Kyrgyzstan: Rector Reinstated After Protest

Bishkek's religious establishment feels the effects of "the Aksy syndrome".

Kyrgyzstan: Rector Reinstated After Protest

Bishkek's religious establishment feels the effects of "the Aksy syndrome".

The sacked rector of a leading Islamic institute has been reinstated after a mass demonstration by students and supporters - the latest in a series of protests that have swept the country.

Students at the Bishkek Islamic Institute held a demonstration on Friday, November 1, four days after its rector Abdyshukur Narmatov was dismissed by the Muftiyat, the administrative body that regulates the Muslim faith in Kyrgyzstan.

A 200-strong crowd gathered outside the institute - which is located next to the central mosque and the Muftiyat's headquarters - and held their demonstration instead of going to Friday prayers.

At the protest's height, the mufti of Kyrgyzstan, Murataly ajy Jumanov, came out to tell the crowd that the decision to dismiss Narmatov had been reviewed, and that he was to be reinstated immediately.

Local analysts are describing this wave of people power as "the Aksy syndrome" - a reference to a series of rallies and marches this year, sparked by the detention of popular parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, who was subsequently released.

When questioned by IWPR, Jumanov said that the rector had been relieved of his post because he had allegedly failed to follow regulations laid down by the Kurultai (congresses of Kyrgyz Muslims), but would not elaborate "to avoid unpleasantness before Ramadan", which begins on November 6.

"We made concessions to the protesters in order to maintain the authority of Islam. But I do not consider such protests to be pleasing to God," he added.

An IWPR source close to the Muftiyat said the rift may have been caused by the charismatic young rector's independent stance and his insistence on greater funding for the institute, which is considered to be the biggest and best in the republic.

"It's no secret that in the Muslim administration, as well as in the Islamic Institute, there is a lot of money, mainly from foreign donors. This is what caused the conflict," he said.

The news of the reinstatement came as a relief to the protesters. "We stood up for the honour of our rector, who raised the prestige of the institute so much that we can be proud we study here," said third-year student Gulmairam Karaeva.

While Narmatov thanked his students for their support, he refused to comment on the event, describing it as a mere "misunderstanding". The rector, who is well known for his articulate appearances on television, is a graduate of the renowned Islamic Institute in Cairo and was closely involved in the formation of the University of Bishkek.

Shailoobek Duisheev, a journalist at the independent newspaper Agym, described the sacking of Narmatov as "a gesture of despair", prompted by the fact that Muslim leaders and institutions are seriously lagging behind other areas of Krygyz life in terms of democratic change.

"All public institutions are becoming more transparent, while the activity of the Muslim religious administration remains obscure - even for believers. This causes facts to be withheld and encourages internal disputes," he said.

This is the second major incident to rock the Muftiyat this year - the former mufti, Kimsanbai-ajy, was dismissed in August. That controversy had barely died down when Narmatov was sacked.

Tursunbai Bakir uulu, parliamentary deputy and leader of the political party ErK (Free Kyrgyzstan), believes the large amount of money held by the religious body and the secrecy surrounding its financial dealings has aroused the suspicions of state officials.

"It's obvious that the events involving the former mufti and current rector of the Islamic Institute are the result of a conflict between certain circles in the government and religious administration, each of which wants to have its own leader in this financially successful sphere," Bakir uulu told IWPR.

Jumanov categorically denied that financial motives were behind the recent controversies. "Enemies of Islam think up all sorts of rubbish to discredit the Muslim religious administration," he said.

Sultan Jumagulov is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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