The Uyghur Experience: Connecting the Dots in September 2022

Three important publications are launching this month, offering insight into what it means to be Uyghur today:

On Sep 15, Editions Jentayu ( will launch Littérature Ouïghour, a special issue dedicated to contemporary Uyghur writing in French translation. Authors include Memtimin Hoshur and his visionary short story on problematic mustaches; Perhat Tursun; Helide Isra’il; Gülnisa Erdal; Gül Ay; Istanbul-based Muyesser Abdulehed on Uyghur poetry; anthropologist Darren Byler introducing Uyghur prose; and Alexandre Papas, historian of Islamic mysticism and Central Asia, on Uyghur orality. 

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachellet — on the final day in this role —finally released the commission’s 48-page Assessment of Human Rights Concerns in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China. Concludes the long-awaited report: Serious human rights violations have been committed in XUAR in the context of the Government’s application of counter-terrorism and counter-“extremism” strategies. The implementation of these strategies, and associated policies in XUAR has led to interlocking patterns of severe and undue restrictions on a wide range of human rights. These patterns of restrictions are characterized by a discriminatory component, as the underlying acts often directly or indirectly affect Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim communities.

Disappeared in early 2018 and presumed imprisoned in Xinjiang, Perhat Tursun — once dubbed “China’s Salman Rushdie” — earlier penned The Backstreets, the first of his book-length works to appear in English translation. It follows an unnamed Uyghur man who comes to the impenetrable Chinese capital of Xinjiang after finding a temporary job in a government office. He wanders the streets, accompanied by the bitter fog of winter pollution, reciting a monologue of numbers and odors, lust and loathing, memories and madness. Writes co-translator Darren Byler in his introduction: The world of The Backstreets is a colonial city at the frontier of the Chinese nation, and the book explores the way that city creates dislocated life through the simultaneous pull of beauty and sweetness and the repulsion of hatred and fear. Moving between the big city of Ürümqi, where he tries to find a life; the “stage set” of Beijing, where the protagonist goes to school but does not interact with the Han-dominated city; and a village in Southern Xinjiang where he experienced his first love and violence, the novel develops the themes of the dehumanized outsider and native belonging. Both themes respond to the dispossessing effects of life in the midst of a city that is hostile to Uyghurs. 

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