“She’s my sister, I don’t know where she is, if she’s still alive,” said Medine Nazimi, holding up a photo with the text “where is my sister?” In English and Turkish. Others hold up pictures of brothers, parents, grandparents. They all tell stories of oppression, forced labor and re-education camps, which they call concentration camps.
Medina’s sister studied at a university in Istanbul. She was arrested four years ago after returning to the Xinjiang area to help her sick mother. “We are not criminals. My sister speaks four languages, she does not need a re-education camp,” Medine said.
This time the Uyghurs are not only directing their protest to China, but also to the Turkish government. News of the treaty between China and Turkey shakes the Uyghur community. It is clear to them that China is targeting the Uyghur community with this treaty. Many Uyghurs are in Turkey on temporary residence permits.
“If Turkey approves the treaty, I fear the worst,” said Mirzehmet Ilyasoglu, one of the protest organizers. Under such a treaty, Turkey is required to extradite Chinese passport holders suspected of criminal activity. “We have known for a long time that China already considers us suspects because we are Uyghurs.”
The owner of a small Uyghur bookstore in the Zeytinburnu district said pressure on Uyghurs in Turkey has recently increased. He regularly receives threatening phone calls, he says. “People who work for the Chinese intelligence services. They pressured me by naming my relatives who are still in China. They ask me to work for them.”
His shop is full of books banned in China. Books on the history of the Uyghurs, books on Islam. This is how he wants to keep Uyghur culture alive. “Almost all of the writers here are in prison in China.”