ASTANA -- Members of a youth movement called Kazakhstan for Peace (KP) are using mass media and peer-to-peer lectures to warn against extremism and radical groups' recruiting methods.
KP members have stayed busy trying to defuse the appeal of radicals to disenchanted youth after hundreds of radicalised Kazakhstanis have joined insurgencies in Syria and Iraq starting in 2011.
KP has been operating since last October under the aegis of the country's Association of Religious Study Centres.
Besides working in Kazakhstan, the movement is reaching out to youth in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Radicalism a malignant tumor
Over the past few months, KP members have met with youth and given interviews about KP's work to a number of Kazakhstani TV stations, newspapers and radio stations.
Such meetings have commanded wide media coverage in recent weeks, given the deadly terrorist attacks in Aktobe June 5 and in Almaty July 18.
"This problem [of radicalism] resembles a maligant tumor," Rayimbek Kadirov, an Astana-based employee of the Association of Religious Studies Centres, told a foreign TV station April 21. "We see symptoms and ignore them. Then we have big problems."
Youth who are vulnerable to fall for extremist recruiting pitches are the disadvantaged, he said, adding that extremists promise financial and psychological support.
Kadirov also spoke to Astana Radio June 17 about the threat of extremism.
He described the ways recruiters court youth and how to prevent recruitment, and denounced terrorists' misuse of peaceful Islam to justify their atrocities.
Youth welcome outreach
Youth welcome KP's approach and express a desire to help fight extremism, said Aziza Jumagaliyeva, another KP member and director of the in-house think tank for the North Kazakhstan Province Department for Religious Affairs.
"Media are eager to contact us," she told Caravanserai. "It's not surprising. The projects that we work on are urgent for our country and require us to act."
"Media truly are eager to get in touch with us," Almaty-based religious scholar and member of the movement Alinur Shpekpayev agreed, adding that the media should devote non-stop attention to the topic.
"The media should write and write, and write some more .. to inform Kazakhstanis about the threats stemming from extremism," he said.
Shpekpayev considers various methods of communication useful in fighting extremism, including face-to-face contact with the public and media outreach to illuminate issues tied to extremism and terrorism.
He spoke to residents of Rakhat village June 30. The seminar, "The Harm of Destructive Religious Movements," brought together 164 villagers with the help of the Almaty Province Department for Religious Affairs.
KP activists regularly give lectures and conduct meetings and seminars in person across Kazakhstan.
"We work on a peer-to-peer basis," Jumagaliyeva said. "KP members talk to their peers about the threats of extremism and terrorism. Youth are more receptive when hearing from someone their age."
Since October, KP speakers have held 116 events, reaching about 9,000 individuals, she added.
In the past three months, Shpekpayev has met with about 3,000 youth at schools, colleges, military bases, churches and government agencies.
In his lectures, which he presents in Kazakh and Russian, he warns about extremist recruitment and false prophets.
In a June 19 seminar for 80 attendees in Ushtobe, Almaty Province, he spoke about how "teaching youth and ensuring religious literacy guarantee spiritual balance".
"Young people are open to this information," Shkekpayev said, adding that he has received invitations to speak at Orthodox and Lutheran churches.
Summertime is a difficult period for assembling youth, he said, but once school resumes, KP intends to step up its work.