KYRGYZSTAN: Regional Government Replaces Imam.

by Igor Rotar, Keston News Service, 16 August 2001

'The administration of Jalal-abad region (a region in southern Kyrgyzstan bordering on Uzbekistan) is breaking Kyrgyzstan's law on religions. Although according to the law religion is separated from the state, the authorities are trying to impose their will on the Muslims' the kazi (head of the Muslim spiritual administration) of Jalal-abad region, Dilmurat azhi Orozov, told Keston on 11 August. According to Orozov the authorities are preventing the opening of madrassah at the mosques and are trying to ban the broadcast of the call to prayer via loudspeakers. The worst interference by the authorities, Orozov claims, occurred at the end of April, when under direct pressure from the governor of Jalal-abad region, Sultan Urmanayev, the kazi was forced to persuade Tajiddin Abdumadshidov, the imam-hatyb of the central mosque of Bozor-kurgan district, to hand in his resignation. 'I am ashamed, but if I had not persuaded Abdumadshidov to leave I would have had to retire myself,' Orozov told Keston.

Keston's correspondent visited Bozor-kurgan, 25 km north-west of Jalal-abad, on 12 August. The Bozor-kurgan district, which borders Uzbekistan, has a population of 127,000 predominantly Uzbek people. In the district's central mosque there are about 1,500 worshippers at Friday prayers.

Keston found justification for Orozov's claim that Tajiddin Abdumadshidov was removed under pressure from the authorities as it was directly or indirectly confirmed by everybody that Keston interviewed on 12 August. For example, Abdumadshidov told Keston that he had written a statement of voluntary resignation 'although my health is excellent'. Abdumadshidov refused to answer Keston's question why in that case he had resigned. At the same time Abdumadshidov said that the day before his resignation several anonymous complaints about him had been sent to the regional administration. 'My ill-wishers called me a 'Wahhabi' [in the Central Asian republics this term has become a label for Islamic extremists – Ed.]. In April I was summoned to the Committee for National Security (the secret police), where I had to persuade them I am not an extremist,' Abdumadshidov told Keston.

The opinion of the new imam-hatyb of the Bozor-kurgan central mosque, Rakhimjan Tajiakhmetov is also quite indicative. Tajiakhmetov told Keston that he had not aspired to this position, however on 23 April the regional and district authorities had held a special meeting in Bozor-kurgan to decide on a candidate for the post of imam-hatyb of the Bozor-kurgan district. Tajiakhmetov claims that he was invited to this meeting and told that 'the issue of removing Abdumadshidov had already been solved' and that the authorities supported his appointment. The fact that representatives of the regional and district administrations had discussed the appointment of the imam-hatyb of the district mosque on 23 April was confirmed in an interview with Keston by the head of the Bozor-kurgan district council (the local parliament), Khaldarbai Shamshiddinov. Shamshiddinov told Keston that 'probably holding such a meeting was a mistake'.

On 13 August Keston met the deputy governor of Jalal-abad region responsible for social and religious matters, Arym Akparaliyev. Akparaliyev categorically denied that the removal of the imam-hatyb of the central mosque of Bozor-kurgan district was instigated by the authorities. 'This is an internal matter for the Muslims and we did not interfere in it,' Akparalyev insisted. Akparalyev also denied that there had been a meeting of representatives of the regional administration in Bozor-kurgan on 23 April, at which candidates for the post of imam-hatyb of the Bozor-kurgan mosque had been discussed. However, the deputy governor did say that the authorities would 'not be happy to see the post of imam-hatyb occupied by a religious extremist'.

Akparaliev also said that he was opposed to every mosque opening a madrassah. 'We don't have enough educated theologians in the republic,' he said. The deputy governor admits that in law the regional administration does not have the right to prevent Muslims from opening madrassah at the mosques, but at the same time he considers that 'we are the ones in power and we can use indirect levers of influence'. Akparaliev also considers that it is impermissible for Muslims to broadcast the call to prayer over loudspeakers. 'We live in a multi-faith state and such actions affect the interests of people of other religions.' Akparaliev considers that the practice of neighbouring Uzbekistan should be adopted (in this country the broadcast of the call to prayer over loudspeakers has been banned since 1998 – Ed.), where the authorities have extensive experience of cooperation with the Muslim clergy. (END)