BISHKEK -- Officials in Kyrgyzstan are seeking society's help in continuing the fight against extremism.
Bishkek November 4 hosted a scholarly and practical conference honouring the 20th anniversary of the State Commission on Religious Affairs (GKDR)'s founding.
The participants -- officials, religious leaders, journalists and scholars -- discussed the country's religious situation and its work to prevent extremism. The event was called "Implementing Kyrgyz Republic government policy in the religious sphere: problems and prospects".
The GKDR, aided by the Interior Ministry (MVD) and other agencies, is vigorously combating extremism and terrorism, GKDR Director Orozbek Moldaliyev said at the conference.
The GKDR's achievements this year
"In 2016, the GKDR helped found a theological college," he said in reviewing the body's achievements. "In September ... we introduced a pilot school subject for ninth-graders, called History of Religious Culture."
Teachers in 10 Kyrgyz schools are offering the pilot course, he said, adding that in 2016 the GKDR also "held informational [anti-extremism] lectures at 21 Bishkek universities".
More than 3,000 Bishkek undergraduates received information at those lectures on how to combat the spread of extremism, he said.
Meanwhile, the GKDR this year developed a draft planning document for education on religious studies and religion, he said.
In April, the GKDR in Bishkek opened its Centre for Research on the Religious Situation, he said, adding that it already is working full bore.
The think tank already has publicised results of the first-ever study of Kyrgyz public opinion on the ideology of extremism as well as an assessment of government agencies' work in fighting extremism and radicalisation, he added.
A hotline is coming
To reach out to the public, the GKDR plans to create a hotline, he told Caravanserai.
"Professionals will staff the line and will provide answers to questions people have about religion," he said. "A lot of people come to us. They care about changes in their sons' or daughters' behaviour."
The GKDR intends to open a rehabilitation centre for former extremists struggling to re-integrate into society, he said, adding that such a centre requires "money and skilled psychologists".
The threat of extremism
Extremism is a major problem for Kyrgyzstan, he warned.
"Phony imams kept agitating [listeners and readers] to go to Syria," he said. "It's essential to carry out major work to promote ... the true values of Islam."
"Kyrgyzstan has a fairly complex religious situation," he said. "That's confirmed by the tremendous amount of literature that [police] bring to us for textual analysis."
Kyrgyzstan has about 3,000 religious organisations, Mira Karybayeva, deputy chief of the presidential administration, said at the conference.
"This is both an achievement and a challenge," she said. "In Kyrgyzstan, we...lacked a tradition of in-depth religious education."
Radicalisation in Kyrgyzstan takes advantage of the lack of quality religious education in madrassas and in public schools, Bishkek-based theologian Daniyar Muradilov said at the conference.
"The state started to pay attention to this problem only in 2014," he said. "Until it did, we missed out on much of it. The most important thing is that we broke the logjam. Nobody is sitting idly by anymore."
Women become radicalised
Women, who formerly avoided some of the social ills that befall men, are becoming a bigger part of the extremism problem, authorities warn.
In 2005, women accounted for 1% of the extremist crimes committed in Kyrgyzstan, but by 2016, their share had grown to 23%, Raim Salimov, deputy chief of the counter-terrorism-focused 10th Main Directorate of the MVD, said at the conference."
"Large-scale religious education is important," he said. "At the same time ... education in secondary schools is much more important, because a person's consciousness is formed in the [pre-college] years."
Praise for the GKDR
Attendees had high praise for the GKDR's work.
"GDKR keeps a representative in every province," Karybayeva said. "You can't deploy a security officer in every village. That's why it is so important to expand the GKDR's work in fighting radicalisation."
"It's difficult to imagine how the situation would have evolved in Kyrgyzstan without any GKDR activity," Aibek Isayev, the head of the presidential administration's department of sports and culture, told Caravanserai.
The GKDR precisely and efficiently carries out the responsibilities assigned to it by the government, Salimov of the MVD said at the conference.
"In 20 years a lot has been done," he said. "It is especially gratifying to recognise that our departments are co-operating productively and efficiently."
"[GKDR] specialists are risking their lives and fighting radicalisation," he said. "I wish the GKDR team great success."