Kazakhstani NGOs take leading role in countering extremism

By Alexander Bogatik


Members of KazakhStan for Peace celebrate their group's first anniversary February 22 in Astana. A number of NGOs in Kazakhstan welcomed the chance to do their share in defeating extremism. [KazakhStan for Peace]

ASTANA -- The Kazakhstani government is urging NGOs to join security agencies in the fight against extremism.

The National Security Committee (KNB) announced February 10 that it is continuing to develop the country's 2017-2020 anti-terrorism programme. It invited anyone who wished to send suggestions to the email address [email protected]

The same day, the KNB organised a roundtable in Astana to discuss "Urgent issues concerning the prevention of religious extremism and terrorism in the Republic of Kazakhstan".

Government officials and representatives of non-governmental organistations (NGOs) "exchanged views on issues related to making society resistant to radical ideology", the KNB said in a statement.

As a result, the participants "incorporated specific suggestions into the draft Action Plan for implementing the [2017-2020 counter-terrorism] programme".

'Zero tolerance' toward radicalism

NGOs have three principal assignments in fighting extremism, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said in his annual message to the people, published January 31.

He described those three tasks as forming a social attitude of "zero tolerance" toward radicalism, working with prison inmates to prevent their radicalisation behind bars, and helping educate youth spiritually and morally.

"Civil society is ... being given the opportunity to form, by use of the internet and social media, public immunity toward and zero tolerance of radicalism," said Sergei Shveikin, first deputy chief of the KNB Anti-Terrorism Centre, according to Tengri News.

"We expect efforts in cyber-space from popular bloggers and opinion leaders too," he said.

Engaging NGOs in anti-terrorism programme

A number of NGOs welcomed the chance to do their share in defeating the extremism that has sent hundreds of radicalised Kazakhstanis to Syria and Iraq.

The country has 23,000 registered NGOs, Oleg Dorunov of Taraz, chairman of the Zhambyl Province-based NGO Accord, told Caravanserai.

The government will enlist NGOs to join the 2017-2020 anti-terrorism programme by contracting them to carry out various related projects, he said.

"Active NGOs can give lecturers, hold outreach events and implement ... significant projects to fight radicalism," he told Caravanserai.

One of the NGOs most involved in fighting extremism and in providing moral and spiritual education is the Astana-based Association of Centres for the Study of Religions.

If NGOs want to make a contribution to defeating extremism, they will need to include experts in theology and public speaking, Director of the Association Yuliya Denisenko said during the February 10 Astana roundtable.

"Materials in the mass media rarely stand up well compared to what the radical groups put out," she said according to New Times. "Their publications are well thought out from a marketing point of view."

"Young people are the most dynamic and promising part of society, and what the state will be like tomorrow depends on them," Denisenko told Caravanserai. "Extremist groups know this too. That's why they put particular emphasis on [propagandising] youth."

Focused on youth to counter extremism

Last year, Denisenko's association launched a project to prevent youth radicalisation, leading to the creation of the youth movement KazakhStan for Peace.

The movement's well trained members regularly conduct lectures and meetings with youth nationwide, holding more than 150 meetings in 2016, according to KazakhStan for Peace.

"We're focused only on youth," said Alinur Shpekpayev, a Taldykorgan religious scholar, KazakhStan for Peace lecturer and employee of the Almaty Province Centre for Study of Religious Issues.

"We use the most effective methods of working with them and achieve great success," he told Caravanserai.

"NGOs work effectively with youth already, but it is essential to further develop this activity," said Fatima Khaitkulova, a resident of South Kazakhstan Province and a volunteer for several civil society groups.

"You need to light a fire in young people with good ideas," she told Caravanserai. "If we don't do it, radical and terrorist groups will."

NGOs that "possess the necessary personnel and maintain direct contact with youth can both prevent extremism and educate youth spiritually and morally", she said.

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