Kyrgyz officials determined to end militancy among country's youth

By Asker Sultanov


The State Commission for Religious Affairs hosted a roundtable at its headquarters in Bishkek on March 10 for agency officials and experts to discuss their work in countering the spread of radical ideas and promoting traditional Islam. [Asker Sultanov]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz officials are still determined to end the threat of militancy to their country's youth, officials said at a March 10 roundtable in Bishkek.

The effort continues as several hundred radicalised Kyrgyz fight in Syria and Iraq with extremist groups.

The State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR) hosted the roundtable, which analysts and GKDR officials attended. They discussed their work to fight the spread of radical ideas and to promote traditional Islam.

Kadyr Malikov, director of the Bishkek-based think tank Religion, Law and Politics, pointed to the groundwork that the government laid years ago when it began seeing droves of radicalised citizens going to the Middle East to fight.

The 2014-2020 State Religious Policy Concept (guiding document) describes how religious organisations and the state can co-operate in "reducing radicalisation and preventing the spread of extremist ideas", Malikov said.

The Concept "calls for close co-operation with civil society", said Malikov, adding, "Some civic leaders and NGO workers will step up their work on providing religious education. They work primarily with youth."

In addition, Kyrgyzstan publishes an Islamic magazine, "Ummah", in Russian and Kyrgyz, to encourage "youth to be socially active", he said.

Anti-extremism work in Kyrgyzstan cannot succeed fully without the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK), he added, calling it a priority to raise the authority of DUMK and of imams by training the clergy.

DUMK "is capable of modernising religious thought", he said.

Reforming education at all levels

A lack of religious education among imams and the general public in Kyrgyzstan, which is attributable to enforced Soviet atheism, causes radicalisation, said Gulnaz Isayeva, GKDR's chief of analysis, echoing Malikov's critique of present-day clerics.

"That's why the GKDR developed the Concept [guiding document] on Policy toward Religion and Religious Studies," she said in her talk at the roundtable.

The GKDR is addressing that educational gap on all fronts, she said.

"Our ... pilot programme in 10 schools, a course called History of Religious Culture, has been successful," she said. "We need to introduce it in all schools and universities in Kyrgyzstan."

"Nationwide, 2,300 imams have increased their religious knowledge with assistance from us and from the Iyman Foundation for the Development of Spiritual Culture," she said.

Another contributor to the fight against ignorance is the Bishkek-based Centre for Research on the Religious Situation of Kyrgyzstan, Idrisbek Murataliyev, director of the centre, told Caravanserai.

The centre opened in late 2016 as part of the GKDR.

"The centre operates a hotline where callers can obtain information from psychologists and lawyers," he said.

Outreach to continue all year

The GKDR will keep fighting extremism and terrorism in 2017, GKDR Deputy Director Zakir Chotayev told Caravanserai.

Outreach work "is happening in the provinces and in Bishkek, as well as with college students, schoolchildren, local officials and the general public", said Chotayev.

"Since the beginning of the year, we have reached more than 1,000 individuals," he said. "We try to explain what secular government means in Kyrgyzstan, explain the essence of Islam to them and discuss religious extremist organisations."

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