The events were attended by 447 people – social workers, representatives of local self-government, local community leaders, theologians, students and religious figures.
Nine dialogue meetings and five intellectual games took place in the district centers of Turkestan and Kyzylorda regions. The organizers of the events are – the IWPR Representative Office in Central Asia in conjunction with the organizations of legal entities “Association of Religious Studies Centers” with the support of the Department of Internal Policy of Turkestan region.
The peculiarity of these events lies in the coverage of remote district centers, where little attention is paid to working with the population on religious issues. There is a great need among the population for preventive work in order to increase the level of knowledge on religious issues, the causes and factors of radicalization, and improve the interaction between actors to promote the values of tolerance.
These events had a unique approach for this region, and were notable for their intensity and large amount of information. To achieve the goals, informative presentations, brochures, interactive games, and test tasks were developed.
Despite the great work carried out by outreach groups (OGs), in Kazakhstan there is a need for preventive work to increase the level of knowledge on religious issues, the causes and factors of radicalization, and improve the interaction between actors in order to promote values of tolerance.
Dialogue meetings began with a lecture by Aziza Zhumagaliyeva, director of “Association of Religious Studies Centers”, an expert on deradicalization, a member of the Jas Otan Council on the religious policy of Kazakhstan, – on the legislative framework in the field of religion and the importance of promoting tolerance to prevent violent extremism.
It is especially worth noting that during the lectures the terms that should not be used in relation to religious groups were clearly explained. Emphasis was placed on the spread of the principles of secularism. The expert emphasized that in Kazakhstan all religions are equal and there are no traditional religions, and that the state and religion are separate from each other. In the field of the legislative framework, the audience was told that information about religion should be obtained only in special religious institutions, of which there are 3518 in the country. The door-to-door approach is also prohibited, and the dissemination of extremist literature is punishable by imprisonment.
“It is very important to continue working with the population in remote district centers. The population needs clear information and instructions on how to prevent violent extremism. We not only give important information, but also get reliable data about the religious situation among the population, as well as issues of concern to citizens. Interestingly, each region has its own specifics and it is impossible to apply the same method, you have to adapt,” Zhumagalieva shared her opinion.
“It is a great pleasure for us to have the opportunity to meet experts in the field of religion and ask out questions. For example, we have a big problem with vaccination. According to religious beliefs, many refuse to vaccinate their children. By means of the speaker’s clarification, we will now be able to solve this problem by using more competent approach. We will also disseminate knowledge that information about religion should only be received in special institutions,” says pediatrician Meiramkul Ibraeva from the Kyzylorda region.
The lecture continued with a review of banned extremist, terrorist organizations and criminal liability for the storage, distribution of symbols and literature of these organizations. At the end of this block, the deradicalization expert raised the issue of the citizens’ return from war zones in Syria and Iraq. Most of those present supported the return of women and children and noted that stigma and discrimination would only contribute to the radicalization of citizens.
“The meetings were held at a high level. Destructive-radical movements were active in the country, thus, we must also raise our level of knowledge and skills in order to be able to build a barrier against radical ideas. It was interesting to discuss our opinions at the meetings, I was mistaken in many ways and now I understand that a more humane and human rights-based approach contributes to the de-radicalization of society,” said Saltanat Ungarova, a resident of the Kazgurt city.
Further at the meetings, participants learned about the causes of radicalization and the psychological aspects of the recruitment and work of destructive-radical movements. Psychologist, rehabilitation expert Rezeda Baimukhamedova told the participants how a simple quarrel or family conflict can cause a person to radicalize. According to her, people are influenced by extremist organizations more in search of support and justice, rather than in search of religious information.
“We must know exactly how to work with people who have certain difficulties in life. Among our participants there are many educators, religious figures, public workers – these are people who, in the first place, must understand that any person can be subject to radicalization, no one is safe from it. But we can reduce the risk, we must support in difficult times, and not exacerbate the situation,” says Reseda Baimukhametova.
At the end of the session, the participants had the opportunity to discuss existing problems, offer their vision on prevention of radicalization and ask speakers questions. The most popular topic of discussion was the repatriation of Kazakh citizens from Syria and Iraq. Most participants noted that the state has taken an important step, and the humane approach will only help in de-radicalization.
The second part of the events was dedicated to intellectual games for youth, which involved 120 representatives of youth organizations and institutions. The speakers were Aziza Zhumagalieva and Rezed Baimukhametov.
The first block of intellectual games was devoted to lectures on the religious diversity of Kazakhstan and the importance of promoting tolerance. The experts carried out interactive games with participants, the purpose of which was to show that there are different opinions, but everyone has the right to self-identity. Religious diversity should be seen as wealth, and not as a problem. Participants were told about the religious situation, as well as where to keep track of the lists of banned organizations.
The second block of intellectual games included test tasks. Participants divided into groups and competed in knowledge of the concepts of extremism, the legislative framework and the foundations of human rights. Based on their results, the experts discussed the correct answers with the participants. In the process, participants voiced their vision of solving the problem of violent extremism, and also asked questions.
“I am grateful to the organizers that we had the opportunity to learn about the religious situation and legislation in the country, to get information about the work of extremist groups. I want to note that the games were very interesting. Usually we have lectures from other presenters and we fall asleep on them. In this case, everything was interesting and informative. I liked the game where we defended the interests of vulnerable groups,” said Arthur Filipov, participant of the intellectual game.
Participants in the events were given informational brochures that contain excerpts from laws, messages on interfaith council, information on religious diversity in the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as methods of promoting dialogue.
Meetings are held as part of the IWPR project “Stability in Central Asia through an Open Dialogue”