On March 24, 2021, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wangi Yi in Ankara. During the meeting, Çavuşoğlu reportedly said he would like to see Chinese President Xi Jinping visit Turkey to further develop the relationship. Later in the day, Yi met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who gave Yi a high five.
Some Turkish opposition media outlets reacted to the high five as a symbol of how Erdoğan, by strengthening relations with China, is betraying the Uyghurs, a Turkic minority in China with whom many Turks feel an ethnic connection and against whom the Chinese government, according to then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is committing "genocide."
President Erdoğan high-fiving Foreign Minister Yi.
Recent Turkey-China cooperation includes increasing trade, the Belt and Road initiative, and the Middle Corridor Project, a railway-ferryboat route that starts in Turkey and goes through Georgia, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea by ferryboat into Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan, and ends in China. Shipping from Turkey to China using the route appears to have begun in December 2020, while shipping from China to Turkey and on into Europe appears to have begun in November 2019.
Turkish state-run media promotes the Belt and Road Initiative and the Middle Corridor Project (source: trthaber.com).
In May 2017, Turkey and China signed an extradition agreement. The Chinese government has since approved the agreement, but it has been held up since 2019 by Turkish parliament's Justice Commission and awaits ratification in Turkey. Former prime minister and current leader of the Gelecek Parti ("Future Party") Ahmet Davutoğlu said in July 2020 that this will happen.
Seyit Tümtürk, a Turkish-born Uyghur political leader living in Kayseri, Turkey, has been among the most outspoken critics of Turkey's developing relations with China. This report will review some of his recent criticism of the deepening relationship between China and Turkey, as well as a recent diplomatic row over the Uyghur issue between the Chinese Embassy in Ankara and members of the Turkish opposition leadership.
Turkish-Born Uyghur Leader Seyit Tümtürk On Turkish-Chinese Relations: "This Is Dipping Your Bread In Your Brothers' Blood"
Seyit Tümtürk has been organizing events to discuss the Chinese genocide of the Uyghurs and posting online in opposition to it and to Turkey's developing relations with China. The Turkish government reportedly put Tümtürk under house arrest so that he would not be able to protest the recent visit of the Chinese foreign minister. Tümtürk said of the house arrest: "There are both plainclothes police and regular police at my door."
Uyghur leader Seyit Tümtürk opposes Turkey's China policy.
Tümtürk tweeted several times about the visit of the Chinese foreign minister and the high five that Erdoğan gave him. On March 25, Tümtürk wrote: "Were you able to ask about the Chinese genocide of 35 million people in East Turkestan, and the systematic mass rape in the camps and prisons, my honorable president?" On March 26, he wrote that the message sent by the high five "crushed" 35 million people in East Turkestan, and wrote: "At least we should not have rewarded China, which we [apparently] cannot condemn." On March 27, he tweeted a photo of Erdoğan high-fiving the Chinese foreign minister beside a photo of Tümtürk with former Japanese President Shinzo Abe and wrote: "My honorable president, while we are talking about high-fiving a genocidal bloody hand, Japan is saying that the human rights violations in East Turkestan can never be accepted as a Chinese internal matter."
On March 29, Tümtürk tweeted two photos of Erdoğan. One showed Erdoğan moments before he walked out of the 2009 World Economic Forum conference in Davos, Switzerland, after not being allowed the time he wanted to respond to a statement by then Israeli President Shimon Peres. This incident is famous in Turkey and is used as an example of Erdoğan standing up for Muslims world-wide. Beside this photo Tümtürk tweeted the photo of Erdoğan high-fiving Yi and wrote: "My dear president, the saying of 'one minute' to Israeli President Shimon Peres at Davos was dignity and honor [in standing] with the oppressed. Unfortunately, high-fiving the bloody-handed Chinese foreign minister, killer of 35 million oppressed people of East Turkestan, made that honor vanish."
On February 13, Tümtürk tweeted a report showing a video of Tümtürk at a demonstration in Kayseri. Turkish police arrested two young Uyghur girls at the demonstration as a woman in the crowd objects. Tümtürk wrote: "My honorable president, if you will not object with even a single word against China's genocide in East Turkestan, if you will not take ownership of us and our cause... Tell us, where should we go?" The day before he wrote about the same incident: "Is this Turkey? My honorable president, you said '[even] if everyone else is silent against oppression, we will not be silent.' It's just the opposite, today you are silencing the oppressed people of East Turkestan against the oppressor China."
On April 3, Tümtürk tweeted an image from the March 31 informal summit of the Turkic Council, which comprises Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and, as an observer state, Hungary. Though Turkmenistan is not listed as a formal member of the council, Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow attended the meeting. Tümtürk wrote: "At the Turkic Council meeting, no one said the words 'Uyghur Turk,' 'genocide,' or 'East Turkestan.' It was reminded that by connecting Asia and Europe by means of the Turan corridor, China's Belt and Road initiative would obtain great value. I guess this is dipping your bread in your brothers' blood."
On February 20, it was reported that Tümtürk said in a speech at a demonstration that "East Turkestan was abandoned to the mercy of China at the cost of a policy of getting closer with China." On April 7, he posted a link to a tweet by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara that included an article about the Chinese oppression of the Uyghurs and text that read: "The People's Republic of China is opening baseless cases against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities and sentencing innocent people to prison for years." Tümtürk wrote in his tweet, responding to the tweet by the U.S. Embassy: "We would expect this and similar statements against the Chinese genocide in East Turkestan from the Turkic Islamic world and above all our brother Turkey. We do not know what to say."
On March 30, Tümtürk tweeted a video of a portion of a speech Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the MHP, which is the other party in the ruling coalition with Erdoğan's AKP, in which Bahçeli discusses Turkishness, among other things, and wrote: "You did not even give the Uyghur Turks a meeting, those who went to the general (party) center were not let in... Where do you find the right to criticize others about the Uyghur Turks and Turkishness?" The tweet has 21,300 "likes" and 3,544 retweets.
On March 28, Tümtürk included a screenshot of a tweet by Bahçeli remembering the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, about which Bahçeli wrote: "In this uprising there was a genocide in the true meaning. Close to 40 thousand Muslim Turks were slaughtered." Tümtürk wrote: "How sad it is that while the honorable Devlet Bahçeli remembers the Mora massacre of 200 years ago, he is silent against the 35 million victims of genocide in East Turkestan under Chinese occupation. Oh, orphan East Turkestan."
On April 9, Tümtürk tweeted a video apparently showing himself giving a speech at a rally in Indonesia. He wrote: "Last year we gathered with hundreds of thousands [of people] in front of the Chinese Embassy in Indonesia to protest the Chinese genocide in East Turkestan. Unfortunately, we could not hold such a rally in Turkey."
On April 2, Tümtürk tweeted the results of a survey of Turkish voters indicating that 57.4 of participants agreed with the statement "China is oppressing and persecuting the Turks in East Turkestan." Seventeen percent of participants agreed with the statement: "It is an internal Chinese matter, I do not believe that there is oppression and persecution." A remaining 25.6 percent were undecided. Tümtürk wrote: "To the attention of politicians."
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Diplomatic Row Over Uyghur Issue Between Opposition Leadership, Chinese Embassy
Tümtürk tweeted frequently about a recent row over the Uyghur issue between Turkish opposition leadership and the Chinese Embassy in Ankara. On April 5, Mansur Yavaş, a leading CHP politician who is mayor of Ankara and sometimes described as a possible future presidential candidate, and Meral Akşener, leader of the İYİ party, a smaller opposition party, both tweeted in commemoration of the April 5, 1990 "Baren massacre." Official Chinese government and Uyghur accounts of the events of that day differ widely but it appears to have ended with the deaths of several dozen Uyghurs in the Baren township in China's Xinjiang province.
The Chinese Embassy in Ankara responded on April 6, tagging Yavaş and Akşener's Twitter accounts: "China decisively opposes and severely condemns any person or power's challenging in any way of China's sovereignty and territorial activity. China reserves the right to give a just response."
The tweet provoked a swift and severe response among opposition politicians and supporters, who called the tweet "threatening." On April 6, the İYİ Party posted on its official Twitter account a graphic showing a man beginning to say the threatening portion of the tweet by the Chinese Embassy: "China reserves the right to give..." İYİ Party leader Akşener, wearing a blue cape bearing the star and crescent of the flag of East Turkestan, slaps the man in the face and says in Chinese: "End the genocide against the Uyghurs!" The graphic uses a modified version of an image, originally showing Batman slapping Robin in the face, that is often used for such graphics. The text on the post reads: "Stop talking nonsense and end the genocide you are carrying out against the Uyghurs."
Tümtürk tweeted a video of Engin Altay, an MP representing Istanbul for the CHP, saying in parliament the same day: "If the government of the Republic of Turkey cannot grab that [Chinese] ambassador by the ear and expel him from the country, then what a shame it is!"
Former prime minister and current leader of the Gelecek Parti ("Future Party") Ahmet Davutoğlu replied to the tweet, writing: "Know your place! This is Ankara!"
On April 6, Yavuz Ağıralioğlu, a leading İYİ party politician and MP representing Istanbul, replied to the tweet, writing: "What will you do, for example? Will you put us all in concentration camps and assimilate us? Will you torture us? Will you demolish our mosques? Will you throw us in prison like you did our oppressed brothers and sisters in East Turkestan? Will you plague our homes and our chastity? What will you do?"
Lütfü Türkkan, who is an MP representing the İYİ party for Kocaeli province and a group deputy for the İYİ party in parliament, tweeted the same day: "The tweet by the Ankara Embassy of the People's Republic of China is a public intervention in the internal affairs of our state. The Turkish state should immediately respond and declare the ambassador who had the audacity to make the statement PERSONA NON GRATA." The tweet included a video of him recommending the same in parliament. The Chinese ambassador was later summoned to the Foreign Ministry. Türkkan tweeted again, tagging Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and the twitter account of the Foreign Ministry, asking: "So he was summoned and what happened? If he wasn't treated to a cup of tea and then sent away, what happened? We want to know."
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