Turkey abandons Uighurs in favor of Chinese investment

Killian Cogan
January 9, 2019

“If you don’t come back home now, you’ll never be able to see your homeland again.” Memet Atawulla received the threatening message last May on WeChat, China’s main messaging app. Though written in the Uighur language, he immediately knew it had come from the Chinese secret services.

“They wanted me to go back,” explains Atawulla, 31, as he sips a soda in one of Ankara’s glitzy cafes. Originally from the oasis town of Hotan in Xinjiang, northwest China, he moved to Turkey in 2016 to pursue a master’s degree on a scholarship program.

“When I told the agents I was staying here, they said they would leave me alone if I cooperated.” As with many Uighurs living abroad, the Chinese secret services asked Atawulla to become an informant for them. He refused, and is now certain traveling back home would result in his arrest.

Atawulla's two younger brothers have already been placed in what China calls re-education camps. In March 2018, his mother was taken into custody. “That’s what they do to Uighurs who have family members in other countries,” he says, referring to the Chinese authorities.