Local and international news agencies report that Security forces fanned out to keep China’s Urumqi city peaceful on 5th July, the first anniversary of deadly unrest that laid bare deep-seated ethnic tensions in the far-western Xinjiang region. Urumqi, the regional capital, erupted in violence last year between the mainly Muslim Uighur minority and members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group, fuelled, some say by Uighur resentment over Beijing’s rule of Xinjiang.On Monday, security personnel were concentrated in the city centre and the Uighur areas of Urumqi. Armed security forces and riot police patrolled in formation, and police vans made regular rounds in the area. Armed police with helmets and shields also marched on the edges of People’s Square in the heart of the city, where the unrest began last year. The plaza has been shut down for renovations.Most businesses and restaurants were open throughout Urumqi, and police presence was lighter in other parts of the city, though in the north, officers patrolled in groups outside the city government headquarters. Authorities keen to ensure no repeat of last year’s mayhem have installed 40,000 security cameras throughout Urumqi, a city of about two million people, according to state media. Anti-riot exercises have also been staged.In a mainly Uighur district in the southeast of the city, a Han woman who lost a relative in last year’s turmoil sobbed and wailed on the side of the street as she burned paper, a ritual carried out in honour of the dead."Where have you gone?" she cried. Residents later escorted her away under the watchful eye of the police.
Meanwhile on the eastern border of Xinjiang lies Kashgar.Situated west of the Taklamakan Desert at the feet of the Tian Shan mountain range and at the junction of routes from the valley of the Oxus, from Khokand and Samarkand, and Khotan, the last two leading from China and India, Kashgar has been noted from very early times as a political and commercial centre. The Kashgar oasis is where both the northern and southern routes from China around the Taklamakan Desert converge. It is also almost directly north of Tashkurgan through which traffic passed from Gandhara, in northern Pakistan, and Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.
A drive to modernise the old Silk Road city of Kashgar has obliterated whole stretches of old Uighur neighbourhoods, even as the government tries to win over residents wary of central control following recent riots and unrest. Brick-fronted shops on main streets hide from view acres of ochre dirt which is all that remain of swathes of the old city at the centre of Kashgar, heart of southern Xinjiang on China’s frontier with the ex Russian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,and Tajikistan. A year after riots engulfed Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang region, the razing of old Kashgar is a prime example of how China’s modernising campaigns come at the expense of local sensitivities. Beijing has brought forward plans to develop and industrialise the region, especially the poorer south, where Uighurs 45% and Han 41% make up the majority of the population.
Kashgar is not like any other Chinese city. It is a vibrant market town, with a modern Muslim ethos, where most adults speak Uighur, and very little Manderin. Many hotels that used to accept foreigners are no longer permitted to do so. Tourism has plummeted, the shopkeepers complain saying that these buildings are what makes Kashgar unique. They are nowhere else in the world, it’s a shame to tear them down, and replace it with white-tiled, blue windowed commercial buildings found in every provincial Chinese city.The city government’s drive to raze and rebuild Kashgar’s old city predates the riots and the crackdown. Initial protests by historical preservationists and overseas Uighur groups were ineffective, and Chinese conservationist groups are no longer willing to speak publicly about it. The plan was announced shortly after the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan province which killed over 80,000 people, burying them in both traditional wooden homes and in the cheaply built concrete buildings common across China. New local-style brick buildings, with steel reinforcement, are being built in parts of old Kashgar, while elsewhere, concrete multi story buildings are under construction. Out in the countryside, square stone buildings marked "earthquake resistant housing" stand mostly empty in the exposed desert, near the plots of green poplars that shade villages.
"The old town of Kashgar is an important cultural city that represents Uighur culture. Unfortunately, houses are very crowded, with families of five squeezed into 8 square metres (26 ft),the construction is made of post and panel, wood and brick. The buildings are dilapidated, and cannot resist earthquakes. Within five years, Kashgar plans to complete 28 housing blocks each holding 220 households, accommodating more than 60,000 people. This shows the Communist Party’s concern for minorities." Enkbaer Wupur, a senior government official in Kashgar, told a news conference in Beijing in March. Locals and Uighur tourists throng to historic sites around the region, many of which are badly in need of paint and repair. City residents had mixed feelings about the disappearance of the narrow streets and adobe homes once hailed as the best surviving example of Central Asian architecture. Some houses are crammed, with no more than 20 square metres (220 square feet) of living space, others spread over a spacious 120 square metres (1,300 square feet), with shaded courtyards and a second storey.People, especially from the smaller homes, might think it’s a good deal. They get a new place, electricity, all the conveniences while others, if they have a 120 square metre house, are unhappy. While exile groups say the destruction of old Kashgar is an attack on Uighur culture, local officials deny the charge. "Some people are now making an issue of Kashgar’s renovation as destroying Uighur traditional culture, " Nuer Baikeli, governor of Xinjiang, told the March press conference. "To equate dilapidated houses with Uighur culture shows they don’t understand Uighur culture, indeed they disrespect it."