The situation in East Turkestan in the spring of 1989 was tense but hopeful. Most people, whether they were Uyghurs, Chinese, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, or other groups, had a sense that change was coming to China in spite of the serious political atmosphere. Many, in fact, hoped for the end of communist rule in China. Regardless of their ethnic differences, Uyghurs, Chinese, and others were in support of the student democracy movement in Beijing. Actually, many Uyghurs were quite proud that one of the most prominent student leaders was a Uyghur. His name was Orkesh Dolat, or Wu’er Kaixi in Chinese.
We saw Orkesh and other prominent Chinese student leaders on TV talking to former Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng. It was an extraordinary sight: a young Uyghur talking to one of the highest-ranking Chinese officials about human rights and democracy. I was so impressed by Orkesh’s eloquence in trying to convince the dictators in Beijing to give human rights and democracy to the Chinese people, as well as his courage to stand up to such a hardline Chinese leader. Although the meeting produced no positive result, it was a memorable historic moment.
In early June of 1989, Uyghur, Chinese, and other students from the universities in Urumchi, capital of East Turkestan, peacefully took to the streets in support of the student democracy movement in Beijing. We walked all the way from Xinjiang University to the People’s Square. Students were united and proud. We were shouting slogans, such as “We want human rights,” “We want democracy,” and “End to corruption.” The authorities were wary. But we didn’t see mass police or army presence at or near the People’s Square. The rally peacefully ended several hours later after high-ranking Chinese officials came out, purportedly supporting our call for the “end to corruption” and our demand for respect for human rights.
Then, on June 3, the Chinese authorities began to warn protesters at Tiananmen Square to leave, which was broadcast on TV. We realized that Chinese leaders had decided to use force to crush the Chinese people’s desire for human rights and democracy. In Urumchi, it was like the Cultural Revolution all over again. We heard anti-protest propaganda all day through loudspeakers and saw the distribution of free newspapers denouncing the student democracy movement in Beijing. We knew something terrible was coming.
The next day, on June 4, the Chinese authorities explained how they used force to “peacefully disperse remaining stubborn students” from Tiananmen Square, and “had no choice but to use minimal force to dispel some violent resistors.” We were afraid that many students might have been killed for refusing to leave Tiananmen Square. The rest is history.