I know that the world will say “never again” when the last Uyghur is killed

Xinjiang Auschwitz” by Badiucao
Shared with the artist’s permission.

We know that many Uyghur Anne Franks who are locked in the camps.
We know that these Anne Franks can’t make it to the end again.
We know that Uyghurs, now are like a herd of sheep waiting to be slaughtered,
We know that at the end, eradicating Uyghurs would be CCP’s biggest gain.

I know that the world will say “never again” when the last Uyghur is killed in my weten,
I know that people will cry when they read sad novels about Uyghurs in the future.
I know that people will say regretfully why we did not help them when we could.
Yet, now, Uyghurs are bleeding on their deathbed alone with endless torture.

Whispering ‘Never Again’
by Gulruy Asqar (Serwi)
read more here

Forgive me, I love you

Interview with Minam, organized and written by Yi Xiaocuo, Oct 27, 2019

Film Photo from An Unanswered Telephone Call, by Aziz Isa Elkun. Shared with filmmaker’s permission.

Mother! I need you like the earth needs rain
Whether you flood me or leave me dry
I will hasten to drink your downpour

read more here

Minam began to collect stories from the Uyghur diaspora to send to human rights organizations. Very quickly, she was inundated by the intense pain in these stories. They all have a common theme: family separation.

“I don’t know if they are alive or not,” has become a catchphrase to describe the broken state of diaspora Uyghur family life, the same goes for many Xinjiang Kazakh refugees who fled to Kazakhstan. Many of them haven’t seen their loved ones for years after the crackdown on Turkic Muslims began in 2017 in Xinjiang. Minam has encountered people who had taken to recording every dream they had about their parents, and people whose chronic heartaches have manifested in physical illnesses, many more are simply living with pain one day at a time, pouring all their energy into work and activism.

The poem “Mother” came about after Minam read one particularly harrowing story about a woman who could not go back to her homeland due to her activism. This woman is a single mother with no other family in the diaspora. She had been diagnosed with cancer but did not tell her mother, who she hadn’t seen in many years. She couldn’t tell her about the chemo therapy she would have to go through alone in the US. During that period, her mother passed away in Xinjiang.

This is a poem by a diaspora Uyghur for her people in Xinjiang, for the women who are working on sewing machines, daughters who miss their mothers, sisters whose husbands are in detention, mothers who are sick without children caring for them. Read more here, shared with author’s permission (Oct 28, 2019).

Art of memory, act of survival, or vice versa

written by Yi Xiaocuo, Sep 14, 2019

“Anjur (fig fruit)—is one of my favorite fruits! It always reminds me of my home and my beloved father! I ate my first fig fruit from my family’s orchard many many decades ago… now it all becomes memory!”

Aziz Isa Elkun traveled through Central Asia and shared a piece of his delicious findings on social media. The taste of anjur opened up a portal to his past, however, this past sweetness was immediately cancelled by the brutal present. Just several hundred kilometers away across China’s border, his family’s whereabouts is unknown, and China has denied his visa application. Standing on the top of the Altay mountain range in Bayan-Ölgii one day I too looked beyond the Sino-Mongolian border longingly, painfully aware of the consequences if I landed on the wrong side.

The trauma here is double-layered, similar to what anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod writes in Rites of Return: Diaspora Poetics and the Politics of Memory; she returned to half-ruins in Palestine, “the catastrophe is not just something of the past, it continues into the present…” For Aziz, the unreachable home has crumbled and only through fragmented memories can he tie events, people, and sensory experiences all together.

To many direct and indirect victims of family separation caused by the ‘re-education camps’ in Xinjiang, it is unknown what their loved ones are going through, whether they are hungry, tired, sick, or if they are mentally holding up through the ordeal. Even when watching leaked TikTok or drone videos, they search for their families in the sea of blurry faces and figures. Too often diasporas bury that pain deep down inside and try to live a normal life but then it resurfaces again and again in the most unexpected moments: festivals, birthdays, seeing other families having a picnic in the park, old photos, WeChat moments, folk songs, strangers who looked like our family members a little bit, even a plate of figs…

It is through these ordinary, small things that many Uyghur and Kazakh friends in exile express their sense of belonging and engage in self-healing these days. Some have translated this suffering into art by recapturing family memories and stories. It is exactly as Adrienne Rich has pointed out, writing is a “re-vision” to counter violence in cultural history. Moreover, it is an act of survival.


See more here. Shared with author’s permission.

My heart is like a burning forest inside

written by Yi Xiaocuo

Sübhi’s poem depicts a Uyghur woman publicly experiencing cultural aggression from a group of ethnic Han men. Under the “de-radicalization” campaign in China’s Xinjiang, Uyghur and Kazakh people’s ordinary Islamic cultural practices such as endogamous marriage and halal dietary preferences have become labeled “extremism” and “terrorism.” In this poem, the young woman Qelbinur was pressured to put a smile on her face and be compliant to such obscene harassment. At the moment, the state’s purge and cultural genocide of Uyghurs is working in Han men’s favor, allowing them to reach Uyghur women previously unattainable to them, resulting in many involuntary inter-ethnic marriages.

Sübhi also interrogates the role of naming and language for a repressive state apparatus to reproduce power relations. Ethnic Uyghurs and Kazakhs in Xinjiang are “hailed” into their subjecthood via their Chinese Pinyin transcribed names and made strangers in their own lands, for example here Kalibinu’er instead of in the original Turkic spelling Qelbinur. This is a long-term issue for many Turkic speaking people in Xinjiang. Their native names are butchered in Chinese Pinyin and last and first name are reversed to fit Chinese norms.

April Fools?

By Sübhi

On the first of April,
The day for fools,
I saw something
That my eyes couldn’t believe,
And my ears couldn’t accept!
It happened somewhere back home,
During one of these days of darkness.
“Kalibinuer,” a strange voice asked,
“Will you marry one of us?”
Kalibinuer laughed.
There were elders,
And there were young men,
Sitting in front of her.
With a seemingly happy face, she said,
“That would be fine.”
The strange voice asked again,
“Will you eat pork?”
“No problem,” she said.
Still keeping the smile on her face.
The distorted voice uttered,
“Ay-yaaa, good, good.”
He was ecstatic!
He was beyond himself.
Why wouldn’t he be?
They had finally destroyed our traditions,
Our thousand-year-old traditions,
In mere months!
What an unbearable insult!
If only it was just a problem of food!
Facing life and death in this time of “peace,”
Consciousness shivered,
Faith shuttered.
And pride hid, somewhere.
Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe!
My eyes overflowed with tears!
Our Qelbinur had become “Kalibinuer”,
And she accepted her fate.
Smiley face-masks cover the faces of our people.
Yet in their hearts,
must be burning,
Burning a forest!
Their hearts must be scorched!
Isn’t today April Fools Day?
What if all this was just a ruse?
What if
My eyes,
My ears,
All my feelings, were just tricking me?
What if someone was staged a harsh joke,
On me,
No, on us?
If only!
The cruel reality starts its raging fire,
It starts to burn me, to burn us,
And the hate starts to smolder.

April 1, 2019

Shared with the author’s permission (Sep 20, 2019).

Three poems by Uyghur poets in exile

Originally published on Darren Byler’s Xinjiang Column on SupChina, March 6 2019
Shared with authors’ permission, Sep 22, 2019

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind for ever.”

Edward Said writes the above in his Reflections on Exile and Other Essays. For Uyghur poets in exile, this estrangement is compounded by the constant shocks to horrifying news from Xinjiang, pain and anxieties wondering about their families’ life and death. Here are three poems by Uyghur poets. See original post here.

Fatimah Seyyah’s poetry for mother

I know
You pray for me from afar
as I send night greetings to you
I know
we both look to the moon
and hear the same song
Our eyes grow wet
from the whispering of trees
from the flashes of sunlight
from the movement of sands
Our souls tremble…

Read the full version and listen to the poem here.

Interview with Fatimah, organized and written by Yi Xiaocuo

Poetry rolled out in the mother tongue has a magic power. Folk songs and poetry extolling mothers are so prevalent in Uyghur and Kazakh cultural worlds and soundscapes that almost everyone knows a line or two of a song for mother, and are ready to join in the chorus at a Olturash (gathering) with family and friends. Who would have fathomed at that time, that within just a few years, family separation would become the unceasing worsening reality or the new norm?

Fatimah has testified for her mother and her people on different platforms many times, but this time she chose to present a poem to the world. She hopes her mother can hear it too. Read the full version and listen to the poem here. Shared with author’s permission (Sep 14, 2019).