Uyghur Leader Detained in Turkey as China Foreign Minister Visits
ISTANBUL – The house detention of a Uyghur leader during the Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Turkey this week is stoking concerns among Turkey’s large Uyghur refugee community about deepening ties between Ankara and Beijing.
Uyghur leader Seyit Tumturk, head of the East Turkistan National Assembly, was detained at home during Wang Li’s visit to Turkey. Speaking to VOA, Tumturk said health authorities quarantined him without a COVID-19 test, after he called for protests against the Chinese minister’s visit.
“This time they used the COVID tracking method to prevent me from protesting, how will they prevent me next time from protesting in front of [the] Chinese embassy when someone else comes,” he said. “I am having serious worries and concerns about my security, my health and my freedom,” Tumturk said.
Uyghurs protested in Ankara and Istanbul during Wang Li’s three-day visit, which ended Friday. Many Uyghurs have found refuge in Turkey. But with Turkey’s relations increasingly strained with its traditional western allies, Ankara is deepening its economic and financial ties with Beijing, despite China’s ongoing crackdown on Uyghurs. During Wang’s visit, both countries committed to work together towards developing a strategic partnership.
Beijing is pressing Ankara to ratify a new extradition agreement, as it seeks Uyghur dissidents’ return. Human rights lawyer Ibrahim Ergin who represents Uyghurs in Turkey says he is alarmed.
“If this extradition agreement is approved in the parliament, we can foresee that this will result in some or all our clients’ death,” he said.
The Turkish parliament is yet to ratify the extradition agreement. Support of the Turkic-speaking Muslim group is strong in Turkey, crossing the country’s deep political divide.
But Cagdas Ungor of Istanbul’s Marmara University says economic pragmatism could prevail, with geopolitics playing a role.
“If the world is going to be polarized between the western hemisphere led by the United States and China, I think it’s going to be a harder game to keep good relations with China. Because in a cold war, bipolar environment, the gray area, the room to maneuver, that’s going to be narrow,” Ungor said.
Ankara has invited Chinese President Xi Jinping for a state visit. Still, at the same time, Turkey is seeking to repair strained ties with the United States. But whatever road Ankara takes is likely to be closely followed by Uyghurs who’ve found sanctuary in Turkey.