New research in Kyrgyzstan unveils causes of youth radicalisation

By Munara Borombayeva


Kyrgyz youth play in downtown Bishkek August 31. One of the leading causes of radicalisation among youth is their indignation at perceived unfair treatment, according to studies. [Melisovskiy]

BISHKEK -- Extremism continues to remain a threat among youth in Kyrgyzstan, according to two recent studies, with more than 400 inmates serving sentences for terrorist and extremist crimes.

The story of a couple under the pseudonyms of Ali and Nazira is one such example.

Ali, 34 at the time, left his native Osh Province to work in Turkey in 2014. After a year, he summoned his wife, Nazira, and three-year-old daughter to join him there, said Nazira's mother on the condition of anonymity.

For the first two months in Turkey, Nazira wrote and phoned her mother regularly, telling her that Ali was employed and that she was with her daughter at home.

Then contact stopped. Nazira's relatives did not know where she was or what had become of her.

Years later a letter arrived from the Red Cross saying that Nazira was in an Iraqi camp and had three children, including two who were born in Syria. Nothing was known about her husband.

The Kyrgyz government plans to bring home Kyrygz militants' children from Iraqi camps in October, according to Nazira's mother. It has no plans at present to repatriate Nazira.

Causes of radicalisation

Ali and Nazira's story is not the only case of Kyrgyz citizens becoming radicalised.

The main forces driving extremist ideas are injustice, discrimination based on ethnicity and economic factors, according to Elnura Kazakbayeva, one of the authors of a Internews report titled "Information Flows and Radicalisation Leading to Violent Extremism in Central Asia."

The research revealed that economic factors such as unemployment, debt, poverty and the desire to earn large amounts of money quickly are some of the main reasons behind radicalisation, Kazakbayeva said.

"In addition to these, there are ideological reasons such as dissatisfaction with today's values, the desire for a just and righteous life, and yearning for a reward in the next life. And there are still other factors: migration, young age, gender (females) and means of communication," she said.

Field research has proven that all these driving forces of radicalisation and violent extremism must be carefully considered, she added.

The Bishkek-based Scientific Research Institute for Islamic Studies earlier this year also published a research report titled "The Vulnerability and Resilience of Young People in Kyrgyzstan to Radicalisation, Violence and Extremism: Analysis across Five Domains."

The research was aimed a finding an answer to the question of why youth are being radicalised in Kyrgyzstan, said Mametbek Myrzabayev, one of the report's authors and the director of the Scientific Research Institute for Islamic Studies.

The organisation interviewed every segment of youth, including religious believers, non-believers, the unemployed and employed. The research covered all regions of the country, he said.

"We discovered that one of the most important factors of radicalisation is a sense of injustice. Youth believe that they are not treated fairly," Myrzabayev said. "In Kyrgyzstan, youth do not participate in decision making, and they have difficulty finding work."

"We also found something interesting: it turns out that not only do young believers but also young non-believers have a radical mindset," he said.

"A sense of injustice can arise among members of all social strata and cultures. Strict laws, discussion of Islam as dangerous, and punitive measures can be counterproductive and create an opposite effect, making someone more radicalised," said Myrzabayev.

Youth from the southern part of the republic -- Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken provinces -- feel greater dissatisfaction and a greater desire for vengeance and have more-radical sentiments than do their peers from the north, according to Myrzabayev.

Easy to recruit

Youth are more inclined to trust religious organisations than to trust government agencies and international bodies, said Myrzabayev.

"More and more youth are becoming religious and beginning to practice Islam. Most youth do not follow any specific religious groups, but of those who do follow, they are most sympathetic to the Tablighi Jamaat movement," he said, referring to an Islamic group banned in every Central Asian country except Kyrgyzstan.

This is a dangerous trend for Kyrgyzstan, according to Seitek Kachkynbai, a political scientist at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek.

The reasons for the development of the situation are quite explainable, he said.

"All this is connected with the economic situation. In Kyrgyzstan ... there are only rich and poor... This is especially evident among youth because this is a generation born after the collapse of the [Soviet] Union," said Kachkynbai.

"They were not immersed in communist ideology, and an ideology other than the communist one did not appear. And thus a semi-mystical Islam is flourishing," he said.

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"brainwashed by the Communist ideology"


Nobody mentions Tablighi Jamaat is not banned in the UK, France, the USA, or Germany. The problem of youth radicalisation lays in the trends of modern civilisation. In poorer countries like Kyrgyzstan, it's exacerbated by poverty, and unjust and ineffective governance.