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Press Release – For immediate release

28 March 2023

Contact: World Uyghur Congress

0049 (0) 89 5432 1999 or [email protected]

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) is raising alarm at the destruction of Karez in Turpan, in East Turkistan, as shown in recent videos filmed by locals. 

The Karez system is a network of underground channels that transports water in the Turpan Basin from the Tenghritagh mountain range. This ancient irrigation system of hand-dug channels was built around 2000 years ago by pastoralists in the region for the irrigation of crops, to prevent evaporation in arid areas and serve as a drainage system.

‘’The destruction of Karez in East Turkistan has been widely documented in recent years. It is another attempt from the Chinese government to eliminate the rich Uyghur culture and heritage,’’ said WUC President, Dolkun Isa. ‘’Institutions such as UNESCO have been silent on these abuses, and instead adopting a selective approach in their public advocacy.’’

The Karez has been on UNESCO’s Tentative List since 2008 and is an important symbol of Uyghur civilization and a vital part of Uyghurs’ cultural traditions. Both the central and local governments have recognized the historical and ecological significance of this system. The Karez system has also fostered a strong sense of cohesion in communities. The elimination or damage of this ancestral heritage is a direct threat to Uyghur cultural traditions and ancestral ties to the land. 

In the last twenty years, the number of Karez in the region has decreased significantly, because of industrial development, oil exploration and industrial-scale farming. A recent report by the Uyghur Human Right Project documented that other factors such as climate change and the over-drilling of power wells have also contributed to the Karez drying out. 

In recent years, the Karez has been put at risk by international corporations, including the World Bank’s lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The Chinese company Camel Group Co., Ltd., which is one of China’s largest battery manufacturers, built a lead battery disposal facility on top of the Karez system in Turpan with the support of the IFC, raising serious concerns about toxic waste and pollution. Researchers have identified that the IFC does not have documentation that local Uyghurs living in the area have been consulted or affected by the Chinese company’s operations. 

The destruction of Uyghur cultural heritage is part of the Chinese government’s policies of genocide and assimilation by controlling the history and heritage of the Uyghur and Turkic people living in East Turkistan. Uyghurs and Turkic people inhabiting the land have been stripped away of their rights to be consulted, and excluded from meaningful decision-making processes that have an important impact on their livelihoods. 

The World Uyghur Congress, therefore, calls on UNESCO to urgently investigate cases of destruction or marginalisation of natural and cultural heritage, including UNESCO-listed heritage (Muqam, Karez well system, Manas, Meshrep, and the Tianshan mountain range). WUC also calls on the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the matter and advocate for a stronger response from UNESCO.