Who are the Uyghurs?

Uighurs are a largely Muslim ethnic minority, mainly based on the most western region of Xinjiang in China. They usually have a more cultural and ethnic identity with people in Central Asian countries than with Han Chinese. Their language is related to Turkish and also shares agreements with Uzbek, Mongolian, Kazakh and Kyrgyz.

Islam is an important part of their identity. Most practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam, while some are followers of Sufi sects. It is not uncommon for Uighurs to drink alcohol or for women to work.

Uighurs generally have more Mediterranean characteristics and a larger construction than their Han Chinese neighbors.

The Chinese census of 2010 put the total population of Uighurs at just over 10 million, less than 1 percent of the total population of China. They are the largest ethnic group in the autonomous region of Xinjiang.

Where do the Uyghurs live?

Most Uighurs live in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, the largest region in China. Xinjiang is strategically important for China because it borders eight countries: Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Until recently, the population of Xinjiang was mainly Uyghurs, but an influx of Han Chinese into the region has partly fueled the tensions between the two groups.

Uighur people living outside Xinjiang are mostly male traders living in Chinese cities. There are also an estimated 400,000 Uighurs who live outside of China, and most live in the Central Asian states on the border with Xinjiang.

Xinjiang is rich in natural resources and the economy is largely focused on agriculture and trade. The cities were once the most important stops along the famous Silk Road.

The region was part of a shifting power struggle in the past millennium, marked by a series of conquests by the Chinese, as well as periods of incidental independence.

What is now known as Xinjiang came under Chinese rule in the 18th century. The region experienced a short period of independence in the 1940s, but China regained control when the Communists took over power in 1949.

Why is there tension between China and the Uyghurs?

Xinjiang has experienced an enormous demographic shift over the last 70 years. Uighurs were 75 percent of the population of the region in 1945, but today only make up about 45 percent. Han Chinese have moved to the cities of Xinjiang in large numbers, attracted by major development projects that have brought prosperity to the region.

However, the Uighurs have complained that the best jobs are given to Han Chinese, who are doing better economically, a fact that has fueled the grudge between the groups.

The population of Han Chinese has grown from 9 percent in 1945 to 40 percent today. China has also deployed a large number of troops stationed in the region.

As demographic changes change, activists say that the Uyghurs' ability to engage in business and cultural activities has been gradually curtailed by the Chinese government. They also say that the government imposes severe restrictions on Islam, denouncing ordinary Muslim traditions as religious & extremism & # 39; to curtail them.

Journalists have reported that in recent years the local government has organized public ceremonies and signing sessions in which ethnic minorities promise their loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. They also say that the state makes it difficult for Uighurs to have any contact with other Turkish and Muslim peoples abroad.

When are the tensions swollen?

The tensions between the Uyghurs and the Chinese government increased in the nineties when the support for separatist groups in Xinjiang increased. The groups were inspired by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of independent Muslim states in Central Asia. The Chinese government suppressed public demonstrations and activists went underground.

China was accused of stepping up the crackdown on the Uyghurs in the run up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but the tensions escalated dramatically in 2009. Riots took place that year in the regional capital Urumqi, and Chinese officials said that about 200 people were killed, most of them Han Chinese. Beijing argued that a crackdown was necessary to stop the violence and the spread of separatist sentiment.

In 2016, tensions rose again with the arrival of a new party secretary in Chenqang, Chen Quanguo, who pursued the same hard policy he had previously used in Tibet.

Since then human rights organizations have accused China of placing one million Uyghurs in detention camps. China says it has stopped Uighur in "vocational training centers" to stop the spread of religious extremism and to stop an increase in terrorist attacks. According to critics of Chinese policy, the measures are aimed at destroying Uyghur identity. .