Saving Kashgar

Ana EscobedoReport4 Comments

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 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.

Let us know what you think!






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Ana Escobedo

Ana Escobedo is a graduate student in archaeology at the University of Cambridge. She has been a social media volunteer for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, a finds assistant with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, and an intern at the American Museum of Natural History and SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

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4 Comments on “Saving Kashgar”

  1. Madd Hatta

    Great post and wonderful effort, but do you think these facebook groups, petitions, and statements of concern will have any affect on the Chinese government? Do you see any better way for people to reach out and what would you recommend someone who feels passionately about this issue do?

  2. Ana Escobedo

    Great questions! It is not for me to say whether the petitions will have an effect on the Chnese Government. I think what is probably more important is reaching a wide audience with this issue. By raising awareness there is a better chance that a tragedy like this will not happen again and go unnoticed by the public. If someone really wants to get involved I would suggest contacting the UHRP and help them to fight the cultural assimilation and economic segregation of the Uyhugrs in this area. Anyone else have ideas? There are lots of ways to get involved!

  3. dujuan99

    Great work and wonderful article. Yes, I think it is apparent that a lack of awareness for cultural heritage is directly connected to the social problems behind the July 5 incident. There is a lack of respect for culture that goes back to the Cultural Revolution and earlier. Tianjin is being destroyed, too, like many, many culturally rich places in China. There is no "rational" progress behind much of the demolition, but it's always a great step forward for the developing companies and the party secretaries in their pay. Yes, many old streets and houses in many cities were in a sorry condition due to decades of neglect. It's not easy to renovate them. Beijing has finally begun to rebuild some courtyard houses. At the same time they tore down the whole Qianmen area at the south of Tian'anmen Square and replaced it with a sort of Disneyland. Protests and suicides because of the demolitions in various cities have been in the news for years. In China, Southern Weekend (Nanfang Zhoumo) and other media have often reported on housing and cultural heritage problems. Most of the time they are allowed to do that. They cannot report on the arrest of dissidents such as Prof. Ilham Tohti of Central Nationalities University in Beijing. He has been detained since August 8. Amnesty International has issued an appeal for writing petitions in English and Chinese to the Chinese Prime Minister and other figures, because Prof Tohti has not been heard of since his arrest, raising fears for his health. Cases of torture and death in police custody are not unheard of in many parts of China (and other countries, of course). See
    Yes, I think that Ana is right, raising awareness is crucial.

  4. dujuan99

    One thing that has been lacking on the Uighur support groups side is an outspoken condemnation of the massive looting and killing on July 5th in Urumqi. Yes, the demonstrations may have been peaceful in the beginning, just like in Lhasa last year, and maybe the police could have prevented them from turning violent, or maybe they could have at least contained them. And yes, thousands of Uyghurs have been arrested, some have been killed, and no one knows how many of them didn't have any connection to the violence at all. But still: Both the Dalai Lama and Mrs. Rebiya Kadeer should have condemned the looting and killing in Lhasa and in Urumqi. The Dalai Lama said he prayed for victims on all sides, but that's not enough. And the Uighur support groups such as Save Kashgar should have swiftly and loudly condemned the massive looting and killing by Uyghurs. Instead, Ana told us on Facebook that many Uyghurs may have died in Urumqi. Just that, as far as I have noticed. It was the same lack of awareness that was apparent after the Lhasa riot last year. So maybe there is a lack of awareness on both sides. Anyway, let us try to help in any way we can think of. Unfortunately, social websites such as Facebook and Twitter and their Chinese equivalents have been widely blocked and closed in China. The blocking of Facebook was said to be in response of aggressive Uighur support groups. They were mostly not aggressive at all, but they did fail to condemn the Uyghur looting and killing. As I have mentioned, Chinese media and intellectuals are sometimes able to speak out against social and cultural problems. We concerned individuals and groups outside of China should support them, and at the same time help to show the connection to Human Rights cases. And we should have condemned the Uyghur looting and killing first, and/or more loudly. The more we show our awareness on this side, the more we are credible on all sides. I never understood why Abu Ghraib was not raised as a central question by the Democrats in the 2004 US election. Where is the connection, you might ask. At least we have Obama now. Well, I think we have to look at and work on the most painful questions on our side first, whoever we are. Yes, I am on the side of Kashgar Old City. And on the side of minorities in my home country Austria. Maybe I should have cited a painful problem in Austria's contemporary history. We certainly don't have a shortage there. Anyway, I like Ana's article very much, and I have great respect for her work. Let us continue writing and signing petitions, and most importantly, like Ana says, raising awareness. Peace!

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