Members of the Uyghur diaspora recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of the death of Isa Yusuf Alptekin, one of the ethnic group’s most prominent intellectuals and a figure who dedicated his life to Beijing’s independence in the Uyghur Autonomous Region. of Xinjiang (XUAR).
Alptekin was born in Yengisar County (in Chinese, Yingjisha), in what was then Kashgar (Kashi) Prefecture of the Qing Dynasty, in 1901. At the end of 1949, following the Chinese Communist invasion from the Uyghur region, he left China and finally relocated to Turkey in 1954.
In 1960, Alptekin established the East Turkestan Expatriate Society in Istanbul, using the name preferred by many Uyghurs for their homeland, and later the East Turkestan Foundation. He fought tirelessly for the freedom of his people until his death on December 17, 1995.
During his half-century struggle for independence, Alptekin has traveled the world attending international conferences to raise awareness of the situation in XUAR, where Uyghurs are discriminated against and cannot practice their Muslim religious traditions, using their own language and preserving their culture, despite the protections of Chinese law.
Hamuthan Göktür, who worked for Alptekin from 1965 to 1995, told RFA’s Uyghur service that the late intellectual had made a significant contribution to the recognition of the Uyghur independence movement in Turkey.
“If you asked someone in Turkey where they heard about the East Turkestan cause, that there was a region and a country called East Turkestan, they would say Isa Yusuf Alptekin,” he said. declared.
After being blinded in a traffic accident in 1978, Alptekin did not give up his campaign for the independence of East Turkestan. He founded a publishing center in Istanbul in 1980 and the East Turkestan Foundation in 1985.
“The torch of independence”
Omer Kanat, executive director of the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) and chairman of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) executive committee, worked with Alptekin for over seven years, starting in 1980.
“Mr. Isa tirelessly waved the flag of independence, the torch of independence,” he said. “In his final days, Mr. Isa spoke of our homeland, of our nation… he wouldn’t talk about anything else. “
In addition to publishing in newspapers and magazines, holding press conferences, giving statements to reporters, and writing letters to leaders of various countries, Alptekin has also written numerous articles and books. Many of his writings have become important sources in Uyghur studies today.
WUC President Dolkun Isa called Alptekin “not only a politician but also an opinion writer”, noting that he had also written numerous books, several of which were published in English, Turkish, in Arabic and other languages.
From his arrival in Turkey in 1954 until his death in 1995, Alptekin met with all Turkish presidents and prime ministers, as well as several ministers, to discuss the Uyghur issue and address the plight of Uyghur migrants in Turkey.
“He spoke eloquently and he had a human demeanor,” said Kanat of the UHRP.
“I was with him when he met world leaders … If you paid attention, it seemed from the words he used and the way he interacted with people that the leaders of two countries met. “
Isa Yusuf Alptekin was buried in Topkapi Cemetery, where former Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and former President Turgut Özal are buried. His funeral was attended by Turkish President Süleyman Demirel and several ministers, and major Turkish TV channels covered the service live. His legacy lives on through the work he did for the Uyghur community and in the many parks, streets and schools that bear his name in Turkish cities.
Reported by Erkin Tarim for the RFA Uyghur service. Translated by Uyghur service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.