The children in my photo above are Uighurs from the Western region of China, located in the Xinjiang Province, in the city of Kashgar. When I took the photo, in 2004, I didn't know that their days in the old city of Kashgar were numbered. Now, looking at their innocent, smiling faces while playing in the lanes of the mud-brick ancient city, I feel despair.
I've learned that after the filming of the 2007 blockbuster, "The Kite Runner," in Kashgar, made to resemble the old city of Kabul in Afghanistan, it was planned for demolition.
Now, 85% of the alleys and mud-brick homes that I so loved and photographed are gone.
Elderly locals spent their day chatting while viewing the hustle and bustle of the city. Carts filled with goods, livestock, produce, and delicacies pass by the Uighur's front doors on Market Day.
Kashgar was one of the many cities we visited during our trip along the Silk Road as we traced the same path that Marco Polo would have traveled during the 13th century. Up until the time we visited, Kashgar's 90% of 335,000 permanent residents were Uighurs.
Uighurs are Turkic people whose appearance and language link them with Central Asia. They practice the Islamic faith.
150,000 Han Chinese have since migrated to the area. This has dropped the population of Uighurs to 70%.
Today, their very existence is threatened. Chinese officials are planning to turn the Silk Road into a special economic zone.
Many Uighurs believe that it is an intentional plan by the Chinese government to squeeze them out. Certainly, this most recent decision to give it economic zone status is evidence of the government's steps in that direction. In fact, investors have already begun to grab up land in Kashgar and empty lots remain from the devastation of Kashgar's once old town.
The residents are being relocated to apartment buildings in the suburbs further alienating them from their roots and way of life as traders.
A way of life that has existed for centuries and has remained well into the 21st century is being obliterated. Neighbors that have lived in Kashgar in quiet harmony are purposefully being driven from their community and businesses, all in the name of prosperity.
Gone will be the local barber who could give you a haircut and a shave on the footpath for a modest price.
Homemade dumplings made outdoors near the livestock market will surely disappear--in the name of a health code.
Old traditions, such as needlecraft and embroidery, will be replaced by factories intent upon making heaps of ramen noodles to ship to Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Unless the government intends to house the Uighurs in modern apartment buildings with outdoor porches, I doubt I will ever see a swaddled infant napping in a handmade hammock on an outdoor porch.
No, I don't think I will see this touching sight again in my life time.
So very, very tragic.
*Information and stats from the "L.A. Times"