Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines

October 29, 2019
09:00 am - 11:00 am

About the Event

If one were to remove these … shrines, the Uyghur people would lose contact with earth. They would no longer have a personal, cultural, and spiritual history. After a few years we would not have a memory of why we live here or where we belong.”

– Professor Rahile Dawut, prominent Uyghur scholar, disappeared since 2017

In the brutal campaign to eradicate the Uyghur identity, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has targeted the Uyghurs’ practice of Islam. A new research report prepared by the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP), a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grantee, lays out clear and convincing evidence of the CCP’s desecration and destruction of Uyghur holy spaces as part of a multipronged strategy to erase the Uyghur identity, history, religion, and culture. Mosques have long played a vital role in community life and generational memory; in destroying the mosques, the CCP is obliterating those vital connections, and unmooring the Uyghur people from their shared history. Relying on photographs, satellite imagery, and the testimony of local residents, the report details the destruction of mosques and religious sites throughout Uyghur communities across China.

Mr. Bahram Sintash, the report’s primary researcher, discussed his findings and their implications for the Uyghur population. He was joined by Mr. Alim Seytoff, Dr. Elise Anderson, and Mr. Omer Kanat for an in-depth discussion about religious persecution in East Turkistan, the impact it has already had on the Uyghur community inside China and the greater Uyghur diaspora, and how the destruction of holy sites fits more broadly in the CCP’s effort to eradicate Uyghur identity.

About the Speakers

Alim Seytoff is the Director of Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. Mr. Seytoff has a master’s degree in Public Policy from the Robertson School of Government at Regent University. He has testified several times before the U.S. Congress and has briefed both White House and State Department officials on China’s human rights violations of the Uyghur people.  He received his Juris Doctor degree from Regent University School of Law in 2006, and is a licensed attorney.

Bahram Sintash is UHRP’s research partner for the report. Sintash earned a degree in art and design, and studied media and journalism. He has published research on Uyghur architectural history. In 2018, he founded the website, devoted to preserving Uyghur culture for the next generation, including archives of the popular Uyghur cultural journal, Xinjiang Civilization. His father, the distinguished scholar, Qurban Mamut, formerly editor-in-chief of the magazine, has been detained in a Chinese internment camp since 2017.

Elise Anderson, Ph.D., recently served as a 2019 Liu Xiaobo Fellow at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She is a specialist in Uyghur folklore and culture, and the politics of China and Central Asia. Dr. Anderson holds with dual Ph.D. degrees in Central Eurasian Studies and Ethnomusicology from Indiana University-Bloomington. Her research explores the music and other arts of the Uyghurs. She has published extensively on Uyghur culture and identity.

Omer Kanat is the Director and co-founder of the UHRP.  Mr. Kanat has two decades of experience as a broadcast journalist. From 1999 to 2009 Mr. Kanat was Senior Editor at Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. He also served as Senior Editor at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Tajik Service. He has served as Vice President of the World Uyghur Congress since 2006 and Chairman of the WUC Executive Committee since 2017. He has extensive experience briefing government officials and human rights organizations on the Uyghur crisis and speaking at high-level events focused on human rights and religious freedom. He holds a B.A. in History from Istanbul University’s Faculty of Science and Literature, with a focus on political history.