What is going on in the Uighur region?

Having attracted attention with its political, economic and military advances since the 2000s, China[1] emerges with two different faces to the east and west of its borders. It hides East Turkistan[2], where it has been carrying out assimilation and intimidation policies for many years, from the entire agenda of the world, exposing Muslim Uighurs who have lived in this land for centuries, to all kinds of human rights violations. So much so that it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is no other community in the world which is in a more difficult position than the Muslim people of East Turkistan in terms of rights and freedoms.

Chen Quanguo[3], who has been the Communist Party Secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region since August 2016, has begun to send the Uighurs in East Turkistan to concentration camps or the compulsory “Vocational Education and Training Centers” according to China’s official communications as of April 2017[4] by order of the President of China, Xi Jinping[5], which represents a new shameful act for China.[6]

The world became aware of the existence of the concentration camps with the inclusion of Kazakh Turks in the camps in addition to the Uighurs. The Kazakhstan-based relatives of the Kazakhs who live in East Turkistan, constantly submitted petitions for investigation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan for their relatives in East Turkistan, who they could not hear from, which led Kazakhstan to take action. With this process, which turned into a diplomatic crisis between Kazakhstan and China, the world has become undeniably aware of the existence of the camps. Interviews with witnesses who managed to get out of the camps and came to Kazakhstan, also clearly revealed the reality of the concentration camps.[7] Upon these developments, China accepted the existence of the camps, which it had previously denied persistently, in October 2018, and had to explain through the interview of the President of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region Government, Shohrat Zakir by the Xinhua News Agency that a “vocational education and training program” had been implemented in the region for a long time. Saying that the camps were established for the purpose of “stopping terrorism, discrimination, extremism and religious activities”, Zakir claimed that these supposed “education centers” allowed the people of the region to get rid of the tendency to radicalize, to learn the common language of the country, and to improve their professional skills.[8] China set up concentration camps so extensively in the region that the documents confirm that an ethnic/religious minority is imprisoned in such large masses for the first time since World War II.[9]

Although different figures are pronounced regarding the number of the detainees in the concentration camps in East Turkistan, current data reinforce the estimates that around 3 million people are kept in the camps.[10] These prisons, which are built for innocent people, who are often not tried in any court[11], and most of whom have not been charged with any crime[12], and which are being expanded day by day, are reminiscent of the Nazi concentration camps or the Soviet Gulag practices[13]. While the number of people who are forcibly removed from their homes, lands, spouses and children increase day by day, thousands of people are estimated to have lost their lives as a result of the torture and persecution they are subjected to. The bodies of the relatives of many families were delivered but no explanation was given to them about the causes of death. In addition to the immense harshness of the living conditions at the camps, it is reported that the number of detainees who also include children, is much higher than the capacity set for the camps at the time of their establishment. So much so that there is mention of camps where more than 10,000 people are held.[14] According to the statements of some witnesses, people can only sleep on their sides in incredibly narrow wards since they don’t even have the possibility to lie on their backs, while in other camps where even this is not possible, people can only sleep in turns.

According to the statements of those who managed to leave the camps, the methods applied in the concentration camps indicate that the Chinese administration considers all Uighurs to be “guilty” regardless of their age and gender, treating particularly those who are devoted to their religion and traditions as “terrorists”.

According to Western sources, there are around 1,200 concentration camps in East Turkistan.[15] This means that at least one person in almost every Uighur family is kept in such camps. It is reported that the detainees are generally Uighur men who are aged 20-40. The Uighurs at the camps are forced to change their beliefs and submit to the Communist Party ideology. Under the current conditions where the situation in the region has become so severe, questions are being asked, such as, why did China open these camps which are completely against human rights, the number and places of the camps, how many people are held there, the reasons for the arrest of the people, the living conditions of the camps, what treatments people are being subjected to, the medical conditions of the detainees at the camps in the aftermath of the covid-19 outbreak, the dispatch of those who were taken in the camps as mandatory workers to labor camps and factories, the fates of the children, spouses and relatives of those who are kept in the camps, and what international reactions are there against the reality of the camps? Answers to these questions and other similar ones will be sought throughout the study.


[1] China is surrounded by Tajikistan and the republics of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan in the northwest, Mongolia in the north, the Russian Federation and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the northeast, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar in the south, India, Bhutan and Nepal in the southwest, and Pakistan and Afghanistan in the west. The east of the country is bounded by the Yellow Sea, which is one of the marginal seas of the Pacific Ocean, the East China Sea and the South China Sea. It is the third largest country in the world with an area of 9,571,300 square kilometers and the most populous one with a population of 1,439,323,776 (April 2020). The country is divided into 21 provinces, three municipal administrations (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin), five autonomous regions (East Turkistan, Inner Mongolia, Ninghsia, Kuanghsi, Tibet), 29 autonomous cities and 69 autonomous administrations. 10 of the 56 ethnic groups living today in China are Muslims including Uighurs, Kazakhs, Tatars, Uzbeks, Kyrgyzs, Salars and those who live in the East Turkistan and Chinghai regions who are of Turkish origin. The Tongsiangs and Paoans, and the Tajiks in the Kansu region are Mongolian and Farisi, respectively. Huis, who are Muslims of Chinese-origin, are found in large communities or in small scattered groups in many provinces and cities of the country, particularly in the Kansu, Ninghsia, East Turkistan, Yunnan and Shantung regions. For detailed information, see TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, “Çin”,

[2] The term East Turkistan is a geographical term, the use of which began with the occupation of the western part and eastern part of Great Turkistan in the Asian continent as of the beginning of the 19th century by Russia and China, respectively; i.e. Turkistan was divided into two with the occupations of Russia and China, and has since then been referred to as East Turkistan and West Turkistan. East Turkistan was first invaded by the Chinese Manchu in 1758, and China, fearful of the increasing Russian influence, annexed East Turkistan in 1884 under the name Sinjang (New Land) and declared it as the 19th province of the Manchu Empire. East Turkistan became a part of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and its province status was abolished on October 1, 1955 and it was declared as an autonomous region. For detailed information, see Amine Tuna, Doğu Türkistan’da Asimilasyon ve Ayrımcılık, İstanbul: İHH Kitap, November 2012, p. 43,

[3] Chen Quanguo is a Chinese politician who was born in November 1955. He is the Communist Party secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Quanguo, who became the governor of Hebei in 2009, became the CPC secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2011 and brought police surveillance in the region to the highest level for security reasons during his term there. Assigned as the CPC secretary of Xinjiang on August 29, 2016, Chen Quanguo has taken measures to improve the “security”, eliminate the “separatist movements”, and expand the “re-education camps” in the region with the orders he received from Xi Jinping, just as he did in Tibet,almost turning the region into both a closed and open prison.

The CPC secretaries who have served in East Turkistan following the occupation of the region in 1949 are as follows: 1949-1952 Wang Zhen, 1952-1967 Wang Enmao, 1970-1972 Long Shujin, 1972-1978 Saifuddin Azizi, 1978-1981 Wang Feng, 1981-1985 Wang Enmao, 1985-1994 Song Hanliang, 1994-2010 Wang Lequan, 2010-2016 Zhang Chunxian, and currently as of 2016 Chen Quanguo,

[4] There has been evidence of the existence of these camps since 2014; however, their intense opening and the inclusion of large numbers of Uighurs in the camps has been observed since April 2017. For detailed information, see HRW, “China: Free Xinjiang ‘Political Education’ Detainees,” 10.09.2017,

[5] Xi Jinping is a politician who has been serving as the General Secretary of the CPC, President of the People's Republic of China, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. He has been the “top leader” of China since 2012 and officially received the title of “paramount leader” from the CPC in 2016. As the general secretary, Jinging served as the chairman of the Politburo Standing Committee of the CPC, which is China's top decision-making body,

[6] Gery Shih, “‘Permanent cure’: Inside the re-education camps China is using to brainwash Muslims”, Business Insider, 17.05.2018,

[7] İlber Ortaylı, “Kamplar...İşkence korkunç”, Hürriyet, 04.11.2018,

[8] Maha Akeel, “China must allow access to its ‘training centers’ for Uighur Muslims”, Arab News, 06.11.2018,

[9]Emma Graham-Harrison, Juliette Garside, “‘Allow no escapes: Leak exposes reality of China’s vast prison camp network”, The Guardian, 24.11.2019,

[10] There is various information about the number of the people who are held in the camps. In this study, a separate section on this subject is included. For detailed information, also see: Phil Stewart, “China putting minority Muslims in ‘concentration camps’, U.S. says”, Reuters, 04.05.2019,

[11] “EU team gets rare access to China’s restive Xinjiang region under tight supervision”, The Straits Times, 28.01.2019,

[12] “Arrests skyrocketed in China's Muslim far west in 2017”, France 24, 25.07.2018,

[13] Camps in the Soviet Union, to which millions of people were sent, to be punished for the charge of “public enemy” during the Stalin era. It is claimed that the total number of people who were executed, exiled, employed in the gulags and punished by other methods for political reasons in the Soviet Union is 15 million. Official records state this figure to be over 4 million.

[14] John Sudworth, “China’s hidden camps”, BBC,

[15] “Expert Estimates China has More Than 1,000 Internment Camps for Xinjiang Uyghurs”, Radio Free Asia, 11.12.2019,