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Memories of the Unforgettable July 5th Urumqi Massacre

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the Urumqi Massacre which took place in the capital city of the occupied East Turkestan. Our Save Uyghur Campaign mourns for the martyrs who were brutally killed, forcibly disappeared, and imprisoned by the Chinese government on this unforgettable day. We remember the Uyghur student protestors’ dignified triumph against the cruel regime with pride. Their relentless efforts with bravery will always remain fresh in our memories.

The following are the memories and also an eyewitness account of our team-lead of Save Uyghur Campaign, Serwi Huseyin, about this sad day on which thousands of Uyghur students paid a heavy price for standing up for justice. We hope this memory will open a small window for you to peek into the July 5th Urumqi Massacre.

A week before July 5th, 2009, at one of my friends’ home in Urumqi, I got to see an illegally downloaded video from YouTube: a Shaoguan Toy Factory scene in which a Han mob was beating Uyghur migrant workers in the factory to death. The graphic scene of young Uyghur people lying dead in their blood in the factory courtyard made my heart ache. In the same manner, the Han guy who was shouting to celebrate their victory over Uyghur migrants made my stomach sink. I thought, “Urumqi, Aksu, Kashighar, Korla greets Chinese migrants pouring from the train stations daily, and we rarely hear that they are not welcomed by us, Uyghur people. Uyghur people are hospitable people– they welcome them into their cities and don’t keep animosity towards them. In my childhood, we could hardly see Han people in the streets of Kashigar, but now they are everywhere in the city. Those migrant Uyghurs never wanted to leave from their families and roots, but with a government mandated program, they went to Guangzhou, and fell dead to the unwelcoming Chinese.” I told my friend, “Our people welcomed the Mangliuer (migrants in Chinese) every single day in tens of thousands, but you see, they can’t tolerate the existence of a dozen Uyghurs on their lands.” When we were comparing Uyghurs as an occupied nation and Chinese as occupiers, we didn’t know Shaoguan Toy Factory would turn Urumqi into a draconian city flooded with tanks, police vehicles, and Chinese soldiers with heavy machine guns everywhere soon.

On that day, July 5th of 2009, I got to see the scenes of protest, and I believe I will remember the grand scenes of protest, the rising of my people against the CCP, as a day of pride and also as a day which made Uyghurs realize the ugly face of the CCP. I thought that our souls were too crushed and Chinese military forces were too strong; Out of fear, we could never dare stand for justice like that, but the young Uyghur student protestors proved me wrong. On that day, I was standing by the Bank of Agriculture (left side in below picture) at the intersection when I saw the protesters calling “Uyghur, Uyghur” near the XinHua book store in Urumqi. I was moved to tears by this grand scene. “My people can stand against injustice too.” This was what I was thinking. Many people who happened to witness the protest by the curbside were scattered by the fully armed Chinese policemen, and the ones who still did not comply were beaten by batons. I saw several old women who fainted immediately after being beaten with batons on their heads. When the Chinese military surrounded the protestors I left the scene and headed back home. On that day, my husband came back from his dental clinic really late. He needed to walk around the sports stadium because Chinese police blocked the cross sections of Number One road. On that night the electricity was gone, we heard voices firing guns until dawn. One of my nephews who happened to be in People’s Square, where the march of protestors started, was detained by the CCP. Knowing the cruelty of the CCP, we were devastated by this arrest.

This was only the beginning of my terrifying journey of July 5th, 2009. Two days later, a government-instigated Han mob attacked my neighborhood with iron batons and Molotov cocktails in their hands. My neighbors fought against the Han mob until the arrival of foreign journalists. Hundreds of Hans in the mob ran into the courtyard in the neighborhood, around twenty of my neighbors who were holding bricks and stones in their hands ran towards them. I expected a scene in which my neighbors fell dead by the Chinese mob. Unexpectedly, the Han mob ran away. Why? Armed Chinese forces were accompanying them at the time. Did they give orders to the Han mob to stop, is this why the mob set back? No, absolutely not! They were filled with fear, their lives were too dear to them, and they were only there to show off their power. Later, an Uyghur police man who is our family acquaintance would tell me, “The Han mob was chickenhearted because they were instigated by CCP, your neighbors were fearless because they wanted to protect their community!”

However, I remember the first floor balcony walls were painted with the blood of two Uyghur young men who were beaten severely by the Chinese mob. I saw this dreadful scene behind the curtain in my bedroom on the sixth floor of my building. The powerful contrast between the Han mob and Uyghurs was significant. Ironically, the Han mob was guarded by armed policemen. Uyghur fighters were armed with their conscience and dignity and with the prayers of us who were watching behind the curtain. Yet, the Han mob invaded the courtyard several times, but everytime ran away as soon as they saw my neighbors who were running towards them with bricks and mop handles. Finding bricks was easy for my neighbors, because the courtyard was dug out in order to install gas pipes.

I suppose someone in our building was videoing the scene, because the police suddenly shot towards the direction of our bedroom window. The police warned the neighborhood not to take pictures and videos, otherwise, we would be shot. Yes, you see, their weapons were pointed to our windows, not to the Han mob. My husband and my nephew prepared buckets of water by the door and pulled out the handle of the mop. You might be wondering how did the Han mob set back at the end? As soon as foreign journalists stepped in, the Chinese police force took the Han mob away from the neighborhood. So simple, the Chinese police knew when to take out the mob from our neighborhood; they had to clear the spot before journalists hit it. Behind the curtain, I saw that a teenage girl appeared from the entrances of our building (our building in Urumqi was in the shape of a U letter) and quickly handed out her phone to the female journalist and ran into the building. At that minute, I was so proud of my neighbors and that teenage girl, and felt the guilt of being a bystander when my neighborhood was attacked. I remember I pressed down my urge to go down during the Han mob attack by repeatedly saying to myself, “Don’t go down, you are going to leave for America soon.”

One year later, after I joined my husband in America, he would show me the scene in which Chinese mobs are being handed with same size iron baton by the police from a truck which was taken by Italian journalists and at that time I would recall the words of the Uyghur police man who said that Han mob was motivated by the government to attack Uyghur neighborhoods. Uyghur young men with bricks in their hands who were running towards Han mob fearlessly like lions, the Uyghur lady whose loosened long hair under her scarf was sweeping the ground while running, and their faces full of determination will be forever alive in my memory! Indeed, for me, they are the perfect model of heroism of an oppressed nation in times of crisis.

What I did not know was, on the day of July 7th, 2009, when my neighbors are fighting with the Han mob in my neighborhood, in the Horse Racing Field (CaimaChang in Chinese) which is not very far from my neighborhood, hundreds of Uyghur women whose husbands, sons, and brothers who were killed or detained on the day of July 5th were bravely marching for another protest and shook the foreign journalists’ hearts with their bravery and courage. In the later months, we heard that the police turned off the electricity of the whole city and pushed the protestors to the Horse Racing Field and opened fire on them on the night of July 5th, and this killing caused Uyghur women’s fearless protest on July 7th, on the Horse Racing Field in Urumqi.

On the night that I landed on US soil one year after this massacre, my husband showed me a series of pictures and videos of the July 7th Uyghur women’s protest taken by foreign journalists. Everytime, when I see the video footage and pictures of these brave women, I think that now matter what we go through, whether in concentration camps or in jails, whether we are forced to denounce what we believe in, we will not be overcome and we will persist.

Around October in 2009, I visited the psychology department of the People’s Hospital in Urumqi, and I got to see women and young girls who were going through psychological disorders from witnessing the killing scene of their sons or brothers in the Horse Racing Field. Their family members told me that these women collapsed by witnessing the brutality of Chinese troops that happened right outside of their doors. They also told me that the psychology department was flooded with such Uyghur patients and these patients are mainly from the Horse Racing Field. I visited this department many times in the upcoming months and almost every time I saw community office staff (Shequ, JieDao Banshichu, in Chinese) offering them free food and clothing to keep their mouths shut about July 5th night.

July 5th, 2009 Urumqi massacre left so many memories in the hearts of people who lived in Urumqi during that time period. For a long time, in neighborhoods, people talked about how Chinese police forces washed the blood of the Uyghur protestors on the streets with the powerful pressure washer on the dawn of July 6th. The bus station boards were filled with orders of arrest of young Uyghur student protestors. In that fall, Xinjiang News Channels broadcasted scenes of court trials of Uyghurs students almost every day. A peaceful protest which claimed justice from the CCP ended with bloodshed, and however their brave attempts to challenge the CCP regime etched a permanent place within the pages of recent Uyghur history. This memory can only be viewed as one of the missing puzzles which depicts that day in the authentic manner.

A scene from July 5th, Urumqi Student Protest. During the protest, I was standing on the right side of this street. 

Government-instigated Han mob to attack Uyghur neighborhoods on July 7th, 2009

July 7th, 2009, Uyghur women protest on the Horse Racing Field

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