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Asia

Uighur cultural city disappearing

Kashgar, an oasis city of the Silk Road, has been on the brink of extinction since the Chinese government introduced a plan to demolish much of the old town of Kashgar two years ago.

Kashgar is on the brink of extinction

Kashgar is on the brink of extinction

Kashgar, an oasis city of the Silk Road, is on the brink of extinction. Since the Chinese government introduced a plan to demolish much of the old town of Kashgar two years ago, 60-70 per cent of the planned area has already been torn down. The president of the World Uyghur Congress, Rebiya Kadeer, came to the EU Parliament last week to ask for help.

The city of Kashgar is located in the western extreme of China. It has been the capital of many Uighur kingdoms in history. "Kashgar is Uighur, and Uighur is Kashgar", says Rebiya Kadeer, who is called by her people "Mother of the Uighurs." She says that Kashgar is a symbol for the cultural identity of the Uighur people.

Destruction of cultural identity

The conference to save Kashgar was held in Brussels on January 27, 2011

The conference to save Kashgar was held in Brussels on January 27, 2011

However, this identity is being destroyed. The razing of the old town in Kashgar is one example. The local government announced plans to demolish 85 per cent of the historical old town and so far 60-70 per cent of it has already disappeared. The process is accelerating.

Traditional mud-and-straw buildings along narrow lanes in Kashgar are thought by the government to be too fragile for earthquakes. As a result, only around 10 per cent of the old town will eventually be preserved for touristic purposes.

Rebiya Kadeer asked for help from the European Parliament. A conference was held on Thursday in Brussels by Frieda Brepoels, Member of the Greens and European Free Alliance parliamentary group. "It is the aim of this conference to identify Kashgar's relevance to the Uighur identity of the region, to draw attention to China's cultural diversity including the traditions of the ethnic Uighur community and to consider Beijing's reconstruction plans and its effect for the local people," says Brepoels.

Kashgar as a World Heritage site

The Mother of the Uyghurs, Rebiya Kadeer, asking to help save Kashgar

The "Mother of the Uyghurs," Rebiya Kadeer, asking to help save Kashgar

Six parliamentarians from different party groups attended the meeting. Frieda Brepoels said that was a "very good result." In 2009 the EP passed a resolution to call for protection of the cultural rights of Tibetans and Uighurs. "We have to go further than that and especially focus on the Kashgar situation. We'll definitely have discussions with members who are interested in this in the following days and weeks," promises Brepoels.

Rebiya Kadeer also called on the Chinese government to apply to UNESCO to recognize Kashgar as a World Heritage site. Two years ago, Beijing took the Chinese section of the Silk Road onto a tentative list, but Kashgar was not mentioned in it.

Representatives from rights groups pointed out at the conference that what is going on in Kashgar is not only a cultural issue, but also a human rights issue. Contrary to what the government claims, local people are not consulted before demolitions. Many Uighur families are losing their only source of living with their small shops and homes being torn down. The degree of dissatisfaction among Uighurs is high.

Author: Miao Tian
Editor: Sarah Berning

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