Beijing urged Ankara on Wednesday to “stay vigilant” against Turkish “nationalist and anti-communist” factions critical of China’s genocide of Turkic Uyghur minorities in the western Chinese territory of Xinjiang.
Turkish opposition leaders Meral Aksener, head of the nationalist Good Party (IYI), and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas of the left-wing Republican People’s Party (CHP) recently released Twitter statements recalling “the 1990 killing of Uyghurs by Chinese forces in the Baren Township [of Xinjiang],” Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported this week.
The Turkish opposition leaders “called China’s dealing of the 1990 Baren riot ‘persecution,’ and the riots which brutally killed police and kidnapped others as ‘martyrdom,'” according to China’s state-run Global Times.
The Baren incident preceded what human rights activists and multiple governments, including the United States, consider a genocide against Uyghur people in Xinjiang, fueled by the maintenance of hundreds of concentration camps where survivors say prisoners endure severe torture, rape, and killings.
The Chinese Embassy in Turkey responded to the politicians’ criticism of China’s actions toward Uyghurs in Xinjiang with the following Twitter statement on April 6:
The Chinese side resolutely opposes and strongly condemns any challenge by any person or power to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Chinese side reserves the right to a rightful response. The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is an integral part of Chinese territory. This is an internationally accepted and indisputable fact.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned China’s ambassador to Turkey, Liu Shaobin, on April 6 to express “discomfort” over the Twitter statement, according to Hurriyet.
“I personally do not think that either of the people who defended the Baren riot knew what really happened in Baren,” Erkin Oncan, an Istanbul-based journalist specializing in extremist movements in China and the Middle East, told the Global Times on April 7, referring to Meral Aksener and Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas.
“[I]t is no coincidence that the two names that commemorate the Baren riots were representatives of the well-known nationalist and anti-communist political movements in Turkey,” Oncan added. ” On the other hand, Aksener and her party’s support to separatists from China’s Xinjiang is widely known.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian called the Chinese Embassy’s response to Aksener and Yavas’s criticism of China “completely justified and beyond reproach” when asked to comment on the incident by Reuters at a regular press conference on April 7:
After certain individuals in Turkey blatantly endorsed terrorists on Twitter, challenged China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and even made erroneous comments openly inciting splitting China, the Chinese Embassy in Turkey stated China’s solemn position at the earliest time. Its response is completely justified, reasonable and beyond reproach.
Turkey itself has long been plagued by terrorism and separatist forces. We hope people from all walks of life in Turkey could look at China’s firm position to safeguard sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as its counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts in a rational and objective light, and join China in upholding the overall picture of China-Turkey strategic cooperative relations with concrete actions.
An estimated 50,000 Uyghur refugees reside in Turkey. Observers have traditionally viewed Turkey, a majority Sunni Muslim country, as a clear ally for the Uyghurs, who speak a Turkic language and are also majority Sunni. Despite the cultural links, Turkey has waffled in its support of Xinjiang’s Uyghurs in recent years as Ankara seeks to maintain economic and trade ties with China, which was Turkey’s first trade partner in East Asia and second import partner after Russia in 2019.