One more cemetery in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) has been marked for destruction by Chinese authorities, the latest of dozens razed in recent years.
Experts have said the impending demolition of the Uyghur cemetery in the capital Urumqi is aimed at controlling members of the ethnic group.
On May 22, a document bearing stamps from the bureaus of public affairs, building affairs, and land management was posted informing residents that the cemetery in Urumqi’s Bulaqtagh (in Chinese, Shuimogou) district would be dug up and moved on June 10.
According to the document, which was circulated widely on Chinese social media platforms, those with family members buried in the cemetery must register for the removal of the remains of their loved ones.
Plans to relocate the cemetery come one month after reports that a graveyard considered sacred by Uyghurs that was razed by authorities last year in the XUAR’s Hotan (Hetian) city has been paved over and turned into a car park.
Rian Thum, a professor of history at the University of Nottingham in Britain, had posted a time lapse view of the Sultanim Cemetery to Twitter based on satellite imagery from Google Earth, which shows grave plots being gradually being ploughed over with dirt beginning in 2019 and a parking lot being erected in the western portion of the site.
At the time, he said destroying graveyards is part of a bid by authorities to control the wider Uyghur population, which views the sites as “a part of the historical landscape of the Uyghur region,” regardless of their religious significance.
It also follows an investigation by Agence France-Presse which in October revealed that at least 45 cemeteries in the XUAR had been destroyed since 2014—30 of which were razed since 2017.
Many of the sites were transformed into parks or parking lots, while others had remained empty lots, AFP said. Reporters said they had seen human remains left at several sites.
Speaking to RFA, a Uyghur in exile who grew up in Urumqi’s Bulaqtagh district and lived there with their family until 2015 called the cemetery marked for the June 10 relocation “particularly important” for Uyghurs from the area.
“This is a sacred Muslim cemetery for Uyghurs from Bulaqtagh, [and neighbouring]Tikquduq and Ayotkel to bury their dead,” the source said.
The local government had closed the cemetery to new burials in 2014, they said, based on the claim that it had grown so large it was encroaching on land marked for official use.
RFA’s Uyghur Service recently spoke with a Han Chinese woman at the Urumqi Ethnic Affairs Office who confirmed that the registration for the removal of remains in the cemetery was “already underway,” although the exhumation had yet to begin.
“We have not started relocating [remains],” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“The announcement was published by the Urumqi Municipal Government. We are registering the families with tombs.”
The woman said her office had made provisions for family members of the deceased who are based outside of the capital to designate a representative to register for the relocation on their behalf.
However, when asked what the reason for the relocation was, she hung up the phone. (Source: RFA)