Setting the Sights on East Turkestan (II)

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - For decades, Uighur separatists, under prosecution currently by the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang, have had their foreign operational base in the Federal Republic of Germany. Exiled Uighurs in Munich had propagated the secession of western China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region - "East Turkestan" - already in the 1970s over the US propaganda broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Since then, the Federal Republic of Germany has become "the central outpost and the most important base for promoting the cause of Eastern Turkestan independence," according to a study on the Uighur exiles, with Munich hosting the World Uighur Congress (WUC), the central outpost of a global Uighur exile network. Its leadership is in contact also with Uighurs in Central Asia and Chinese dissidents in exile in India and maintains relations with officials in Berlin and Washington. A study presented by the US military, concludes that Uighur separatism will hardly be successful - at least, not without outside support.

Central Outpost

Since the 1970s, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) has gradually become "the central outpost and the most important base for promoting the cause of Eastern Turkestan independence and Uighur nationalism," according to a study on the Uighur exiles.[1] Erkin Alptekin, who has been working for the US propaganda broadcaster Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Munich since 1971, was one of the first prominent Uighur activists in the FRG. Alptekin could profit from his name: Prior to the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China, his father Isa Yusuf Alptekin had been considered one of the leading separatists in what is today Xinjiang. He had been appointed Secretary General of the Islamic Eastern Turkestan Republic, which seceded from China in 1933, but only existed for a few months. From the 1950s until his death in 1995, Isa Yusuf Alptekin had been active in Turkey, whereas his son was active in Munich - as the de facto "leader of the Eastern Turkestan independence movement in Europe."[2] Erkin Alptekin has founded diverse organizations, including the World Uighur Congress (WUC), headquartered in Munich, over which he had presided from 2004 to 2006.

Global Network

The exiled Uighurs in and around Munich were always seeking to gain influence on the policies of the FRG - not only by their demonstrations and petitions, but also through contacting members of parliament and ministerial officials in Berlin [3] with Erkin Alptekin playing a major role. From his Bavarian exile, Alptekin has also been lobbying in other Western countries. In the spring of 2004, he visited the United States, where he was received by prominent foreign policy experts in the US Congress.[4] In the summer of 2009, he briefed the human rights commission in the Italian parliament.[5] Alptekin also sought to foster contacts to Uighurs in Central Asia. For example, in the spring of 2000, he visited Kyrgyzstan for discussions on the Uighur situation of that country. The Uighur minority is estimated at 50,000 members.

In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In November 2006, Alptekin was replaced at the head of WUC by Rebiya Kadeer, a former businesswoman from Xinjiang. In the 90s, she had been one of China's most wealthy women, and, was holding political office. However, she was then arrested for separatist activities and - under Washington's political pressure - permitted in March 2005 to leave China for the USA. She has been active within the structures of exile Uighur separatists ever since. She was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. At WUC's Second General Assembly (November 24, - 27, 2006 in Munich) she was elected president. In the run-up to this assembly, Kadeer had spent time in Berlin, where she held talks also with German parliamentarians and officials of Germany's Foreign Ministry. During WUC's General Assembly, she received more than 50 congratulatory letters from high-ranking politicians, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.[6] In June 2007, she introduced her autobiography ("Dragon Fighter") at Germany's Federal Press Conference in Berlin. In October 2007, she was again officially received in the German capital.[7] Kadeer has also frequently met with high-ranking politicians in Washington, including President George W. Bush in July 2008.

Murders and Molotov Cocktails

It remains unclear what role WUC had played in the July 5, 2009 Uighur pogrom-like riots in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi. That day, according to numerous eyewitnesses, thousands of Uighurs allegedly attacked Han Chinese, destroying more than 200 businesses, 14 residential buildings, and setting fire to more than 250 vehicles. According to official figures, 197 people were killed - including 134 Han Chinese and 10 members of the Hui minority. According to the government, the WUC had been instigating unrest also via internet, calling on Uighur "to be braver" and "to do something big." This was understood as a call for violence.[8] WUC denies these accusations. However, it is a fact that two days later, following an exile Uighur protest in Munich, two unidentified persons threw Molotov cocktails at the local Chinese General Consulate. The same day, Uighur demonstrators threatened Chinese tourists in Munich's Marienplatz Square. A WUC spokesperson was quoted saying that he does not know, who had thrown the Molotov cocktails, "but he knows that our people hate the Chinese authorities."[9] September 1, 2009, the European Parliament's Human Rights Committee invited WUC President Kadeer to provide information on the July 5 riots in Urumqi. According to the committee's protocol-like summary of the meeting, there was no mention of Uighur violence against Han Chinese. There was merely speculation about whether the police had possibly killed Han Chinese by mistake.[10]

A Pact among Separatists

WUC remains active in Munich. A year ago, in November, it had convened its Sixth General Assembly, with more than 100 delegates from 18 countries. German Bundestag and European parliamentarians were also on hand, according to WUC reports. Dolkun Isa, a long-standing German resident, was elected president of WUC. One year earlier, he had sought to visit Chinese dissidents in Dharamsala (India) - in vain.[11] Dharamsala is known as the main base of operations of Tibetan exiles. The WUC has always sought to federate organizations of all of the Chinese separatists, including those supporting an independent Tibetan theocracy.

The Significance of Exile

A scholarly thesis, presented in 2015 by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, sheds light on the significance of Uighur exile. The author, a Major of the Pakistani Army, concluded that the situation in Xinjiang will remain tense and Uighur separatism "without any external support and recognition, is not likely to succeed."[12]


Please read also: Setting the Sights on East Turkestan (I).


[1], [2] Yitzhak Shichor: Virtual Transnationalism: Uygur Communities in Europe and the Quest for Eastern Turkestan Independence. In: Stefano Allievi, Jørgen Nielsen (Hg.): Muslim Networks and Transnational Communities in and across Europe. Leiden/Boston 2003. S. 281-311.

[3] Yitzhak Shichor: Nuisance Value: Uyghur activism in Germany and Beijing-Berlin relations. In: Journal of Contemporary China, 2013. S. 1-18.

[4] Susan V. Lawrence: Why China Fears This Uyghur Exile. Far Eastern Economic Review 09.07.2004.

[5] Troops flood into China region after riots. 08.07.2009

[6] Yitzhak Shichor: Nuisance Value: Uyghur activism in Germany and Beijing-Berlin relations. In: Journal of Contemporary China, 2013. S. 1-18.

[7] S. dazu Schwächungsstrategien (IV).

[8] Civilians, officer killed in Urumqi unrest. Xinhua 06.07.2009.

[9] Yitzhak Shichor: Nuisance Value: Uyghur activism in Germany and Beijing-Berlin relations. In: Journal of Contemporary China, 2013. S. 1-18.

[10] Human Rights Situation of Uyghur Ethnic Group. European Parliament Briefing, Subcommittee on Human Rights - 1 September 2009.

[11] Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury: Dolkun Isa unknown in India till they cancelled his visa. 27.04.2016.

[12] Waqas Ali Khan: The Uyghur Insurgency in Xinjiang: The Success Potential. Fort Leavenworth 2015.

[Translate to english:]
[Translate to english:]