Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Turkey's Uighur Problem, Cont.

In a previous post, I talked about the challenges Turkey faces as it tries to take a stand on the violence in China's restive Xinjian province. On the one hand, Ankara needs to satisfy domestic demands that it say and do something about what's happening, as one Turkish columnist recently put it, "in our ancestral lands." On the other hand, the Turkish government's response could be limited by a desire to not harm its growing trade and political relations with China.

When I wrote that, I forgot to take into account the "Erdogan Factor." Speaking to reporters live on NTV television last Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- who has a habit of doing away with diplomatic niceties -- said: "The incidents in China are, simply put, tantamount to genocide. There's no point in interpreting this otherwise." So much for a moderate response.

Now it appears the Chinese may be fighting back. According to Reuters, China is sending Turkey the message that Erdogan should take his words back. From the Reuters piece:
In an editorial headlined "Don't twist facts," the English-language China Daily said the fact that 137 of the 184 victims were Han Chinese "speaks volumes for the nature of the event."

The death toll included 46 Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

The newspaper urged Erdogan to "take back his remarks ... which constitute interference in China's internal affairs...."

....Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Turkish counterpart by telephone on Sunday the Urumqi riots were a grave crime orchestrated by the "three evil forces," state news agency Xinhua said, referring to "extremism, separatism and terrorism."
It will be interesting to see where things go from here. The events in Xinjiang and the fate of the Uighurs there continue to be a major story in Turkey, so the domestic pressure on the Turkish government for a response will likely continue. At what point, though, does the Chinese response go beyond editorials in the China Daily?

Also, in a column in today's edition of Today's Zaman, Andrew Finkel takes a look at the Turkish response to the violence in Xinjiang and asks some interesting questions, particularly if Erdogan's use of the word "genocide" might come back to haunt him. You can read the column here.

[UPDATE -- I have a piece up on the Christian Science Monitor website that takes a further look at Turkey's Uighur dilemma. You can read it here.]

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