| Religion

Turkmenistan confronts extremism

By Dzhumaguly Annayev


Turkmen law enforcement personnel in March in Ashgabat take notes during an address by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. [TV screen shot by Dzhumaguly Annayev]

ASHGABAT -- Turkmen law enforcement is working with clerics to prevent any spread of extremism in their country.

Although the government does not disclose estimates, outside sources have said that hundreds of Turkmen migrant workers, notably those in Turkey, have joined insurgencies in Syria and Iraq.

That behaviour arouses outrage among most Turkmens, who embrace moderate Islam and reject extremism as backwardness.

Vigilance from clerics and law enforcement

National Security Ministry (MNB) personnel work with imams, who keep an eye out for extremist parishioners and extremist proselytisers who might be trying to dupe parishioners.

Imams "are doing their normal civic duty" by watching for signs of extremism in their mosques, Haji Pirguly, an imam in Dashoguz Province, told Caravanserai.

"Working together allows us to identify embryonic radicalism ... and to thwart all attempts to promote extremism," an MNB employee who requested anonymity told Caravanserai.

Once imams or the general public report a suspicious individual, law enforcement watches that individual and questions him or her if need be, the investigator said.

"Thanks to tips from the public, we have stopped the activities of several supporters of radical Islam," he said. "We may not disclose details."

Khairulla Kochkarov, who attends the Shalikar mosque in Dashoguz Province, confirmed co-operation between clerics and law enforcement.

"I knew of one merchant ... who often travelled to Turkey to purchase goods," Kochkarov told Caravanserai, adding that the MNB talked to that merchant after he began behaving differently.

The merchant is back to his old self, Kochkarov said.

The 6th Administration of Turkmen police has kept a close eye for signs of extremism. It has at various times nabbed individuals who possessed prohibited literature.

Higher-ups always "told us to be overly cautious", a former agent of the 6th Main Administration who identified himself only as Abdurakhman told Caravanserai. Abdurakhman resides in Ashgabat.

Convicted extremists "are kept in separate prisons" to prevent any proselytisation of other inmates, Tejen resident and former prison inmate Sylapberdi Cherkezov, who recently received a presidential pardon, told Caravanserai.

Keeping mum

Turkmen authorities do not disclose the results of their investigations of suspected extremists, in order to avoid arousing public anxiety.

That policy prevents extremists "from destabilising the country", Abdurakhman, who has testified in the trials of extremist suspects, said.

Some Turkmens would like less secrecy.

Mosque-goers could be unjustly denounced by misguided informants and end up in trouble that they do not deserve, Turkmenabad resident and mosque-goer Yashnar Khaitimmetov told Caravanserai.

"Fighting extremism through openness and public involvement ... would be more effective," he said.

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