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Entry of 6598

Turgunaaly Tursunaaly
Turgunaaly Tursunaaly
Likely place of origin
Likely current location
Last reported det. type
When first detained
Oct. 2018 - Dec. 2018
Probable detention reason
Health status
Examples of international / media pressure on Xinjiang authorities  Exemplary testimonies  Covered in international media 

See raw/original

Testifying party

Gene A. Bunin

Victim's relation to testifier

A friend of a friend.

About the victim

Turgunaaly Tursunaaly, an ethnic Kyrgyz manaschy (reciter of the epic "Manas") from Xinjiang's Kizilsu Prefecture, in his early twenties (as of 2019). He originally came to Kyrgyzstan in 2014 to study at the Kyrgyz National University's Faculty of Philology, graduating and starting a Master's in Manas studies in 2017.

A minor celebrity, he was widely known both as a proficient traditional dancer and the manaschy grandson of renowned master manaschy Jusup Mamai (in fact, Turgunaaly Tursunaaly often went by the name "Turgunaaly Jusup Mamai"). While Jusup Mamai had a number of grandchildren who learned some Manas recitation from him, Turgunaaly was the only one who went forward with it seriously, accompanying his grandfather as a student from the age of 13 (in addition to later pursuing the subject academically in Kyrgyzstan). Turgunaaly also gained much fame from bringing the Kara Jorgo dance to Kyrgyzstan, as it became very popular among the locals. Later, he also opened his own small dance studio in Bishkek. He has been a frequent guest on various TV and radio shows, where he'd talk about ethnic dance culture and Manas performance.

In 2017, he published his first book, "Жусуп Мамай бабамдан баян" ("The Story of My Grandfather, Jusup Mamai"). On July 5, 2018, Turgunaaly held a book launch event for his newly released "Кочмон кыргыз бий онору" ("The Art of Nomadic Kyrgyz Dance"), a first step in a project that foresaw the translation of the Kyrgyz version into several other languages and further development of traditional Kyrgyz dance in Kyrgyzstan.

Victim's location

Unclear. It is possible that he is now back in Aqchi County.

When victim was detained

He left Kyrgyzstan in early October (his last public Facebook post before this, which reads as a sort of goodbye, was on October 8, 2018). It is not clear if he was detained in the strict sense of the word - however, it is clear that he was not able to return to Kyrgyzstan to continue his studies (the dean at the Manas Studies Department of KNU told me that he only planned to be gone for a week or two). Friends in Kyrgyzstan could not reach him. According to his close friend, Urmat Mairambek, Turgunaaly wasn't sure what to do before his departure - he could have stayed, but there was pressure on his relatives in Xinjiang that he return.

After briefly returning to Bishkek in May 2019 (https://www.azattyk.org/a/29939996.html), it appears that he's once more left to Xinjiang in June 2019. It is not clear what kind of restrictions or coercion he is currently under.

Probable (or official) reason for detention


Victim's status

A close friend of Turgunaaly told me that Turgunaaly never contacted them like he said he would upon arriving in Xinjiang. Given how the repressions since fall 2016 have especially impacted students having studied abroad and intellectuals, it is not at all unlikely that Turgunaaly may have become a victim of these repressions also. At the very least, he was unable to return to Kyrgyzstan or contact his friends abroad.

However, there have also been rumors of Turgunaaly's getting married, which appears corroborated by a pair of pre-wedding photos posted by his friend in Kyrgyzstan. A few days after my article in Foreign Policy (https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/03/31/963451-kyrgyz-xinjiang-students-camps/) came out in late March, quickly followed by local Kyrgyzstan derivatives, his friend(s) in Kyrgyzstan appear to have received additional photos of him - a wedding-shoot one with a Kashgar background and one of Turgunaaly wearing a tour-guide badge and sitting in a car. According to the update at the time, Turgunaaly was allegedly working in a museum in Aqchi, while his wife was a teacher there.

It is unclear what his current status is, following his short stay in Bishkek in May-June 2019.

How did the testifier learn about the victim's status?

I spoke to two people who knew Turgunaaly personally, in addition to bringing him up with several members of the Committee in Support of the Chinese Kyrgyz. I also visited his university, asking about him at the university's International Office and at the Manas Studies Department.

There are also a number of online sources that mention him:


The most recent updates on his case come from Radio Azattyk:


Additional information

A close friend of Turgunaaly's told me that Turgunaaly expected that he might be detained if he went back to China. However, he had heard that local police had entered his late grandfather's home and taken a number of important books (likely related to records of various oral traditions, such as the Manas epic), and so went back anyway because of this.

Suspected human rights violations

Article 12: Nobody should try to harm our good name. Nobody has the right to come into our home, open our letters, or bother us or our family without a very good reason.
Article 13: We all have the right to go where we want to in our own country and to travel abroad as we wish.
Article 19: We all have the right to make up our own minds, to think what we like, to say what we think, and to share our ideas with other people wherever they live, through books, radio, television and in other ways.

Supplementary materials

appearance on local show
media story about his first book
"flame dance" music video
"farewell" post
friend's post announcing wedding
friend's post from April 2019
return to Bishkek (May 2019)
friend's "farewell post" (June 2019)
RFE/RL segment about "Kara Jorgo"
at book launch (latest book)
at 14 years old, in Kizilsu

Entry created: 2019-02-14

Last updated: 2019-02-14

Latest update from testifier: 2019-10-07