Large Kyrgyz family in Syria meets unknown fate

By Erkin Kamalov

Kyrgyz clerics and police officers convene in Bishkek October 20 to discuss ways to fight extremism and terrorism. [Erkin Kamalov]

Kyrgyz clerics and police officers convene in Bishkek October 20 to discuss ways to fight extremism and terrorism. [Erkin Kamalov]

ISSYK-KUL, Kyrgyzstan -- Residents of several villages in Ton District, Issyk-Kul Province, are wondering if a militant extended family that made its way to Syria has been wiped out.

Distant relatives of the suspect family "received a telegramme on October 27 saying [the family] had all been killed in an explosion", Erik Choyutov, an official of the Issyk-Kul Province Police Department 10th Main Administration, recently said.

The family of 25 "gradually left for Syria starting in 2013", Choyutov said, adding that police are investigating and are questioning the recipients of the telegramme. Police are not certain that all 25 are dead, he added.

"We know that 25 citizens from Ton District left the country," Choyutov said. "We still don't have any official information."

Husband and wife led the exodus

The family was comprised of 11 adults and 14 children, authorities say. They identify the instigators of the exodus to Syria as Joldoshbek Karabayev, 37, of Bokonbayevo, and his wife, Zaripa Khatamova, 31, who influenced him.

The family ranged in age from 3 to 82, State National Security Committee (GKNB) spokesman Ulanbek Jalildinov told Caravanserai, adding, "Our sources say that Karabayev's elderly mother, Markuu Sopuyeva, died of natural causes this spring."

The family included various brothers and sisters, their children and other relatives, Jalildinov said, adding that they came from several villages in Ton District and from Balykchi city.

Gradually vanishing

"The Karabayev family ... was the first to go to Syria in 2013," Jalildinov said. "They began to invite their relatives, providing them with plane tickets to Turkey."

Some of the radicalised relatives paid their own way, Jalildinov said, citing the example of Chyngyz Urmanbetov, 41.

Urmanbetov "sold all his livestock and all his household belongings ... without telling his father", Ton District police chief Aitbek Shamenov said on Kyrgyz TV. "He used the money to buy a plane ticket to Turkey [for eventual travel to Syria]."

Rifts in family

The radicalisation did not appeal to everyone in the family.

Karabayev's sister, Chinara Karabayeva of Ak-Sai village, divorced her husband as soon as she heard that he had joined her brother in Syria, Shamenov said.

"She phoned him ... and said that their lives were no longer linked and that he could remarry," Shamenov said.

Khatamova, Karabayev's wife and the suspected driving force behind the family's radicalisation, has a background linked to extremism, Jalildinov told Caravanserai.

"She is a native of Kara-Suu District, Osh Province," he said. "Her brother, Akhlidin Khatamov, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 for robbery and murder ... He is a member of the extremist group Jaish ul-Mahdi [Army of the Righteous Redeemer of Islam]."

Forty-five residents of Issyk-Kul Province are known to be in Syria, fighting alongside the terrorist "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL), Jalildinov said.

ISIL is banned in Kyrgyzstan.

70 Kyrgyz known to have died so far

The radicalisation of some Kyrgyz citizens has led to a high human cost. More than 600 Kyrgyz have gone to Syria to fight since 2012, the MVD says, adding that about 70 Kyrgyz have been killed there. It is possible that some of the Kyrgyz in Syria are being held against their will, the MVD adds.

Karabayev's distant relatives do not speak with or stay in touch with the family in Syria, fearing that to do so could make trouble for their own loved ones still in Kyrgyzstan and not involved in militancy, Almazbek Sagyndykov, qazi (Islamic judge) of Issyk-Kul Province, told Caravanserai.

"We are constantly explaining the situation to all of the Muslims in our jurisdiction, trying to shield them from radical ideas," Sagyndykov said, adding that education is difficult when not everybody "completely understands traditional Islam".

Someone with thorough knowledge of religion would never commit crimes, he said.

"We are already openly urging the devout Muslims in our province to stay out of Syria, where only death awaits them," he concluded.

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