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China changes names of Uyghur villages, says report

A report by Human Rights Watch has said China changed the names of villages inhabited by Uyghur people and other minorities to generic terms. This included 3,600 villages in the western region of Xinjiang.

China has cracked down on ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. [Thomas Peter | REUTERS]

A report by Human Rights Watch said Chinese authorities in the Xinjiang region have been changing the names of villages inhabited by the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities to reflect the ruling Communist Party's ideology. The study was done in collaboration with Norway-based organization Uyghur Hjelp.

The names of 25,000 Xinjiang villages were compared, as per listings from 2009 to 2023 in the National Bureau of Statistics. Out of those, around 3,600 names were changed — the vast majority for what the groups called "mundane reasons." However, the report identified about 630 villages in the region whose names were changed for referencing Islam or Uyghur culture and history, HRW said.

What changes were made

Words like "dutar," a traditional Uyghur string instrument, or "mazar," a shrine have been replaced with names that mean "happiness," "unity," and "harmony." These terms are often found in the ruling party's documents.

Other terms that were removed include "hoja," a title for a Sufi religious teacher, and "haniqa," a type of Sufi religious building, or terms such as "baxshi," a shaman.

Historical references about Uyghurs prior to the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949 have also been removed, said the report.

"The Chinese authorities have been changing hundreds of village names in Xinjiang from those rich in meaning for Uyghurs to those that reflect government propaganda. These name changes appear part of Chinese government efforts to erase the cultural and religious expressions of Uyghurs," said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch.

AP news agency said the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to these allegations. 

The Xinjiang region in western China borders Kazakhstan and is home to about 11 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.

"Concerned governments and the UN human rights office should intensify their efforts to hold the Chinese government accountable for their abuses in the Uyghur region," said Abduweli Ayub, founder of Uyghur Hjelp.

China's crackdown on ethnic minorities

The "Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism" was launched in 2014 in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Since 2017, the Chinese government launched a campaign of assimilation and has been accused of mass detentions, political indoctrination, forced labor and the separation of families.

More than 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were held in internment camps, termed by authorities as "vocational training centers," according to estimates from rights groups. 

In 2022, a report from the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) concluded that the Chinese government's discriminatory detention of Uyghurs in Xinjiang may constitute "crimes against humanity." 

The Associated Press news agency contributed to this report.


© 2024, Deutsche Welle


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