08ASTANA611, KAZAKHSTAN – SHYMKENT IS YOUNG, MUSLIM, AND GROWING FAST

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ASTANA611 2008-03-21 05:37 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Astana

VZCZCXRO1049
RR RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHTA #0611/01 0810537
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 210537Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASTANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2099
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE 0440
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC//SOUTH CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE/ 2100
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1881
RUEHAST/USOFFICE ALMATY 0334

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 ASTANA 000611 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/CEN (M. O'MARA) 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM KIRF PREL KZ
SUBJECT:  KAZAKHSTAN - SHYMKENT IS YOUNG, MUSLIM, AND GROWING FAST 
 
REF: 07 Tashkent 877 
 
ASTANA 00000611  001.2 OF 004 
 
 
------- 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (SBU) South Kazakhstan oblast and its capital, Shymkent, are 
experiencing rapid population growth due to high birth rates, an 
influx of ethnic Kazakhs from abroad, and labor migration from 
Uzbekistan.  While local officials claim local media is largely 
independent, civil society representatives contend that the media 
remains government-dominated and that journalists are afraid to 
criticize the authorities.  Civil society in South Kazakhstan has 
matured in recent years, and the government is increasing its 
cooperation with NGOs.  According to both officials and civil 
society activists, the threat from Islamic religious extremists such 
as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) is real in South Kazakhstan, fueled by 
poverty and ignorance.  Local authorities are also concerned about 
the activities of non-traditional evangelical groups.  Leaders of 
these groups allege government harassment and persecution.  End 
Summary. 
 
------------------------------- 
YOUNG, MUSLIM, AND GROWING FAST 
------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU) During March 4-7, poloff and pol FSN visited Shymkent, the 
capital of South Kazakhstan oblast, for a series of meetings with 
local government officials, NGOs, and religious leaders.  The 
population of South Kazakhstan and Shymkent itself is young, rapidly 
growing, and dominated by ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks. Bahadyr 
Narymbetov, director of South Kazakhstan's Department of Internal 
Policy, told us that the oblast's population is approximately 2.5 
million, including 600,000 ethnic Uzbeks.  Shymkent's official 
population is 800,000, though Narymbetov contends the city's actual 
population exceeds one million due to a significant number of 
unregistered residents.  The absence of a significant ethnic Russian 
population is apparent from walking the streets of Shymkent.  Rezeda 
Gluschenko, director of the South Kazakhstan office of the 
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights, reported continued 
out-migration of ethnic Russians from the region. 
 
3. (SBU) Narymbetov said South Kazakhstan's population is growing 
rapidly, principally due to a high birth rate among ethnic Kazakhs 
and an influx of oralman (ethnic Kazakh immigrants from other 
countries).  Kazakh families in South Kazakhstan average three to 
four children.  As a result, the population is very young, with 32% 
of residents 14 to 29 years old.  Narymbetov said youth unemployment 
is high, and even university graduates face problems, with 40% of 
them unemployed or working in areas outside the scope of their 
education.  Under the national government's oralman quota program, 
oralman families are assigned to live in different regions of the 
country, though many ultimately move to South Kazakhstan because it 
is the region closest in location, climate, and mindset to 
Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan, the most 
common countries of oralman origin.  Narymbetov said the oralman 
population brings a unique set of challenges.  Many come from 
countries using non-Cyrillic alphabets and thus cannot read Kazakh. 
Narymbetov criticized the lengthy process for obtaining proper 
documentation and citizenship and the difficulty involved in getting 
foreign university diplomas certified in Kazakhstan, both of which 
contribute to oralman unemployment. 
 
4. (SBU) Narymbetov also cited labor migration, primarily from 
Uzbekistan, as a source of population growth.  Though he did not 
cite specific numbers, he said there is a constant flow of labor 
migrants from Uzbekistan attracted by higher salaries and better 
opportunities, and most of them are working illegally in Kazakhstan. 
 Laura Kalmenova, chairperson of the Bereke Public Association, 
oversees two migrant labor support centers near the border, and 
confirmed that illegal migration from Uzbekistan is increasing.  She 
estimates that approximately 70% of these migrants become victims of 
exploitation, with employers refusing to pay what was promised.  She 
also told us that labor migrants frequently live in terrible 
conditions with poor sanitation. (reftel) 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
"THERE'S NOT MUCH OPPOSITION TO THE GOVERNMENT HERE" 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
5. (SBU) Narymbetov claimed that 10 political parties have their 
branch offices in the region, but only Nur Otan is active.  (Note: 
Narymbetov's government office is located in the Nur Otan party 
headquarters, a prominent building with a large Nur Otan sign 
running the length of the building's facade.  He told us the 
Department of Internal Policy and several businesses rent office 
 
ASTANA 00000611  002.2 OF 004 
 
 
space from Nur Otan. End Note.)  Narymbetov described the political 
situati
on as calm, contending that "there's not much opposition to 
the government here."  Regarding other parties, he maintained that 
Aul has some support in rural areas and Ak Zhol used to enjoy 
significant support in the south, but people became disenchanted 
after the party's split.  He claimed that Zharmakhan Tuyakbay's 
National Social Democratic Party (OSDP) receives about 15-20% voter 
support in the districts near his birthplace. (Note: Nur Otan 
officially received 88.09% of the vote in the oblast during the 
August 2007 parliamentary elections. OSDP received 5.25%, followed 
by Ak Zhol with 3.98%.  End Note.) 
 
6. (SBU) Narymbetov claimed 90% of the media outlets in South 
Kazakhstan oblast are independent, but acknowledged that the most 
popular newspaper, radio, and television outlets are government 
controlled.  He said that the akimat (i.e., oblast administration) 
frequently places government orders with the media on various 
topics, contending that everyone wins from this process: the media 
receives additional income, the government gets its message out to 
the public, and the people get information.  Nevertheless, he said 
that the akimat restricts government orders to 10-15% of the total 
media content.  Rayhan Khobdabergenova, director of the South 
Kazakhstan Association of Lawyers and a civil society activist, 
questioned the independence of local media, arguing that television 
stations in particular were not independent at all.  She said 
privately-owned newspapers will occasionally publish articles 
critical of the local government, but that local journalists in 
general were afraid to criticize the authorities. 
 
7. (SBU) Gluschenko, director of the local Human Rights Bureau 
chapter, said the media is afraid to report about the rampant 
corruption in local government and law enforcement.  As a specific 
example, she said the Bureau organized a press conference to 
publicize procedural violations during a recent trial of a group of 
alleged terrorists (see below), but not a single journalist showed 
up.  She claimed law enforcement agencies routinely abuse detainees, 
as the police have no other method of making suspects talk.  She 
also said government jobs are frequently "sold", and when a new 
administrator is appointed, bureaucrats must pay another bribe to 
keep their posts.  She added that judges speak openly about taking 
bribes in exchange for particular rulings. 
 
-------------------------------- 
CIVIL SOCIETY IS SLOWLY MATURING 
-------------------------------- 
 
8. (SBU) Several NGOs reported that civil society in South 
Kazakhstan has matured significantly over the last several years, 
though it remains weak in many spheres and in rural areas. Laura 
Kalmenova, chairperson of the Bereke Public Association, told us 
that the capacity and professionalism of NGOs has improved, and that 
local government authorities have become more cooperative with them. 
Among other projects, Bereke runs resource centers for women in 
rural areas, migrant labor support centers, and provides adaptation 
assistance for oralman.  Kalmenova is a member of the akim's NGO 
council, and Bereke has been successful in receiving some government 
contracts.  She said that village leaders in some rural areas are 
still ignorant and suspicious of NGOs, though several are very 
supportive of Bereke's migrant labor support centers. 
 
9. (SBU) Gluschenko from the Human Rights Bureau said that the 
akimat treats her NGO with respect because they have developed 
expertise in a few niche areas, such as monitoring prison 
conditions. Gluschenko is a member of the oblast penitentiary 
oversight committee and provides training to prison officials.  She 
said local officials have called her in the past to help quell 
prison riots and disturbances.  Hobdabergenova, director of the 
South Kazakhstan Association of Lawyers, maintained that government 
cooperation with NGOs is getting better, but often depends on the 
personalities involved, and in general the government has no great 
desire to work with NGOs. 
 
---------------------------------------- 
FERTILE GROUND FOR RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM? 
---------------------------------------- 
 
10. (SBU) Bakhytzhan Yesenov, director of the South Kazakhstan 
Oblast Ministry of Justice, reported that there are 834 registered 
religious groups in the oblast, representing 17 different faiths. 
Reflecting the heavy concentration of ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, 735 
of these groups are Islamic, 18 are Orthodox Christian, one is 
Catholic, and the remaining 33 are various Protestant and 
non-traditional groups, including a registered Jehovah's Witnesses 
affiliate. 
 
11. (SBU) Virtually all of our interlocutors maintained that the 
 
ASTANA 00000611  003.2 OF 004 
 
 
threat from religious extremists such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) is 
real, though Gluschenko from the Human Rights Bureau criticized the 
closed nature of trials against alleged extremists, and said the 
government is "overdoing" things in going after some of these 
groups.  Narymbetov from the Department of Internal Policy and 
Yesenov from the Ministry of Justice both pointed to recent arrests 
and trials of HT members and Salafists as evidence of a genuine 
extremist threat. (Note: On March 3, 15 alleged members of a 
purported Salafi jihadist wing were convicted in Shymkent of setting 
up and running a terrorist organization and promoting terrorism. 
They received prison sentences ranging from 11 to 19 years.  End 
Note.) Narymbetov cited South Kazakhstan's proximity to strongly 
religious Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as one of the reasons for the 
extremism trend in the area, and maintained that citizens were 
vulnerable to extremist ideas because of their religious ignorance 
after 70 years of communist rule. 
 
12. (SBU) Ruslan Abdullin, director of the Center for Tolerance and 
a prominent activist on religious and ethnic tolerance issues in 
Shymkent, agreed that religious extremism is a dangerous problem in 
the region, fueled by poverty and ignorance.  (Note: Abdullin's 
Center for Tolerance receives grant support from the Embassy.  End 
Note.) He also said that the outward appearance of piety and 
tradition on the part of HT appeals to local Muslims hungry for 
authenticity.  Abdullin told us that there are several villages in 
South Kazakhstan where HT is very strong, and that there are three 
or four mosques in Shymkent that have a Wahhabi undercurrent.  The 
mosques are controlled by the Spiritual Association of Muslims of 
Kazakhstan, the quasi-official body that governs the practice of 
Islam in Kazakhstan.  The Association occasionally replaces some of 
the more radical imams, though in Abdullin's view this has not 
effectively eliminated the problem. 
 
----------------------------------------- 
A BROAD DEFINITION OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM 
----------------------------------------- 
 
13. (SBU) Both our government interlocutors and Abdullin extended 
their concerns about
extremism to include non-traditional 
evangelical religious groups active in the region. Narymbetov 
claimed that a lot of "garbage" has penetrated the country due to 
Kazakhstan's liberal religion law, and these groups seek to impose 
their faith on others through books, visiting homes, and stopping 
people on the streets. Narymbetov, Yesenov, and Abdullin all put the 
Jehovah's Witnesses in the same category as HT, criticizing the 
group as a destabilizing influence on society that turns people 
against traditional social values and calls on them to disregard the 
state and reject military service.  They did not name other groups, 
but criticized groups that proselytize or teach that they alone are 
correct, because these activities violate traditional values in 
Kazakhstan. 
 
14. (SBU) In a separate meeting, pastors from three registered 
evangelical Christian churches criticized local officials for 
constant harassment and pressure.  Zhetis Rayov, an ethnic Kazakh 
pastor of a New Life Church, told us that Ministry of Justice 
officials and procurators visit his church every few months and 
question him.  They also occasionally question and intimidate church 
members.  Rayov said that his church does not proselytize in the 
street or pass out literature.  Nevertheless, he told us that on two 
occasions in the last year, Ministry of Justice officials explicitly 
told him to stop working with Kazakhs and Uzbeks and leave them 
alone.  All three pastors reported that they have occasionally been 
forced to pay bribes to get inspectors and procurators to back off, 
and their churches have been the subject of negative newspaper and 
television stories in the last year describing them as sects that 
brainwash people.  They credited the Association of Religious 
Organizations of Kazakhstan and Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki 
Committee for intervening and helping resolve their more serious 
disputes.  The pastors also told us that they are aware of other 
Christian groups trying to register, but believe it is impossible 
for new non-traditional groups to obtain registration in the current 
climate.  Rayov criticized the work of Abdullin and his Center for 
Tolerance, alleging that Abdullin refuses to work with evangelical 
Christians and only promotes tolerance among religions traditional 
to Kazakhstan. 
 
----------------------- 
HOW TO FIGHT EXTREMISM? 
----------------------- 
 
15. (SBU) Both Narymbetov and Yesenov believe Kazakhstan's religion 
law needs to be strengthened in order to combat extremism.  They 
criticized the existing law as weak and outdated.  Yesenov told us 
that draft amendments are already under development in Astana, and 
that his office submitted a number of its own proposals.  He said 
 
ASTANA 00000611  004.2 OF 004 
 
 
the oblast akim runs a council on religious affairs to coordinate 
the work of various government agencies in the religion sphere and 
issue reports and recommendations.  He also told us that the 
Spiritual Association of Muslims of Kazakhstan regularly meets with 
imams and tests them.  In his view, the low level of education among 
local imams is a problem, and there is no school offering higher 
religious education in the oblast. 
 
16. (SBU) Abdullin criticized government efforts to combat religious 
extremism, describing them as outdated, ineffective, and primarily 
limited to reports and roundtables that do nothing to change 
behavior or popular opinion.  He urged a more active and practical 
approach, and touted his model of involving people from different 
faiths in joint sports competitions, charity projects, environmental 
work, tolerance marches, etc.  He also showed us a pilot tolerance 
room at a local public school, filled with educational materials on 
various religions and videos depicting the horrific aftermath of the 
September 11 and Beslan terrorist attacks.  Several students who 
regularly participate in the tolerance club performed a skit in 
which they demonstrated a street encounter with representatives of a 
sect, and taught the audience to reject their advances. Abdullin is 
actively seeking international financial support to create 
additional tolerance rooms in other public schools, and to add a 
multi-ethnic tolerance element to his program.  He was pessimistic 
about receiving financial support from the government, which in his 
view is not open to new ideas on how to combat extremism. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
17. (SBU) Kazakhstanis frequently describe Shymkent and South 
Kazakhstan Oblast as the cultural heart of Kazakhstan.  The greater 
"Central Asian" feel of the region is immediately apparent in the 
faces, language, tradition, and hospitality of the people, and in 
many respects the region foreshadows the emerging Kazakh cultural 
identity that the government seeks to create and promote nationally. 
 On the other hand, Shymkent is a potential starting point for 
instability in Kazakhstan, particularly if the country were to 
experience significant economic problems.  Under the right 
conditions, a rapidly growing population of young, unemployed 
Kazakhs and Uzbeks, combined with a relatively weak civil society 
and an unaccountable, corrupt local government could provide the 
ingredients for increased religious extremism and ethnic conflict. 
Local authorities are well aware of the threat, but offer little in 
response beyond their default desire for tighter government control. 
End Comment. 
 
 
ORDWAY

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