Kyrgyz fight youth radicalisation by promoting leadership, professionalism

By Asker Sultanov

Young people walk in downtown Bishkek June 5. The Kyrgyz branch of international NGO Search for Common Ground (SCG) is working to prevent youth radicalisation. [Asker Sultanov]

Young people walk in downtown Bishkek June 5. The Kyrgyz branch of international NGO Search for Common Ground (SCG) is working to prevent youth radicalisation. [Asker Sultanov]

BISHKEK -- Kyrgyz civil society members, business leaders, artists and celebrities are traveling across the country to promote youth leadership and professionalism as part of a project to protect them from extremist propaganda.

Search for Common Ground (SCG), an international NGO with offices in Bishkek, is organising the project.

The latest meetings took place June 1-4 in the village of Saruu in Jeti-Oguz District, Issyk-Kul Province, Keneshbek Sainazarov, director of SCG's Kyrgyz office, told Caravanserai.

"We started a dialogue platform [series of forums] in 2015 to help prevent religious extremism and other problems," he said.

SCG holds two different types of events as part of that platform -- extended conversations between speakers and audiences (ploshchadki) and more-straightforward lectures (vstrechi).

Since 2015, it has held 6 extended conversations with the participation of prominent Central Asian figures and 20 lectures as part of the platform, he said.

Mentoring youth

As part of the dialogue project, celebrities are sharing their experiences in five main areas -- business, youth leadership, women's leadership, athletics and the arts, said Nuriya Karakulova, an SCG employee in Bishkek.

"These events hosted by mentors are one of the methods used to prevent violent extremism, since raising the potential of ignored youth is one of the positive levers in countering religious extremism and terrorism," she told Caravanserai.

"Successful business leaders talk with youth about what professions are relevant in the job market and about [job] skills and paths of self-development," she added.

Fifty to seventy youth participate in each meeting, along with local government officials, imams, teachers and police officers, according to Karakulova.

Fighting radicalism

Gulzada Jusupbekova, the SCG representative in Kashkar Kyshtak village, Osh Province, said 330 people participated in a local meeting in February on youth de-radicalisation as part of the same programme.

"We invited local imams, aksakals (elders), women, youth and [Kyrgyz] who had been in Syria to join the meeting," she told Caravanserai.

"[Former militants] told us about the horrors that they witnessed in Syria, and about how heading off to Syria to fight means going down a bad road," she said. "They talked about what they saw... and how they managed to come back from there. The returnees urged the youth not to go."

After the meeting, the participants marched to the centre of the village, bearing banners and posters against radicalism and terrorism, said Jusupbekova, adding that more than 1,000 youth, members of the local government administration and teachers joined in.

Sokhidbek Yunusakhunov, a resident of Uzgen in Osh Province, took part one of the meetings in May.

"We discussed issues of religious illiteracy, and how youth can learn to understand religion and distinguish traditional Islam from religious extremism," he told Caravanserai.

"Youth need reliable information about Islam," he said. "And parents have to hear about the need to monitor their children and keep track of whom they communicate with."

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