Uzbekistan to guard youth from extremist influence

By Maksim Yeniseyev

A young Uzbek family celebrates its wedding in Khiva in September. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

A young Uzbek family celebrates its wedding in Khiva in September. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Various elements of Uzbekistani society are working to protect youth from terrorist and extremist recruitment. They include civilian officials, educators, the military and law enforcement.

The effort comes as some Uzbekistanis, estimated to number in the hundreds, fight alongside militants in Syria and Iraq.

Acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev September 14 signed a new youth policy into law in an effort to help defuse any extremist threat to the rising generation.

"The policy is geared to people aged 14 to 30," parliamentary spokesman Azamat Mukhtarov told Caravanserai. "Its main principles are involving youth in self-government; supporting [pro-youth] initiatives; giving priority to spiritual, moral and cultural values; and combating discrimination against youth."

The policy calls for "raising [youth] in the spirit of tolerance and protecting them from ideas linked to terrorism", Mukhtarov continued. "It establishes rules regarding social welfare benefits for the young and government support for their [business] undertakings."

A generational bulge

Uzbekistani officials recognise the need to prevent radicalisation in their high-birth-rate country, which has an abundance of youth. More than 17m Uzbekistanis, 64% of the population, are under age 30, according to the government.

"If we neglect [work with youth] ... criminals will fill the vacuum," Tashkent-based sociologist Ravshan Kushlubayev told Caravanserai. "Youthful maximalism is the best breeding ground for radical ideas."

"The forces that exploit religion for terrorism aim to shape young people's consciousness above all," Sheikh Abdulaziz Mansur, chairman of the Administration of Muslims of Uzbekistan, warned in May, speaking to media.

So far, although some young Uzbekistanis are fighting and dying in the Middle East, they represent only a tiny fraction of their generation.

According to a survey by Ijtimoiy Fikr, an Uzbekistani polling organisation, published in May, 94.3% of Uzbekistani youths said their patriotic feelings had grown in the past year.

Youth welcome new policy

Uzbekistani youth are reacting with enthusiasm to the new youth policy.

"It infuses me with hope," Andrei Streletskii, 22, of Tashkent told Caravanserai. "Most of all, my peers and I are concerned about employment and housing ... I'll be happy if the new policy helps me solve those problems."

A key participant in the nationwide drive to help and protect youth is Kamolot (Perfection), a national youth organisation with 4m members aged 14 to 30. It helps youth find jobs and start businesses. It also raises public awareness of terrorist recruitment.

The children's organisation Kamalak (Rainbow), meanwhile, has 2m members aged 10 to 14.

"Every year Kamolot holds a contest for young entrepreneurs, where the winners can receive loans to open their own businesses," Kamolot spokesman Sherzod Mirkamalov told Caravanserai. "Kamolot pays the interest on those loans."

This year, 518 young business owners obtained 6.1 billion UZS (US $2m) in such loans, he said, adding that 6,000 college graduates received job offers at a job fair held in Tashkent in 2015.

Kamolot takes part in the never-ending outreach campaign against terrorism and extremism as well. Last spring, it launched a project called "Extremism and terrorism threaten the youth's future" in the country's colleges and universities, Mirkamalov said.

"During special events, experts talk to young people about the consequences of extremists' activity, show documentaries and talk about the situation in countries where terrorists are active," Mirkamalov said. "Artists, writers, singers and actors help."

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