In the past a few days, this song went viral on Kazakh social media. It expresses the transnational sorrow of Kazakhs from China’s Xinjiang, who are now stranded in Kazakhstan and separated from their families. “Shekara” (pronounciation chegara) means border in the Kazakh language, here it specifically refers to the Sino-Kazakhstan border.
Before Anar Sabit’s story became public, I had read her poems online. They are full of poignant and vivid details perceived from inside the camp and personal experiences such as being on night guard duty, taking yard time, and witnessing the arbitrary detention and suffering of others with her own eyes. When I reached out to Anar to discuss the inspiration for these poems she told me that after what she had experienced in the camp and returning to the free world she had nightmares for an entire year. She has suffered from depression, fear, and low self-esteem. There was a time when she didn’t know if she could go on. Then one day she was advised to channel these traumas through writing. Anar humbly said that she is not really a writer or a poet type, but simply wanted to document what had happened to her and not forget them.
It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder but, what if it just makes it feel emptier? Anyone who has lost someone they love can relate to this feeling. However, what if they just disappeared? Lacking information and holding on to memories from years past, Uyghur, Kazakh, and other minority groups in Xinjiang face this reality.
This is Tahir Hamut, one of the most renowned contemporary Uyghur poets, starting his life all over again in US at 47 years old. Displacement is not just the physical removal of one’s body from their native land. In the film, the psychological stress of uprooting and struggling hides in the silent gestures of his performance. Tahir is still writing, he writes poignantly about the distance between all the capital cities in which he has lived his life: Urumqi, Beijing, and Washington DC. The experiences of everyday life as an exile, a transnational being, struggles with immigration paperwork, survival, and witnessing the violence in homeland from afar… still linger and shape his poetry.
By an anonymous singer friend. Shared with artist’s permission on Sep 17, 2019. Featured image is credited to photographer Theo Paul. Quite a self-explanatory video telling the lived experience of Turkic speaking peoples in Xinjiang at the moment: family separation, cultural genocide, surveillance, forced inter-ethnic marriage, home invasion and spying, forced wage labor, state orphanage/residential school…
This short film is based on Aziz Isa Elkun’s real life experience. Just like every ordinary British citizen, he takes his daughter to school on a beautiful day; just like every Uyghur living in exile, he has lost contact with his family, even their well-being has become questionable. Aziz interrogates this painful disjuncture and his identity becomes the answer. Yet, he tirelessly explains to the world what happened, unraveling his childhood, youth, and generational trauma inflicted by the Chinese state.
The term “genocide” began to be used by more and more scholars and activists to describe the situation in Xinjiang. In her essay, “‘Never again?’ It’s already happening,” Anne Applebaum compared global indifference to the Xinjiang atrocities today to indifference toward the famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1933, which was widely covered in western media at the time like Xinjiang today. Fred Hiatt used “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) — the destruction of synagogues, cemeteries, and Jewish businesses — to describe the mass demolition of Mosques and Muslim cemeteries in Xinjiang today.
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.
“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 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.
Sübhi’s poem depicts a Uyghur woman publicly experiencing cultural aggression from a group of ethnic Han men. 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.