BISHKEK -- Several years of intensive work to prevent and fight extremism among Kyrgyz youth is yielding positive results, analysts say.
The 10th Main Administration of Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry (MVD), which fights extremism and terrorism, the State Commission on Religious Affairs, United Nations agencies, local NGOs and international organisations are working with youth to educate them about the differences between true Islam and the views of radical movements.
"[MVD] employees came to Tokmak and conducted ... role playing [exercises] for us and imparted information ... [about extremism]," 21-year-old Almaz uulu Aybek of Tokmak told Caravanserai.
Before participating in the MVD exercise, "I did not even know what extremism and terrorism were, or that young Kyrgyz had been leaving to fight in Syria," he said.
"The main difference between Islam and radicalism is ... that Islam never tells you to commit crimes," he said, demonstrating the important lessons he learned after participating in the exercises. "The most important thing is to remain someone ... [who] can avoid being involved in radical ideas."
Promoting tolerance, education
Proper religious education is an effective counter to extremism and terrorism in Kyrgyzstan, said Toktaim Umotaliyeva, a human rights activist based in Bishkek.
"The spread of extremism and terrorism has to be solved by high-quality educational programmes, making a number of key decisions, particularly legislation, to establish a list of organisations recognised by the government as extremist and bringing in both international and local experts to compile lists of prohibited literature," she told Caravanserai.
Particular attention should be paid to studying the history of the establishment of Islam in Central Asia and to educating the public about the foundations of human rights in Islam, Umotaliyeva said.
"The topic of the rights of women and children ... is particularly important, along with the environment and peacemaking values as discussed by the Koran," she said.
Bishkek native Marat Koshmuratov, 21, demonstrated his understanding of Islam to Caravanserai after participating in a counter-radicalism programme.
"Extremism and terrorism are crimes and have no relation to Islam," he said.
Going one step further, he said it is essential to continue developing work on the prevention of extremism among youth, especially in remote regions where many residents do not understand the importance of religious tolerance.
"In the provinces, the lack of professionalism of imams leads to the [creation of] misunderstandings," he said. "It is certainly no secret that we have several times more mosques ... than we do schools in this country."
Protecting youth against recruiters
To fill the gap in religious education, many local organisations are taking over responsibilities to teach youth how to recognise extremist propaganda.
Aynazik Kubauldayeva, 16, a 10th grader at the Zhapar Chabaldayev School in Issyk-Kul Province, explained what she learned from one such programme held in her village of Saruu in Jeti Oguz District.
ADEP: Another Development Perspective, a civil society organisation founded in Sweden, conducted educational sessions for her school and taught students about radicalism and how it differs from Islam.
"They gathered our class, the parents and the teachers and talked about extremism and terrorism," she told Caravanserai.
ADEP holds such meetings twice per month, she said.
Joldoshbek Januzakov, a 19-year-old from Manas, Talas Province, said he first learned about extremism and terrorism through the Jashstan project, run by the Kyrgyz branch of the international NGO Search for Common Ground.
The Jashstan project aims to dissuade Kyrgyz youth from extremism by involving them in active leadership.
Last November, Januzakov also participated in a training session for young activists conducted by the MVD in Issyk-Kul.
"I found out that [Kyrgyz] were leaving for combat zones, that they were leaving in whole families, that radicalism is always aimed at extreme measures and acts, and that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance," he told Caravanserai.
Educated parents also play a key role in passing on knowledge about the dangers of extremism to their children.
"My parents told me ... to avoid talking about religion on YouTube, Odnoklassniki and WhatsApp ... and not to talk to people I don't know," said Sher Alymkulov, 15, a student at Bishkek's School No. 62.
"They told me that many boys are recruited to be militants and that extremists [message] young people while pretending to be boys and girls," he told Caravanserai.