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Religious Conflict on the Rise

By News Briefing Central Asia
A protest against a Christian cleric which ended with religious literature being torched is a sign of increasing religious tensions around foreign-based faith groups in Kyrgyzstan, NBCentralAsia analysts say.

According to media reports, on July 30, a group of some 80 people burst into the home of a local Protestant pastor in Karakuldzha in the Osh region of southern Kyrgyzstan. The crowd demanded that the pastor and his family move out immediately. Some of the protesters gathered up religious literature and set fire to it.

Police reported that the protesters’ fury was fueled by the fact that the pastor, an evangelical Christian, was an ethnic Kyrgyz.

Analysts note that this is not the first time a group of Muslims led by a mullah has entered a house of worship in the south of the country to demand an end to religious services.

The analysts predict that the OSCE and other international organisations will weigh in with statements condemning discrimination against Christian groups and calling for freedom of confession. But they say the issue of religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan is a complicated one, particularly when it comes to “non-traditional” faith groups of foreign origin.

Missionaries from such groups are preaching and actively trying to convert local residents to their faith, and that, say analysts, is certain to provoke a reaction that is at times negative, even aggressive, from the traditionally Muslim population. This is especially true in the south, where radical Islamic groups have been gaining ground recently.

Such conflicts arise most often in ethnically homogeneous areas, a fact which highlights another side to the problem. For many ethnic Kyrgyz, religion is closely associated with ethnic identity. Rural residents believe that being Kyrgyz means being at least nominally Muslim, so adopting a new religion can seem the same as losing one’s ethnic identity, say experts.

The growing intolerance towards “non-traditional” faiths also underlines the shortcomings in national laws on religion, analysts say. Some say the law on freedom of religion, which was passed by parliament in December 1991 under a certain amount of pressure from international organisations, needs to be reviewed in the light of the situation in Kyrgyzstan’s south.

Observers say that there is not, as yet, an obvious deterioration in the religious situation in Kyrgyzstan. But the growth of other religions in traditionally Muslim and Russian Orthodox Kyrgyzstan could lead to new conflicts over religion.

(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)

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