ISTANBUL, TURKEY - The Thai consulate was attacked early Thursday in Istanbul, following the news of Thailand deporting Uighurs to China.
Dozens of people attacked Istanbul’s Thai consulate overnight. Windows were smashed as the protesters, armed with sticks, tried to enter the building.
The protest followed news that Thailand had deported dozens of Chinese Uighur refugees to China, where they say they are persecuted. It is not clear who the attackers were, but Turkish nationalists have carried out a series of often violent demonstrations in support of Uighurs, who they identify as ethnic Turks.
Earlier this month, nationalists were blamed for attacking a group of Korean tourists mistakenly identified as Chinese. Beijing has issued a travel advisory for Turkey. Turkish Islamists also are supportive of China’s Muslim minority.
Tensions in Turkey have been on the rise following unconfirmed reports that Chinese authorities have banned the marking of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. Beijing denies the reports.
Carnegie Institute visiting scholar Sinan Ulgen said the protests are part of a new trend in Turkey.
"There are reactions among the Turkish population, who over the years have been more sensitive to these type of violations, especially if religious freedoms are concerned and that is essentially what we are seeing; because for the past few years, the government espoused the cause of championing the cause of Muslim victims," said Ulgen.
Turkey’s largest party, the Islamist-rooted AK Party, has been a vocal supporter of Uighurs. Last month, Turkey offered sanctuary to more than 100 Uighur refugees in Thailand who were facing repatriation to China, by giving them Turkish passports. The move drew angry condemnation from Beijing, accusing Ankara of meddling in its internal affairs.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly defends his country’s record. He said Turkey became the country that accepted and gave citizenship to thousands of Uighur Turks who had to leave their homeland. He said Turkey always said, "Our door is always open to those running away from death."
Experts say Turkey is hosting more than 300,000 Uighurs.
Beijing's concern about Ankara’s policy have been heightened with the civil war in Syria, and by reports of Uighurs among those joining the ranks of Islamic militants.
Despite the rising bilateral tensions, Erdogan is scheduled to visit China at the end of the month.