|KYRGYZSTAN: RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE
COMES FROM THE SOUTH
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