Written by: Mahmoud Abdel Latif / Translated by: Abir Hoteit
The Chinese Uighur minority is a milestone in the northwestern battles of Syria, and its fighters were a vital and essential part of ISIS combat structure. Their entry into the battlefields of Syria formed a strategic weight for the Syrian armys opponents in the field, as they are relied upon in immersion and suicide attacks on various fronts where they are found. Religious extremism can be considered the only political and religious belief of the Uighurs, especially those who have grown up in the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The road to Syria
A large number of the fighters of the Chinese Uighur minority moved to the Syrian territory from Afghanistan, where they had lived for a long time since their asylum to escape from their native lands in the Chinese Xinjiang region. However some of them had already started their journey from the region in the northeast China to Afghanistan as a result of his pursuit by the Chinese authorities after his involvement in a group of terrorist acts carried out there under the banner of "Jihad for East Turkestan. There are no figures issued by any official party with the number of "Uighurs", who moved to Syria via Turkish territory, except Most of them traveled overland accompanied by convoys of smuggling Afghan opium to northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. While some of them moved in coordination with the Turkish intelligence services by air to Istanbul, from which the trip was to the Syrian interior. But the Turks worked to distribute the "Uighurs" to the provinces of Raqqa and Idlib, to be makers of the difference in the battles against the Syrian army.
Uighurs belonging to Jabhat al Nusra
The beginning of the emergence of the Uighurs in Idlib province was through the recruitment of about 700 families, with a population of about 5,000 people. This minority formed an organization known as the "Turkistan Islamic Party", which had a strength of about 1500 fighters when it was formed in early 2015. This organization increased in number to 4300 fighters, distributed on a number of fronts, most notably "Kabani", in the northeastern countryside of Latakia, and the fighting axes in the southeastern countryside of Aleppo, and "Turkistani" were deployed in a number of points located in the southern countryside of Idlib.
The Uighur fighters are distinguished by their belief in the faiths of al-Qaeda, and they are among the fiercest foreign fighters who are deployed in the areas occupied by the "Jabhat al-Nusra" organization. However, the Uighurs are still factions that tend to reconcile with ISIS on the basis of the “brotherhood of jihad” principle. The leadership of “Al-Turkistani” played a major role in resolving the clash between “Al-Nusra” and the organization “Jund Al-Aqsa”, which was spreading as a wing of ISIS in Idlib. In addition to playing the mediating role between “Al-Nusra” and the organization “Guardians of Religion” , that was formed on the ruins of "Jund Al-Aqsa", early last year. It can be said that the "Turkistani" attempts to hold a reconciliation with “ISIS” and “Al-Nusra” stems mainly from the presence of a large number of Uighurs, within the ranks of ISIS.
"Jisr al-Shughur" is the main bastion of the "Uighurs" in northwestern Syria. Unofficial estimates indicate that the number of families of Chinese descent has reached about 900 families during the past four years, and a full population of more than 8,500 people. This minority is characterized by "close in on itself" socially, as it is not ethnically mixed through marriage with any of the components in Idlib, including those of Turkmen origin or from Central Asian regions such as the Kazakhs and Uzbeks.
Uighurs belonging to ISIS
During the period of ISIS control of large parts of eastern Syria, about 400 Uighur families entered the "Tal Abyad" crossing, on the border with Turkey, to the city of Raqqa. The Uighur groups included about 1,200 fighters who were initially stationed in the "Qurain Nature Reserve" , which was called "Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi Camp". Then a number of Uighur families were moved to separate areas of the countryside of Deir Al-Zour with leadership tasks and supervision of training. However the number remained very few, and the Uighurs remained under the leadership of Sheikh "Abdul Qadir", who was considered the oldest.
Uighurs participated in several battles for ISIS in the Syrian territories. Despite the need of the leadership of ISIS during 2017 for the fighters in its battles against the Iraqi army and "Popular Mobilization Forces", no fighters from the Uighurs were transferred to Iraq. This minority continued to fight alongside ISIS until it lost "Baghuz Fawqani", which was considered its last announced bastions in Syria, on March 19, 2019.
The Uighur families exited from "Baghuz Fawqani" to the "Al-Hol Camp", in the eastern Hasaka countryside, according to the agreement through which ISIS handed over the town. Information from inside the camp indicates that the number of residents in the camp who are of Chinese descent is close to two thousand people, most of them children. While fighters like the rest of the organization were transferred to American prisons and others under American supervision in Syria, the most prominent of which is the "Katibah Nusantara", which is currently similar to "Abu Ghraib", after the American forces worked to expand it. It is found in the headquarters of an abandoned battalion located to the southeast of the city of "Shaddadi", in the southern countryside of Hasaka, as well as transferring a number of others to the "Al-Omar field", which the American forces have military base located in the southeastern countryside of Deir Ezzor. Information also indicates that a small number of Chinese fighters are inside the "central prison Hasaka", which is controlled by the "Democratic Forces of Syria", and supervised by the Americans.
When the Uighurs entered Syrian territory, they burned all their identification documents confirming their dream of Chinese nationality, and according to private sources in the administration of Al-Hawl camp, all those claiming to be of Chinese descent do not have any document to prove this, which makes Chinas claim to receive them a legally sticking issue if Beijing isnt willing to recognize them and restore them. With the increase in social and political tension in the region of "Xinjiang", which was accompanied by a wide campaign by several countries against the Chinese government on the pretext of violating human rights and committing violations against the "Uighurs", it doesnt seem that Beijing will go towards the recovery of any of the residents of the Al-Hawl camp or detainees in Prisons located in the eastern region. Moreover Idlib battle seems of great importance to the Chinese government, fearing that the "Turkistani" fighters will withdraw towards their mother country if the extremist organizations lose their positions in northwestern Syria.
Where did they come from?
The “Uighurs” are one of the 55 Muslim minorities in China, and this minority lives in the Xinjiang region. This minority is one of the Turkish tribes that began to enter Islam in the tenth century at the hands of the “Qarakhians”, the complete entry of the entire Uighur minority into Islam was in the sixteenth century. There is still 80% of the Uighurs who live in the Tarim Basin, and the rest of them live in Urumqi, the provincial capital whose name has two meanings: the first meaning "frontiers", because it is located in the far northwest of China, and the second meaning "the return of the land to its owners".
The emergence of the Uighur separatists began in 1933, through the first separation and the formation of the first "East Turkestan Republic" which came on a religious basis, but it quickly collapsed with the Chinese army regaining control after a year of separation, to show a communist separatist rebellion in the region during 1944. It managed to declare independence with the support of the Soviet Union, which was then ruled by Joseph Stalin. The "East Turkestan Republic" remained to have a communist regime until the Chinese army was able to regain their control over it in 1949, so that the separatist movements in the region were divided into three groups: the first wants to build an Islamic Republic based on the Uyghur religious associations, and this movement supports the "Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement". While the second separatist group goes towards a dream of building an ethnic state based on Turkish unity, and at the head of this movement is the "East Turkestan Liberation Organization" movement. While a group calls itself the "Independence Movement in East Turkestan", takes the lead in a movement seeking to establish an independent state, not ethnic or religious, under the name "Uighur Stan".
The Uighurs minority numbered about 9 million people in China, but it is not the largest Muslim minority among ten Chinese minorities professes Islam, the largest is the Hiu minority, which has a population of about 11 million people. Muslims in all areas in the Chinese territory practice all their rites without any restrictions from the government, which makes the problem between "Beijing" and the Uighurs limited to separatism, which is also present in some Kazakh or Uzbek minorities and the non-Muslim Tibetan minority. During the past years, a movement calling itself the "East Turkestan National Awakening Movement" has been active, and this movement is taken from "Washington" its headquarters and works to finance the separatist movement in Xinjiang.
The extremist Islamic movements that attributed themselves to the Uighurs minority between 1990 and 2014 carried out more than 200 operations inside Xinjiang and other Chinese regions. Among the most prominent of these attacks was the bombing of 3 buses in 1997 in Urumqi, the provincial capital. Then the riots that occurred in The city itself in 2009, which killed 197 people and injured 1721, most of whom were ethnic "Han" and destroyed a large number of cars and buildings.
In 2011, the Islamic East Turkestan Movement attacked a police station in the town of Hotan, and in 2014 it carried out a cold weapons attack inside the train station in Urumqi. In addition to a double attack with two cars loaded with explosives inside a market in the same city, killing 43 people and about 90 others were injured. Eight of the movements individuals carried out an attack on the train station in Kunming, which belongs to Yunnan province, which resulted in a large number of dead and wounded people. Official statistics in China say that the terrorist attacks caused the deaths of 1,000 people between 2007 and 2014.
China is accused of persecuting and arresting about one million people of the Uighurs minority within its prisons, but Beijing says that these people are undergoing intensive rehabilitation courses in order to redeem them of being influenced by extremist ideas. It is not possible to rely on the report of any of the investigative investigations published about these places that differ in their designation between the government and its opponents, as Chinese security encircles what Beijing calls "rehabilitation centers", and withholds it from the international media, and it has recently called for fact-finding on The land instead of relying on Western propaganda on the issue of the Uighurs minority ..
Geography of the Uighurs .. Politically
Washingtons support for separatist movements in the region of "Xinjiang" comes from its geographical importance for the Chinese economy, as it is the passage of natural gas pipelines from Russia to Chinese territory, as it is a passage for the Central Asian gas pipeline from "Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan", towards China that needs Energy densely to fulfill her dreams of mastering the global economy.
The region adjacent to a group of countries in Central Asia is an essential part of the new Silk Road, which constitutes the main infrastructure to connect China to the Central Asian countries to facilitate commodity trade and service between the two parties within the framework of the "Belt and Road" initiative, which aims to intensify the Chinese economic relations with the countries of Central Asia, reaching the south West Asia, the Arab region, and Europe by reducing transportation and insurance costs on trade between China and these countries through land and sea connectivity, a path that Washington is trying in various ways to block its opening within its declared war on China economically.