Turkey summons Chinese ambassador over response to Uighur claims

(Re-leads with summoning of Chinese ambassador)

Turkey’s foreign ministry on Tuesday summoned the Chinese ambassador to Ankara following social media posts responding to opposition politicians, who had criticized Beijing’s treatment of Uighurs, a Turkic predominantly Muslim ethnic group, Sözcü newspaper reported.

“The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is an inseparable part of Chinese soil,” the embassy said on Twitter earlier on Tuesday, after Ankara’s opposition mayor Mansur Yavaş and centre-right nationalist Good Party (İYİ) leader Meral Akşener took to Twitter to commemorate a 1990 massacre against the Uighurs.

The social media posts of Akşener and Yavaş challenge the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, the embassy said, adding, “The Chinese side reserves its legitimate right to respond.”

Yavaş and Akşener on Monday commemorated the Baren massacre, where 50 people were killed when armed police put down a demonstration against Chinese rule by 3,000 Uighur Muslims.

The incident was the beginning of an intensified crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority. At least one million Uighurs have been interned since 2017 in over 80 camps in China’s autonomous northwestern Xinxiang region. China denies reports of genocide against Uighurs and says the camps are part of a re-education programme.

Akşener on Monday vowed not to remain silent in the face of oppression faced by the Uighurs, saying that East Turkestan, now Xinjiang province, would “one day be free”, while Yavaş said the Baren massacre was felt with the same grief as 31 years ago.

Turkey is home to one of the largest Uighur diaspora communities, who have held regular protests outside the Chinese Embassy in Ankara and the Chinese Consulate in Istanbul.

Ankara previously sought to champion the rights of Uighurs in China, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2019 describing the minority’s persecution as “genocide”.

But Turkish officials have done a U-turn on the issue in recent years to avoid damaging increasingly important economic relations with Beijing.