THE UYGHUR MINORITY IN KYRGYZSTAN

By Rustam Mukhamedov (09/11/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

Uyghurs
are one of the national minorities, who live in Kyrgyzstan. According to the
last official statistics for 1999, there were 46,700 uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan,
but unofficial sources say that the total is about 100,000, the difference
arising since in Soviet time many Uyghurs were registered as Uzbek. Uyghurs
are on the fifth place after the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Russian and Dungan (Hui)
minorities in Kyrgyzstan.

Today,
as other national minorities of Kyrgyzstan, Uyghurs are faced with various
social, economic and political difficulties. If other national minorities have
supporting states, for instance the Russian Federation for the Russian
minority or Uzbekistan for Uzbeks, Uyghurs do not have such state. In
Kazakhstan, Uyghurs are many more than in Kyrgyzstan, therefore there are
Uyghur schools, theaters and other organizations. Children study all courses
of secondary school in Uyghur. "Today there are a lot of problems, but
the main is keeping our language alive. Language is an integral part of
culture; it is the face of a nation", said Rozimukhamed Abdulbakiev, the
chairman of Uyghur society in Kyrgyzstan "Ittipak".

Today
the main problem is that Uyghur youth almost has forgotten their native
language; many of them do not speak Uyghur at all. Some speak but cannot write
in Uyghur. Gulnara Hamraeva, a lecturer in History at Kyrgyz National
University, is the author of a book called "The Ethno-Cultural
Development of Uyghurs in Kyrgyzstan". She said "I do not speak
Uyghur, I think the problem is that our elder generation did not teach us, now
for us communication among Uyghur youth is important, and also the opening of
Uyghur schools and educational centers will help to know the language".

Young
Uyghurs learn their language on the street. Zulfiya Kurbanova, manager of
"Ittipak" said that "I speak Uyghur badly, but I can read and
write in Uyghur in Arabic script. I was 8 years old when an old man from our
district called us if we want to learn Uyghur he would teach us. So on the
street I have learned Uyghur script, though sometimes I cannot understand
it"

Another
problem is that the Uyghur traditions and culture have lost in importance not
only for the youth but also for the elder generation. There is a rapid process
of assimilation of Uyghurs. Moreover, due to the Uyghur struggle for
independence in neighboring Xinjiang, many mass media resources have labeled
Uyghurs as terrorists and extremists. One source said that "the label of
terrorist has so influenced people, that they become watchful of me when
knowing that I am Uyghur"

The
articulation of mass media so influenced on people that they really started to
believe that Uyghurs are terrorist. "Once some drunk policeman stopped a
crew of young Uyghurs and told them that may be they were terrorist and they
had to be checked by police." Ms. Hamraeva also added "My
nationality influenced my life when I was studying at the university, I had to
pay higher bribes than others, they thought that uyghurs are all businessmen,
and that they are rich."

Another
problem is that there is no representation of Uyghurs in government
structures. As Mr. Abdylbakiev noted, "I think if somebody represents
Uyghur interests it will help the Uyghur, but there is no Uyghur
representative in the government or Jokorgu Kenesh (Parliament)."

Only
one area where Uyghurs have privileges is cooking. Almost all good places to
taste Eastern cuisine are owned by Uyghurs. Such cafés as "Diyar",
"Arzu" or "Arcada" are familiar to almost all Bishkek
people. It is not secret that the cooking skills of Uyghur are preferred by
people all over Central Asia.

Only
by developing folklore, keeping traditions and teaching their language can
Uyghurs help themselves. Shamsidin aka said, "We have to develop our
folklore arts, music and of course our language. Our newspaper "Ittipak"
is issued once a month by getting some financial help from the Uyghur
Diaspora, but we wish it could appear more often". Today there is no
political obstacle to open Uyghur schools or classes in areas compactly
populated by Uyghurs. But the Government is poor and unable to finance
it" said Mr. Abdulbakiev.

No
NGOs or international organizations work with Uyghurs. Only the Open Society
Institute helped the Uyghur Diaspora several times. It gave financial help to
buy necessary equipment to the newspaper 'Ittipak' and helped to establish a
small library.

Rustam
Mukhamedov