onsdag 14. juli 2021

One by one, my friends were sent to the camps

If you took an Uber in Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago, there was a chance your driver was one of the greatest living Uyghur poets. Tahir Hamut Izgil arrived with his family in the United States in 2017, fleeing the Chinese government’s merciless persecution of his people. Tahir’s escape not only spared him near-certain internment in the camps that have swallowed more than 1 million Uyghurs; it also allowed him to share with the world his experience of the calamity engulfing his homeland. The following articles are Tahir’s firsthand account of one of the world’s most urgent humanitarian crises, and of one family’s survival.

Before I met Tahir, I knew his poems. I encountered them soon after I began working as a translator in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region in western China. A close friend there kept telling me that if I really wanted to understand Uyghur culture, I had to read the poetry. Like many Americans, I rarely felt drawn to poetry, but one day, another friend put a sheaf of Tahir’s verses in my hand. Poetry had never affected me so deeply.

For Uyghurs, poetry is not merely the province of writers and intellectuals. It is woven into daily life—dropped into conversation, shared on social media, written between lovers. Through poetry, Uyghurs confront issues as a community, whether debating gender roles or defying state repression. I wake up many mornings to an inbox full of fresh verse, sent by the far-flung poets of the Uyghur diaspora for me to translate.