briefly noted - 16.4

China's "New Dominion"

Despite a growing movement for independence, the plight of the Uighurs of western China has received little attention. One of many ethnic groups struggling for autonomy under Chinese rule. the Uighurs, live in poverty, while China exploits their resource-rich land.

The region is officially called the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Province, but that name is misleading. In Chinese, Zinjiang means "new dominion," yet China first conquered the area in the Third Century, BC. Nor do the Uighurs, who prefer to call their land East Turkestan, enjoy real autonomy. Except for two months in 1933, when revolutionaries declared a Republic of Eastern Turkestan, Uighurs have been pawns in the power struggles of others at least since 1876. That year, Great Britain, in a power play against Russia, persuaded the Manchus then ruling China to reconquer Eastern Turkestan, ending 13 rare years of independence.

The feudal Chinese and, between 1911 and 1949, the Nationalist government set a precedent of repressing the Uighurs. For example, during feudal role Uighurs were forced to marry Chinese, wear Chinese clothes, and kneel before Chinese officials. And while fighting for control of China after World War II, Mao Zedong promised self-determination to the country's nationalities, but when the Communist Party won in 1949, he said China couldn't survive with any of its pieces missing.

Recently Uighurs have warched many neighboring Turkish peoples of Central Asia - in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan - became independent as the former Soviet Union dissolved. But while the emergence of some independent states in Central Asia is a fact, so is China's resistance to Uighur self-determination. Although the costs of controlling a region so far from Beijing may be high, so is the value of Xinjiang.

In the first place, like its neighbor Tibet, Xinjinag acts as a buffer between China and Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and the new Central Asian nations. Moreover, hidden from the world. Xinjiang has been China's nuclear testing ground, decimating many native plants and animals. Above-ground nuclear tests at Lop Nur, 500 miles southeast of Urumchi, the capital, ended only in 1983, 20 years after the United States and Soviet Union stopped the practice.

Defense is just one reason China is reluctant to grant Uighurs more autonomy. Larger than Alaska and one-sixth the size of China as a whole, Xinjiang is rich in natural resources, including 18 billion tons of oil in the Tsarim basin. The profits from petroleum products - as well as those from uranium, gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, emeralds, and coal - end up in China proper. The same goes for livestock, crops, and wool. The Uighurs watch as their raw materials are removed from the region.

"If we don't act quickly, nothing will be left in East Turkestan," predicts Erkin Alptekin. His father, Isa Yusuf Alptekin, was secretary general of the Eastern Turkestan provincial government until 1949, and he is now the focal point of a movement for autonomy among exiles. Blind and 92 years old, the elder Alpketin heads the clandestine National Center for the Liberation of Eastern Turkestan.

Part of the attack on the Uighurs is cultural. Several Beijing policies serve to diminish the Uighurs as an ethnic group. For example, Beijing has diluted the Uighur population by importing more and more of the Han ethnic group that led the Chinese Revolution and forms most of the government in China. In 1953, when Uighurs were 75 percent of the population in Xinjiang, only 300,000 Han lived there. Today, Han ranks have swollen to 6 million.

The living standards in Xinjiang for Han and Uighur alike are low, but schools and businesses are conducted in Chinese, which few Uighurs speak. That gives Han an advantage in getting good jobs and an education, and it also means that few Han have cause to learn Uighur. Other government policies award bonuses for mixed marriages between Uighurs and Han.

Within Xinjiang and abroad, resistance appears on the rise. Thus, recent articles in the Chinese press decry "separatism," "anti-socialism," and "religious mania." Militant Uighurs reportedly get arms from Pakistan and Afghanistan and have organized a few bomb attacks, although the Chinese carry out most of the violence in the region. Authorities jail or exile Uighur leaders and have committed "mimi-Tiananmen Squares" that the West rarely hears about. In April 1990, according to Xinjiang Daily, 22 people died in a battle at Baren Township, 25 miles north of Kashgar. In March 1993, Chinese troops fired on 10,000 protesters in Kashgar, killing about 100.

Outside China, Erkin Alptekin, who fled in 1954 to Turkey, the only country to grant Uighurs refugee status, is trying to unite the estimated 350,000 Uighurs living abroad, including more than 250,000 in the former Soviet Union. As vice-president of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, an international forum for human rights, he has brought the Uighur case to the attention of the United Human Rights Commission.

The Uighurs plan to continue a fight that goes back at least to Xiang Fei, a Uighur princess who led an eighteenth-century revolt against the Ming dynasty. After the Ming ruler put down the rebellion, he took Xiang Fei to Beijing as his bride, but she killed herself two years later rather than live under Chinese Rule.

"Jews kept alive their hopes for almost 2,000 years to return to their promised land," says Erkin Alptekin. "Ours might not last than long, we hope."

Europe's Oppressed Nomads

"In its simplest terms," says Ian Hancock, a Romani representative to the United Nations, "the problem is that here is a population of several million people who are radically different racially, linguistically, and culturally from the whole population. Now what do you do with millions of people with nowhere to go? Hitler tried to exterminate the Romani."

Intensified discrimination xenophobia, and poverty in Eastern Europe have ignited a wave of strife, stimulating a mass exodus westward. Most of these refugees are Romanis, the dark-skinned, primarily nomadic people of northern Indian origin who are commonly called Gypsies, a term they consider derogatory. Culturally accustomed to transient dwellings and a nomadic lifestyle, Roma are consistently meeting with racism, violence, inadequate housing, and a lack of employment.

"When socialism collapsed in Europe, with it came all the controls on racism," explains University of Michigan anthropologist William Lockwood. "The Gypsies are always the first to feel that. They are certainly the most different, and have no one to protect them."

Most of the refugees are escaping Romania and the war-torn republics of the former Yugoslavia. In Romania, where Romani were slaves for 550 years, they are treated even more brutally, and with more open hatred and violence, than before the 1990 overthrow of Nicolae Ceauseascu. A hate campaign has emerged in the press and through unacknowledged acts of terror against Romanis. Brutal attacks on their settlements are common yet go unpunished.

Warfare in the former Yugoslavia precludes documenting conditions for Rma there, Lockwood explains, but it is known that Rajko Djuric, the president of the International Romani Union, fled the region after his apartment was broken into and trashed. The union was formed in 1978 to assert the rights of the Romani people. "Gypsies are probably not seen as a prime target because they're not a territorial people like the Bosnians, Serbs, and Croatians," notes Hancock, who teaches linguistics at the University of Texas. "They are the primary victims, however, who are caught in the middle, as always." He adds that many of the people put into camps in Bosnia are Romani, but "for some reason the United States is not reporting that."

Similar attacks and attitudes prevail in Hungary, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. Nevertheless, Roma are denied political asylum, exile, or even recognition as refugees in Western Europe and North America. Closed borders have kept many Roma from even reaching the West. And in September Germany and Romania signed a treaty for the deportation of Romanians living illegally in Germany, most of whom are Roma. In the first nine months of 1992, a quarter million Romanians, most of them Romanis, came to Germany. "If those Romani are sent back to Romania, they return to their deaths. There's no question about it," says Hancock. More agreements, similar to the German-Romanian treaty, are being considered in other Eastern European countries.

In Western Europe as well in the East, hatred for the Roma is a constant, and many rights are actually being taken away. Britain recently repealed the Caravan Sites Act of 1968, which had compelled local authorities to provide campgrounds for Romanis. In Barcelona, Spanish authorities cleared Romanis from the streets during the Olympics so foreign tourists wouldn't see them. In Hungary, bus drivers make an announcement to inform other passengers if a Romani gets on; many drivers won't even let Romanis ride the buses.

"There's an attitude, a growing hopelessness in the Romani community that there's no use asking for help," says Hancock. "If you don't have any territorial, military, financial, or political strength, there's no one to stand up for you. It's very easy to pick on a population that has no strength to resist."

According to Hancock, the lack of land and a single dialect of the Romani language have hindered the Roma from having their own revolution. "There is no dialogue without a common language," he explains. Moreover, Romanis are "so scattered that uniting into some force is near impossible at this point."

Still, Hancock reports, a movement is emerging to establish a parliament and discuss the possibility of a European homeland. The problem is the availability of enough land for even some of the Romani when no country is willing to even accept them, let alone forfeit land.

Experimenting on Indians

South Dakota Indian reservation infants and children are the subjects of a government-supported test of the safety of a new hepatitis vaccine. However, their parents are being told the vaccine has already been proven safe.

The reservation testing of the hepatitis A vaccine, which was developed by Smith Kline Beecham, a Belgian pharmaceutical firm, began in early 1992 on the Pine Ridge and Standing Rock reservations. It continues now in Rapid City at the Sioux San Indian Health Service Hospital. The Bismarck Tribune reports that both a doctor of the federal Centers for Disease Control and staff of the Indian Health Services have claimed the vaccine to be "so safe they'd give it to their own children."

According to a letter that the sponsors of the project distributed to parents, the tests target reservations because "the usual preventative measure such as good hygiene and hand washing are sometimes difficult to carry out in Indian communities due to overgrowing and lack of indoor plumbing." In addition, explains Tom Welty, head of epidemiology at the Rapid City, S.D., Indian Health Services, which oversees he vaccination project, "this is where the problem is. If we tested it in a white suburban community, it would take a years to get enough cases of hepatitis."

In a signed affidavit, Ella-Mae White Tail of Standing Rock Reservation has testified that she received a letter in September 1991 asking her to allow her daughter Sacheen to participate in the Vaccination program. The letter said the injection would be safe and provide life-long immunity to hepatitis A. White Tail also says she was led to believe the program was not a test. Under these circumstances, she signed a consent form.

According to the affidavit, Sacheen White Tail received her first injection in December 1991. Before being given the shot, she was told she'd be able to select a gift from a variety of personal-hygiene items like hair spray and perfume, but only after the injection. One month later, Sacheen came down with hepatitis A and missed two weeks of school. She received no follow-up treatment.

The first group to protest the testing was the Native Resource Coalition, based in the Pine Ridge town the Porcupine. With help from South Dakota attorney Bruce Ellison and Matthew Chachère of the non-profit Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, the coalition filed a class-action complaint. The suit asked for an injunction to stop the tests due to the parents' lack of information. However, a judge denied the request. Since it wasn't a compulsory program, Chachère reports, the judge said anyone opposed to the vaccinations could choose not to get them.

At the federal level, the complaint has been dismissed on the grounds the plaintiffs failed to go through proper administrative channels. The case is under appeal.

Logging Company Violates Traditional Rights

For over a year, the Moi of western New Guinea have defended an 800,000-acre forest from exploitation by a Korean-managed company. Although the forest is the last remnant of the Moi's adat (ancestral domain) left intact after successive Dutch, Japanese, and Indonesian administrations, the Indonesian government never consulted the Moi in awarding a logging concession in it to PT Intimpura.

New Guinea, the world's second largest island, is the most diverse, with almost 1,000 peoples and languages - one-fifth of the world's nationalities. It has one of the most extensive rain forests in Asia and Oceania. The 4,000 Moi live on the western tip of the island in the "Bird's Head" region. Their staple foods are sago (starch processed from a palm tree), taro, and yam, supplemented with marsupials, fish, freshwater shrimp, birds, forest greens, and wild fruit.

With the help of local organizations, the Moi and other traditional peoples in Irian Jaya (the Indonesian part of New Guinea) are exploring options for improving their income through sustainable forestry and developing non-timber products from the forests. At the same time, logging operations disrupt the Moi's livelihood, sources of medicine, and access to sacred places. Road construction is creating standing pools of water, which results in high concentrations of mosquitoes and the attendant threat of malaria and other diseases. "All the streams have dried up and become muddy," one Moi has reported. "And the fish we used to catch have simply disappeared."

Intimpura's logging concession is the most recent of many encroachments on Moi territory. During World War II, Japanese forces occupied the Moi island of Doom just off the district of Sorong and turned it into an airstrip. After the war, Sorong became a center for a Dutch oil company, which Pertamina, the Indonesian state oil firm, later took over. Pertamina brought in a number of Western oil companies, including Petromer Trend, Phillips, and Conoco, that used Sorong as a supply base as well. Indonesia also developed Sorong into a center for fishing fleets, which compete with the Moi and other indigenous fishing people.

As Sorong grew - indeed, overdeveloped - many Moi were forced to become city dwellers. The Moi became increasingly Westernized, and most work for churches or as low-ranking clerks in the civil service. Nevertheless, some Moi wish to retain a traditional lifestyles, and urban and rural Moi alike seem to share an antipathy to Intimpura logging. Since the concession would take over the last remaining Moi forest, it has become a symbol of their desire for cultural survival.

Moi resistance to Intimpura gains inspiration from two earlier incidents in Bird's Head. Indonesian law subordinates adat rights to the state, which has awarded other logging concessions over the years that ignored traditional land use and management rights. In 1983, the Awyu defended their sago stands against Conoco's oil exploration efforts, taking Conoco and Pertamina to court for offending their cultural and environmental rights. In a second case, the Bintuni defended mangrove forests in 1987 from the Indonesian partner of Marubeni, a Japanese logging and pulp firm.

To protest logging operations on their adat, the Moi have met six times over the past year with Intimpura representatives, the Indonesian forest service, and local government officials. In addition, over 80 women and men demonstrated in front of local forest service office in November 1991. Four days later, about 100 people from all seven Moil counties held a protest outside a meeting among Intimpura, local officials, the forest service, the army, and representatives of the district head of Sorong.

Taking more direct action, on February 25, 1991, Klayili villagers tore down a building in the loggers' survey camp. In November, 10 Moi prevented 16 surveyors from entering their territory. The next month, people from Klasaman and Klayili, enraged at being denied access to their own land and the right to collect firewood on it, destroyed a company guard post.

This past June, Moi from over a dozen villages met with representatives of Intimpura, which offered to pay for all such meetings and to provide funds for the general improvement of Moi villages. The Moi refused, saying they want to be able to speak freely. And despite Intimpura's offer to pay for meetings, the company and government officials firmly reject the Moi's claim to their adat. Intimpura has posted signs forbidding the Moi access to any land in the concession.

The Moi, in turn, have posted signs forbidding the company to cut down their prized damar trees, the resin of which they burn for light. For the Moi, as for other native peoples of Irian Jaya, land is the source of life and spiritual identity. "We are defending our land for our children's future," a Moi mother has said. "In the forest there is so much that we need, so many things necessary for our culture. Tearing down our forest is like tearing out our heart."

Creating a Voice in Chile

The International Finance Corp. (IFC), an affiliate of the World Bank, may loan Chile's largest electric company $50 million to construct a dam on the Pangue River. The project would be the first of six proposed dams on the U&pper Bío-Bío, an ecologically rich river basin and the ancestral home to some 9,000 Pehuenche Indians.

The impact of the Pangue project would be felt directly in three Pehuenche communities - the Callaqui, Pitril, and Quepula-Ralco - by disrupting their integrated use of the river basin's natural resources and by relocating 11 Pehuenche families. The project would flood roughly 1,200 acres, affecting both water rights and land ownership.

ENDESA, a recently privatized electric company, claims the Pangue dam and its successors would provide more than 10 percent of Chile's future electricity needs. The country's projected 5.5 to 6 percent annual growth in energy needs makes the prospect of hydroelectric power from the Upper Bío-Bío watershed a tantalizing prospect for Chile's development planners.

In response to ENDESA's plans to build the six dams, Pehuenche leaders of the Upper Bío-Bío began organizing early in 1992. On March 31, sixteen leaders from seven dispersed Pehuenche communities came together in an historic first meeting, joining the Pehuenche to initiatives for indigenous rights throughout the Americas. They expect that their new organization will allow them to speak with a single, clear voice about their concern for the impact this large-scale project would have on their isolated groups.

After the meeting, the Pehuenche issued a statement asking the government to "create a remunerative fountain of jobs in the area, not the one that ENDESA offers, which would contribute to the maintenance of our culture, our way of life, and our customs." But while the Pehuenche express strong concerns about possible threats to their land and its resources, what a collective Pehuenche voice might finally say about ENDESA's plans is yet to be decided. Some Pehuenche favor the Pangue dam project, looking at jobs it will create, while others see the disruption it will bring to their traditional existence. In between are many Pehuenche who are uncertain and express mixed sentiments.

Representatives of the World Bank and its IFC affiliate have said the institutions are committed "informed participation" and that they won't secure a loan for the hydroelectric project until ENDESA compiles with their environmental and human-rights policies. These policies include guidelines on indigenous peoples, wildlands, forests, and dam and reservoir projects.

Under pressure on the World Bank from nongovernmental organizations - including Grupo de Acción por el Bío-Bío - GABB) and Cultural Survival - ENDESA has agreed to meet these requirements. This is allowing time for the Pehuenche to discuss the impact of the dams on their communities and livelihood. ENDESA has now held public meetings in all three Pehuenche communities that would be immediately affected by the Pangue dam, although it has yet to release any plans for local development or to mitigate damage the projects might cause.

Beyond the impact on the Pehuenche, GABB, which is a coalition of indigenous and non-indigenous groups, says it fears the dam would also disrupt the forests, river, and overall ecosystem of the Upper Bío-Bío basin. In a June 1992 report, GABB notes that the dam could threaten rare and endangered species, affect downstream irrigation, and increase pollution due to industrial waste produced in constructing the dam. The report also suggests that daily releases of water from the dam would increase erosion and sedimentation.

GABB insists that fair and sustainable energy planning requires public debate in affected communities, not just decisions by private investment companies. At the same time, it has been collaborating with two U.S.-based environmental organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council and River Conservation International, to launch a fund to assist Pehuenche economic-and community-development efforts. Because the Upper Bío-Bío is one of the world's best rivers for their sport, rafting companies in Chile and the United States have already agreed to contribute to this fund.

For its part, the Chilean government is beginning to establish regulations and programs for developing energy and protecting the environment. Launched under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pincohet, the Bío-Bío/Pangue project was long exempt from scrutiny. Until recently, the public had no way to participate in the electricity planning process. Now, Pres. Patricio Aylwin appears ready to improve the environmental situation, while members of Chile's Congress have expressed strong interest in a more searching examination of the dam's impacts. Legislation providing for an environmental-impact assessment of the Pangue dam could be introduced this year. Future regulations might affect the feasibility of successive dams.

Given that the Pehuenche communities have not declared for or against the dams, a consultative process tied to indigenous needs would allow them to decide their future. The World Bank has accepted this strategy.

As the Pehuenche and GABB discuss a range of alternatives, Cultural Survival has helped them by providing information about indigenous-run land-management programs throughout the Americas. In December 1992, Cultural Survival will participate in a meeting of Indian technicians from Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay to devise common strategies to common problems, including the dilemma facing the Pehuenche.

Under a "Bad Influence"

After South African leader Belson mandela refused the Atatürk International Prize for Peace because Turkey persecutes the Kurds, he became the victim of a vicious campaign in the Turkish press. Editorials in major newspapers labeled him "stupid," "ungrateful," "terrorist," "ignorant," and "dirty African." Prime Minister Demirel, saying "we are not racist," added that Mandela's decision "must be a misunderstanding." Demirel attributes the refusal to "the bad influence of the Kurdish lobby."

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

CSQ Issue:

CSQ Disclaimer

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.