Thursday, July 16, 2009

Turkish Ethnicities - a "threat" to Russia

The above article by Paul Goble was posted on his website, Window on Eurasia, and entitled Urumchi Events Suggest Turkic Identities May be Greater Threat to Russia than Islamic Ones, Moscow Expert Says.” I’ll quote a few passages from the article and comment below:

“ . . . Clashes between Uyghurs and Han Chinese in Urumchi suggest that pan-Turkic identities may turn out to be a more significant threat to the Russian Federation and its interest in stability than the spread of radical Islam because ‘Turkic language peoples live not only in Central Asia but in Russia as well’ . . .”

“. . . Yakov Berger, a senior Chinese specialist at the Institute of the Far East of the Russian Academy of Sciences, says that ‘ethnic, social and political stability” in Xinjiang is’. . . important [to Russian stability].” (

“. . . ‘the problem of Xinjiang Pan-Turkism can turn out to be more important than the threat of the distribution of radical Islam’ because there are Turkic minorities on both sides of the border and what happens in one place can affect others.’”

“ . . . ‘if [as the Chinese foreign ministry now insists] disorders are possible in Chinese Xinjiang as a result of support from the outside, then why could they not break out in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan?’”

“ . . .’If China adopts too tough an approach to ethnic minorities like the Uyghurs, then there could be a repetition of the situation in the early 1960s when in response to Mao’s harsh crackdown non-Han refugees fled Xinjiang into the USSR.’”

“. . . ‘A few days ago, Turkish Prime Minister Redjep Taiip Erdogan said that Chinese actions against the Turkic Uyghurs were “a genocide” and promised to raise the issue at the UN Security Council.’”

“. . . ‘One Muslim rights activist in Russia, Kamilzhan Kalandarov, says that nationalism rather than Islamism is the primary motive force in Eastern Turkestan. In fact, he argues, “in the Chinese-Uyghur conflict, the religious factor plays [only] the role of one of the identifiers of national self-consciousness’ ( . . . he points out that ‘the ideas of political Islam were never popular among Uyghurs and that the local branch of Al Qaeda – the ‘Front for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan’ – occupies an extremely insignificant segment within the national movement” in that region to this day.

“Instead, he continues, what is behind the conflict there is ‘an entire complex of ethno-political and economic problems,’ reflecting the Uyghur’s lack of their own statehood and the divisions of that community “among various now independent states,” a situation that has created ‘a psychological complex which actively promotes radical nationalism.’”

“ . . .But regardless of which side of this argument is correct . . . the Russian government has joined its Shanghai Cooperation Organization in calling for the Chinese authorities to use all available means to maintain order. . . Next week, the Russian and Chinese militaries will take part in a joint “anti-terrorist” exercise “Peace Mission 2009, five days of maneuvers that will involve approximately 3,000 soldiers and officers on the ground in northeastern China (”


Two things strike me as interesting in this article. The first is this is the sort of problem that occurs in autocratic nations. Europe, both east and west, has not been free of autocratic regimes for so long that they can welcome all ethnicities as equals. The problems caused by immigrants from North Africa and elsewhere in Europe are well known. Officially, Europe is egalitarian, but unofficial, that is, at the common-citizen level, egalitarianism does not rate very high. The same things is even more true in Russia and China, two nations which retain autocratic forms of government.

In a real sense we can trace all such problems back to Woodrow Wilson who stipulated in point 14 of his “14 points” “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

Also, Wilson’s Point 5 reads, “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.”

These points aren’t crystal clear, but what was clear was that the U.S. opposed Imperialism and thought all former colonies should be freed. Wilson and the Presidents after him had such Colonies as India in mind, but other ethnicities, ethnicities Wilson had probably never heard of, thought these guarantees should apply to them as well. The former colonies of Britain and France are now independent. The Tsarist and Stalinist colonies are also independent – more or less. But there are left over ethnicities in such places as Turkey, and China that want the same rights that other ethnicities and nationalities enjoy.

If a nation that has multiple ethnicities becomes democratic, the further need to be independent seems to be ameliorated. I think of Scotland and Wales in this regard. They seem to be contented with the amount of freedom they possess without the need to be utterly free of England. Also, whenever there has been a vote in Quebec to obtain independence from the rest of Canada, the “sovereignty” cause has been defeated. Yes, Canada has passed some laws to make it even harder for Quebec to obtain independence in the future, but the Canadian “struggle” is a long way from what we see today in China with their Uyghur minority.

The second point I find interesting is that the Chinese, possibly abetted by the Russians may wish to submerge the Turkic ethnic struggles under the more recognizable Al-Qaeda-type terrorist rubric. We don’t know that much in the west about the Turkish minorities in China and Russia, but we do know about Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda would like to recruit Turkish Muslims in China and Russia, but their successes have been insignificant according to Yakov Berger. So if China and Russia engage in what they call a “peace mission” against “terrorism” which turns out to be against Turkish minorities in China, who is going to know?

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