The Uyghurs are a Turkic people who mostly live in Xinjiang, a province in China’s far northwestern frontier. They are culturally, ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Han Chinese, who are the majority ethnic group within China.
Most Uyghurs practise Sufism, described as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. They claim Xinjiang as their historical homeland, but the Chinese government asserts that the Han had settled Xinjiang before the Uyghurs arrived. They claim Xinjiang as an indisputable part of the Chinese polity. It is considered by many to be China’s most restive province.
Uyghurs and western human rights organisations claim that the unrest stems from Beijing’s oppressive policies against the Uyghur people. Beijing asserts that its policies are beneficial to the province’s development and that the unrest is a product of influence from abroad, citing Islamic radical elements within Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The fasting month of Ramadan has just ended, and after a particularly violent spring, in which several bombings by alleged Uyghur radicals rocked Xinjiang and other provinces of China, this year’s holy month faced closer government oversight than previous years. A de facto state of emergency has been put in place in the province and a heavy military presence could be seen in both the provincial capital of Urumqi and the Uyghur’s cultural capital of Kashgar located in the south of the province.