By Umit Erdogan
Members of a separatist organization founded by Uighur Muslims in northwestern China have joined the battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian representative of the Turkistan Islamic Party has claimed.
While international reports have alleged that Uighur have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Abraham Mansour denied the claim, telling The Anadolu Agency that they have been fighting with opposition forces - including the Free Syrian Army - against both the regime and ISIL.
"They have no link to al-Qaeda terrorist organizations," he stressed.
In September, images on a Facebook page operated by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense purported to show a captured "Chinese Islamic State fighter," while in 2013 a video uploaded to YouTube showed a Chinese man who said he had joined Islamist militants to fight in Syria.
China’s special envoy to the Middle East has said that he suspects there are around 100 Chinese fighting for ISIL - mostly Muslim Uighur from Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in the country's northwest.
The region is also known as Eastern Turkestan.
China's state media also quoted a Chinese "anti-terrorism worker" in September as saying that once there "they not only want to get training in terrorist techniques, but also to expand their connections in international terrorist organizations through actual combat to gain support for escalation of terrorist activities in China."
Mansour said that members of the Turkistan Islamic Party - also known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement - had been sending members of its armed militia to support Syrian opposition forces since 2012.
By doing so, they are "also fighting against China," he said, calling Beijing one of the main supporters of the Syrian regime.
"No one wants to leave their hometowns and migrate to a war zone. However, trust and believe that living conditions in Eastern Turkestan are far more difficult and suffocating than any war zone," Mansour underlined.
"When in our own homeland, when there are restrictions in speaking in our mother tongue, when we can't go to mosques, when our daughters are forced to work in foreign lands kilometers away, when our intellectuals and politicians who express their ideas are carted away to torture chambers, we moved our families to Syria."
He added that Uighur had gone to Syria to "be in solidarity with our brothers, and to set up our lives in liberty."
Uighur live primarily in northwestern China where they are officially recognized as one of 56 ethnic minorities.
Smaller communities, however, exist in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the United States and Turkey.
Human rights organizations, activists and analysts have said that they have been subject to religious, cultural and language restrictions, which have led them to flee China and helped fuel their demands for a separate state.
They have frequently fallen victim to people smugglers as they seek to leave the country for a better life.