Uighurs reflect on 2009 violence that set off Chinese crackdown

Demonstrators march in Urumqi, July 5, 2009.

By Aysha Khan
July 10, 2020 at 7:04 p.m. EDT

It was 11 years ago that Gulruy Asqer began praying for a chance to escape China.

Asqer, a Uighur poet now living in Memphis, was back then living in Urumqi, the capital city of the Xinjiang region of China that is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

She witnessed the state’s suppression of an uprising triggered by ethnic violence against Uighurs that tore through the city in early July 2009, leaving her family living in constant fear that they might be detained or disappeared.

“The whole city was different,” she said, recalling the plainclothes officers who began knocking on doors and investigating members of her family. “That was the most difficult year of my life. I was so helpless.”

Experts say that month’s unrest and the state’s aggressive response marked a major turning point in China’s brutal crackdown against the Uighur minority.