On May 27th the New York Times ran an article on the demolition of the historic city of Kashgar. Only two days later SAFECORNER posted an editorial on Kashgar’s importance as a historical cultural site. It was at this point that I was introduced to the situation as a SAFE intern. Back then I didn’t know anything about Kashgar, or Chinese archaeology. Yet somehow this crisis, which has only exploded since that first article, has become a pet project of mine and goes to show how a cultural disaster like Kashgar can have an incredible pull on anyone who takes the time to get involved.
I started my adventure on Facebook. To raise awareness for the cause and to rally supporters behind SAFE’s message I created a Facebook Cause page which I named “Save Kashgar ”. I loaded it with whatever information I had available to me at the time, which was only a few articles and the information I had gained from the SAFECORNER editorial. Later I was able to set up a Flickr group to create a photo documentation of the Old City. I also set up a petition appealing to the Chinese Cultural Minister to save what remained of the cultural heritage of this city. However, it quickly became apparent to me that this was so much more than a demolition of a city. It was the destruction of the Uyghur culture. A culture that had existed for hundreds of years in this location was being wiped out.
In an effort to find recruits to my newly formed cause page I reached out to the Uyghur and Archaeology related groups on Facebook. It was at this moment when I discovered I was not alone in this fight. I went to every group I could think of to let them know about what I was doing, but everywhere I went I found links to other Kashgar related Facebook pages. Groups such as “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!” and “Saving Kashgar” encouraged followers to raise their voices against the destruction. The creator of “Save Kashgar, Xinjiang, China from Demolition!,” Nikhat Rasheed, is responsible for a YouTube video further demonstrating the importance of Kashgar to the Uyghurs and the world. Her group has also sponsored an event in Toronto, Canada to show solidarity with the Uyghur people. On July 1, 2009, a group of Uyghurs performed a traditional dance in celebration of Canada Day. Members of this Facebook group attended, furthering the public display of unity with the Uyghur cause. Ms. Rasheed has also written a wildly popular petition that has raised almost 7,000 signatures in a short period of time. Another Facebook Cause page “Save Kashgar!,” created by dedicated advocate Miriam J. Woods, has generated a petition that has already received over 1,000 signatures. This petition asks President Obama and Congress to appeal to the Chinese government to cease the demolition. Her cause page is raising money for the Uyghur American Association/Uyghur Human Rights Project.
It was vital to me to ensure that these various efforts would not be in competition with each other, but work together to most effectively spread the word. Over the past months I got in contact with both Ms. Rasheed and Ms. Woods, both of whom are dedicated and tireless in their fight to save Kashgar and the Uyghur people. They both became a source of encouragement for me with kind words like “I’m really glad that there are people like you who are working so hard to try to save cultural and historical sites like Kashgar.” It was around the same time I contacted the UAA/UHRP. These groups instantly responded to my plea for more information and I was granted the privilege of a phone conversation with Amy Reger and Henryk Szadziewski from the UHRP. These two sat down with me for an hour or more telling me all about Kashgar and the Chinese government’s plans to culturally assimilate and economically segregate the Uyghur people because they are “perceived as a threat”. They impressed upon me how deeply emotional the demolition of Kashgar as a symbol of destroyed identity was affecting the Uyghur people and their supporters.
This conversation was a turning point for me in my journey. Before I saw the issue from my point of view as an archaeologist, but after these varied and passionate communications I saw that this was a human crisis. What has amazed me most over these past two months has been the number of people reaching out to me, telling me their story, letting me know that Kashgar was important to them too. Perhaps the most evocative message I received was from man and his wife. They could not join the cause page or sign the petition because their actions were being monitored and it could have affected their visa status, but they wanted to reach out to a fellow advocate. Here I was, a California girl who has never been anywhere near China, communicating and reaching out to someone who had experienced Kashgar first hand. It was a wonderful feeling.
Of course, the Kashgar cause has grown far and beyond any of my actions on Facebook, especially in response to the riots in Urumchi. Ms. Rasheed created the web site http://www.savekashgar.com/ to better document the Kashgar situation. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has sent a letter to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and ICOMOS China expressing their grave concern over the situation. People like Marc Forster, the filmmaker responsible for films such as “Monster’s Ball,” “Finding Neverland” and “Quantum of Solace” are rallying behind the cause. For his movie “The Kite Runner” he lived in a few months in Kashgar, where parts of the movie were filmed. In a press release from the Uyghur American Association Forster said, “I am saddened to know that their homes, their faith and their heritage is being taken away from them and I urge everyone to help save Old Town.”
Meanwhile, SAFE has become an outspoken advocate for the survival of this ancient city. Respected signatories such as Colin Renfrew, Heritage Watch, the UAA/UHRP and many others joined with SAFE to sign the “Statement of Concern and Appeal for International Cooperation To Save Ancient Kashgar”. This letter implored Mr. Francesco Bandarin, the director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, to include Kashgar on the World Heritage List and to persuade the Chinese authorities to preserve Kashgar and perform salvage archaeology. The letter was an important step in international support to assist in the survival of this city.
Kashgar has evoked an impassioned and ever-growing response, in me and many others. More and more people from around the world are reaching out and speaking out against this demolition and the destruction of a culture. Uyghur residents, as well as international architects, students and archaeologists, have banded together to create a united force dedicated to spreading the word. Public awareness in on the rise and it doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
As for me, my heart goes out the Uyghurs who are losing the heart of their civilization. I will continue to support in the best way I can. My cause page is closing in on 700 members and it is my hope that I can continue to reach these people and keep them united in this work against this cultural and human crime.
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