Con­fer­ence: First In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Uyghur Stud­ies: His­tory, Cul­ture, and So­ci­ety, Wash­ing­ton, D.C.


Be­tween Sept. 25 and 27, 2014, at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity (GWU) in the US cap­i­tal, the First In­ter­na­tional Con­fer­ence on Uyghur Stud­ies: His­tory, Cul­ture, and So­ci­ety brought to­gether an­thro­pol­o­gists, his­to­ri­ans, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, devel­op­ment econ­o­mists, lin­guists, hu­man rights re­searchers, and de­mog­ra­phers, among oth­ers, to share re­search and opin­ions on the Uyghur ex­pe­ri­ence.

A se­ries of vi­o­lent in­ci­dents in their home­land have in­ter­mit­tently pro­pelled the Uyghurs into re­cent in­ter­na­tional con­scious­ness. The vi­o­lence has gen­er­ated a flurry of com­men­tary that jumps be­tween, on the one hand, an in­evitable re­sponse to re­pres­sive gov­ern­ment poli­cies, and on the other hand the growth of “Is­lamic ex­trem­ism” in the re­gion. This con­fer­ence was con­se­quently timely, and the pre­sen­ta­tions suit­ably dis­pelled this bi­nary, with a nu­anced ex­am­i­na­tion of the con­tem­po­rary Uyghur con­di­tion. Fur­ther­more, par­tic­i­pants ex­plored the depth of Uyghur his­tory and cul­ture, show­ing that the Uyghurs are more than the sum of their cur­rent plight.

The Cen­tral Asia Pro­gram at GWU as­sem­bled an un­prece­dented field of schol­ars from in­sti­tu­tions in the United States, Turkey, Rus­sia, Kaza­khstan, the UK, Australia, France, Tai­wan, Swe­den, Kyr­gyzs­tan, Ta­jik­istan and Ger­many, con­nect­ing a di­verse range of aca­demic tra­di­tions. The ab­sence of schol­ars from China was raised dur­ing the first day; how­ever, it was men­tioned that par­tic­i­pa­tion of aca­demics from China would have been un­likely. Of­fi­cially sanc­tioned in­volve­ment may be viewed as an en­dorse­ment of Uyghur rights, while unof­fi­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion could have landed schol­ars in trou­ble. While this dis­cus­sion high­lighted the fragility of aca­demic free­dom and the sen­si­tiv­ity of con­duct­ing Uyghur-re­lated re­search, it also il­lus­trated how dif­fi­cult it is to bring to­gether thinkers of kinds when most needed.

Re­marks from Re­biya Kadeer, David Kramer of Free­dom House, T. Ku­mar of Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, Mark Lagon of Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, Sue Gu­nawar­de­naVaughn, and Haluk Ah­met Gümüş, a Turk­ish mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, opened the con­fer­ence. The or­ga­niz­ers re­served the first day for pol­icy re­lated pre­sen­ta­tions, in­clud­ing analy­ses of con­tem­po­rary and ret­ro­spec­tive po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in China that im­pact eco­nomic, re­li­gious and cul­tural as­pects of Uyghur life. To con­tex­tu­al­ize the aca­demic pa­pers, two round­table pan­els of­fered in­sights into the pol­icy dis­cus­sion. The first of th­ese ex­am­ined the causes of the re­cent vi­o­lence in the Uyghur home­land. Pan­elists stressed the lack of trust the state places in Uyghurs, re­sult­ing in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of top-down poli­cies that fuel re­sent­ment. The ab­sence of an ap­pro­pri­ate civil-state in­ter­face and the re­pres­sion of mod­er­ate voices were sim­i­larly em­pha­sized to fur­ther demon­strate this dis­tance be­tween the Uyghur grass­roots and state of­fi­cials.

The sec­ond of the two round­tables took a long-term ap­proach to Uyghur geopol­i­tics, in­clud­ing the Uyghurs’ role as a pivot be­tween Sinic and Tur­kic civ­i­liza­tions through his­tory. Yunus Koç of Hacettepe Uni­ver­sity dis­cussed how the Uyghur re­gion has been ex­ploited as a strate­gic lo­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Qing dy­nasty and by the Soviet Union, as noted by other pan­elists. In the light of an in­creas­ing eco­nomic and se­cu­rity-minded re­la­tion­ship be­tween China and Cen­tral Asia, the role of the Uyghur


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