Turkey has been one of the most hospitable countries to Uyghurs, with whom Turks share ethnic, religious, and linguistic connections. Turkey’s government has offered Uyghurs a safe place to live outside northwestern China’s Xinjiang region. About 50,000 Uyghurs are believed to live in Turkey — the largest Uyghur diaspora outside Central Asia. In March, hundreds of Uyghurs living in Turkey and their supporters protested in Istanbul against alleged abuses of the minority in Xinjiang during a state visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They called on China to stop the alleged genocide of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, where an estimated 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Turkic minorities have been detained in an extensive network of internment camps.
But as Ankara’s economic ties to Beijing have grown, the Turkish government has subdued its criticism of China. On Sept. 18, the Turkish government for the third time refused to allow Dolkun Isa, president of the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, to enter the country on the pretext that he posed a threat to national security, even though a court in Ankara earlier this year lifted a ban on his entry. Three days later, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cautiously mentioned the Uyghur human rights situation in China during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York. RFA’s Uyghur Service recently interviewed Yalcın Topcu, Erdogan’s chief adviser since 2016, at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Turkey’s policy on the Uyghurs and why the country has been silent of late on their situation.
RFA: The human rights situation of the Uyghurs is very concerning, and some countries around the world have declared that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is a genocide. Why has Turkey remained silent on this topic?
Topcu: Our Uyghur brothers and sisters should never worry. First God is always with them, then the Turkish state and the Turkish people. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said a few days ago at the U.N. General Assembly that the rights of the Uyghurs should be protected. He made the remarks in front of leaders of countries around the world. Uyghurs should not worry about Turkey not supporting them or not being on their side. The Turkish government has always talked about the situation of Uyghurs to China in accordance with international law and will continue to do so. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has always stressed that Chinese leaders should always respect the rights of the Uyghurs and that China should give the Uyghurs real autonomy.
RFA: Why did the Turkish government forbid World Uyghur Congress president Dolkun Isa from entering the country after he arrived at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport on Sept. 18, even though a Turkish court had lifted a ban on his entry?
Topcu: There may have been some legal and administrative misconduct. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and we [the Turkish government] became aware of the situation that arose when Dolkun Isa came to Turkey to visit Erkin Alptekin [a Uyghur activist from Germany]. We are observing and trying to solve this problem. We have all the documents about the lifting of Dolkun Isa’s entry ban into Turkey, and if this is due to some personal mistakes, we will fix it as soon as possible.
RFA: You said that the Turkish government is trying to protect the human rights of the Uyghurs, and you also said that the President Erdogan has twice responded strongly to China. Meanwhile, the Uyghurs in Turkey are fleeing to other countries. What should Turkey do to address this?
Topcu: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Foreign Ministry, and the Turkish Embassy in China have always called on China to respect the human rights of the Uyghurs. We respect China’s territorial integrity which might be a sensitive topic to them. But we have always said the following to China: China is a big country, and we want relations between Turkey and China to be good. This relationship will also bring peace to our region. Because it is called the Uyghur Autonomous Region, it must exercise its autonomy, and if you give to our Uyghur brothers and sisters their rights, it will also benefit China’s relations with other countries. China is a big country; big countries should give their people the rights. These words continue to be uttered by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, our Foreign Ministry, and our ambassadors to Beijing. If peace is built in the world, it will be good for all of us. Controversy, lawlessness, [and] injustice are of no use to anyone, nor are they to the countries that claim to be a powerful state. Human rights must be respected in order to make peace in the world.
No matter what anyone says, the Turkish government supports the Uyghurs, and the 84 million Turkish people support the Uyghurs. Let the Uyghurs be calm and be a little patient. We know that the current situation of the Uyghurs is very serious and there are people who are being harmed by China’s harsh policies. We are watching all this. We are a country, and we are concerned about this issue in accordance with international law. Our country’s supreme leader is speaking about the plight of Uyghurs to China’s top leader. I would like to remind you that we will meet the demand of our Uyghur brothers and sisters in Turkey to become Turkish citizens as soon as possible.
Reported by Erkin Emet for RFA’s Uyghur Service. Translated by the Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.