Campaign aims to steer Kazakhstani youth away from extremism

By Alexander Bogatik

Students at a machine-building vocational school in Petropavlovsk on November 14 attend a forum organised by the Centre for Youth Initiatives. [Facebook photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

Students at a machine-building vocational school in Petropavlovsk on November 14 attend a forum organised by the Centre for Youth Initiatives. [Facebook photo obtained by Alexander Bogatik]

ASTANA -- Kazakhstanis from across the country recently took part in a month-long campaign to promote traditional values and prevent youth radicalisation, at a time when people are coming to grips with news that several hundred radicalised citizens participated in the militancy in Syria.

From October 20 to November 20, local government officials, teachers, NGO members and specialists on extremism held a number of events nationwide.

One forum, "Youth for traditional values", took place in Karaganda on November 25, as participants summed up the results of the nationwide campaign, the governor's office told Caravanserai.

The organisers included the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society, the Karaganda Province governor's office and the nationwide consultative body Assembly of People of Kazakhstan. The event drew 3,000 attendees, including college students, teachers and community leaders, Kazakhstani TV channel 24 reported at the time.

The Karaganda forum "was dedicated to the 25th anniversary of Kazakhstan's independence", Aziza Jumagaliyeva, a department chief at the Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations, the in-house think tank for the North Kazakhstan Province Administration for Religious Affairs, told Caravanserai. "The kick-off was in the city of Karaganda, and the action started across the country at the same time. We worked together with the Centre for Youth Initiatives."

The Centre for Youth Initiatives is a nationwide governmental body with offices in all provinces.

Local governments planned to finance their own anti-extremism events during the campaign, a Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society official said during an Astana briefing October 20, when the campaign was starting.

Fighting radicalism through workshops, games

During the month-long drive throughout the country, anti-extremism meetings, flash mobs, free film showings, forums, training sessions and online anti-extremism activities took place, according to the Religious Affairs and Civil Society Ministry. Attendees of the meetings included youth, extremism specialists and the leaders of NGOs.

"We met with youth in various formats," Jumagaliyeva said. "The purpose ... was to help form traditional values, the principles of modern Kazakhstani patriotism and [build up] immunity to radicalisation in young people."

All meetings in the month-long campaign took the form of discussions in which youth were encouraged to participate and express their ideas. The youth ranged in age from schoolchildren to workers early in their careers.

"[We] accomplished tremendous work, with discussions in many schools, colleges and universities where schoolchildren and college students met with religion specialists," Yelena Toporeva, a geography teacher from Akzhar District, North Kazakhstan Province, told Caravanserai. "The participants discussed ... extremism, and through games and inter-active workshops young people learned how recruitment takes place and how you should act when someone tries to brainwash you."

Similar events took place in Zhambyl Province, meant to educate civil servants, border guards, college students and schoolchildren.

The action left a strong impression on young people, the project organisers said.

"[We] did role-playing games ... that helped us realise how [terrorists and recruiters] impose false ideals on people and turn them into extremists," Darina Orazbekova, an 11th-grader from Taraz and a participant in a preventive metting, told Caravanserai.

"We are young and inexperienced ... but we choose traditional values," she said. "Only fanatics die for false ideals and kill others who have other religious views."

Members of the nationwide youth movement KazakhStan for Peace (KFP) developed various anti-extremism games and tactics, Jumagaliyeva said. The KFP members came up with those ideas as part of a nationwide month-long contest, called Expert of Religion, which occurred during the anti-extremism drive.

In one exercise that Jumagaliyeva conducted, youth had to answer questions in order to obtain candy, she said, adding that the exercise made clear to them how extremist recruiters offer benefits to squeeze information out of their potential victims.

"Some of my friends used to joke about extremism or watched terrorist videos on the internet," Valentin Stropov, a Zhambyl Province college student, told Caravanserai. "After these training sessions, we all reflected on how unfunny this problem is. People are dying, and extremists are luring people into their networks ... We believe that our country won't allow this evil to spread."

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