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Islamists Challenge Kyrgyz Authorities

Kyrgyzstan is clamping down on a Muslim movement determined to turn the country into an Islamic state
By Uran Botobekov

As spring comes to southern Kyrgyzstan, posters are appearing on walls urging people to return to an Islamic way of life. Written by the Khizb-ut-Takhrir, they highlight the growing influence of the Islamic Party of Liberation in the area.


Kyrgyz security forces are cracking down on activists, who are suspected of trying to overthrow the government. In the first two months of the year, 10 party members were convicted of religious intolerance, compared to only 11 in the whole of 2000.


Local Party of Liberation leader Minkhojiddin Abdulaev denied claims his movement is waging a violent struggle against the Bishek authorities. "Khizb-ut-Takhrir never uses weapons and violence, " he told IWPR. " We are disseminating ideas, beliefs and documents."


Abdulaev, who dismissed concerns about his possible arrest and detention, said he first learned about Khizb-ut-Takhrir through a leaflet given to him by a mullah. To join the party, he had to pass an exam on the Koran and swear an oath of loyalty.


Over the last two years, the movement, which first emerged in Uzbekistan five years ago, has attempted to widen its support-base in the Fergana valley - a region straddling the Uzbek, Tajik and Kyrgyz border - where it aims to forge an Islamic state.


Its underground activities are believed to focus on the Fergana cities of Osh, Jalal-Abad, Suzak, Bazar-Kurgan, Kara-Sius, Aravan and Uzgen, where people from different ethnic groups and Islamic persuasions have settled.


Leaflets in Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian found at one house during a police raid called the population of the Fergana valley to rise in a holy war against "apostate" ruling regimes, a probable reference to the Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik authorities.


"Calls for Jihad against the authorities started appearing in the leaflets this year," said Sovetbek Tolobaev, advisor to the regional prosecutor in Osh. " This indicates that they openly challenge us - the workers and employees of the power structures."


The Islamic spiritual leader of Kyrgyzstan, Abdurakhman Kimsanbai Haji, said the activities of the Khizb-ut-Takhrir threatened all Muslims, dividing believers into opposing factions.


"Kyrgyzstan is not Palestine, nobody is expelling the Muslim population out of here and everybody is given full freedom of faith, " he said. " Therefore, calls for the liberation of this land from the unfaithful are totally groundless. There's no place for the Khizb-ut-Takhrir in Kyrgyzstan. "


Haji said he was convinced the movement was carrying out an ideological war on behalf of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IMU, the rebel fundamentalist group that has staged several incursions into Kyrgyzstan from its bases in neighbouring Tajikistan and Afghanistan.


It is clear that the Khizb-ut-Takhrir has influence within the religious community in southern Kyrgyzstan. Erkin Kurmakov, from the state commission on religious issues, said local mullahs have been unable to convince believers that the party is a dangerous force.


And it's thought the party found particular support among the Uzbek population of southern Kyrgyzstan, where many of its members fled following persecution in Uzbekistan.


Uzbek political scientist Bakhtior Babadjanov said the movement first appeared in the Fergana valley of southern Kyrgyzstan after the Uzbekistan's clampdown on Islamic organisations in 1995. By 1998, copies of leaflets calling for the introduction of an Islamic state began to fall into the hands of Bishkek authorities.


Osh State University lecturer Ikhbol Mirsaidov said many young people join the movement because of Kyrgyzstan's economic crisis. He said party members donate 10 per cent of their income into a special fund to help needy colleagues start up in business.


But Abdulaev rejects suggestions that people join the party because of material incentives. "It's a great sin to sell one's faith for money," he said.


Because of the underground nature of the party, it is difficult to ascertain its true size. Leaflets handed out in Jalal-Abad market say thousands of Muslims are joining.


In spite of arrests and criminal persecutions, members have adopted a higher profile in recent years. The party recently sought the support of independent journalists in Osh and Jalal-Abad to publicise "the revival of the Muslim Umma and of the Islamic way of life through recreation of the Khalifat (Islamic state)".


Journalist Makhamadjan Khamidov argues that the party's growth has been due to the Kyrgyz government's failure to make ethnic minorities feel secure, "Many Uzbeks are forced to join Khizb- ut-Takhrir in search of fairness and justice. It's a fact that for many Muslims that the Khalifat was and remains a symbol of fair state, where economic benefits are distributed equally."


Abdulaev said the party did not rule out the possibility of establishing a Khalifat in one country and then widening it gradually. The final goal of was the establishment of a "truly Islamic" form of governance across the world, he said.


Uran Botobekov is a regular IWPR contributor


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