mathias depardon

A minaret, a man preparing for prayer, this could surely be Turkey, yet we’re in China and in the Autonomous Uighurs region of China. Located in the far west of China but also in the far east of Turkey, the autonomous region of Xinjiang is home to the Uighurs a Turkish speaking Muslim Chinese minority of some 10 million people.

China‘s Xinjiang province is the country‘s most westerly region, bordering on the former Soviet states of Central Asia, as well as several other states including Afghanistan, Russia, and Mongolia.

The largest ethnic group in the region the Muslim Turkic-speaking Uighurs (45%) has lived in the shadow of the wider Chinese Han majority for centuries. The region has had an intermittent history of autonomy and occasional independence, but was finally brought under Chinese control in the 18th century.

Rich in oil, it is for the Chinese Han, China ethnic majority, an interior space to colonize. The progression of these internal migrations generates tensions in the Xinjiang Autonomous region.

Economic development of the region under Communist rule has been accompanied by large-scale immigration of Han Chinese, and Uighur allegations of discrimination and marginalization have been behind more visible anti-Han and separatist sentiment since the 1990s. This has flared into violence on occasion these past years.

The economy of this once agricultural region has developed fast since 1949, and oil and petrochemicals now account for about 60 per cent of its GDP. It is also an important trade and pipeline route into Central Asia and beyond

The Turks, it evokes an imaginary land and border, a Turkish world distant and unreal, beyond the steppes of Central Asia. Turkestan as it was initially called, was a territory Islamized by the Turks in the XI century.

For many Turks it evokes a myth linked to the origins of the Turkish people. The Uighurs, victim of the repression of Beijing are brothers of religion and blood to the Islamist Turks. Yet, Turkey rarely dares to criticize the repression in Xinjiang and applies similar methods in the Southeast of Turkey.

Life in this region of the Far West still goes on as the Chinese Han demography raises and the Chinese Government keeps on exploiting the natural resources and it’s economic trade with Central Asia, reopening the ancient Silk Road.

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