Events Calendar

Mining Firms and Local Communities in Central Asia
Apr 26 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Mining Firms and Local Communities in Central Asia @ Voesar Conference Room, Suite 412

Chair: Sean Roberts (George Washington University)

Zhanyl Moldalieva (United Nations University—Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology)
(Re)thinking Transparency and Accountability in Natural Resource Governance: The Case of Kyrgyzstan’s Mining Communities

Nazik Imanbekova (CAP Fellow)
Capacity-Building Programs in the Mining Sector of the Kyrgyz Republic


Dinara Nurusheva (CAP Fellow)
Development Challenges of Post-Mining Towns: The Case of Kazakhstan 

Zuhra Halimova (IERES Visiting Scholar)
Civil Society Lead EITI Process in Tajikistan
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Zhanyl Moldalieva is a Ph.D. Candidate in Public Policy and Policy Analysis at the United Nations University—Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology/Maastricht Graduate School of Governance. Her research focuses on contested and relational spaces of resource governance in Central Asia. In the past, she worked extensively with the USAID projects on good governance, public administration, and political transition.

Nazik Imanbekova is a visiting fellow at the Central Asia Program, and a transparency and open government activist from Kyrgyzstan, who has worked at various organizations from local NGOs (Public Foundation ElNaz, EITI public reception, EITI NGO Consortium, Human Development Center Tree of Life) to IGOs (UNDP). As the head of EITI public reception in Talas region, she developed a dialogue platform, which the national government to adopted and led to the establishment of periodical meetings with local communities. She holds a Specialist Diploma with Honors in Economics from the Academy of Management under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Dinara Nurusheva is a visiting fellow at the Central Asia Program. She earned her MA in Global Political Economy at City University London. Currently, she is involved in Central Asian research groups Bilig Brains and PaperLab, platforms for collaboration of young researchers in the region. She worked in the governmental think tank in Astana, and private analytical center in Almaty.

Zuhra Halimova is a visiting scholar at IERES. From 1997 to 2016, she worked as the Executive Director of the Open Society Institute in Tajikistan.  A graduate of the Department of Oriental Studies at the Tajik State University and the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi, India), she has served as a member of the International Harm Reduction Program Advisory Board and of OSF’s International Youth Program and Education Support Program Advisory Boards for several years.  She has also been a member of the Council of the Global Fund for Women and of the Asian Women in International Affairs Initiative for many years.

Julie McBrien – The Tricky Matter of Defining Religion
Apr 27 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Julie McBrien - The Tricky Matter of Defining Religion @ Voesar Conference Room, Suite 412

What is religion? The answer to this question is either so obvious that it needs no asking, or so abstract and theoretical that we end up declaring it insoluble. The question therefore often gets sidelined and we operate with un-reflected upon notions of religion.  These ideas about religion, nonetheless, guide the research and analyses of academics, the policy and programs of those in government and development, and the allocation of research funds, for example. In short, the definitions potentially have real-world consequences. Julie McBrien will examine the varying ways religion in Kyrgyzstan has been defined over the last century as a backdrop for looking at present moments of classification. She will consider two contemporary cases in which competing understandings of religion by foreign observers, one of whom was Dr. McBrien herself, obfuscated rather than illuminated the lived experience of those in Kyrgyzstan. She will argue that these misreadings can create situations in which analyses and interventions (can) go awry, with political as well as scholarly implications. This talk is based on her long-term research on religion and secularism in Kyrgyzstan, including ongoing work on marriage, gender, and the state.

Dr. Julie McBrien is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and the incoming director of the AISSR Research Program Group “Globalizing Culture.” She is senior researcher and co-coordinator of the ERC funded project “Problematizing Muslim Marriages.” McBrien has conducted research in Kyrgyzstan for nearly 15 years working on issues related to Islam, secularism, politics, gender, and marriage. Her publications can be found in Material Religion, JRAI, Anthropology Today, and Critique of Anthropology. Her book From Belonging to Belief: Modern Secularisms and the Construction of Religion in Kyrgyzstan is forthcoming with Pittsburgh University Press.

This event is part of the CERIA Initiative, generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

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The United States’ and Russia’s Relationship in Central Asia and its Neighborhood
May 2 – May 3 all-day
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Tuesday, May 2

10:30 Opening remarks

Alexander Cooley (Harriman Institute, Columbia University) and
Marlene Laruelle
(George Washington University)

10:45-12:15 Panel 1. Central Asia and the ‘global order’

Chair: Rajan Menon (City College of New York)

Paul Stronski (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
Prospects for Central Asia Policy in the Trump Administration

Christian Bleuer (ANU)
American Allies’ Strategic and Economic Interests in Afghanistan and Central Asia: Navigating Change and Continuity in the US-Russia Relationship

Alexander Cooley (Columbia University)
Central Asia as a Buffer Zone between National Populist Great Powers

12:15-1:00 Lunch

1:00-2:30 Panel 2. The international community in a changing environment

Chair: Alexander Cooley (Columbia University)

Roman Vakulchuk (NUPI)
Big Powers in Central Asia: Old Rhetoric, New Perception

Ivan Safranchuk (MGIMO)
Central Asia – Asset, Burden or Instrument for International Actors?

George Gavrilis (Columbia University)
Central Asia’s Borders: The Next Twenty-Five Years

2:30-3:00 Coffee break

3:00-4:00 Panel 3. Russia’s presence and influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan

Chair:  Nargis Kassenova (KIMEP)

Yulia Nikitina (MGIMO)
Russian Strategies of International Status-Seeking in International Institutions and Forums

Ekaterina Stepanova (IMEMO)
Armed Conflict, Insurgency, Terrorism and Peace Process in Afghanistan: A View From Russia


Wednesday, May 3

9:30-10:30 Panel 4. Is China really changing the given?

Chair: George Gavrilis (Columbia University)

Robert Sutter (George Washington University)
China’s expansion into Central Asia—A Pattern for Its Periphery?

Sun Zhuangzhi (CASS, Beijing)
Building Silk-Road Economic Belt and Central Asian Stability and Development

10:30-11:00 Coffee break

11:00-12:30 Panel 5. Central Asia’s perspectives on the US-Russia new relationship

Chair: Marlene Laruelle (George Washington University)

Nargis Kassenova (KIMEP)
US and Russia’s Failing ‘Pivots to Asia’ and Central Asia

Erlan Karin (KISI)
New Perspectives on the US-Russia Relationship and Multivectoralism in Central Asia

Emil Joroev (American University in Central Asia)
Trump’s America Viewed from Bishkek: Sharing Moscow’s Hopes or Excited for Own Reasons?

12:30-1:15 Lunch

This conference is generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.


This event is co-hosted by SIPA and the Harriman Institute (Columbia University), and generously funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. 

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Cinema Club Film Screening: “Two Horses of Genghis Khan” (Mongolia, 2009)
May 4 @ 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm

Directed by Byambasuren Davaa

“Two Horses presents a stiff look at the crushing after-effects on Mongolian heritage in the years following the Chinese cultural revolution, in which priceless artifacts of music and art were destroyed, including the family heirloom of this story’s protagonist – a nineteenth century horse head violin engraved with the words of an old and largely forgotten Mongolian folk song.

“Unlike almost any other song, the verses of the song after which the film is titled embody the history and paradigm change of the Mongolian people. For singer Urna Chahar Tugchi, the song becomes the touchstone of her cultural identity after making a promise to her late grandmother to bring the family’s old horse head violin back to the homeland. Her grandmother was forced to destroy the beloved violin in the tumult of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and now only the head and neck remain intact, along with a few of the verses of the folk song that were engraved on the neck. With the dark days of the revolution now past, it is time to fulfill the promise.” – Corinth Films

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Social Cohesion in Kyrgyzstan
May 10 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Social cohesion has emerged over the last two decades as an important concept in both academic and political discourse, especially in fragile and conflict-affected environments. At the same time, the evidence on how to build social cohesion and peace at the individual level has been quite scarce. This event will review some exciting new evidence on building peace and social cohesion at the micro-level from Central Asia.

Drawing on the results of the Life In Kyrgyzstan Study, a long-term quantitative study of socio-economic developments of over 8.000 individuals, Prof. Tilman Brück will present some insights on social cohesion and peace in Kyrgyzstan since 2010.

Dr. Kanat Tilekeyev will explore findings from the Kyrgyz Social Cohesion Through Community-Based Development Project, discussing the motivation and design of the project; development of the social cohesion index; and findings from operations and implications for future community-driven development programming in conflict-affected and fragile environments.

Dr. Damir Esenaliev will present the findings from the impact evaluation of the LivingSidebySide® (LSBS) peacebuilding programme designed to foster ethnic tolerance and skills for resolving conflict among young adults in Southern Kyrgyzstan.

Professor Tilman Brück is Director of the ISDC – International Security and Development Center. His research interests focus on the economics of household behaviour and well-being in conflict-affected and fragile economies, including the measurement of violence and conflict in household surveys and the impact evaluation of programs in conflict-affected areas.


Dr. Damir Esenaliev is a Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Peace and Development Programme. His recent research focuses on impact evaluation of peacebuilding interventions in Kyrgyzstan and on quantitative microeconomic research related to labour markets, welfare, inequality, intergenerational mobility and governance. 

Dr. Kanat Tilekeyev is a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Public Policy and Administration, University of Central Asia. He has extensive experience in research on agricultural economics, trade, business development, policy impact evaluation and microeconomic studies of the countries of Central Asia at projects of the World Bank, USAID, FAO and other donor and research organizations.
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Victoria Kim – Re-visiting the 1937 Deportation of Ethnic Koreans to Central Asia + Film Screening of “Koryo Saram The Unreliable People”
May 11 @ 4:30 pm – 8:00 pm

Re-visiting the 1937 Deportation of Ethnic Koreans to Central Asia:  80 Years of Survival and Prospering

Followed by a screening of Koryo Saram The Unreliable People


The year 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the first deportation of an entire nationality in the Soviet Union. In 1937, approximately 172,000 ethnic Koreans – the entire population of Posyet Korean national district and neighboring territories in the Far Eastern Krai – were forcefully relocated to Central Asia on cargo trains by the Soviet government. Eighty years later, their descendants still live in independent Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Some of them view the deportation as a tragedy whereas others see it quite differently.

Victoria Kim will discuss the changing narrative of the 1937 deportation and focus on the process of re-definition of the Korean identity currently taking place across Central Asia.

Victoria Kim holds an MA from the Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS in Korean Studies and MA from the University of Bolton in International Multimedia Journalism. Originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, she is currently based in Beijing, China, as a researcher and documentary storyteller. She is the author of Lost and Found in Uzbekistan: The Korean Story. Her multimedia long-reads, podcast and seminars on the Korean diaspora in the former Soviet Union are featured in The Diplomat and by the Korea Economic Institute of America, Royal Asiatic Society, and etc.


Koryo Saram The Unreliable People

Koryo Saram The Unreliable People tells the harrowing saga of survival in the open steppe country and the sweep of Soviet history through the eyes of Koryo Saram – the deported Koreans – who were labeled by Stalin as enemies of the state. Through rare archival footage and personal interviews, the film follows the deportees’ unique history of integration into the Soviet system while working under punishing conditions in Kazakhstan, a true melting pot of exiled people from all over the Soviet Union.

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Ninth Fellows’ Seminar: Development Challenges and Evolving Identities in Central Asia and Azerbaijan
Jun 1 @ 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm

2:00pm. Introductory remarks
Marlene Laruelle, Director, Central Asia Program

2:15-4:00pm. Panel 1. Identities, Ideologies and Religion in Flux

Zhar Zardykhan (KIMEP, Almaty)
Between Two Worlds: The Ambiguities of Kazakhstan’s Search for its New Identity

Kamal Gasimov (CAAF, Azerbaijan)
The Salafi Multimodal Engagement with Electronic Media in Azerbaijan

Alexandra Tsay (CAAF, Kazakhstan)
Contemporary Art as a Public Sphere in Kazakhstan

 Rafael Sattarov (CAAF, Uzbekistan)
“Spirituality and Enlightenment’”: State-backed Ideological Policy in Uzbekistan


4:00-4:15pm. Coffee break

4:15-5:30pm. Panel 2. Social Development and Inequalities

Daniyar Kussainov (CAAF, Kazakhstan)
Inequality in Kazakhstan’s Secondary Education: Towards a Fragmented Society?

Dinara Nurusheva (CAAF, Kazakhstan)
In Search of Better Performance: Local Governance Challenges in a Kazakh Mining Town 

Nazik Imanbekova (CAAF, Kyrgyzstan)
Strengthening the Participation of Local Communities in the Mining Sector: The case of Talas, Kyrgyzstan


5:30pm. Reception

Please RSVP

Kamal Gasimov is a researcher in the field of Islamic Studies from Azerbaijan. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Oriental Studies (Persian language and literature) from Baku State University (Azerbaijan). He has also studied Arabic language and literature at Kuwait University. His research has mainly concentrated on Islamic social movements, particularly quietist Salafi trends and their interaction with Islamists or jihadis; the transnationalization of Salafism and its connection with local (post-Soviet) actors; and Islamic legal theories. His interests lie primarily in contemporary Islamic groups in Syria, Iraq and the Gulf countries. During his fellowship, Kamal will consider transformations in the Islamic landscape of Azerbaijan.

Nazik Imanbekova is a transparency and open government activist from Kyrgyzstan, who has worked at various organizations from local NGOs (Public Foundation ElNaz, EITI public reception, EITI NGO Consortium, Human Development Center Tree of Life) to IGOs (UNDP). As the head of EITI public reception in Talas region, she developed a dialogue platform, which the national government to adopted and led to the establishment of periodical meetings with local communities. She holds a Specialist Diploma with Honors in Economics from the Academy of Management under the President of the Kyrgyz Republic. During her fellowship, she will study the impact of mining contracts and government’s policy. The research will focus on the effects of current policies and contract clauses on local communities around the mining value chain in Kyrgyzstan.

Daniyar Kussainov currently works as a program assistant for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) Sub-regional Coordination Office for Central Asia and was a research fellow at the Soros-Kazakhstan Foundation Public Policy Initiative in 2014. Daniyar holds an MA degree in Politics and Security (Central Asia) from the OSCE Academy in Bishkek. His professional and academic interests include migration, education, and elections. Prior to joining the IOM Office in Almaty, he worked for local and international NGOs, OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Missions, OSCE Secretariat and the World Bank. During his fellowship, Daniyar will study state educational policies and their potential effects on rising socio-economic inequality in Kazakhstan.

Dinara Nurusheva is co-founder of PaperLab Research Group and was a research fellow at the Soros Foundation Kazakhstan Public Policy Initiative in 2014. She graduated from Abylai Khan Kazakh University of International Relations and World Languages with a Bachelor in International Relations. She obtained her master’s degree in Global Political Economy at City University London through the Bolashak scholarship. She has experience working in the analytical department at Nazarbayev Centre in Astana and the Center for Humanitarian and Political Trends in Almaty. Her research interests include institutionalism and the social and economic development of Kazakhstan’s regions. During her fellowship, Dinara will study the social and economic implications of living in a mining city, focusing on Tekeli, a city in Almaty oblast.

Rafael Sattarov is a political analyst. He is a graduate of the University of World Economy and Diplomacy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He has a Master’s degree from the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He is a columnist of several editions in Russia and Kazakhstan and has edited articles on economics and politics in Forbes Russia,, and Russia Beyond the Headlines. He was a delegate of the Young Educational Leaders Program of NATO. His research interests include reforms of the socio-political and economic systems in the post-Soviet space, U.S.-Russia relations after the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy in Central Asia, international relations in Eurasia and the geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. During his fellowship, Rafael will look into the rise of conservative values and so-called spirituality in Uzbekistan and their relevance in modern-day Uzbek society.

Alexandra Tsay is an independent research fellow in cultural studies and an art curator based in Almaty, Kazakhstan. She is involved in PaperLab: Public Policy Research Laboratory and Open Mind. Previously, she worked as a Senior Lecturer at International Information Technologies University in Almaty. Alexandra is an alumni of University of Warwick (UK), where she earned an MA in International Cultural Policy and Management, and KIMEP University (Kazakhstan), where she earned a BA in International Journalism and Mass Communication. She was a research fellow at Public Policy Initiative Program of Soros Foundation Kazakhstan in 2014-2015. During her fellowship, Alexandra will explore the cultural public sphere in Kazakhstan. Her hypothesis is that the cultural public sphere and artistic expressions are becoming an important arena for public debates, criticism and inventions of counter-discourses in societies with restricted freedom of the press and a shrinking political public sphere.

Zhar Zardykhan is an Assistant Professor of International Relations and Regional Studies at KIMEP University (Almaty, Kazakhstan) and the Deputy Director of the Central Asian Studies Center (CASC). In 2007, Dr. Zardykhan completed his Doctoral dissertation on Pan-Islamic and Pan-Turkic appeals and propaganda in Ottoman-Russian confrontation during the First World War, with a special focus on the Muslim population of Central Asia and the Caucasus. He has been a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, where he carried out a research project on the trans-ethnic relationship between members of supra-ethnic clans in Central Asia. His primary research interests include Eurasian history, ethnic and religious conflicts, nationalism, minorities, and identity formation, and he has published in a number of prominent journals, including Middle Eastern Studies, Asian Ethnicity and Central Asian Survey. He is fluent in several European, Middle Eastern and Inner Asian languages.

Russia’s Approaches to Afghanistan and its Implications for Central Asia
Jun 6 @ 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm

Stephen Blank, American Foreign Policy Council

Russia’s Policy toward Afghanistan and the Taliban and its Impact on Central Asia

Stephen Blank is an internationally known expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union who comes to AFPC from the US Army War College, where he spent the last 24 years (1989-2013) as a Professor of National Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA.  Dr. Blank’s expertise covers the entire Russian and post-Soviet region. He has also written extensively on defense strategy, arms control, information warfare, energy issues, US foreign and defense policy, and European and Asian security.

Amin Mudadiq, head of RFE/RL’s Pakistan service

The Impact of Russia’s Afghan Policy on the Northern Provinces of Afghanistan

Amin Mudaqiq is the Director of RFE/RL’s service to Pakistan’s tribal regions, Radio Mashaal. Originally from northern Afghanistan, Mudaqiq formerly served as Kabul bureau chief for RFE/RL’s Afghan Service from 2004 to 2011. Prior to joining RFE/RL, he worked in the U.S. consulate in Peshawar as an Information Assistant, and as editor of “Ittilaat,” the U.S. government’s Dari/Pashto publication.

Please RSVP

An event organized in partnership with RFE/RL

ASTANA: “China’s “One Belt, One Road” project and its impact for Central Asia”
Jun 8 – Jun 9 all-day

Nazarbayev University, Preliminary programme

Day 1 8 June 2017
9.00 – 9.30 Registration
9.30 – 10.00 Welcome speech

Shigeo Katsu, President, Nazarbayev University (TBC)

Marlene Laruelle, Director CAP, George Washington University  (by Skype)

Session 1: OBOR and Central Asia: Impact on the Region

Chair: Dennis de Tray, Advisor to President, Nazarbayev University

10.00 – 10.15 Marek Jochec, Associate Professor of Finance, Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan

Ensi Tszie,  Adviser to the Minister of Economy, Kyrgyzstan

“Economic aspects of strategic importance of China’s OBOR project”

10.15 – 10.30 Sarah Lain, Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Great Britain

“China’s OBOR project and its impact for Central Asia”

10.30 – 11.00 Q/A session
11.00 – 11.30 Coffee-break
Session 2: Instruments and Mechanisms of OBOR

Chair: Nicola Contessi, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Nazarbayev University

11.30 – 11.45 Safovudin Jaborov, PhD candidate, Tajik National University, Tajikistan

“Chinese’s Loans in Central Asia: Development Aid or “Predatory Lending”?”

11.45 – 12.00 Hao Tian, Masters student, Georgetown University, USA

“The mechanisms of allocating and receiving Chinese foreign aid”

12.00 – 12.15 Paulo Duarte, Researcher, Instituto do Oriente in Lisbon, Portugal

“The One Belt One Road:  which impacts for Central Asia?”

12.15 – 12.45 Q/A session
13.00 – 14.30 Lunch
Session 3: OBOR: Potential for Long-term Transformation

Chair: Caress Schenk, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Nazarbayev University

14.30 – 14.45 Madina Bizhanova, Masters student, Georgetown University, USA

“To what extent and how can the Silk Road Economic Belt contribute to economic diversification of Kazakhstan?”

14.45 – 15.00 Alexander Wolters, Director of the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

“Hegemonial or Multilateral? Chinese Investments and the OBOR Initiative in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan”

15.00 – 15.15 Sobir Kurbanov, Teaching Associate at George Washington University, Consultant at World Bank, USA

“The Importance of Trade Liberalization and Investment Climate Reforms in Central Asia in the Context of China One Belt One Road Project”

15.30 – 16.00 Q/A Session
16.00 – 16.30 Coffee-break
Session 4: The Human Dimension

Chair: Serik Orazgaliyev, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Nazarbayev University

16.30 – 16.45 Liya Utyasheva, Expert, Institute of Migration Policy, Canada

Yelena Sadovskaya, International Consultant in migration, Kazakhstan

“Human Silk Road – People-to-people aspect of the Belt and Road initiative: a perspective from Central Asia”

16.45 – 17.00 Azad Garibov, Research Fellow, Center for Strategic Studies under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan

“OBOR and Chinese Laborers in Central Asia: Reality and Public Perception”

17.00 – 17.30 Q/A session
17.30 – 18.00 Day 1: wrap-up
Day 2 9 June 2017
Session 5: Impact on Social Structure

Chair: Anara Makatova, National Analytical Center

10.00 – 10.15 Vera Exnerova, Research Fellow, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

“Helping China´s OBOR Project in Central Asia: Role of Local Elites and Civil Society in Improving Impact of PRC in the Region”

10.15 – 10.30 Kemel Toktomushev, Special Assistant to the Director General, University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

“One Belt, One Road: A New Source of Rent for Ruling Elites in Central Asia?”

10.30 – 11.00 Q/A session
11.00 – 11.30 Coffee-break
Session 6: Soft Power Dimensions

Chair: Neil Collins, Professor of Political Science, Nazarbayev University

11.30 – 11.45 Bhavna Dave, Senior Lecturer, University of London, Great Britain

“OBOR and China’s Soft Power: Perceptions of Chinese Norms and Developmental Practices in Kazakhstan”

11.45 – 12.00 Gaukhar Nursha, PhD candidate, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University, Kazakhstan

“Chinese soft power in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan: A Confucius Institutes case-study”

12.00 – 12.30 Q/A session
12.30 – 13.00 Day 2: wrap-up

Closing remarks


BRUSSELS: Central Asian ‘Jihad’: Home-grown Terror or Marginalised Migrants’
Jun 15 @ 10:00 am – 12:30 pm


Introduction: Jerzy Pomianowski, Executive Director, European Endowment for Democracy (EED)

Presentation: Noah Tucker, Associate, Central Asia Program (CAP) and the Central Eurasia – Religion in International Affairs (CERIA) initiative; Senior Editor, RFE/RL Uzbek Service

Comments: Toivo Klaar, Head, Central Asia Division, EEAS; Thomas Renard, Senior Research Fellow, Egmont Institute; and Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director, Human Rights Watch

Moderators: Kristina Vaiciunaite, Programme Officer Russia and Central Asia, EED; and Jos Boonstra, EUCAM Coordinator, Centre for European Security Studies (CESS)


In April Europe was jolted by terror attacks in St. Petersburg and Stockholm that appear to have both been carried out by ethnic Uzbek migrants, one from Kyrgyzstan and the other from Uzbekistan. In the ISIS attack on a nightclub in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve, a gunman originally from Uzbekistan killed 39 people and wounded 70. There are no hard figures of the number of Central Asians that have joined the ranks of ISIS and al-Qaida affiliated groups in Syria. Even as hundreds have joined, we have more questions than answers. Conditions make a comprehensive study of the background and recruitment of young people from all five Central Asian republics impossible.

Do the reasons lie in underdevelopment and poverty that have lead to mass labour migration to Russia from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and to a lesser extent Uzbekistan? To what extent are recruits attracted to extremist groups or violent acts by the conditions in their home countries versus the new environments where they face steep challenges as migrant labourers or political exiles? Do Central Asian governments push segments of the population towards radicalisation with repressive policies and human rights offenses? What role does Islam play in Central Asian societies that linger between a Soviet heritage and new national narratives? What role does religion play at all in the attraction of radical militant organisations that claim to represent Islam or to be founding a new homeland? Misunderstanding the causes and mechanisms that drive recruits into violent extremist groups risks that policies in the region and Europe designed to counter extremist messaging may attempt to solve the wrong problems and fail to prevent further attacks – or at worst, could help cause the outcomes they were designed to combat.

At this seminar Noah Tucker will present conclusions from several years of research on Central Asian militant messaging and recruiting and from a recent fieldwork project in Southern Kyrgyzstan. He will outline the background of Jihadism in Central Asia and current links with the conflict in Syria as well as discuss the gaps in research and fieldwork on the factors motivating Central Asians to fight in Syria, the ways they are recruited and the methods currently used by regional authorities to prevent jihadist mobilisation. Proceeding from evidence that Central Asian communities overwhelmingly oppose extremist recruiting and want to combat it, Tucker will argue for a community-based approach seeking to create trust between communities and police – especially when they are isolated as a minority or when living abroad as migrants or refugees.

After the keynote presentation three commentators will react from different angles: First, the role that the EU can play through its Strategy for Central Asia, including the annual High-Level Security Dialogues with Central Asian partners. Second, the implications for Europe and how the EU seeks to counter terrorism, for instance through the 2017 EU Counter-Terrorism Directive? And third, the human rights angle, both in Central Asia and Europe with regard to counter-terrorism measures.

The meeting will take place under the Chatham House rule and will offer ample time for debate among speakers and participants.

This seminar is organised by the Europe-Central Asia Monitoring (EUCAM) programme of the Centre for European Security Studies (CESS), the Netherlands, in cooperation with the Central Asia Program (CAP) of the George Washington University and hosted by the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The seminar is made possible with the support of the Open Society Foundations and the Henry Luce Foundation.

The meeting is followed by a networking lunch.

Click here to register.