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IWPR Tajikistan Conducted Campaigns to Promote Public Awareness of Religious Tolerance and Prevent the Growth of Radicalism in the Mountainous Districts

Why do young people become radicals? Why do they leave for war in foreign countries or join extremist groups ignoring their parents’ tears? How do parents make mistakes and how to fix them? Activists, women, doctors, teachers, spiritual leaders and authorities from the three most remote mountainous districts of Tajikistan – Lakhsh, Darvoz and Ishkoshim, sought answers to these questions together with IWPR Tajikistan representatives. All three districts are located on Tajikistan’s borders.

The youth of the region actively participated in the IWPR meetings. Photo: CABAR.asia

Dialogue meetings took place in the Lakhsh district on July 17, in Darvoz district on July 23 and in the Ishkoshim district on July 25. In general, more than 150 people from these three districts participated in meetings.

Lakhsh District

Lakhsh district (formerly Jirgatol) is located northeast of the capital, in the Rasht area. In the north, it borders with the Batken region of Kyrgyzstan. More than 60% of the 65,000 people living here are ethnic Kyrgyz. There are many interracial marriages between Tajiks and Kyrgyz. There are no particular problems and conflicts between them. All are very long and deeply interconnected.

On July 17, a meeting with activists of the district was held here, where IWPR experts and Lakhsh residents (58 people) discussed issues of religious tolerance and ways to prevent violent extremism.

The participants watched a short movie about the fate of the family of young Tajik who left to fight in Syria and died there. His wife was married twice later. Now her family and friends do not know anything about her fate and the fate of her four young children.

Activists of the Lakhsh region actively reacted to the video and discussed it.

Participants of the meeting: teachers, doctors, representatives of the local administration, imam-khatibs, and leaders of rural jamoats shared their observations of the reasons why young people leave and join the banned groups. First, this is due to lack of education, both secular and religious.

“Many of them were deceived by the promises of the Islamic caliphate; some went to seek the path of God there. However, all these people were tricked. They were not recruited here in our district, but mainly during labor migration, in Russia. As we analyzed, all those who left did not have a good education”, said Nakibullo Kamolov, head of the migration department of the district administration.

Саидахмад Каландаров. Фото Сabar.asia
Saidahmad Kalandarov. Photo: CABAR.asia

Religious scholar Saidahmad Kalandarov expressed his opinion about the role of proper education in terms of religion. He emphasized that for all world religions, the main task is to educate the perfect person.

“The education of young people is based on three main components. This is a society, a school and a family. In case if one of these components is missing, then there are weaknesses everywhere”, he said.

Kalandarov drew the attention of participants to the fact that the level of intolerance is growing in Tajikistan. Tolerance should be taught from an early age, and the role of the family and the school is great, as he said. He spoke about all religions whose representatives have lived on Tajik territory since ancient times and about tolerance in different world religions.

Богигуль Исломова. Фото Сabar.asia
Bogigul Islomova. Photo: CABAR.asia

Bogigul Islomova spoke about the state policy in the field of family and women’s rights. She asked those present about the problems they were facing. The main problem named was misunderstanding within the family, between husbands and wives, as well as between the older and younger generations. This is also the reason for the misunderstanding and despair of young people. The meeting participants discussed how this situation could be changed.

During the brainstorming, the ideas were generated on how people in their communities can help reducing radicalization.

In particular, residents of the Lakhsh district suggested that the local authorities work more to create new jobs, create courses to teach various professions and crafts for young women and men, open entertainment centers and sports grounds for young people, and improve awareness-raising work in schools and among parents.

The meeting was dynamic and interactive.

Farida Abdujalilova, a resident of the Lakhsh district, the head of the department of women and family, said that she had not participated in such open discussions for a long time.

“Such conversations are exciting; they make you think about whether we are doing everything right, are we doing everything that depends on us when it comes to combating terrorism and religious education of our youth”, she said.

Intellectual Game for Youth

On July 17, IWPR organized an intellectual game on the topic: “Violent Extremism Prevention and Religious Tolerance” for younger audience from Lakhsh district.

Despite the holidays and summer heat, even in this mountainous region, more than 35 young men and women came to participate.

The participants were divided into five groups. The game had two rounds, each consisting of ten questions. Questions related to world religions, legislation in the field of religion, and violent extremism prevention. The narrator asked questions; participants discussed each question for one or two minutes. According to the results of two rounds, a jury of competent experts determined the winners. The winners were awarded with symbolic prizes.

The games were dynamic and fun. Young people from Lakhsh district demonstrated their knowledge. However, most of them have discovered new information. For example, few of them were able to answer the question about the founder of Buddhism.

After the announcement of the winners, the religious scholar and CVE (countering violent extremism) expert Saidahmad Kalandarov commented on the game and revealed the correct answers.

After the game, young people did not let the experts go for a long time, asking their questions.

“This is a very interesting format. Only once before I participated in such a game. It is necessary to gather more often. I asked the organizers to share questions with us so that we could host such intellectual games ourselves”, said Toktosun Rookov, participant of the game.

Darvoz District

IWPR event in the Darvoz district. Photo: CABAR.asia

On July 23, similar events for youth and local activists were held in the Darvoz district, GBAO.

This district is the first on a difficult path to a remote mountainous region – the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). It is separated from neighboring Afghanistan by the turbulent river Panj. This river separates almost all Southern Tajikistan from a neighboring country. However, as locals note, military conflicts never arose on the GBAO borders. Probably the reason is that the rest of Afghanistan’s Badakhshan is separated by high impassable mountain peaks. It is also possible that people on both sides of the river are often relatives.

While driving along the bumpy mountain roads, the peaceful life of Afghan villages can be observed. Hardworking people live in extreme conditions for centuries, grow wheat, dry mulberries and apricots. Meanwhile, the neighborhood of Tajikistan, the construction of several border bridges and the border markets have positively affected Afghan villages. There are noticeable improvements on the Afghan side. The Tajik private hydroelectric power plant “Pamirenergy”, owned by the Aga Khan Fund, provides electricity to neighbors. The houses look much more solid, with glazed windows, constructed with modern building materials. A road is built instead of a mountain path that was here about 10 years ago. Modern schools and administrative buildings are located near two and three-story residential buildings. And of course, the green Afghan and Tajik villages with clean mountain springs and rivers compensate for the difficulties of the dangerous road.

In Darvoz, 41 people attended the dialogue meetings. They were the heads of rural jamoats, school directors, doctors and heads of various services of the district.

All of them are also concerned about the problem of youth radicalization. 4 people left for IS (banned in Tajikistan) from Darvoz district. But, as Shahrigul Kodirova, chairman of the Kalai-Khumb jamoat, noted, even one person would cause a grief for parents, grief for the village and for the whole district.

“We visited three families of those who left for Syria. You cannot even imagine the pain that their parents go through. It is painful to see it”, she said.

During the meeting, participants freely discussed the problems that exist in their district. In particular, they talked about the lack of jobs, weaknesses in the field of education, both secular and religious, about the role of society and spiritual mentors, about the adults’ indifference to the needs of the younger generation.

Also, as in the Darvoz district, the participants of the dialogue meeting came up with ideas for solving existing problems. All proposals were recorded during this meeting. The chairman of the district, who was also present at this meeting and carried out all the tasks of the moderator, took the recordings for further consideration.

As the final interactive survey showed, all the participants of the meeting well understood and promised to further implement the knowledge gained from experts.

Game for Youth

In the afternoon of July 23, an intellectual game was held for young residents of the Darvoz district. About 25 people took part in it. Teams, divided into groups, answered questions from the moderator. Sometimes, participants from Darvoz did not have enough time to discuss. Most of them were school students, and lacked knowledge. But with the joint efforts of the teams, the young people coped with the tasks. A competent jury selected the best teams, the winners were awarded symbolic prizes and unanswered questions were clarified.

Khurshed Gafurov, a student of the Lyceum, said that he had never participated in such games before.

“For all of us, such an event is held for the first time. We watched on TV a game “What? Where? When?” (Russian intellectual quiz game), but personally played it for the first time. It is great! We want more of these games. We relaxed after studies here during the holidays, and those questions woke me up”, he said.

Ishkoshim District

Further, the organizers of dialogue meetings and intellectual games for youth headed towards one of the most remote areas of GBAO – Ishkoshim. The administrative center of Ishkoshim district is located at an altitude of 2500 thousand meters above sea level, 617 km in the southeast of the capital of Tajikistan.

According to local authorities, the population today is 34 thousand. 4 thousand citizens are in labor migration.

Despite the abundance of natural mineral springs and beautiful mountain landscapes, the district is not rich. Residents are engaged in agriculture and livestock.

This area could become the tourist stronghold of Tajikistan. However, dangerous roads and lack of infrastructure create obstacles to the tourism development. Nevertheless, despite the lack of conditions, 5 thousand foreign tourists visited the region during the last year, and already more than a thousand tourist this year.

The narrowest line of the Panj river, and hence, the border with Afghanistan, located in this area.

On July 25, a dialogue meeting with activists was held here, and 60 people took part in it. Among them were doctors and teachers, heads of local district services, spiritual leaders and entrepreneurs. During this meeting, issues of religious tolerance and the violent extremism prevention were openly discussed.

The deputy head of the district chairman, Asham Kholdorzoda, told us that not a single person from their district went to fight in IS (banned in the Republic of Tajikistan and other countries of the region).

“Ishkoshim people are proud of this fact”, she said.

Диалоговые встречи в Ишкашимский район. Фото Сabar.asia
Dialogue meetings in Ishkoshim district. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to the participants of the meeting, this is achieved due to the fact that the education works well here. Young people seek education. Various contests for women and youth are constantly held in the district. Here, people carefully observe the customs and traditions. The population mainly is Ismaili.

However, the absence of citizens who left to fight in Syria should not reassure the residents of the district, community leaders said. The close proximity of the Afghan border and the constant reports of militants near Ishkoshim make people stay alert.

The meeting participants also said that the main problem for them is the lack of jobs. There are no entertainment or educational facilities for youth. A few years ago, there was an attempt to open a medical school in the area, but it was closed later.

The experts Saidahmad Kalandarov and Bogigul Islomova spoke to the audience and talked about tolerance, the role of the family, school and environment in educating young people.

Brainstorm helped to identify the effective steps for community leaders to prevent the growth of radical sentiments and promote interfaith tolerance among young people. These recommendations were sent on to district leaders.

In conclusion, the meeting participants answered the questions prepared by the meeting organizers in order to determine the effect of the information received by the audience.

Game for Ishkoshim Youth

Интеллектуальная игра для молодежи Ишкашимского района. Фото Сabar.asia
Intellectual game for Ishkoshim youth. Photo: CABAR.asia

Just like in all other districts, in the afternoon of the same day, an intellectual game was held for the youth of Ishkoshim district.

44 people attended the game. They were young people over 18, unemployed, students on vacation, medical workers, bank employees and ordinary villagers. Ishkoshim people played with enthusiasm and fun. They answered some questions very quickly, while for other questions asked to add time to discuss. The jury revealed the winners, which was not easy to do, because almost all the teams answered the questions well.

At the end of the game, expert Saidahmad Kalandarov explained some of the nuances of the correct answers, spoke about tolerance and the importance of accepting the diversity of this world, both from the point of view of universal values ​​and from the point of view of different world religions.

According to the participants of the games, this format helped them to easily master complex information and develop their own knowledge of religious diversity and the state initiatives to combat violent extremism.

This was the fourth intellectual game held by IWPR Tajikistan. In June, similar games were held in the Panj district of the Southern Khatlon region of Tajikistan. In total, more than 100 people from 4 regions of the country took part in them.

The similar dialogue meetings with activists and intellectual games for young people will be held in other regions of Tajikistan.

Young people who have proven themselves the best during the games in the regions will be invited to the capital, where the final game will be held.

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