China Ramadan
Muslims ate as they broke fast on the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Niujie Mosque in Beijing, China, June 18, 2015. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

An independent group of Turkish protesters were vandalizing Chinese restaurants in Istanbul in opposition to China’s state-imposed ban on fasting and its associated traditions during the holy monthlong celebration of Ramadan in China’s far-western Xinjiang province. Xinjiang is home to most of the country’s Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority, a population that is marginalized by China’s officially atheist Communist Party.

The link between Xinjiang and Turkey is more than just religious; the Uyghur people also speak a language closely related to Turkish, and some China-separatists call the region East Turkestan instead of the Mandarin name, Xinjiang.

According to conservative-leaning publication Daily Caller, the protesters reportedly began their crusade Sunday, when they rallied outside a Chinese restaurant flying banners that read “Long Live East Turkestan” and chanting phrases such as “Down with Red China” and “Murderous China, get out of Turkestan.” The group reportedly follows the political ideology of Turanism, which has a main tenet urging global Turkic people to unite and preserve their culture.

According to the group’s Facebook page, another rally is planned outside of the Chinese consulate in Istanbul for July 5.

In recent years, Chinese officials have placed an annual ban on Ramadan, particularly disallowing government employees, students and teachers in the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang to partake in religious activities. In the announcement this year, Xinjiang’s Jinghe Food and Drug Administration posted on its website that food-service workers and other food-related operations were to work and keep normal hours during Ramadan. Similar imperatives were announced in local schools, telling administrators to tell students not to fast, attend religious activities or even enter mosques.

The ban is likely motivated by concern that the annual religious affirmation would somehow ignite more conflict. Officials in Qiemo County met with Muslim community figures this year ahead of Ramadan informing them that more inspections would occur to “maintain stability,” according to the South China Morning Post.

Uyghur advocates said the ban was the thing causing tension between the ethnic group and the government. “Policies that prohibit religious fasting are a provocation and will only lead to instability and conflict,” Dilxat Rexit, a spokesman for the Chinese-exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement earlier this month.