On 5-6 December 2013, the Institute for Global Engagement, together with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, held a conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan on “Religion, Security and Citizenship in Central Asia.” The conference was the second in the “Religion, Security and Citizenship in Central Asia” series, the first having been held in May of this year, and brought together 56 participants from 10 countries. The goal of the conference was to create a space for dialogue on these issues among government, civil society and religious groups, as well as provide recommendations for Central Asian governments as they confront the pressing issues of religious education, religion’s role in national identity and the role of religious women in society. The conference was hosted by the international relations department of al-Farabi Kazakh National University.
Greg Mitchell attended the conference as an observer, as co-chair of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable.
The meeting came at an important time for Central Asia, which was facing the prospect of instability in Afghanistan after U.S. troops withdraw in 2014, as well as increasing religious extremism and social discontent within its own borders. Participants discussed the intersection of religion, identity, education, gender and its relationship to security in Central Asia, with the aim of establishing a network of experts and officials dedicated to addressing these issues.
The conference concluded with a panel on practical policy recommendations for Central Asia. Recommendations included joint research projects and continued dialogue on the nexus of religion, identity, education and gender. Other recommendations included direct engagement of Central Asian youth on religious issues, as well as engagement of artists such as musicians and filmmakers in the struggle against violent extremism. Participants agreed that there is currently no space to discuss religion in Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that a regular forum for dialogue on these issues must be created. As an interim policy recommendation, participants proposed workshops to train educators, civil society, government officials and law enforcement officers on how to engage religious groups to counter violent extremism.
Simultaneously with the conference, Greg Mitchell led an IRF Roundtable delegation of Evangelical, Jewish and Scientologist leaders to Kazakhstan, the first delegation of its kind. The group met with Kazakhstani and U.S. government officials in Astana and Almaty, and attended the conference as observers.