Local Uighurs skeptical about Gül’s China visit .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} ISTANBUL - President Abdullah Gül on Sunday and Monday visited Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region in China, becoming the first Turkish president to visit the region because of long-standing tension because of the countries’ conflicting policies on the Uighur people.

Though it was a milestone visit, some Uighur Turks living in Turkey believe China is pulling a fast one on Turkey, despite acknowledging that Gül’s visit is morale booster for Uighur Turks in the region.

"This is a symbolic visit. And I believe it will remain symbolic," said Erkin Emet, an Uighur-Turk academic at Ankara University. "I received many phone calls from the region asking whether Turkey plans to do something about East Turkistan."

This is an ancient old Chinese tactic, according to Emet. "After Devlet Bahçeli’s visit to the region in 2002 when he was deputy prime minister, China burned down around 5,000 pieces of Uighur history and literature. Regarding those and the increasing unlawfulness against Uighurs, this is only pulling a fast one [on Turkey]. China is well in command in doing this," he said.

President Gül visited the region, where almost 9.3 million Uighur Turks live, upon an invitation from the Beijing administration. Gül, visiting Xinjiang University, said: "Uighurs have the role of bridging a friendship between Turkey and China. This role will bring us to develop our relations." Gül also thanked the Beijing administration for providing the opportunity to visit Xinjiang. The developments in Urumqi are a sign of commercial awakening in the city at the crossing of East and West, and Turkish businessmen’s interest in the region increases, Gül said.

China hides reality

Seyit Tümtürk, the head of the East Turkistan Culture and Solidarity Association, also said China wants to hide the reality of East Turkistan from the world, but he also praised the first official visit to the region. According to the information Tümtürk received, China rejected Gül’s request to visit Kashgar for security reasons. For Tümtürk, this was to prevent facing the reality that people live in poverty. "Urumqi is a city that was opened to China. Under the gorgeous picture of Urumqi, there is an assimilation policy," he said. Tümtürk was born in Turkey, while his ancestors of two generations migrated from East Turkistan. Hidayetullah Oğuz, the head of the Istanbul Maarip Solidarity Association, has lived in Turkey for six years and said he is worried about the visit. "Uighurs have always been harmed after these kinds of visits," he said, citing Bahçeli’s visit. "Bahçeli was specially invited to Kashgar, and the Uighur language was banned during that visit. They did this intentionally to break the spirit of the Uighurs. ’The one that you look to for hope came and look, I ban you,’ they say," Oğuz said.

Turkey cannot oppose China on this issue, as it has a large trade deficit and what was highlighted in this visit is trade relations, said Emet, echoing similar views of other experts on the issue.

"Turkey should be especially careful to not provoke China," said Hüseyin Bağcı, from Middle East Technical University’s international relations program. "What is most critical about this visit is the increase in trade between China and Turkey, and Turkey’s guarantee to China about its unity."