“Roses”: A Poem by a Uyghur Activist

Flo Marks presents a poem by Uyghur activist Aziz Isa Elkun.

By Aziz Isa Elkun, Flo MarksJanuary 12, 2022

    “Roses”: A Poem by a Uyghur Activist

    The poem “Roses” is dedicated to the Uyghurs arrested and detained in the Chinese Communist Party’s 21st-century concentration camps in what is officially called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.


    Its author, Uyghur poet, writer, and academic Aziz Isa Elkun, grew up in Shahyar county, close to the Tarim river, and did not experience the freedom promised in the region’s colonial name.


    Now 51, he was first arrested for his activism as a 16-year-old schoolboy in 1986. His home was ransacked and his earliest journals taken away. He was released after two days, but his parents’ defense of young naivety was unlikely to save him from a prison sentence in the future.


    As the political climate worsened, with increasing government surveillance and censorship, it became clear that Aziz, as a young adult who favored freedom of expression and association, would keep getting into trouble.


    His commitment to these ideals was cemented when he took part in the student movement in Urumqi.


    The frequent investigations, the threats of imprisonment, and his unemployment drove him to flee the mainland, sending him first to Central Asia, in 1999, and then to Germany, before reaching the United Kingdom in 2001.


    The decision to become an active member of the diaspora was never free of consequences. Despite living in exile for more than 20 years, Aziz told Index he had never once “stopped worrying” about his friends and family, whom he left behind and who “remain at the whim of China’s primitive and feudal revenge system,” potentially being punished for his activist work abroad.


    In 2017, he learned that his sister and cousins had been imprisoned in the camps. He found the grave of his father, who died of natural causes, on Google Maps — but this was later demolished in a wave of cultural genocide.


    With communication cut off, he now has no way of knowing the fate of his mother. But he said: “I am a conscious and free human and British citizen. It’s my basic right to exercise freedom of expression and protest; it’s not up to China.”


    Having previously used only a typewriter, learning English and modern technology gave Aziz an unprecedented sense of freedom akin to being “reborn.” Yet it simultaneously brought awareness of the extent of censorship and false information surrounding the Uyghurs.


    Feeling it was his calling to debunk the pervasive myth that Uyghurs were a happy minority under the CCP, he has set up 10 websites and platforms and is the director of the Uyghur PEN Revitalization Project. Written in English and the all-too-rare Uyghur script, these projects aim to share reputable work and information to reach, connect, and promote the visibility of the diaspora. He seeks to improve the understanding of Uyghur identity, culture, history, and current travails as a vital act of resistance and solidarity.


    ¤


    Roses


    It’s a morning bright with sun


    Another new day has started


    I count, altogether twenty-two autumns


    And winters have passed in exile


    And I don’t know how many years remain


    Before I return to the place where I belong


    To the earth that my forefathers made home


    I can feel the sorrow in myself


    My soul shivers; it’s cold


    I inherited it all from my father


    Whenever the memory of the disappeared homeland


    Returns and occupies my mind


    It inspires me to be human with dignity


    Able to call for the survival of a lost nation


    Able to appeal for mercy and love


    From the world


    Again and again


    The place where I was born


    Has turned into a heap of ghostly relics


    It only exists amongst the non-existence


    In this world full of selfishness.


    I am sitting in a garden chair


    Trying to enjoy the warm sun for a minute


    But it is quickly covered by the rushing clouds


    A steaming cup of coffee evaporates my gloom


    I am still struggling to feel myself


    Believing that better days will come after tomorrow.


    One day life will smile on us


    Even on the man who writes these lines


    Although he lost everything


    Traveling on the road of no return


    And lived a second life


    He is still a hostage to that place


    He lives with constant fear


    The monster has left countless stains


    It has pierced me with needles


    But still I call for justice for those


    Who have suffered more


    But my spirit is still fighting


    My hope is still alive


    Each time I find new courage


    It brings the joy of a smile


    Although it’s autumn


    My garden leaves are still green


    The first rose I planted three years ago


    To mark my father’s destroyed grave


    The second rose I planted


    On Mother’s Day last year


    The third rose I planted for the unknown Uyghurs


    Who survive inside the camps


    My roses are blossoming with hope


    Singing a song of freedom


    Without waiting for the spring


    They remind us


    How beautiful it is to be alive


    To live in peace in our beautiful world.


    ¤


    Aziz Isa Elkun is a Uyghur poet, writer, academic, and activist. He grew up in Shahyar county, close to the Tarim river and is now living in exile in the United Kingdom.


    Flo Marks is a researcher at Index on Censorship and a Students for Uyghurs Ambassador at the University of Exeter.


    ¤


    This poem first appeared in Index on Censorship’s winter 2021 edition. To read more about Index and the magazine click here.

    LARB Contributors

    Aziz Isa Elkun is a Uyghur poet, writer, academic, and activist. He grew up in Shahyar county, close to the Tarim river and is now living in exile in the United Kingdom.

    Flo Marks is a researcher at Index on Censorship and a Students for Uyghurs Ambassador at the University of Exeter.

    Share

    Did you know LARB is a reader-supported nonprofit?


    LARB publishes daily without a paywall as part of our mission to make rigorous, incisive, and engaging writing on every aspect of literature, culture, and the arts freely accessible to the public. Help us continue this work with your tax-deductible donation today!