KYRGYZSTAN: RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE COMES FROM THE SOUTH


20.10.06
MOSCOW. (Georgy Sitnyansky for RIA Novosti)

Radio Vatican reports a violent outbreak in a South Kyrgyz town as Muslim extremists attacked a Protestant pastor in his church.
Badly battered, Reverend Sarygulov is in hospital, where our correspondent received an account of his injuries. A part of the church building was set on fire. The arsonists threw a Bible into the flames.
Religious intolerance started more than 15 years ago with Christian proselytism, which is the strongest in the Kyrgyz north. There are mostly Protestant missionaries — Baptists, Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ, and others. The presence of the Orthodox Church is negligible. Non-Christian public discontent is the strongest in the south, where Islam has greater influence. Numerous incidents took place in the past ten years: preachers attacked, secular officials refused to register newly established parishes — among them a Baptist community of Naryn, a controversy which raged in 1995-97. However, religious clashes were never so acute as this year, says Alexander Shumilin, the Baptist Primate of Kyrgyzstan.
The ethnic Kyrgyz Christian community in the north of the country is at least ten times larger than in the south, according to my firsthand information. Since the 2005 Tulip Revolution, secular power has gone to the southerners, while the north indisputably dominated under Askar Akayev, the previous president.
What underlies the domination of the south? South Kyrgyz flight north from the fertile Fergana Valley started as early as 2000 in the fear of militant Muslims. Despite all that, Islam is very moderate in Kyrgyzstan. Indicatively, the Uzbek—especially those in Fergana—and the Tajik regard even southerners, the most pious of all, as little short of pagans.
A huge number of squatters, all of them from the south, encircled Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, soon after the Tulip Revolution, to dramatically aggravate religious intolerance.
Central authorities previously never intervened in the preaching of denominations non-established in Kyrgyzstan. Thus, when a prominent Muslim activist urged Askar Akayev to outlaw Christian missionaries, the president replied: “This is a secular state, so we cannot make any such bans. You just try to attract more worshippers.”
Change has come in this field, too. Thus, parliamentarian Tashibekov entered a bill to prohibit any religious propaganda. As Radio Vatican sees it, the ban will hit Christian communities stronger than any — Muslims need no missionaries, making a majority as they are.
The actual situation is different. The previous 15 years brought numerous Christian conversions, especially among young people, and prohibitions will not eradicate Christian influence. Radio Vatican commentators made another mistake, as most people who do not know the Kyrgyz well enough. They are wrong, saying that Islam is too strong in Kyrgyzstan to be preached. As things really are, it is very weak among the titular nation even in the south. In fact, only ethnic Uzbeks are really pious Muslims. But then, Uzbek immigrants — whose number is steadily increasing in Kyrgyzstan — are tolerant of Christian proselytism, for the time being.
Georgy Sitnyansky, research associate of the Ethnology and Anthropology Institute
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