Freedoms celebrated

Henrico couple hails from persecuted region
Abdullin and Tursunay Rozieva Ababekr with Rebiya Kadeer (center).

It’s not often that someone who begins her career as a laundress ends up rising to international fame, but on Jan. 16, such a person came to Richmond for the First Freedom Awards gala.

Sponsored by the First Freedom Center and held at the Richmond Marriott, the annual awards ceremony honored four renowned advocates of religious freedom. Human-rights activist Rebiya Kadeer, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, received the International First Freedom Award for her efforts on behalf of Chinese minorities and her leadership in the Uyghur self-determination movement.

An exiled Uyghur [pronounced WEE-gur] from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Kadeer rose from humble beginnings to create an import/export empire, and now heads the World Uyghur Congress. For her efforts to end economic and cultural discrimination against Chinese Uyghurs, she spent six years in prison.

Among the Kadeer admirers attending the gala were Henrico residents Abdullin and Tursunay Rozieva Ababekri, the Richmond region’s only Uyghur immigrants.

The occasion was a reunion of sorts, since Abdullin Ababekri met Kadeer 30 years ago in their homeland of China. But Ababekri eventually left China for Uzbekistan – for the same reason that many Uyghurs leave.

“The Uyghur people are not free in China,” Ababekri’s wife, Tursunay, explained to her dinner companions at the gala. “Even if you finish college, the very good jobs, you don’t get. The Chinese do.”

Another common practice of the Chinese is to recruit groups of young Uyghur girls for employment, who then end up having to sell themselves to survive.

“The Chinese,” said Tursunay, “are destroying the Uyghur people in all different ways.”

‘Dragon Fighter'
In her acceptance speech, Kadeer used a translator to elaborate on the types of religious and cultural discrimination Uyghurs face, in addition to economic.

“China will hunt you down and persecute you and your family,” said Kadeer, whose two imprisoned sons are currently serving seven- and nine-year sentences in the PRC. “The Uyghur Muslims face the harshest [discrimination] because of their faith in Islam. [The Chinese] turn mosques into pig farms; they indoctrinate youth that religion is poison.”

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 only intensified the hostility of the Chinese toward Uyghur Muslims, added Kadeer, even though she described the Uyghurs as moderate Sunni Muslims.

“They used 9/11 to further justify their oppression. China is an equal opportunity oppressor of all religions,” she said, expressing contempt for the “bankrupt ideology” of the Chinese and their worship of power and money. “Religious freedom exists only on paper. “

Although Kadeer was once invited by the Chinese government to join both the National People’s Congress and the Political Consultative Congress, and in 1995 was a member of China’s delegation to the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women, she was stripped of her memberships and imprisoned after trying to meet with a visiting delegation from the United States.

After six years – two of them in solitary confinement – she was released due to international pressure. Today she lives in the United States, and is the author of Dragon Fighter: One Woman’s Epic Struggle for Peace with China and frequent op-ed essays.

Dream come true
Tursunay Ababekri’s parents moved to Russia in 1962. In China, her mother’s family had been fairly well-off, she said; but family members were revolutionaries who resisted the Chinese.

“The Chinese were trying to destroy them,” said Tursunay. “My mother’s family, they left everything, took the children to Russia and started over.”

Abdullin and Tursunay Ababekri married in 1991, and although life was better than in China, Abdullin thought often of moving to the United States.

“He had friends [in the States] who called,” Tursunay said. “They kept telling him if he came, it would be good for his kids’ future.”

Eventually, Abdullin made his way to the U.S.; Tursunay stayed with the children for awhile and later joined him. Today, their four children are 20, 19, 14 and four and attend George Mason University, James Madison University, Godwin High School, and preschool.

Although her children like living here in the States, Tursunay admitted to some homesickness.

“Here there is more freedom; it is easy to find a job,” she pointed out. “But life is more stressful.”

“We grew up in a very different atmosphere,” Tursunay went on. “All the relatives are not here; it is just us two. I miss my parents; the kids miss their grandparents. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like it here.”

Abdullin’s mother, mother-in-law, stepmother, three sisters and brother are all still in China, said Tursunay.

“But he wished all his life to go someplace like the United States,” Tursunay said of her husband. “So his dream came true.”

And she had to admit, said Tursunay, that hearing from Rebiya Kadeer and seeing her receive an international award was inspiring.

As for Kadeer, she found the celebration of National Religious Freedom Day with her new friends from the First Freedom Center to be nothing short of invigorating.

“I cannot agree more with the purpose of this center,” she exclaimed to the audience, noting that she sometimes gets “lonely and a little bit hopeless” in her struggles to raise awareness of the plight of Chinese minorities.

“When I get to a place like [this] and see the smiling faces of all religions,” she said, “I get inspired and strengthened to stand up against the tyranny. I get energized and ready to fight again for freedom!”
Bail Bonds Chesterfield VA

Applications for Leadership Metro Richmond Class of 2018 now open

Applications for the Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) flagship program Leadership Quest are now open at http://www.lmronline.org until May 1. Community leaders from Ashland, Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, Powhatan and the City of Richmond are encouraged to apply.

All interested candidates are encouraged to attend a recruitment reception March 8 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Markel Corporation, 4501 Highwoods Parkway in Glen Allen. The reception will give candidates the opportunity to meet current LMR members and learn more about the organization. > Read more.

Reynolds CC 4-week, 8-week classes start March 7


Classes start March 7 for Reynolds Community College’s second 8-week and third 4-week spring semester sessions. Registration for both sessions is currently open and runs through the start of classes. Students can register 24 hours per day online by visiting http://www.reynolds.edu. Students can also register in-person in Enrollment Services located on each campus. > Read more.

Public comment sought for plan to reduce impacts of natural disasters

The joint Hazard Mitigation Technical Advisory Committee for the Richmond and Crater regions is seeking public comment on the draft update of the Richmond-Crater Multi-Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Hazard mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the potential impact of future disasters. The 26 localities of the Richmond and Crater regions maintain the plan to collaboratively identify vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters and develop long-term strategies to reduce or eliminate long-term risks. > Read more.

Democrat VanValkenburg kicks off Gen. Assembly campaign


Senior students at Glen Allen High School will get a personal touch when studying elections with their AP government teacher.

That teacher, Schuyler VanValkenburg, recently announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 72nd District seat in the House of Delegates. If he earns the nomination, he will run against Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, who has been unopposed for 10 years.

VanValkenburg, a 2004 University of Richmond alumnus who majored in history, is running for office for the first time. Although he has lived in Richmond since he began his undergraduate studies, aside from one year spent in Seattle, he said he never felt it was his time to run. > Read more.

Construction begins on JA Finance Park at Libbie Mill


School and business leaders from around the region, including (pictured, from left) Simon Hodges of Dominion Resources, Daphne Swanso(president of Junior Achievement of Central Virginia) and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas, gathered at Libbie Mill Library Feb. 23 for the Junior Achievement Finance Park construction kickoff. > Read more.
Community

Villa’s Flagler Housing wins national NAEH award


St. Joseph's Villa’s Flagler Housing & Homeless Services was one of three entities to earn the National Alliance to End Homelessness' Champion of Change Award. The awards were presented Nov. 17 during a ceremony at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

NAEH annually recognizes proven programs and significant achievements in ending child and family homelessness.

Flagler completed its transition from an on-campus shelter to the community-based model of rapid rehousing in 2013, and it was one of the nation's first rapid re-housing service providers to be certified by NAEH. > Read more.

RIR’s Christmas tree lighting rescheduled for Dec. 12


Richmond International Raceway's 13th annual Community Christmas tree lighting has been rescheduled from Dec. 6 to Monday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m., due to inclement weather expected on the original date.

Entertainment Dec. 12 will be provided by the Laburnum Elementary School choir and the Henrico High School Mighty Marching Warriors band. Tree decorations crafted by students from Laburnum Elementary School and L. Douglas Wilder Middle School will be on display. Hot chocolate and cookies will be supplied by the Henrico High School football boosters. > Read more.
Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Given the warm weather lately, Saturday’s RVA Polar Plunge Winter Fest, benefiting Special Olympics Virginia, might actually be enjoyable! Other weekend events you’re sure to enjoy include the 14th annual Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway Complex, the Richmond Symphony and The Taters in concert at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen, and the Richmond Ballet Minds in Motion Team XXL performing at the Henrico Theatre. This is also the last weekend to check out HATTheatre’s production of “Bill W. and Dr. Bob.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

 

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The J.R. Tucker High School Drama Boosters will host the “Race to the End” Color Run from 7:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the school, 2910 N. Parham Rd. Participants of the event will be rewarded with post-race events on campus including vendors, concessions and kid activities. Race registration includes bib, color packet and t-shirt (guaranteed to participants that register by May 4). Cost is $25 for students, $35 for adults and $30 for groups of five or more. Proceeds from the race will benefit the J.R. Tucker School String Players’ trip to Edinburgh, Scotland to perform in The Fringe. To register, visit http://bit.ly/JRTcolorrun. Full text

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