Kyrgyzstan protects its youth from extremism

By Sanzhar Sharipov


Dastan haji Mamayev (off camera), imam-khatib of Kara-Kulja District, Osh Province, discusses Islam with the local population August 15. [Photo obtained by Sanzhar Sharipov]

BISHKEK -- Local authorities in Kyrgyzstan are making every effort to protect youth against "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) recruiters and radical ideas.

More than 600 Kyrgyz have gone to Syria and Iraq in recent years, authorities concede.

"The rising generation is still the main target for those ... who want youth to support 'jihad'," Mekhrinisa Maniyazova, chairwoman of the Chek-Abad village women's council in Aravan District, Osh Province, told Caravanserai.

The vulnerability of youth

Young boys and girls are vulnerable to extremist views because they lack understanding of the dangers facing them on the supposedly "righteous" life they have chosen, she said.

"To avoid recruiters' influence, youth must be firmly grounded on religious issues," she said. "Our imams, theologians, neighbourhood committee elders, teachers and parents help them in this matter."

Preventive measures by law enforcement have helped greatly in shielding the young from radical ideas, she said.

Youth comprise 30% of the Kyrgyz population and are the most vulnerable to extremist influence, Bishkek theologian Kadicha Arstanova told Caravanserai.

"Their immature minds are subjected to great pressure from recruiters and supporters of ISIL's radical views," she said, warning of "catastrophic consequences" if authorities fail to stop the subversion.

The majority of Kyrgyz youth come from the countryside and lack education, making them easy targets for brainwashing, she said.

Another at-risk group is ostensible migrant workers who instead end up fighting in Syria and Iraq, she said.

Nobody monitors that group of young Kyrgyz, making it even more dangerous to the country, she said.

Taking the long view

A multi-year government effort to help youth is coming, Bakyt Egemberdiyev, deputy director of the State Agency for Youth Affairs, Physical Culture and Sports, told Caravanserai.

"The government soon will approve the 2016-2020 Strategy for Development of Youth Policy," he said. "After that approval, we will set up a working group of experts. In the first half of 2017, we'll try to devise an ideology for educating youth."

His agency intends to work with the experts in developing a workable ideology that takes account of government interests, the country's historical values and Kyrgyz traits like ethnic and religious diversity.

"For 20 years, we left religion to look after itself," Zakir Chotayev, deputy direction of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, said at a Bishkek news conference August 5. "During that time, the prerequisites for this situation were created."

"For the past three years, we have been actively working with government agencies, religious organisations and citizens, to explain our model of a secular state and the need to abide by it," he said.

It is essential to distinguish religion from radicalism and terrorism, he said.

"We want to establish the conditions to allow advancement of traditional religious values -- as alternatives to ... those radical ideologies that discredit Islam in particular," he said.

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