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Terrorism and violent extremism in the political agenda of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan

Abstract. This paper includes some results of the research conducted in the framework of U. Kassenov grant. Author gives short comparative characteristics for the political aspect of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism in two states of Central Asia. While these threats are becoming more and more sense on the agenda of the two countries, there are significant problems in attitudes and perceptions of the political establishment of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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Theoretical and methodological basis of the research is securitization theory within the Copenhagen School of International Relations. Barry Buzan, one of the leading scientists working in this field, considers identity of state or society as a particular construct that is not static, able to be transformed according to ideas and meanings declared within a given society or state, and other subjects’ of international relationship beliefs about it. Safety is defined as a social concept, a prerequisite of which is the presence of an existential threat to the object.

An important aspect of security within the framework of this theory is securitization – “the discursive process through which an inter- subjective understanding is constructed within a political community to treat something as an existential threat to a valued referent object and to enable a call for urgent and exceptional measures to deal with the threat” [6]. In this context, it is clear that perception of terrorism and religious extremism problems, and reflection of it in the discourse on different levels causes a certain level of its securitization in government policy and public opinion. The aim of this paper is to compare Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani policy-makers’ approaches for better understanding this phenomenon.

Conceptual documents and structure

In Kazakhstan, current State Program on prevention terrorism and religious extremism on 2013-2017 is nearing completion, so it is possible to sum up its results. There were three key indicators to reach the goal. The first indicator – anti-terrorist awareness level of Kazakhstani society that meant to be 99.5-100%. The second one is the ratio of terrorism acts prevented at the stage of preparation (95-100%). The third indicator is the degree of readiness to minimize and eliminate the consequences of extremist and terrorist activity – will amount to 100% in 2017. Several articles of the Program are strictly confidential, but most efforts on countering these threats are focused on prevention of radicalization including youth education and especially correct perception of information about religion. The main aim of the Program is to create a society with “immune” to radical ideology.

It is prescribed that 100 per cent of Kazakhstani people must be informed about a danger from “destructive religious sects”. For this purpose, several hundreds of “informationpropaganda groups” containing theologians, psychologists, lawyers, power structures and civil society representatives, etc. conduct explanatory activities all over the country. Social programs and economic opportunities for youth (especially for representatives of vulnerable and marginalized groups) is also a significant part of the Program.

Conspicuously, in both countries anti-extremism and counter-terrorism policy is inextricably bounds up with religious policy. “Traditional Islam” concept becomes the only counter-narrative for radical ideology. By this is meant the form of this religion practiced by Kazakhs and Kyrgyz people before XX century – Hanafi school of Islam mixed with different elements of ethnic culture, including folklore, customs, traditional food and clothes.

These ideas are provided by Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims (of Kazakhstan/Kyr- gyzstan), (DUMK) – specific semi-government structure, unifying all the registered mosques of the country. The leader of DUMK – supreme mufti, is able to control budget and approve preaching texts, to form religious narration alleged in official mosques. This type of state-religion relationship is typical for Soviet time: predecessor of DUMK – Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM) established in 1947 and existed for nearly 50 years. In large part because of strength of these organizations in contemporary Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and also within “Islam renaissance” in post-Soviet Central Asia, religion has become a part of state politics, despite of secular status of each regional state declared by Constitution.

The most illustrative example of this trend is Kyrgyzstani program documents. Despite the fact that there is no separate document on preventing terrorism in Kyrgyzstan, this problem is also on the top of political discourse. Radicalization theme has, for example, a high position in the Conception of national policy in the religious sphere of the Kyrgyz Republic on 2014-2020.

In this document, outstanding cultural role of Hamafi Islam is captured:

“Hanafi madhhab, traditionally professed by Central Asian nations is distinguished from other schools of thought and movements of Islam because of its religious tolerance that does not oppose the Islamic values to national traditions and customs; it is the ideological basis for partnership development with the state. This allowed traditional Islam to coexist with the state without apparent conflict in the Soviet period, despite active atheistic propaganda”.

In 2011 in Kazakhstani legislation a law “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” (1992) has been substituted by a law “On religious activity and religious associations” [for further information, see Podoprigora R.A. Kom- mentarij k Zakonu Respubliki Kazahstan «O reli- gioznoj dejatel'nosti i religioznyh ob#edinenijah» - Astana, 2012, 154 p.]. In current law, in the same way as for Kyrgyzstan, there is a special mention of “traditional” religions for Kazakhstani society. The preamble is read as follows:

“This Law is based on the fact that the Republic of Kazakhstan proclaims itself to be a democratic, secular state, confirms the right of everyone to freedom of conscience and guarantees the equality of everyone, regardless of his religious convictions, it recognizes the historical role of Islam Hanafi direction and Orthodox Christianity in the development of culture and spiritual life of the people, respect other religions, combined with the spiritual heritage of the people of Kazakhstan, recognizes the importance of interfaith harmony, religious tolerance and respect for religious beliefs of citizens”.

Therefore, such legislative improvements in both countries may be described as an effort to rehabilitate this religion that faces with growing islamophobia all around the world [for more details, see Doklad «Islamofobija i jazyk vrazh- dy v SMI i Internete KR». URL: http://www. ca-mediators.net/ru/209-doklad-islamofobiya- i-yazyk-vrazhdy-v-smi-i-internete-kr-byl-pred- stavlen-na-forume-v-bishkeke.html].

Discourse of officials

In the foreign policy of Kazakhstan aspect of terrorism and extremism is actualized in the framework of international organizations, on a bilateral level. Kazakhstan traditionally presents itself as a driver of peaceful movements and initiatives. For example, Congress of World Religions initiated by Nazarbayev held round table with representatives of different world religions in Astana, in order to enhance dialogue and tolerance between traditional religions.

Content analysis of the President of RK public speeches showed that 72% of them contained the words "terrorism" and/or "extremism". The threat of terrorism, according to the last Address to the nation, is one of characteristics of a “new global reality” [7]. According to the results of evaluation of texts submitted to akorda.kz site during 2014-2015, a pivotal role in the discourse of N. Nazarbayev played the emotional impact on the listener. Argument valuation and policy statements are dominated in the structure; directive speech acts (instructions, regulations, and setting standards) inherent internal political texts and comissive (promises, ads) – in the foreign policy. Key political propositions declared by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan can be divided into:

  • the need for a preventive struggle against terrorism, extremism and radicalism at all levels;
  • the need to improve counteract tools inside Kazakhstan;
  • the need for international cooperation aimed at achieving a higher level of collective security in the face of terrorism and extremism.

N. Nazarbayev’s speech at the 70th UN General Assembly most clearly illustrates the last point: he made a proposal to establish, under the auspices of the UN, unified global network to counter international terrorism and extremism. [8] This trend became widespread also in the domestic political discourse. "... We actively operate against terrorism within the framework of the UN Security Council, OSCE, SCO, CIS, CSTO and others" [9], noted Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov. It is emphasized that these organizations are not sufficiently effective in countering existing challenges and threats, and they need to update their tools and mechanisms. First of all, a comprehensive convention on the fight against violent extremism and terrorism must be accepted. This document would define a strategy and legal framework against terrorism and extremism, a joint work combating the financing of destructive sects, propaganda and illegal border crossing.

In general, the state plays a leading role in the fight against international terrorism in Kazakhstan's political discourse; it is the "protector". However, this concept provides affiliation to the state and civil society, the efforts of non-governmental organizations and high consciousness of each individual citizen.

Securitization of terrorism and extremism in the Kyrgyz Republic on the domestic level seems to be higher than in Kazakhstan. Thus, the President of Kyrgyzstan A. Atambayev meets regularly with representatives of law enforcement and national security agencies. Kyrgyz theologian K. Malikov was mentioned twice in the press releases during last year, the head of state discussed with him the level and nature of existing threats.

The following patterns were identified from the analysis of political texts voiced by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic A. Atambayev on 2014-2015:

  • the fight against extremism and terrorism is treated as "the most important task of strengthening the statehood and national security";
  • activities of terrorist and religious extremist groups is a threat to stability in the country. Also raise the problem of terrorist financing issues, this threat is used as a tool of political struggle in the country: "... not only illiterate thugs, but some politicians for the sake of power and money are willing to sacrifice peace in our land, and even to sacrifice the people, by the people of Kyrgyzstan" [10];
  • religious extremism contrasted with nationalism: “We believe that Islam will always be in the world. But at the same time, we are Kyrgyzs! <...> ... We are ready to take decisive steps to protect and preserve our people, our land, our language, our national culture. Everyone should remember this!” [ibid.].

In the same way as at the level of legislation and policy documents, terminological gaps can be seen in the Kyrgyz President discourse. There is a mix of concepts: “Where there is the science, where there is education, there is no place for terrorism. The roots of radicalism and terrorism are in ignorance and obscurantism" [11] - said Atambayev.

In Kyrgyzstan, the society is in the focus of countering terrorism; state and its institutions in the political discourse play the role of "victim", using relevant phrases, such as "attempted stability", "undermining the regime," and so on. Security forces play one of the key roles; in the meantime the importance of "soft" component in the fight against the threat of terrorist and extremist nature is stressed.

Methods of dealing with terrorism and religious extremism

During last three years, legislative pressure increased in all the countries of the region. In Kazakhstan, the reform concerned the penalties for people involved in hostilities abroad and preparation of militants and extremists. Criminal liability would include imprisonment from three years to life imprisonment and the death penalty [12]. The last one – maximum sentence of criminal penalty – has been already applied to “Almaty shooter” Ruslan Kulekbayev.

Representatives of state bodies consider the lack of definitions as key problems in the legal basis. In Kazakhstan, extremism is defined as "committing extremist actions" and "an act on behalf of organizations deemed extremist" [13]. Thus, the boundaries of the application of such laws are too vague and include a very wide range of offenses, from conducting a full-scale terrorist activity until a hypothetical threat to the national dignity and morality of citizens.

Among the reasons that push citizens of Kazakhstan on illegal activities of extremist and terrorist organizations, the officials name:

  • unfavorable socio-economic environment;
  • lack of religious literacy;
  • destructive activities of pseudo-religious groups.

The country's political establishment members have repeatedly designated the need to enhance cooperation of state bodies with NGOs; highlighted the role of communities and families in the prevention of radicalization, particularly among young people. However, today in Kazakhstan the policy on combating religious extremism and terrorism mainly applies to power and prohibitive measures [14]:

  • blocking certain sites and pages by NSC (National Security Committee) (this measure is under criticism due to its low process ability. For instance, LiveJournal blogging platform has been blocked in Kazakhstan for several years due to the fact that there was a blog of Rakhat Aliyev);
  • DUMK sites (today there are over 25 Internet resources of DUMK branches and their accounts on popular social networks, spiritual and educational sites: E-islam.kz and Islam.kz);
  • online-monitoring of “dangerous” content conducted by the Committee of Religious Affairs under the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Civil Society (before November, 2015 this department has belonged to the Ministry of Culture and Sports) of Kazakhstan;
  • more than 700” information-propaganda” (advocacy) groups, consisting of clergy, theologians, teachers, psychologists, etc. conduct public lectures, publish educative content (since 2013; activity reports are unavailable).

In Kyrgyzstan, the legal regulation of the fight against terrorism and extremism is carried out through the following documents:

  • Law of the Kyrgyz Republic «On Countering Extremist Activity" (2005);
  • Law of the Kyrgyz Republic «On Combating Terrorism" (2006);
  • National Security Concept of the Kyrgyz Republic (2012).

A common problem of these regulatory documents is also the blurring of terminology, as well as mixing the concepts of "extremism", "terrorism", "radicalism", "Islamization", etc. For example, in Kyrgyzstan National Security Concept, the threat of terrorism and extremism is described as follows:

"Religious extremism and international terrorism currently represents a massive threat to the Kyrgyz Republic. Inherently, religious extremist and terrorist organizations consolidate their power on a single extremist ideology and become internationalized powerful criminal structures having a wide network of like-minded people in our country.

To implement its plans to accelerate the Islamization and radicalization Central Asian countries by international extremist and terrorist structures, with the hidden support of a number of Muslim states, used numerous category missionaries and foundations, the media and Internet resources, imported extremist literature and other indoctrination attributes of the population" [15].

As seen from the excerpts, Islamization is equal to the threat to society on an equal basis with the radicalization of Kyrgyzstan. Religious extremism and international terrorism are well mixed with each other; there are no clear boundaries of these terms usage. In addition, there is no distinction between extremism and violent extremism in the Concept, i.e. this is the recognition that people with extremist views can reject violence as a way to achieve their goals.

Finally, the most aggressive is discourse of defense and law enforcement agencies of both states. In Kazakhstan, representatives of such structures, above all, actualize the risks linked with transfer of activities of radical groups into the territory of the Republic, the recruitment and illegal activities of citizens of Kazakhstan within the country and abroad. In addition, they often refer to the need for reform of the criminal and administrative law in this area, improving terrorist activity suppression procedures.

A striking example of the discourse at this level is a statement of N. Abykayev, the Chairman of the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan: "... we are faced with massive recruitment, propaganda ideology of extremism and terrorism through the Internet, through an illegal entry of extremist literature and various missionaries into the country <...> Owing to the lack of religious literacy these ideas contribute to the radicalization of a part of faithful people, especially those who have recently come to Islam. Some of them <...> are starting to think about the participation in the so-called jihad. <...> We are not inclined to consider as normal, if our citizens are war criminals, terrorists and die away from home. <...> It is possible that some of these people, entangled in the spiritual and moral guide, received skills of terrorist activity and the destruction of their own kind, can return with mutilated consciousness and not the best of intentions ". [16]

Similar situation can be seen in equivalent structures of Kyrgyzstan. Those authorities use expressions such as "declaration of war", "information-psychological impact", "sabotage and terrorist struggle", etc. to explain radicalization processes inside the state.

"The issue of radicalization is extremely relevant not only for Kyrgyzstan, but for the entire region. We see that our citizens take part in various terrorist organizations. No one is immune from extremism [17] "- says Emil Jeenbekov, head of the 10th Main Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior of the Kyrgyz Republic. Civil servants express even harsher positions. Thus, the chairman of the State Drug Control Service R. Mambetaliyev at a briefing stated that "Any drug trafficking is accompanied by extremism and terrorism".

Such value judgements show a lack of understanding of threats and challenges, and their broadcast in the media may lead to an incorrect public perception of the problem.


Today, the problem of terrorism and extremism has become a part of the discursive reality worldwide. More and more time on television is devoted to the issues associated with them, the speeches of world leaders and even in everyday communication – it is a global trend.

Over the past 5 years in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, a package of laws regulating religious policy and anti-terrorist, anti-extremist activity of the state have been accepted. Extremism and terrorism are increasingly mentioned in the speeches of the highest state officials, representatives of the clergy, both of these categories see the solution to the problem in the first place in tightening policy, zero tolerance for terrorists and extremists who are the threat of the existing government and the people.

If in Kyrgyz political discourse of terrorism and religious extremism are primarily internal, and the need for multilateral dialogue and cooperation is mediated, Kazakhstan (especially Nursultan Nazarbayev personally) considers the problem on a global scale, recognizing the key role of the international community, global and regional partners in its solution. At the same time Kazakhstan is positioned as the initiator of the dialogue, the innovator and mediator in conflict resolution.

Since the fight against international terrorism and religious extremism firmly established in official and public discourse, there is a wrong interpretation of acts of extremism as terrorism, and therefore directly affect national security.

Excessive levels of securitization of the above problems can be dangerous for both the government, losing sight of the immediate causes of these processes, and to society, as violent extremism and terrorism does "normal" way to solve social and economic problems, clarify the relationship with the authorities.

The problems identified during the study - the identification of the Islamization of radicalization and even terrorism in all discourse levels - can be solved only by means of legislative consolidation of the terms "extremism" and "terrorism", increasing professionalism of journalists covering such delicate topics, as well as literacy in these matters.

While officials of Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz authorities are pursuing a policy of tightening the religious sphere, introducing new restrictions on the activities of religious organizations, the protest continues to grow among young people, which is one of the most ideologically and psychologically vulnerable group in society.

Today, the main tasks of the aforementioned states should include creating a favorable social and economic environment for young people and other vulnerable groups, searching for a modern and ardent national (or even regional) idea generation and supporting civil society and the developing of communities having their own immunity to the destructive trends.

At the international level, first and foremost, the forces should focus on improving mutual trust and developing a common strategy for combating terrorism, harmonization of definitions of terrorism and extremism and measures to counter them.

In addition, the obvious fact that the states of the region are in need of large-scale political reforms to expand freedom of the secular opposition and liberalization policies against religious institutions.



  1. According to Global terrorism database. URL: http://www.start.umd. edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?expanded=no&search=central+asia&ob=GTDID& od=desc&page=1&count=100#results-table
  2. Global Terrorism Index – Institute for Economics and Peace, 2013. URL: http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/2012-Global-Terrorism- Index-Report.pdf
  3. Global Terrorism Index – Institute for Economics and Peace, 2014. URL: http://www.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/Global%20Terrorism%20 Index%20Report%202014_0.pdf
  4. Global Terrorism Index – Institute for Economics and Peace, 2015. URL: http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Terrorism- Index-2015.pdf
  5. Global Terrorism Index – Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016. URL: http://economicsandpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Global-Terrorism- Index-2016.2.pdf
  6. Olcott, Martha Brill. The Kazakhs. Second Edition. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1995. xxiii, 388 pp.
  7. Koncepcija gosudarstvennoj politiki Kyrgyzskoj Respubliki v religioznoj sfere na 2014-2020 gody – Bishkek, 2013 – 34 pp., p. 10
  8. Poslanie Prezidenta Respubliki Kazahstan N. Nazarbaeva narodu Ka- zahstana. November 30, 2015. URL: http://www.akorda.kz/ru/addresses/poslanie- prezidenta-respubliki-kazahstan-nnazarbaeva-narodu-kazahstana-30-noyabrya- 2015-g
  9. Vystuplenie Prezidenta Respubliki Kazahstan N.Nazarbaeva na Obshhih debatah 70-j sessii Genassamblei OON – Oficial'nyj sajt Prezidenta RK, September 29, 2015
  10. Kirbetov T. Mezhdunarodnyj jekstremizm: perchatka broshena // gazeta «Vremja», June 30, 2015.
  11. Almazbek Atambaev vystupil s rech'ju po sluchaju Dnja nezavisi- mosti Kyrgyzstana. URL: http://zanoza.kg/doc/323955_almazbek_atambaev_ vystypil_s_rechu_po_slychau_dnia_nezavisimosti_kyrgyzstana.html
  12. Prezident Almazbek Atambaev vstretilsja s uchastnikami I Mezhdun- arodnogo simpoziuma «Jekstremizm i takfirizm kak ugroza sovremennomu obshhestvu». URL: http://www.president.kg/ru/news/5711_prezident_almaz- bek_atambaev_vstretilsya_s_uchastnikami_I_mejdunarodnogo_simpoziuma_ ekstremizm_i_takfirizm_kak_ugroza_sovremennomu_obschestvu/
  13. V Kirgizii uzhestochili ugolovnuju otvetstvennost' za naemnichestvo / IA INTERFAX.RU – July 28, 2015., Ugolovnyj kodeks RK. URL: http://online. zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=31575252#sub_id=1720000
  14. Zakon Respubliki Kazahstan № 31-III «O protivodejstvii jekstremizmu», February 18, 2005. URL: http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=30004865
  15. Ukaz Prezidenta Respubliki Kazahstan № 648 «O Gosudarstvennoj programme po protivodejstviju religioznomu jekstremizmu i terrorizmu v Respublike Kazahstan na 2013 - 2017 gody», September 24, 2013. URL: http://adilet.zan.kz/ rus/docs/U1300000648
  16. Koncepcija nacional'noj bezopasnosti Kyrgyzskoj Respubliki. URL: http://www.vesti.kg/?id=13270&option=com_k2&view=item#ixzz46FXkLF4s
  17. Glava KNB: Terroristy nachali massovo verbovat' kazahstancev / Internet portal Nur, June 29, 2015. URL: https://www.nur.kz/803131-glava-knb-terroristy- nachali-massovo-v.html
  18. Kurenev G. V chem prichina massovoj radikalizacii grazhdan Central'noj Azii? – Gazeta «Vechernij Bishkek», December 8, 2015. URL: http://www.vb.kg/ doc/330523_v_chem_prichina_massovoy_radikalizacii_grajdan_centralnoy_azii. html

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