Senior citizens to help defuse potential extremism in Astana

By Alexander Bogatik


Astana residents participate in an August 25 meeting on the contribution by veterans to fighting extremism and terrorism. [International Centre of Cultures and Religions press office]

ASTANA -- Astana is counting on senior citizens to contribute their wisdom and experience to the fight against extremism and terrorism.

The effort to have older Astana residents talk to youth about extremism and terrorism comes as Kazakhstan's elderly prepare for International Day of Older Persons (October 1).

"We have a work plan [for the anti-extremism effort]," Amangeldy Ashirov, a consultant for the Astana Council of Veterans and a veterans' movement activist, told Caravanserai. "Right now, we are preparing to celebrate International Day of Older Persons."

The first meeting of elderly Astana residents with youth is scheduled for that day.

Youth, veterans and specialists from the consultative Assembly of People of Kazakhstan and from other organisations are invited to a series of planned meetings of elderly and young Astana residents, he said.

"We'll all talk with young people about the threats from terrorism and extremism," said Ashirov.

Kazakhstan was rocked by deadly terrorist attacks in Almaty and Aktobe in 2016.

The Council of Veterans includes a very elderly, dwindling contingent of World War II veterans, their widows and World War II-era defence industry workers. A much larger part of the Council is comprised of Veterans of Labour of various ages -- retired workers who were honoured for their distinguished careers.

Safeguarding youth from trouble

Early in September, Council of Veterans members in Astana convened to discuss their role in fighting terrorism and extremism, according to the government-backed NGO Counter-Terrorism Committee of Kazakhstan.

Plans to work with youth ensued from that meeting.

"Veterans can contribute to the fight against terrorism by organising prublic events," Aidar Abuov, an Astana professor and director of the Astana-based International Centre of Cultures and Religions, told Caravanserai. "[They can] imbue youth with the ability to resist extremist ideology."

The Astana veterans' group intends to meet regularly with youth to discuss the horrors of extremism and terrorism, said Ashirov, adding that they will appeal to feelings of patriotism and explain the fundamentals of a secular state.

"We'll invite Veterans [of Labour] who have years of experience working in health care and education," said Ashirov. "We'll set up a flash mob, advise youth .. and explain that extremism leads nowhere."

Already, Council of Veterans members are meeting with schoolchildren in grades 8-11, he said, adding that companies and the Astana mayor's office help fund such endeavours.

"We want to make our contribution to the fight against this evil," said Ashirov.

Drawing on elders' authority

Kazakhstanis from various walks of life, like theologians, civil society members and others, are convinced that the older generation's authority will help the fight against extremism.

"Young people ... are romantic but immature," Ruslan Seksenbayev, chairman of the Taraz-based NGO Beibit Aspan (Peaceful Sky), told Caravanserai, describing the vulnerability of youth to extremist recruitment.

"Respected elders can reach a youth's heart and stop him from committing rash acts," he said.

The "life stories [of the elderly], their invaluable experience ... and knowledge of traditional Islam can save youth from radicalism and extremism", Nazerke Miyatova of Almaty, director of the NGO Akyl (Reason), told Caravanserai.

It is essential to harness veterans' organisations to help fight extremism and terrorism, she added.

"Terrorists disgrace their parents and elders," Azamat Bazkhanov, 67, of Tole Bi District, South Kazakhstan Province, told Caravanserai. "Specialists talk from knowledge about it, but we elderly folks can say it from the heart."

The work done by veterans will succeed, predicted Aleksei Toponin, a young Taraz resident.

"Central Asia has had particular respect for the elderly since time immemorial," he told Caravanserai. "People heed them and seek their advice. They'll be able to explain to youth what's good and what's terrorism."

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