I had been keeping a document I got from the Ottoman archives on my desk for days to share with my readers. My aim was to commemorate Sultan Abdülhamid II on the anniversary of his death, and upon this opportunity, remind once more of the oppression taking place in East Turkestan through the contents of this document. However, the reports of the martyrdom of great bard Abdurrehim Heyit, who challenged death in recent days, brought the Chinese oppression back on the agenda. The great bard taught us an unforgettable lesson with his death in the dungeon, just as he did while he was alive. Even if the report is untrue, even if Chinese oppression ends, as long as humanity is inclined to oppression, he turned on a light that will be everlasting.
Not being able to stay silent against oppression
For days we have been seeing the verses of Abdurrehim Heyit circulating on social media that challenge death and reveal his identity, character, belief and history against the Chinese oppression. Everybody was listening to the news received and the great bard's chants in accordance with their conscience and disposition. Yet, was humanity not gifted the emotion to rise against oppression as much as against the evil hidden in them? Was standing against oppression against any human being due to one's identity, beliefs, lifestyle, clothing and appearance, et cetera, anywhere not a humane trait and even a duty?
Unfortunately, this characteristic which is buried in the depths of our conscience, is only able to rise with certain provocations. The Chinese oppression had left no impact on some of us despite the outcries of our Uighur brothers and sisters living in Turkey, their statements, and even U.N. reports. I am not referring to those who have sold their souls to the devil here. Let them continue to - please forgive me - bark in the name of oppression, in the name of China. But I want to use my right to criticize those who keep their consciences on reserve, thinking they might need it one day. Did we have to wait for great poets and bards to die in order to realize what is happening in East Turkestan, to share the problems of our brothers and sisters there. He and those like him had already challenged death and long given up the enslavement of the body to live and allow others to live, choosing the path of Prophet Muhammad's companion Ammar bin Yasir, who is said to be a soul the heavens longed for.
Had it not been Foreign Ministry Speaker Hami Aksoy's responses to a question asked, remembering and commemorating those bound for heaven would remain limited to some consciences. Of course, I cannot help but ask why we needed to wait for a question to reveal those who believe that the conscience is still the sole shelter and escape to prove one's humanity despite all kinds of threats. Unfortunately, the relationship form that generally enslaves a soul along with our body is called diplomacy. Regardless of how much the profession of diplomacy-- which has turned hypocrisy into a ritual and a religion as a matter of fact in interstate relations-- mortgages consciences, Abdurrehim Heyit, who challenged death with words from the conscience cannot be destroyed. Just as the likes of Abdurrahim Ötkürler, Abdulkerim Abdulveliler, their voices echoing in the sky, even though they are in prison or die, will continue to address unsealed consciences.
Abdülhamid II and East Turkestan
Do not think the article has gone off track. I am going to discuss the document I have been holding onto for today too. The document reminds us of our historical responsibility toward East Turkestan. If we, as the children of the Republic of Turkey, are still able to remember a sultan with gratitude on the 101st anniversary of his death, this is not due to his identity and character alone. He is still remembered a century later, because he cared about and tended to the problems of the state, his people, kin, and the Muslim world for many years in a century in which the world was being re-established, and the Ottoman Empire, the last remaining shelter of the oppressed, was going to be collapsed.
Mehmet Kamil, one of Sultan Abdülhamid II's imams, went on a trip in the second half of 1893 that included Jerusalem, Damascus, Hama and Homs, Khan Sheikhoun, Maara, and Aleppo. It is clear that Mehmet Kamil was unofficially tasked with making observations on behalf of the sultan on the excuse of visiting the holy sites, mausoleums, and graves in these areas that were under Ottoman administration, and are today forced to live under oppression, torture and exile. Hence, it is a known fact that Sultan Abdülhamid II was closely concerned with the state of Muslims living in various regions, and that he tried to test the impact of his politics through unofficial observations.
We see that a while after returning to Istanbul, Mehmet Kamil got back on the road and boarded a train from Haydarpaşa on Dec. 17, 1894. This time the goal was to observe the Iraqi region all the way to Baghdad, and to go from there to Iran and Turkestan. On his return, he would present the details of his trip spanning Tehran, Hive, Bukhara, Samarkand, Tashkent, and Qashgar to Abdülhamid II.
I am going to end this article with a sweet passage from my Qashgar observations, which is also relevant to our times. But first I will share some information. According to the report, the entire city of Qashgar is Muslim. There are 120 mosques in the city, more than 5,000 masjids in villages and towns, and numerous Muslim scholars. Qashgar Muslims, who entered the administration of Chinese Huns a quarter century before that date, continue to maintain their religious privileges.
When Mehmet Kamil wanted to act diplomatic by taking into consideration the political situation, he embarrassingly relates how the Muslims there encouraged. With the courage he gathered from those wonderful people, whom he saw to be closely concerned with all the developments in the Ottoman Empire, Palace Imam Mehmet Kamil ends the report in which he conveys all the information he gathered by traveling among Chinese Muslims, from Qashgar to the Altais as follows:
"In summary, all Muslims in China and Sino pray sincerely and from the heart for our Sultan Abdülhamid, the leader of the Muslims and the caliphate of the prophet, and shed tears when his name is mentioned."
I ask: When remembering Sultan Abdülhamid II, is East Turkestan also in our memories?