Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Uygurs upset at Kashgar revamp

Uygurs upset at Kashgar revamp

South China Morning Post
Kristine Kwok
Mar 26, 2009|

Beijing's plan to revamp the historic city of Kashgar in western Xinjiang has sparked concerns that it could jeopardise Uygur culture.

As the best-known and biggest example of a traditional Uygur community in China, Kashgar's old city has been a major tourism attraction.

But Xinjiang's regional government is planning to give the 2,000-year-old quarter a 3 billion yuan (HK$3.4 billion) facelift, which will involve the demolition of some dilapidated buildings and the renovation of others, according to state media reports.

The revamp was necessary, the reports said, because the area's signature mud-thatched houses were badly weathered, poorly designed to cope with modern development, and would be vulnerable in the event of an earthquake.

The government said on its official website that the revamp would improve the area's road systems, drainage and water supply, electricity, heating and other infrastructure. It added that the central area of the old city should not be used for commercial development.

The old city's 220,000 residents had started moving into new concrete buildings in nearby areas, local residents said yesterday.

The first ones to move in were families living on government subsistence allowances, Kashgar resident Abdu Kuyyum said.

"The new buildings are just ordinary concrete buildings, they don't have any traditional Uygur characteristics at all," he said.

Mr Kuyyum, one of those affected, said the new buildings were so far away from the old city that people had to change their way of life.

"They complained that their new homes were too small. In the old neighbourhood they could shake hands with everyone and go to the mosque every day. But now they live very far away from the mosque," he said.

Mr Kuyyum said the government had started a propaganda campaign late last year, broadcasting documentaries showing how dangerous it was to live in the old city,

With public details about the redevelopment plan still sketchy, some experts and advocacy groups have expressed concern that it could cost the community its unique culture.

The Uygur American Association said yesterday the demolition of the traditional buildings in the old city would "eradicate an ancient, irreplaceable centre of Uygur culture".

"The demolition of Kashgar old city is an affront to Uygur identity and is an attempt to assimilate Uygurs," exiled Uygur leader Rebiya Kadeer said.

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