Uighurs Seek Turkey’s Spurning of Extradition Deal With China

Uighurs across the world seek Ankara’s snub of Chinese demand for the extradition of Uighurs as a perceived precondition for the shipment of Covid vaccines to Turkey.

fter China announced this past weekend that it ratified an extradition deal signed with Turkey back in 2017, Uighurs around the world marshaled their efforts to persuade Ankara to spurn the agreement that envisions sending back Uighur Turks stranded across Turkey. The latest move startled Uighurs and generated an abiding source of concern about the state of their brethren, the majority of whose legal status is far from being properly settled in Turkey.

What animated the recent round of debate was the allegations of a precondition put by China for the shipment of Covid-19 vaccines to Turkey. This last-minute change has generated an ensuing public controversy and prompted demonstrations to protest China’s cajoling, while urging the Erdogan administration to snub Beijing.

The extradition deal currently sits in the Turkish parliamentary commission.

But more than anything else, even the contemplation of the extradition deal in the Turkish parliamentary commission has revealed a deep sense of betrayal among Uighurs. They now feel that they have been left alone in the cold against the Communist Party’s global reach since the commencement of Beijing’s genocidal campaign across Turkestan through a combination of hybrid methods bent on eradicating the cultural, linguistic, religious, and even physical existence of an indigenous population living there for thousands of years. (China’s pervasive surveillance system in the Uighur region has already become a matter of public knowledge.) For Uighurs, Turkey has meant the last shelter; it stood as a second home given the fact that Anatolian Turks share the same ancestral heritage with their Uighur brethren and worship the same God of Islam. None of the multitudes of common glues that bind two people together seem to matter as decision-makers in Ankara pay more attention to the pressing needs of the flagging economy than moral charges of their discontents over the consequences of selling Uighurs out.

“This extradition treaty will cause worry among Uighurs who have fled China and do not yet have Turkish citizenship,” Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Uighur World Congress, told AFP earlier this week. He emphasized that China steps up economic pressure to secure the ratification of the deal.

In a Zoom interview, Kuzzat Altay, the president of the Uyghur American Association, poured his bitter disappointment over the dreadful prospect of Turkey’s extradition of Uighurs back to China.

According to Altay, the contours of the extradition arrangement were set out during President Erdogan’s visit to Beijing in 2017. It was largely rooted in the Chinese composition of the framework cloaked under a dubiously defined legal language. It envisions the tracing and apprehension of the criminals who fit the requirements of the extradition deal. But the devil is hidden in details.

In this archive photo from 2019, Kuzzat Altay speaks at an EU event.

“According to the Chinese regime, simply being Uighur is a crime. Reading Quran, or speaking the very own language constitutes a crime according to the Chinese laws,” Altay told me, revealing the mindset that has imposed a regime of draconian measures across Eastern Turkestan also called Xinjiang by Beijing. In the teeth of evidence, this means the blanket arraignment of any Uighur, without a distinction, to be deported back to China, if the deal is ratified by the Turkish legislative body.

The matter of extradition of Uighurs long precedes the outbreak of the latest controversy. Altay offers a searing indictment of the practices often overlooked and went unnoticed by the public in Turkey. Approximately, 100,000 Uighurs are believed to have taken residence in Turkey, fleeing the persecution back in China. Not all of them, Altay plaintively notes, is well connected. Some of them have no relatives in Turkey. These individuals with no material wellbeing and political backing appear prone to the unwelcoming realities of an increasingly teetering economy across Turkey.

For reasons still remain obscure, some Uighurs have already been extradited back to China via Tajikistan, the D.C.-based Uighur leader said. To avoid public backlash, the Turkish authorities conceal this unpopular practice through a tangled web of measures by using third countries and some subtle methods. This has been reported by international media outlets, to the chagrin of the Turkish government and to the dismay of the public outraged by Ankara’s condoning to Beijing.

“There are hundreds of expatriates currently accommodated in the Immigration Bureaus of Police Departments that handle the state of undocumented immigrants in Turkey. We do not have any information about them. We do not know for certain how many Uighurs have been sent back to China via third countries without our knowledge.” (Kuzzat Altay)

Soon after the news broke out, thousands in different cities across Turkey launched demonstrations to vent their anger with the authorities. What drives the public rage is the irony that the wrangling over extradition takes place under a coalition government forged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). The conservative AKP constituency has a particular concern and interest over the matters related to suffering Muslims around the world, while the MHP’s political creed is defined by an unshaken commitment to the wellbeing of the Turkic brethren in Central Asia. But none of this has registered any sense of alarmism about what beset Uighurs in concentration camps at the hands of the Chinese regime.

At the heart of Altay’s criticism lies the unbridled opportunism that captured the Turkish leadership. With its size, considerable might, and strategic location, Turkey is normally expected to be in the vanguard of the steering opposition across the Muslim world against China’s genocidal policies in the Uighur region. This is also what Uighur Diaspora expects amid the deafening silence of the Islamic world toward the plight of Muslim Uighurs. Yet, their exalted expectation has been shattered by the revelation of the extradition deal that currently sits in the parliamentary commission before a vote on the grand floor of TBMM.

After a torrent of public reaction, the Turkish government sought to reassure wary Uighurs on Thursday.

“Until now, there have been requests for returns from China related to Uighurs in Turkey. And you know Turkey hasn’t taken steps like this,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in remarks to media members in Ankara, according to France24. He noted that Turkey has been more sensitive to this issue than others.

Kuzzat Altay (L) is seen with his father and brother in this archive photo. His father remains in jail in China. (Source: Twitter)

till, Altay does not mask his disillusionment toward the current administration in Ankara. (The interview with Altay took place before the minister’s press remarks.) According to him, Maoist and pro-China Dogu Perincek’s line of thinking has hijacked Erdogan’s policy agenda with regards to the relationship with China. The first victim of this deference to Perincek’s ideological conviction and set of preferences in Turkey’s China Policy appears to have been Uighurs living in Turkey. Another factor, he mused, that drives the political calculations in Ankara is the wobbly state of Turkey’s economy battered by the global pandemic of the Covid-19 virus, which, as a twist of fate and irony (regarding the matter of this piece), had been originated in China.

The decline of Turkey’s economy has seemingly deprived Ankara of many palatable choices in its foreign policy. Consequently, this also renders Turkey considerably vulnerable to the financial overtures of the Red Dragon whose well-known debt-trap diplomacy aims to subjugate client countries after offering large sums of credit loans. Alhough Turkey may not be as dependent as many countries in Asia or Africa in the face of China’s role to dictate the terms of any financial loan, the pandemic has inexorably weakened the Turkish government’s hand in a negotiation table, be it a diplomatic/legal arrangement or an economic deal.

“The 3,5 billion worth of credit deal snapped up by former Finance Minister Berat Albayrak’s delegation during a visit to China was then presented by the Turkish media as a huge success in the mold of Magnificent Suleiman’s glorious victories. This is a joke. The figure here does not even worth mentioning. It is nothing. Yet, they [Turkish leadership] made Turkey even need such paltry figures.” (Kuzzat Altay)

Altay does not spare his blunt criticism about the government’s incompetent management of the Turkish economy during the pandemic. This, he fears, sustains Turkey’s vulnerability, which may compel the Turkish leadership to heed the additional Chinese demand for the ratification of the extradition deal by the Turkish Parliament before shipping vaccines to Turkey where the coronavirus’ uncontrollable spread recently wreak havoc. The death toll is now steadily mounting, while the hospitals across the nation are overwhelmed by the surge in new cases and ICUs overflowed by patients dependent on ventilators.

The government’s mixed record in its Uighur policy does not instill any confidence in the Uighur diaspora. Altay no longer takes Turkey’s rejection of the deal about Uighurs for granted. He fears that the reign of Perincek mindset in the Erdogan government and the country’s economic hazards may tilt Ankara to a position close to China. In the worst-case scenario, the ratification of the controversial deal would be the first outcome of this pivot.

Disclaimer: Kuzzat Altay’s views during this interview represent his own thinking, and have no relation whatsoever to the Uyghur American Association.

Virginia-based journalist and writer. Politics, culture, art, and technology. American political affairs, Turkey, the MidEast, and beyond. Twitter: @abyasun

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