The Chinese embassy in Istanbul has released an advisory to Chinese nationals planning to travel to Turkey, warning that they may face violence following attacks on suspected Chinese nationals by Turkish national protesters this weekend. Those attacks may be a statement against the Chinese government’s attempts to ban the practice of Islam among Western ethnic Uyghurs, who largely subscribe to the faith.
“Absolutely do not get close to or film the protests, and minimize to the greatest extent outside activities when alone,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs website warns tourists looking to visit Turkey. The notice warns that several instances of anti-Chinese protests have erupted in urban centers in Turkey, and that, often, they are not accurate in choosing their target.
On Saturday, a group of Korean tourists fell victim to a violent attack by Turkish nationalists seeking to make a statement against the Chinese government over their treatment of the nation’s ethnic Uyghur population. Mistaking the Asian tourists for Chinese, a group of men ran towards the tourists, attempting to physically attack them. Police eventually subdued the crowd with tear gas.
Hurriyet Daily News notes that the protest and subsequent attack were organized by a group known as Idealist Hearths, which the newspaper identifies as “far-right.” CNN notes that other footage of the attack this weekend shows tourists clearly shouting, “I’m not Chinese, I’m Korean,” and that several protesters also burned Chinese flags in public.
Hurriyet notes that, in another instance of mistaken identity, a group of protesters intending to show support for the Uyghur cause actually attacked an ethnic Uyghur–a cook at a restaurant called Happy China. The restaurant owner, a Turkish national, told reporters that the assailants warned that they “don’t want a Chinese restaurant here,” despite the fact that no Chinese nationals were making money off the restaurant, and that its existence was actually the financial lifeblood of a Chinese Uyghur.
The attacks followed an official statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry condemning reports that China had banned public Islamic activity in Uyghur-populated regions of the country, particularly western Xinjiang province. “Our people have been saddened over the news that Uighur Turks have been banned from fasting or carrying out other religious duties in the Xinjiang region,” the Ministry said in a statement last week, expressing “deep concern.” In addition to sharing a religion, Uyghurs are a Turkic people and largely considered part of the larger Turkish family by many Turkish nationals.
“The allegation that Muslims in Xinjiang are banned from practicing their religion, such as fasting during Ramadan or praying, does not comply with the truth and is baseless,” CNN quotes the Chinese government as replying to Turkey’s concern. In its state publication, the Global Times, Chinese experts have also accused Turkey of “unreasonably interfer[ing] in Chinese internal politics.”
While the Chinese government has denied any attempts to curb the practice of Islam in Xinjiang, several “anti-terrorism” efforts have clearly limited the freedom to practice Islam in the region. Preceding the celebration of the holy month of Ramadan this year, the Chinese government issued a notice warning that communist party officials were not to fast in public during the holiday, as is tradition. Restaurants are also reportedly forced to continue selling food throughout the fast, even in majority-Muslim communities. The Chinese government has also forced Muslim-owned stores to sell alcohol and cigarettes, both banned by the religion. Xinjiang is the only province in China where the burqa is illegal.