The Chinese Government’s Systematic Destruction of Uyghur Cultural Heritage

The Chinese Government’s Systematic Destruction of Uyghur Cultural Heritage

Alim Alp - Visiting Associate Research Scholar in East Asian Studies, Yale University

Wednesday, February 22, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
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Room 202, Rosenkranz Hall See map
115 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Beginning in 2017, the Chinese government launched a program of mass detainment of Uyghur scholars, writers, artists, religious leaders, musicians, intellectuals, and even ordinary people. These policies not only led to the detainment of millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps, but also the destruction of material and cultural heritage. Government officials, police, and military have directed a campaign of Uyghur book burning, the demolishing of thousands of mosques, shrines, and holy pilgrimage sites (called Mazar), and the destruction of ancient buildings and old city centers. Even private residences of Uyghur families have been targeted and inspected for “ethnic” interior home design which when found is ordered to be destroyed. 

In November 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) called on the Peoples’ Republic of China to immediately investigate all allegations of human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including those of torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, forced labour, enforced disappearances and deaths in custody (https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/11/china-un-committee-elimination-racial-discrimination-calls-probe-xinjiang).

This talk seeks answers to the most pertinent questions: Why is China carrying out this policy of destruction?  What is behind these tragedies?  What steps should the UN and the international community take to halt these atrocities and protect the Uyghur culture and people?  What responsibilities do Western academics and researchers, especially those who work in China or in Eastern Turkestan when faced with such genocide?


Alim Yusuf Alp is Uyghur and was born in Kashgar, the historical capital city of the Karakhan Uyghur empire.  Before joining Yale, Alim Yusuf Alp was a postdoctoral fellow and a visiting scholar with the Harvard visiting scholar program at Harvard University.  He specializes in Turkic studies, especially Uyghur language and culture with a focus on linguistics and old manuscripts of Uyghur. His work currently focuses on protecting the Uyghur language and preserving Uyghur culture studies, as Uyghur language is under the threat of becoming an endangered language under the policies of the Chinese Communist party regime.  Alim Yusuf Alp received his Ph.D. from Central University for Nationalities (Minzu University) in China, and was an Associate Professor in China from 2008-2018.  He taught modern Uyghur, old Uyghur manuscripts, old Turkic, modern Turkish, experimental phonetics, historical phonetics, and social linguistics to undergraduate and graduate students.

Alim Yusuf Alp was a visiting scholar in Frankfurt in 2009 and in 2014 .  He has published nearly 20 papers and conference reports, and a monograph in Chinese. He is the recipient of several social science-foundation grants in China. 

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