocidal crisis the Uyghur population currently faces. Finally, the panelists took questions from the audience and concluded the discussion. To see more from the roundtable discussion, please watch the video below.