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Right Not to Believe, or What Modern Atheism Looks Like in Kyrgyzstan

According to the 2016 research, a mere 0.7 per cent of Kyrgyzstanis deem themselves atheists.


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*This publication was prepared as a series of CABAR.asia articles dedicated to raising awareness on religious diversity in Central Asian countries. The authors do not seek to promote any religion.

29-year-old Bishkek citizen Aleksandr Shapovalov found he was an atheist at the age of 15. He made this decision based on his study of tractates and books by Richard Feynman, Steven Hawking, Richard Dawkins and Carl Sagan. Also, he read the Bible and Torah, and then he came to his own dogma.

Not a single religion contains the actual truth, and all what is written is related to some mythology. I think the mankind made up the word “god” to use it in difficult moments.

Photo courtesy of Aleksandr Shapovalov

Religion has answers to all the questions of the universe. However, if we look at it from the scientific point of view, these answers are totally unscientific, starting from the origins of the mankind. Religious people still cannot explain many things because it is a sin to abandon the religion.

That’s why I have chosen scientific atheism as it is, in my opinion, contains critical thinking and sound scepticism. I think it’s right to study the universe based on modern technologies, not myths.

Atheists like Aleksandr share their opinions and communicate on social media. For example, a group on Facebook contains more than 2.5 thousand members. They often hold in-person meetings, where they give lectures to each other and voice scientific opinions about certain things.  According to them, they haven’t seen any disapproval from the society.

Photo courtesy of Erkin Dzhamanbaev

“Atheism is a leverage to make a person think practically about certain things. I think if all thought that every decision in the world is made with the help of god, many people would make wrong decisions or made mistakes,” Erkin Dzhamanbaev, a Bishkek resident, said.

The law of Kyrgyzstan “On the freedom of religion and religious organisations” guarantees citizens the freedom of religion just like the right to be atheists, Zakir Chotaev, deputy chief of the State Commission for Religious Affairs, said.

No one has a right to humiliate or slander a person on ethnic, religious and social grounds.

“The most important in the choice of religion or atheism is the non-violation of the law. Kyrgyzstan has law on the discrimination of citizens, and the constitution reads that no one has a right to humiliate or slander a person on ethnic, religious and social grounds,” Chotaev said. 

Keep it secret

According to the opinion survey held in 2016 by the Committee for Religious Affairs, a mere 0.7 per cent of Kyrgyzstanis deem themselves atheists. The overwhelming majority of respondents, 92.9 per cent, deem themselves Muslims, and about 6 per cent referred themselves to various Christian movements.

Kanybek Osmonaliev. Photo: RFE/RL

A drastically reverse religious situation was in the country during the Soviet atheism period, but after the collapse of the Union and the law on religion adopted in sovereign Kyrgyzstan many citizens took interest in religion, ex-minister of education Kanybek Osmonaliev said. According to him, today Islam and Christianity are well spread in the country, and atheism is fading away every year. He doesn’t deem himself an atheist, calling himself rather a researcher.

“Many representatives of intelligentsia, culture and science are still atheists. However, neither our country nor other neighbouring states popularise atheism and call for it openly. Therefore, many followers of it keep it secret,” Osmonaliev said.

A Bishkek resident Nadezhda Ignatenko was raised in a religious family, but stopped attending the church when she was 11. She thought she was an agnostic for some time, but now she tends more towards atheism.

I felt very embarrassed in a church, especially when they asked me to pray during the divine services for children. Moreover, people in the church also influenced my position. It’s not that I was disappointed in them, it’s just they are similar to ordinary people. What’s the difference, then?

Photo courtesy of Nadezhda Ignatenko

I left the church when I was 11 and believed there was some immaterial world until 15. I thought a lot about this, read a lot and watched many popular science films about psychology, I learned many things and gradually assumed my agnostic position.

Now I tend more towards atheism. The more I learn the less I believe. I definitely don’t believe in gods described in holy books of popular religions. Even if there’s some higher power, it doesn’t care about the humankind or every single person.

I am not crying out loud about my position and I don’t enforce it on anyone, so I haven’t had any problems with that. Sometimes, we argue with my mother. But it makes me mad when the believers do on the contrary and start teaching me how to live. So I’d rather communicate with like-minded fellows.


This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»