Isolated Turkey unable to speak out for Uighurs – scholar

Turkey has done a U-turn on the Chinese Uighur Muslims’ quest for autonomy and now refuses to speak out for the endangered minority because it seeks an alliance with China, German scholar Susanne Schröder told German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Turkey cannot afford to make an enemy of China because it has alienated itself from its Western allies, said the scholar, who heads the Frankfurt Research Centre on Global Islam.

Turkey was once a leading advocate for China’s Uighurs, a Turkic minority who have long sought autonomy from the Beijing government and have faced repression as a result.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan “even spoke of a genocide in 2009. He supported the Uighur independence movement for a long time, he received its leaders in Turkey, approved asylum status for Uighurs and allowed their political activities,” Schröder said.

But Erdoğan’s government has changed course in recent years, despite the emerging reports of severe repression coming from China.

Activists and media outlets say the Chinese government has detained as many as 3 million Uighurs in what it calls re-education camps, described by many as modern day concentration camps. Uighurs say they have been targeted for their religious beliefs. Beijing denies these reports and says it is addressing extremist ideologies in the camps.

“The Turkish Foreign Ministry gave the message it was toughening its stance on Uighur exiles in 2017. Their demonstrations and political activities are no longer allowed. In fact, some have been arrested,” Schröder said.

“Erdoğan even praised Beijing’s minority policies when he visited China in summer,” she said.

Turkey’s U-turn has come about as its foreign and domestic policies lost it friends in the West and left it in need of Chinese backing, said the scholar.

“Besides that, Turkey’s economy is in trouble and it has a need for good trading relations. Turkey’s own human rights record is also beginning to affect its economic relations with the West,” Schröder said. “But China doesn’t care one bit if Erdoğan is repressing the opposition.”