Kyrgyz militants languish in Syria

By Erkin Kamalov

Kyrgyz clerics in May perform outreach work with schoolchildren at High School No. 7 in Jalal-Abad. [DUMK photo obtained by Erkin Kamalov]

Kyrgyz clerics in May perform outreach work with schoolchildren at High School No. 7 in Jalal-Abad. [DUMK photo obtained by Erkin Kamalov]

JALAL-ABAD, Kyrgyzstan -- Kyrgyz families who joined militants in Syria are finding it almost impossible to leave.

Whether they have been brainwashed or their commanders have threatened them with execution, heartbreaking stories of divided families abound.

Jumagul Egemberdiyeva, governor of Jalal-Abad Province, described the plight of a Kyrgyz female militant in her speech to a women's forum in Aksy District May 20.

"Jamilya, a native of Chatkal District, went to Syria illegally with her family two years ago," she said in her speech. "Her husband and son were killed, after which she remarried. But that husband was also killed in combat."

Jamilya married yet again to a militant afterward, Egemberdiyeva said.

Now, her desperate parents cannot find her, Egemberdiyeva said, adding that Jamilya never showed up at a scheduled meeting with her parents on the Syrian-Turkish border.

"I would call upon all women ... to reject extremist recruitment," Egemberdiyeva concluded. "War never brings anything good."

Remembering Jamilya's past

Gulayim Mashrapova, who grew up with Jamilya in Chatkal, remembered her as withdrawn.

"I feel sorry that she ended up in this situation," Mashrapova told Central Asia Online. "When she lived here, she never attended local festivals or weddings ... she thought that they were all 'haram'."

Women are vulnerable to extremist recruitment if they lack resolve, mental stability or the ability to socialise in their own communities, Mashrapova said.

The way to fight extremism is to identify supporters of radicalism and then to bring well-trained, respected clerics to have individual conversations with them, Mashrapova said.

Militancy's fading appeal

Authorities are noticing a decline in the number of Kyrgyz flocking to Syria to join militants.

"The main flow of families departing Kyrgyzstan for Syria was in 2012-2013," Ulanbek Jalildinov, a spokesman for the State National Security Committee (GKNB), told Central Asia Online. "At the time ISIL [the 'Islamic State for Iraq and the Levant'] enjoyed great popularity among extremists."

Now the exodus to Syria has dwindled greatly, he said. Three or four years ago, 130 Kyrgyz per year left. Now that annual figure has fallen five-fold, according to the government.

As of May 1, 571 Kyrgyz, including 135 women, had gone to Syria since 2011, Jalildinov said. An unknown number of those 571 have been killed.

Surviving Kyrgyz militants might be afraid to go home because they risk prosecution, he added.

Outreach work with Muslims has helped turn the tide, Bakhriddin Zulpiyev, a Jalal-Abad Province imam, told Central Asia Online.

"Timely preventive measures ... had a positive influence on people's minds," he said. "Every worshipper ... has begun to realise that so-called 'jihad' is nothing but a hoax."

Some Kyrgyz might be going to Syria now solely because they want to find their relatives and bring them back home, he said.

However, those brave individuals will find it hard to extract their militant relatives from the trap that those relatives willingly entered, he said.

"We continue to work with schoolchildren," Zulpiyev said. "We explain the principles of Islam. With help from the police, we show anti-extremism videos and raise awareness."

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