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CAIR condemns China's 'erase' of Muslim Uyghur village names in Xinjiang

Report: Hundreds of villages renamed to reflect Chinese propaganda, with most villages being renamed Happiness, Unity or Harmony

By Chris Benson
An official with Human Rights Watch in China alleges the Chinese government has been changing the name of hundreds of Xinjiang Province villages “from those rich in meaning for Uyghurs to those that reflect government propaganda.” File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
1 of 3 | An official with Human Rights Watch in China alleges the Chinese government has been changing the name of hundreds of Xinjiang Province villages “from those rich in meaning for Uyghurs to those that reflect government propaganda.” File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

June 19 (UPI) -- The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Wednesday condemned what it says is China's ongoing attempt to "erase" its Muslim Uyghur culture after a Human Rights Watch report alleged China has been systematically changing hundreds of Uyghur village names to reflect Communist Party ideology.

"This name change campaign is clearly part of the Chinese government's ongoing attempt to erase Uyghur culture and its Islamic heritage," Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Washington-based CAIR, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., said in a statement.

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Human Rights Watch research has identified about 630 villages in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region where the names have been altered to reflect Chinese government propaganda words, such as the top three most common replacement village names: "Happiness," "Unity" and "Harmony."

"The international community, and particularly Muslim-majority nations, must take action to stop this genocidal campaign," CAIR stated.

An official with Human Rights Watch in China alleged how the Chinese government has been changing the name of hundreds of Xinjiang Province villages "from those rich in meaning for Uyghurs to those that reflect government propaganda."

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The United Nations in September 2022 said China may be committing crimes against humanity on the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, northwest China.

It comes as the Biden administration days ago had banned three more Chinese companies from importing their goods into the U.S. over allegations of forced transport and labor of Uyghur civilians in a continued crack down on the use of forced labor of Asia's minority populations in America's supply chain.

"These name changes appear part of Chinese government efforts to erase the cultural and religious expressions of Uyghurs," Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch' acting China director, said Tuesday.

Notably, the research from 2009-2023 found that of 25,000 Xinjiang Province villages, at least 3,600 village names got a seemingly mundane switch-up, but that the 630 cited by Human Rights Watch had been altered to identify with a religious, cultural or historical theme in a process that appears to be ongoing, according to reports.

The United Nations' human rights office accused the Chinese government in a damning 45-page report of committing abuses against its Muslim minority Uyghur citizens in Xinjiang province that "may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity."

"This village name change campaign makes some Uyghurs feel like they're less than the Han Chinese because their culture is backward," commented Zumretay Arkin, Director of Global Advocacy at World Uyghur Congress.

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The U.N. further alleged that Uyghur people have been victims of torture and arbitrary detainment, their freedom of religion, expression and movement also allegedly restricted as well as their cultural and linguistic identity.

"Some Uyghurs outside Xinjiang feel like they can't even recognize their hometown," Abduweli Ayup, an exiled Uyghur linguist who co-authored the Human Rights Watch report, told Voice of America on Wednesday.

Beijing has vehemently denied that an estimated 1 million Uighurs have been held in so-called re-education camps since 2017 where they are allegedly subjected to forced labor, sterilization and disappearances.

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