Events Calendar Events Transcripts

The Central Asia-Azerbaijan Fellowship Program’s Seminar: Youth as a Factor of Social Change in Central Asia

The Central Asia Program is proud to announce our CAAFP 2019 Fellows’ Final Research Presentation. Join us for a half-day seminar featuring our scholars from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan as they present their research on the current social and political changes brought by youth in Central Asia. The seminar will be followed by a reception.


4:00-5:00 PM

“Choosing Your Battles: Different Languages of Kazakhstani Activism,” by Nafissa Insebayeva, Japanese Government Scholarship (MEXT) PhD Candidate at the University of Tsukuba, Japan.

On March 19th, 2019, Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, announced his resignation as the nation’s leader after nearly three decades in office. In the months that have followed, the country has witnessed an unprecedented number of protests and demonstrations: from youth digital activism campaigns and protest art to “solitary pickets” and rallies. While various forms of activism existed long before Nazarbayev’s resignation, it is the relative scale of mass participation, wide media coverage, and an emerging sense of urgency that make post-Nazarbayev instances of youth civic engagement a particular interest. This study explores how themes and discourses of Kazakhstani youth activism vary depending on the language, and it aims to shed light on differences and similarities between Kazakh-language and Russian-language civic engagement.

“Unveiling Girls’ Madrasah in Kyrgyzstan: The Drivers to Study in Religious Schools,” by Aichurek Kurmanbekova, Independent Researcher in Kyrgyzstan.

Over 100 religious educational institutions are registered in Kyrgyzstan in 2019, which is almost two times more than in 2013. In fact, there are likely even more religious schools as many are not registered or officially recognized. Despite the growing demand for religious education, these schools do not have a state educational license. Thus, graduates of madrasahs do not receive an official degree and subsequently lack the chance to continue further studies and/or find a job. Every year, about 4,000 young girls graduate from these madrasahs. They remain limited in their decisions and work/study opportunities in comparison to men. This paper discusses the main drivers that push girls to study in madrasahs and examines the issues they face.

5:00-6:00 PM

“Digital Generation and Startups in Tajikistan,” by Ilhom Aliev, former Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Tajikistan.

A sudden flourishing of the startup scene is emerging in Tajikistan. Startup seminars, talks, forums, hackathons, and conferences are now organized on regular basis. Since 2015, innovation accelerators have been appearing, local IT academies have been formed, and various co-working spaces have emerged. The quick rise of local startups—such as Alif Sarmoya,, 55 Group, and Shedevr—shows a shift in young people’s aspirations to enter the private sector. These young companies are setting up new standards in the market, often serving as role models and shaping young people’s values towards entrepreneurship and empowerment. This presentation will discuss the emerging startup ecosystem of Tajikistan and offer recommendations for its further development.

“Tajik Youth Lead Social Change,” by Lola Ulugova, Independent Art Curator and Art Activist in Tajikistan.

This presentation explores the role of youth in developing a new art scene in Tajikistan. While the state promotes art that expresses “national traditions” and remains in the framework of a retraditionalization of values, some of the country’s youth prefer to use art to discuss the different social, political, and gender-related issues facing the country—in certain cases, even leading to the form of direct protest. This paper calls for a dialogue between the Tajik state’s structure and the country’s young generation of artists in order to develop shared platforms for modern art to express itself.

6:00-7:00 PM – Reception


About Our Fellows

Aichurek Kurmanbekova. As a visiting fellow at the GWU, Aichurek explores girls’ education in madrasahs in Kyrgyzstan. Her research interests include human rights, education, gender equality, elections, and religious extremism and terrorism in Central Asia. She previously worked for the local human rights group, the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, as an election observation coordinator, and was a national UNV at the UNDP/UN Peacebuilding Fund, where she served as a specialist on gender-responsive civil society and community engagement in peacebuilding. In addition, Aichurek did a consultancy for UNDP elections and e-governance projects and worked for the Embassy of Kyrgyzstan in Turkmenistan. She is a graduate of the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University with a BA in Political Science (2008); and Bishkek’s OSCE Academy with an MA in Politics and Security (2014).
Nafissa Insebayeva’s research at GWU explores the language divides and barriers between Kazakh and Russian speaking youth activists and political participation. She is PhD Candidate at the University of Tsukuba, Japan, where she specializes in Kazakhstan’s domestic politics, development cooperation and international development strategies. She previously took part in development-related conferences, workshops and trainings at the University of Oxford, Harvard University, Columbia University and National University of Singapore. She is a recipient of the Japanese Government (MEXT) Scholarship, and holds a BA in Economics from Nazarbayev University (Kazakhstan), and an MA in International Area Studies from the University of Tsukuba.
Ilhom Aliyev’s research at GWU focuses on Tajikistan’s digital young generation, and how their contributions to start-ups and entrepreneurship lead to empowerment, economic development, and social change. Ilhom is the Co-Director of Global Entrepreneurship Week Tajikistan, and is heavily engaged with Techstars startup development programs in Tajikistan. He served as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Tajikistan (AmCham Tajikistan) from 2015 to 2019, and has significantly contributed to US-Tajikistan business relations through the attraction of foreign investment and development of entrepreneurship. He previously held positions in the private sector and in non-governmental organizations. In 2018 Ilhom received a John Smith Fellowship Award for emerging leaders who promote good governance, social justice and rule of law. 

Lola Ulugova (Lolisanam) researches the intersection between cultural arts and youth activism in Tajikistan while at GWU. Lolisanam has been an activist in Tajikistan since 2000. Her last working assignment as an Arts and Social Activism Program Coordinator at Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation (OSIAF) in Tajikistan, 2014-2019, was a recognition of her skills and passion towards development of Tajik youth, arts and activism at a professional level. She was the founding director of Tajik Bio-Cultural Initiatives, a non-governmental organization dedicated to Tajik arts and environmental issues. In 2013, she wrote and produced the nation’s first 3-D animation film, a short designed to promote awareness of environmental issues among children. She previously produced several cultural DVDs archiving Tajik dance and biocultural diversity and was a Field Production Manager on the documentary Buzkashi! by Najeeb Mirza (Canada), and co-produced After the Curtain along with Emelie Mahdavian (USA). 

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