On June 15, 2015, the Uyghur Human Rights Project celebrated the first International Uyghur Language Day. China has promoted a policy of bilingual education in East Turkestan, and as a result, Uyghurs in their homeland have lost the opportunity to study their mother tongue in the school system, threatening a pillar of Uyghur identity – the Uyghur language.
In response, the World Uyghur Congress designated International Uyghur Language Day to be held on June 15. “By designating this day as the International Uyghur Language Day, we are hoping to celebrate the Uyghur language and inspire the Uyghur people to learn to write and speak their mother tongue, to preserve their beautiful language and continue to pass it on to our next generations,” said Uyghur democracy leader Rebiya Kadeer in a WUC press release.
In Washington, DC, the Uyghur Human Rights Project organized a panel discussion to commemorate the day. The panel, titled “Uyghur Voices on Education: China’s Assimilative ‘Bilingual Education’ Policy in East Turkestan,” also marked the release of a new UHRP report of the same title. Panelists included Nigara Savirdin, Ilshat Hassan, Zubayra Shamseden and Greg Fay, moderated by Henryk Szadziewski. After the individual presentations, the audience addressed questions to the panelists.
Alim Seytoff, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project and Uyghur American Association President, introduced the panel and talked about the significance of the holiday.
Nigara Savirdin, the first panelist, completed education through high school in East Turkestan and is currently pursuing a university degree in the US. Her essay on her personal experience in China’s bilingual education system, originally published on the UHRP Chinese blog, is translated in UHRP’s new report.
Ilshat Hassan, the second panelist, is the Vice President of the Uyghur American Association. He has experience within the education system in East Turkestan both as a student and an educator, and is a prolific writer on Uyghur human rights issues.
Zubayra Shamseden, the third panelist, is UHRP’s Chinese Outreach Coordinator. Her essay on the merger of her elementary school and its historical significance is featured in the new report.
Greg Fay, the final panelist, is UHRP’s Project Manager. He was the co-author of the report, with panel moderator and UHRP Senior Researcher Henryk Szadziewski.
Following the individual presentations, moderator Henryk Szadziewski called on audience members to address questions to the panelists.