Uzbek youth organisations condemn terrorism
TASHKENT -- Youth organisations in Uzbekistan are standing up to terrorism.
Aware that hundreds of radicalised Uzbekistanis -- and ethnic Uzbeks from other countries -- have joined militants in Syria and Iraq, youth organisations in Central Asia's most populous country are denouncing terrorist acts and seeking ways to prevent youth recruitment by terrorists.
Radicalising youth at home
"Besides the traditional recruitment methods, terrorist groups are luring youth into [radicalised corners of] the internet," Alisher Akhmedov of Tashkent, a National Security Service analyst, told Caravanserai.
That option is more attractive, initially, to misguided youth because "it doesn't require special training in 'jihadist' camps or personal participation in combat", he said.
Later, when the opportunity comes, such youth can commit terrorist acts where they live.
For example, young local militants organised the recent deadly terrorist acts in Kazakhstan, Turkey and France, Akhmedov said.
Emotional immaturity, inexperience and ignorance make youth vulnerable "to being caught up in the terrorists' network", he said.
Vulnerable youth are those who "lost their ideological bearings, became disappointed or couldn't realise their own potential", Akhmedov added.
Youth camps for preventing extremism
"Vaccinating" youth against extremism is difficult because they are much more sensitive than the jaded older generation is to injustices encountered in everyday life, Tashkent political scientist Linara Yuldasheva told Caravanserai.
To prevent youth from falling for extremism's hate-filled message, Uzbekistani authorities are supporting youth summer camps offered by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
These camps enable top college students to learn leadership skills and to consult with journalists and political scientists.
The organiser of these highly formative camps throughout the country is the youth NGO Kamolot, which was founded in 1996.
Kamolot's main goal is unite Uzbekistani youth and to inculcate in them allegiance to the secular state and to the rule of law.
A typical youth camp took place in Tashkent Province July 18-24, when Kamolot hosted a media week for youth involved in developing the Uzbek internet. Some 120 students from 65 Uzbekistani universities participated in the project.
The participants wrote more than 700 articles and blog posts with anti-terrorism messages for college websites that they will moderate someday, Yekaterina Gorbunova, the project manager, told Caravanserai.
The week was full of seminars and master classes taught by well-known journalists and journalism professors, said Samarkand Agricultural Institute student Mirjakhon Yazadanov.
"I am full of enthusiasm to work on our student website," he told Caravanserai.
Rehabilitating past offenders
If youth lack a social outlet, groups or individuals with dubious intentions could take advantage of them, Aziz Narkhojayev of Tashkent, director of the Uzbek internet development project, told Caravanserai.
"It is important for youth to have a chance to come together and have the chance to express their own ideas ... and realise their potential," he said.
Another major task Kamolot is involved in is welcoming back into society past criminal offenders who have paid their debts.
Every year, Kamolot holds job fairs nationwide for youth who have police records or who have finished prison sentences, including convicted extremists.
One beneficiary of this project is Anvar Khalilov of Fergana Province, who was convicted in 2005 of involvement in a terrorist group's activity. He was paroled in 2009.
Kamolot's help "enabled me to start a new life", he told Caravanserai. "It helped me find a job ... In 2010 it helped me get a loan to expand my business. I have everything I dreamed of -- a family, a job and support."
A realistic understanding of extremism
Kamolot works vigorously with youth of all ages, from schoolchildren to college students, Bakhodir Ganiyev, chairman of Kamolot, told Caravanserai.
The organisation holds many events -- 44,000 nationwide in 2015 alone, with about 18m participants. Events include contests like "Do you know the law?" and "Young border guards" sporting tournaments.
Kamolot also actively supports the screening of documentaries in vocational colleges and academically oriented high schools about the crimes of the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).
These screenings always precede talks by National Security Service and Interior Ministry officials as well as by Islamic scholars.
"Such meetings ... enable youth to form a more realistic understanding of ISIL," Ibrokhim Alimukhamedov, a teacher at a Tashkent vocational college, told Caravanserai.