Terrorism

Kazakhstan looks to NGOs in fight against extremism

By Alexander Bogatik

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A KazakhStan for Peace anti-extremism event takes place in Petropavlovsk on November 9. [KFP photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Officials and analysts say they hope that NGOs in Kazakhstan can help defuse the hateful attitudes that fueled deadly terrorist attacks in Aktobe and Almaty this summer.

A number of recent forums have advanced that cause, including a conference in Astana on November 18, at which participants from the government, youth organisations, other NGOs, mass media and academia discussed "NGOs' role in preventing religious extremism and terrorism".

A day earlier, also in Astana, at the 6th Religious Scholars of Kazakhstan Forum, participants agreed to involve scholars and NGOs "in a multi-pronged effort ... to prevent extremism and terrorism in society", according to a statement by the government's Committee for Religious Affairs (KDR).

NGO activity nationwide

Kazakhstan has a number of NGOs that fight extremism, including the Phoenix Centre for Development and Adaptation, founded in 2004 and based in East Kazakhstan Province.

"We are the only NGO in East Kazakhstan Province that has been systematically and closely working with state agencies in this field for many years," Phoenix Centre Director Nazigul Akhmetkaliyeva told Caravanserai.

The East Kazakhstan provincial government this year financed a project that Phoenix is co-ordinating, she said, noting that the project targets "domestic violence, human trafficking and recruitment of the public into destructive groups".

Another concern that Phoenix has addressed since 2014 is "sexual jihad", she said, decrying the larger "dangerous phenomenon" of recruitment of militants to go fight in Syria and Iraq.

Akhmetaliyeva described two stories with which she is familiar.

One young man went to Syria to fight, while a girl who fell for online recruitment is now stuck in Syria performing sexual services for militants.

"These are modern forms of slavery -- sexual exploitation and deprivation of freedom, manipulation and terrorism," she said.

The KazakhStan for Peace movement

Another major player in the NGO fight against extremism is KazakhStan for Peace (KFP), formed by Kazakhstani youth in October 2015. It works under the Astana-based Association of Religious Research Centres.

In the past 11 months, the group has held more than 150 outreach meetings nationwide, reaching 12,000 youth with its message of resisting extremist recruiters' traps. Among its recent achievements, the group on October 28 signed a memorandum of co-operation with Heydar, an organisation for youth in Kazakhstan's Azerbaijani diaspora.

On November 20, KFP organised a "Youth against extremism" conference in Astana.

"The volunteers learned about the history of each religion in Kazakhstan," Aziza Jumagaliyeva, a spokeswoman for the organisation and chief of the North Kazakhstan Province Department for Religious Affairs' in-house think tank, the Centre for the Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations, told Caravanserai.

"For many of them, [the conference included] their first visit to [houses of worship] of these religious organisations," Gulmira Beisenbina, a speaker for KFP and a staff expert for the North Kazakhstan Province Department for Religious Affairs, told Caravanserai.

KFP's parent organisation, the Association of Religious Research Centres, meanwhile, on October 17 launched a month-long nationwide contest called "Expert of religion", meant to raise the professionalism of young orators in illuminating religious issues and working with audiences.

"Young people want to ... contribute to the fight against terrorism and extremism," Taraz-based Oleg Krutov, an employee for the NGO Youth Centre for Reconstruction and Development, told Caravanserai. "[KFP]'s ideas are shared by hundreds of people in various cities across Kazakhstan."

"NGOs in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and other countries in Central Asia are adopting their experience," he said.

Kazakhstan has several thousand NGOs, which the country must harness to fight extremism, Krutov said.

"If they receive financing, many NGOs will join the fight," he said. "They have experience in carrying out projects that benefit the public and in working with target groups. They have their own experts and speakers."

Government strategy

Meanwhile, the Religious Affairs and Civil Society Ministry is working on the 2017-2020 State Religious Policy Concept, a policy planning document.

"The [document] will define the state's new strategic missions and areas of focus in working with religious communities," Religious Affairs and Civil Society Minister Nurlan Yermekbayev said during the Religious Scholars of Kazakhstan Forum in Astana on November 17. "Members of the scholarly community, NGOs and clergy can take part in discussing and drafting [it]."

One idea is amending counter-terrorism laws to make them more effective, he said.

"All society ... should join the fight against radicalism," he said. "No government agency alone can solve this problem."

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