Photos: Demolition of Uighur graves, an attempt to remove history

China is destroying burial grounds where generations of Uighur families have been laid to rest, leaving behind human bones and broken tombs in what activists call an effort to eradicate the ethnic group's identity in Xinjiang. In just two years, dozens of cemeteries have been destroyed in the northwest region. While the official explanation ranges from urban development to the "standardisation" of old graves, overseas Uighurs say the destruction is part of a state crackdown to control every element of their lives.

Updated On Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST 8 Photos
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A view of a traditional Uighur cemetery before it was destroyed in Shayar, Xinjiang. China is destroying burial grounds where generations of Uighur families have been laid to rest, leaving behind human bones and broken tombs in what activists call an effort to eradicate the ethnic group’s identity in Xinjiang. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

A view of a traditional Uighur cemetery before it was destroyed in Shayar, Xinjiang. China is destroying burial grounds where generations of Uighur families have been laid to rest, leaving behind human bones and broken tombs in what activists call an effort to eradicate the ethnic group’s identity in Xinjiang. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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People walk past a mosque in Urumqi. While the official explanation ranges from urban development to the “standardisation” of old graves, overseas Uighurs say the destruction is part of a state crackdown to control every element of their lives.”This is all part of China’s campaign to effectively eradicate any evidence of who we are, to effectively make us like the Han Chinese,” said Salih Hudayar, who said the graveyard where his great-grandparents were buried was demolished. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

People walk past a mosque in Urumqi. While the official explanation ranges from urban development to the “standardisation” of old graves, overseas Uighurs say the destruction is part of a state crackdown to control every element of their lives.”This is all part of China’s campaign to effectively eradicate any evidence of who we are, to effectively make us like the Han Chinese,” said Salih Hudayar, who said the graveyard where his great-grandparents were buried was demolished. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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The destruction is “not just about religious persecution,” said Nurgul Sawut, who has five generations of family buried in Yengisar, southwestern Xinjiang. “It is much deeper than that,” said Sawut, who now lives in Australia and last visited Xinjiang in 2016 to attend her father’s funeral. “If you destroy that cemetery ... you’re uprooting whoever’s on that land, whoever’s connected to that land,” she explained. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

The destruction is “not just about religious persecution,” said Nurgul Sawut, who has five generations of family buried in Yengisar, southwestern Xinjiang. “It is much deeper than that,” said Sawut, who now lives in Australia and last visited Xinjiang in 2016 to attend her father’s funeral. “If you destroy that cemetery ... you’re uprooting whoever’s on that land, whoever’s connected to that land,” she explained. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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A view of a park under construction in Kuche where a Uighur cemetery was demolished . In China, urban growth and economic development has laid waste to innumerable cultural and historic sites, from traditional hutong neighbourhoods in Beijing to segments of Dali’s ancient city wall in southwestern Yunnan province. It is an issue Beijing itself has acknowledged. The government has also been criticised for its irreverence towards burial traditions outside of Xinjiang. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

A view of a park under construction in Kuche where a Uighur cemetery was demolished . In China, urban growth and economic development has laid waste to innumerable cultural and historic sites, from traditional hutong neighbourhoods in Beijing to segments of Dali’s ancient city wall in southwestern Yunnan province. It is an issue Beijing itself has acknowledged. The government has also been criticised for its irreverence towards burial traditions outside of Xinjiang. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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A sign at the entrance of “Happiness Park” where a Uighur cemetery was demolished. But activists and scholars say the clearances are especially shocking in Xinjiang, where they parallel the erasure of other cultural and spiritual sites, including at least 30 mosques and religious sites since 2017.”The destruction of the graveyards is very much part of the wider raft of policies,” said Rachel Harris, who researches Uighur culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

A sign at the entrance of “Happiness Park” where a Uighur cemetery was demolished. But activists and scholars say the clearances are especially shocking in Xinjiang, where they parallel the erasure of other cultural and spiritual sites, including at least 30 mosques and religious sites since 2017.”The destruction of the graveyards is very much part of the wider raft of policies,” said Rachel Harris, who researches Uighur culture at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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Even sites featuring shrines or the tombs of famous individuals were not spared. In Aksu, local authorities turned an enormous graveyard where prominent Uighur poet Lutpulla Mutellip was buried into “Happiness Park,” with fake pandas, a children’s ride, and a man-made lake. Mutellip’s grave was like “a modern day shrine for most nationalist Uighurs, patriotic Uighurs,” recalled Ilshat Kokbore, who visited the tomb in the early 90s and now resides in the US. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Even sites featuring shrines or the tombs of famous individuals were not spared. In Aksu, local authorities turned an enormous graveyard where prominent Uighur poet Lutpulla Mutellip was buried into “Happiness Park,” with fake pandas, a children’s ride, and a man-made lake. Mutellip’s grave was like “a modern day shrine for most nationalist Uighurs, patriotic Uighurs,” recalled Ilshat Kokbore, who visited the tomb in the early 90s and now resides in the US. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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A view of a new cemetery built on the outskirts of Aksu, Xinjiang where bodies from a destroyed Uighur graveyard were moved. Aziz Isa Elkun, a Uighur activist in Britain whose father was buried in one of the many destroyed cemeteries in Shayar, agreed: “If you want to build new graves then you can, but you do not need to destroy the old ones.” It is clear that human remains have been left behind in the process. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

A view of a new cemetery built on the outskirts of Aksu, Xinjiang where bodies from a destroyed Uighur graveyard were moved. Aziz Isa Elkun, a Uighur activist in Britain whose father was buried in one of the many destroyed cemeteries in Shayar, agreed: “If you want to build new graves then you can, but you do not need to destroy the old ones.” It is clear that human remains have been left behind in the process. (Hector Retamal / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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A view of a graveyard in Aksu (L), Xinjiang province on July 2, 2015 where Uighur poet Lutpulla Mutellip was buried and the same view on April 25, 2018 (C) and then again on May 13, 2019 shows a new park called “Happiness Park”. (Handout / AFP)

A view of a graveyard in Aksu (L), Xinjiang province on July 2, 2015 where Uighur poet Lutpulla Mutellip was buried and the same view on April 25, 2018 (C) and then again on May 13, 2019 shows a new park called “Happiness Park”. (Handout / AFP)

Updated on Oct 10, 2019 12:34 PM IST
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