Turkish President, MHP leader in row over support to Uighur Turks

Turkish President, MHP leader in row over support to Uighur Turks

Turkish President, MHP leader in row over support to Uighur Turks

CİHAN photo

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli have clashed over which of them has actually displayed solidarity with the Muslim Uighur minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Messages that Bahçeli posted on his Twitter account late on June 27 fueled the row, as he suggested that nobody was even talking about the plight of Uighur Turks, while everybody has been obsessed with the developments in the predominantly Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish border with Syria, which has been the scene of deadly clashes between Kurdish forces and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters.

“From Nişantaşı to Yüksekova, everybody is concerned about the fight between two terrorist groups in Kobane. Nobody is speaking about China’s brutality in East Turkestan, not even mentioning it,” Bahçeli said.

Violent attacks and unrest have been on the rise in recent years both across China and in Xinjiang. Beijing has blamed what it describes as “terrorist” incidents on violent separatists from the vast, resource-rich region, where information is often difficult to verify inde-pendently. Rights groups accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression that they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang.

Erdoğan appeared to have taken the criticism from Bahçeli personally when he delivered a speech at a fast-breaking dinner a few hours later in the same day.

“Now, some politicians emerge and supposedly refer to me. What do they say? ‘Those who solely deal with Arabs and solely with those in Kobane and Tal Abyad are forgetting Uighur Turks.’ I am telling that person: ‘Have you ever travelled to the place where Uighur Turks live?’ But Tayyip Erdoğan went,” Erdoğan said, without citing Bahçeli’s name.

Media outlets revealed in their archives that almost exactly one year ago, in the run-up to the presidential election in August 2014 when he was elected to his current post, Erdoğan suggested that Bahçeli had never been to the region in his life.

At the time, Bahçeli responded to Erdoğan with photographs posted to his Twitter account. Photos showed Bahçeli with Uighur Turks in Xinjiang and Kashgar during a visit to China in 2001 in his capacity as the deputy prime minister of the time.